by David M. Reutter
Movies and television often dramatize prison for entertainment purposes, and just as often the dramatizations are unrealistic. One aspect of prison life that cannot be overly dramatized—and is a reality for many of the imprisoned—is the prospect of being raped. For decades now, PLN has chronicled incidents of this human rights violation and the lawsuit settlements that come at taxpayer expense to compensate the victims that succeed in prosecuting such claims.
Rape inside the confines of a prison can come from predatory prisoners preying on the weak or mentally ill. Juveniles are the most vulnerable, and Congress found that they “are 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult rather than juvenile facilities—often within the first 48 hours of incarceration.” The culture is such that rape is viewed as part of doing time, so guards are often indifferent to preventing prison rape. As PLN has reported over the years, guards are more often the problem because they are also perpetrators. PLN editor Paul Wright has noted, prison rape is such a pervasive and common issue nationally that it has to be seen as an integral part of modern American prison management.
“It forever changed ...
by Paul Wright
For long time readers of PLN, this month’s issue may seem like déjà vu all over again with its national coverage of prisoners being raped, especially by guards and prison staff. For many years I wrote the “News in Brief” column and would print out the articles I found NIB worthy. At the end of the month I’d go through them and pick the ones to use in the next issue. There were, and still are, a lot of short news articles about prison and jail staff being charged, convicted and sentenced for raping prisoners. I strove for diversity of story topics and didn’t want the NIB column to turn into the “prisoners getting raped” column of PLN. I would pick out a few cases to use in that issue’s NIB and put the rest to the side to use in the following month.
But each month there were more sexual assault stories than I could use so the pile of news articles kept getting bigger. All this was happening without looking for these types of stories, just printing the ones I ran across while reviewing the news wires related to prisons and jails. At ...
The Mother’s Day riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) in 2015 ended with two dead and countless injuries to prisoners and staff. When one of the prisoners injured filed a lawsuit that prison officials failed to protect him during the riot and that their response was inadequate, the court dismissed it based on the state’s immunity under the State Tort Claim Act (STCA).
Pointing to the so-called “discretionary function exception” (DFE), the Nebraska Supreme Court, on appeal, took the moment to establish how and when this exception to liability under the STCA applies. Basically, a DFE defense applies when a state employee does or does not do something that is in his discretion to do. First, the court must consider whether the duty to act is a choice for the employee. If it is, then the court determines if the choice is one that the DFE was designed to protect.
In the case of the riots, the court found that the DFE applied because (1) staffing levels of the prison are at the discretion of the administration, and (2) the staff’s response during a riot cannot be set in stone for each prison uprising. There must be some room ...
by Matt Clarke
On July 16, 2021, an Arizona federal court issued an order rescinding its 2015 approval of the settlement agreement (“Stipulation”) in a class action civil rights lawsuit challenging the adequacy of medical, dental, and mental health care in the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) as well as conditions of confinement in the DOC’s maximum custody units, including claims of inadequate nutrition, lack of opportunities for physical exercise, and extreme social isolation and environmental deprivation.
The lawsuit was filed in 2012 and is formerly known as Parsons v. Ryan. After two and a half years of litigation, the court approved the Stipulation put forth by the parties. In it, the DOC agreed to changes in health care and maximum custody. Implementation was monitored and assessed against specific performance measures. The monitoring would end if the DOC achieved 75% compliance the first year, 80% compliance the second year, and 85% compliance thereafter. The health care performance measures were the National Commission of Correctional Health Care standards, which were also used in DOC contracts, first with Corizon and later with Centurion.
“Over the past six years, Defendants have consistently failed to meet many of the Stipulation’s critical benchmarks. Beyond ...
The United States paid $50,000 to resolve a lawsuit alleging federal agents at Montana’s Fort Peck Tribal Jail failed to provide medical care for a detainee who was injured during an assault at the jail.
Tyler Headdress is a member of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He was arrested on December 12, 2018, and was unable to post a $100 bond, so he remained in jail. While Headdress was lying on the floor in a jail pod with a blanket over his head, detainee Silas Red Dog began kicking Headdress in the head and body.
Headdress put his hands around his head and face to protect himself, resulting in several broken bones in his hands. A fight soon ensued between Headdress and Red Dog. Guards broke it up and Headdress was placed in segregation. He requested and was denied medical care over the next four days for the swelling in his hands.
Headdress’s father attempted on December 18, 2018, to bond Headdress out of jail, but jail personnel did not allow him to do so. The next day, Headdress was told he would be taken to a hospital but that did not occur until December 21. X-rays at the hospital ...
by David M. Reutter
A Florida federal district court granted a protective order to protect “putative class members from retaliatory, chilling, or harassing conduct” and to prohibit “Defendants from improperly communicating with putative class members about th[e] lawsuit.” The court’s February 8, 2021, order was issued in a lawsuit challenging the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDC) practice of placing prisoners in isolation or solitary confinement.
The court previously entered a protective order on January 28, 2020, to prevent retaliation from being taken against prisoner Johnny Hill. [See PLN, June 2020, p. 59]. The allegations and testimony at the hearing on the current motion were similar to that alleged by Hill with the exclusion of physical assault.
The current motion alleged guards tried to intimidate prisoners who spoke to class attorneys, deprived them of meals, made them languish while restrained in showers and holding cells for hours as they awaited the chance to speak to the attorneys, and invaded the privacy of legal calls and conversations with counsel.
After holding a hearing and considering the testimony and evidence, the court found that “actual overt retaliation by prison officials, as well as threats of retaliation” existed. It said that prisoners “deserve the ...
by David M. Reutter
A bill that went into effect on July 1, 2021, allows individuals to access termination of felony probation after three years if they meet certain requirements. The bill impacts up to a quarter of Georgia’s current probationers, creating a huge savings for taxpayers.
Before the bill went into effect, Georgia had 191,000 people serving probation sentences. That is more than any other state. Georgia’s probation system has serious racial inequalities. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be serving a probation sentence in every county in Georgia. In some counties, Blacks are eight times as likely as whites to be serving a probationary sentence.
The new law aims to make a huge change in those statistics. “Despite all the work we have done as legislators to reform and rethink the criminal justice system, Georgia still has the largest number of individuals serving probation in the country,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, who introduced the bill. “SB 105 addresses this problem by allowing individuals who have proven their rehabilitation through good behavior the ability to access early termination.”
SB 105 applies to persons convicted of a felony offense but have no prior felony convictions. It is limited ...
by Erika Tyagi and Joshua Manson
UCLA COVID Behind Bars Project, August 12, 2021
In recent weeks, as the Delta variant has surged across the country, the rates of infection among prison workers are on the rise, while their vaccination rates remain dangerously low.
Of course, these trends are not unrelated. It’s now well-established that vaccines are highly effective at controlling the spread of the new variants of COVID-19, providing protection that is particularly critical in congregate settings like jails and prisons—places where maintaining physical distance is often impossible, and just one infection can cause massive outbreaks.
As infection rates climb, prisons are extending—and, in some cases, reimposing—restrictive measures that keep incarcerated people on lockdown for as many as 23 hours per day, without access to programming or in-person visits. This continues even as vaccination rates among incarcerated people are higher than the national average in many states, and much higher than that of prison staff.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that as long as large swaths of prison staff refuse vaccines, incarcerated people will not only remain vulnerable to infection and death, but will continue to be subject to harsh isolation measures because of staff intransigence.
We estimate ...
by Sharon Dolovich, Erika Tyagi, and Neal Marquez, UCLA COVID Behind Bars Project, August 20, 2021
When the pandemic hit, prison systems around the country started posting COVID-19 data for their facilities. This measure of transparency marked a striking departure from business as usual for American prisons, which typically operate behind a thick veil of secrecy, regardless of the public health import of what happens inside.
As we have reported over the past year, this data has been plagued by deep inadequacies. But the fact that it has been published at all seemed to indicate an unusual recognition on the part of correctional officials that the old impulse to obscure and conceal would no longer be acceptable—at least during the present crisis.
Yet now, as the Delta variant breaks hospitalization records in states across the country and vaccination rates among prison staff remain unconscionably low, some prison administrators appear to have decided that the toll COVID-19 is taking in their facilities, and the scale of continued outbreaks, is no longer information that the public needs to know. Despite growing case numbers in communities across the country, a number of carceral agencies had begun to roll back basic data reporting on ...
by Keith Sanders
On June 14, 2021, United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification while granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s motion to Supplement.
The Plaintiffs, six prisoners housed in restrictive housing at different facilities in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), filed a federal complaint on June 2, 2016 against IDOC’s “use of segregation, which they claim is tantamount to ‘extreme isolation,’ violates constitutional standards.” The Plaintiffs alleged two counts: one, the conditions in IDOC restrictive housing violates the Eighth Amendment; and two, they have a “protected liberty interest in avoiding extreme isolation.”
Subsequently, the Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification on September 6, 2019. The Defendant filed his motion to supplement authority and/or evidence. Plaintiffs originally sued John Baldwin, then Acting Director of the IDOC, but who was replaced by Rob Jeffreys, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) that automatically substitutes Jeffreys as a party.
The Court first addressed the Defendant’s motion to supplement additional authority. The Defendant submitted as additional authority opinions issued by the Seventh Circuit, McFields v. Dart, 982 F.3d 51 1 (7th Cir. 2020) and Howard v. Cook County Sheriff’s ...
by David M. Reutter
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the postcard only policy of the Baxter County, Arkansas Jail and Detention Center (BCJ) constituted a de facto permanent ban on the First Amendment rights of publishers.
The Court’s June 8, 2021 opinion was issued in an appeal by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of Prison Legal News. BCJ in January 2012 initiated a policy to limit incoming detainee mail, except legal or privileged mail, to postcards. Between August 2016 and May 2017, HRDC sent three batches of materials to multiple BCJ detainees. Pursuant to its policy, BCJ censored the materials.
HRDC sued, claiming the postcard-only policy violates its First Amendment rights to communicate with BCJ detainees and that BCJ violated its due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to notice an opportunity to appeal BCJ’s decisions. The district court granted partial summary judgment to HRDC, concluding the rejections were a “technical violation” of HRDC’s due process rights. It awarded $4 in nominal damages. The court also found there was no First Amendment violation. HRDC appealed both rulings.
The BCJ has one of the most draconian mail policies HRDC has encountered. Prisoners are not allowed ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 14, 2021, the Office of the Attorney General (AG) of South Carolina issued an opinion that information relating to the death of state prisoners contained in their death certificates is public information subject to disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), S.C. Code § 30-4-30(A)(l), and is not exempted from disclosure.
In response to some prison staff’s complaints that the DOC was violating privacy mandates contained in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountable Act (HIPAA), 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-2(d)(2) by releasing the names and causes of death of prisoners who died in state custody, South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Bryan Stirling requested an AG’s opinion on whether the DOC was required to withhold the information. The DOC began withholding the information, a move that earned it derision in the media.
“What is the prison system going to do after an execution, say an unnamed inmate was executed for some crimes he committed long ago?” asked veteran media attorney Jay Bender who represents both the South Carolina Press Association and The State Media Company. “The notion that an inmate who dies has a right to privacy is bizarre because your right ...
A lawsuit filed in a California federal court on September 15, 2021, accuses private prison financier JPay, Inc. of violating both U.S. law and the constitutional rights of prisoners by returning money owed at their release in debit cards that eat up much of the balance in fees.
The lead plaintiff in the case, Adam Cain, is represented by the Seattle law firm of Sirianni Youtz, California civil rights attorney John Burton and the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which has published Prison Legal News since 1990 and Criminal Legal News since 2017. The suit seeks national class action status to represent any and all prisoners harmed by receiving funds due at release paid with a JPay release debit card.
Release debit cards are used by jails and prisons in many states to return prisoners funds they are owed at release. Instead of cash or a check, these prisoners received a debit card pre-loaded with the amount they are due.
Cain received his JPay release debit card when he left Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Riverside County, California. It was loaded with $213.50, which included all the cash he had left in his prisoner account plus $200 in “gate money” ...
by David M. Reutter
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found a Georgia Sheriff’s Deputy employed excessive force by detaining a pretrial detainee “in a hot, unventilated, and unair-conditioned transport van for approximately two hours” and was deliberately indifferent to the detainee’s serious medical needs. The court concluded the deputy was entitled to qualified immunity on the excessive force claim but not on the deliberate indifference claim.
The court’s August 11, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Nilesh S. Patel. He appealed from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lanier County Sheriff’s Deputy James Smith. He was tasked with transporting Patel from the Cook County Jail, where he was being held due to overcrowding, to the Lanier County Courthouse to be processed for release on bond.
Smith stopped at the Lowndes County Jail to pick up Brittney Grant, another pretrial detainee who was being taken to Lanier County to be released on bond. Upon arrival, Smith parked in the enclosed sally port and left Patel in van while he went to retrieve Grant. The conditions that day were “very hot” within the sally port and the van, with the outdoor temperature at around ...
by David M. Reutter
Colorado’s El Paso County Jail, the state’s largest jail, received almost $16 million in federal funds to cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It used most of those funds in jail renovations that were part of a longstanding wish list. Meanwhile, staff and detainees were not provided face masks, which led to an outbreak of COVID-19. The Colorado ACLU filed suit to force the jail to comply with basic COVID prevention protocols such as actually giving prisoners masks to wear.
Jail officials sought out money under the federal CARES Act after Deputy Jeff Hopkins, a 19-year veteran, died on April 1, 2001. He contracted COVID-19 while working at the jail’s intake and release.
“Losing that sheriff’s deputy so early on… was incredibly impacting as we were thinking about making decisions down the road,” said former El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.
“The CARES Act provides that payments from the Fund may only be used to cover costs that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019,” guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department states. The guidance also states the money should only be used for costs that ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 10, 2021, the Tennessee Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that it would rebid the $123 million contract it had awarded to Centurion to provide behavioral health services—including psychiatric and addiction services—to prisoners in DOC prisons. The move came after Corizon accused the DOC and Missouri-based Centurion of bid rigging in a federal court filing.
In April 2021, Corizon filed an amended complaint in federal court alleging former DOC chief financial officer Wesley Landers sent internal DOC emails related to the contract to a home Gmail account, then forwarded them to Centurion Vice President Jeffery Wells. Landers used a program that automatically scrubbed the emails from his computer. Wells and Landers also allegedly communicated using the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp.
Some of the emails were recovered from Centurion. One was a draft of the request for proposals sent to Wells nearly two months before it was made public. The suit alleges Landers received a “cushy” job with a Centurion affiliate in Georgia in exchange for the information. The suit also alleges that the performance bond for the contract was changed from $1 million to $118 million, putting the contract out of reach for Corizon, which is ...
by Daniel A. Rosen
An investigation conducted by the Mountain West News Bureau and NPR recently found that at least 19 men and women have died in the past five years in tribal jails overseen by the Interior Department, among other serious problems in the detention centers.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) oversees more than 70 tribal detention centers spread across the U.S. Officials there have known about the mistreatment of prisoners, in-custody deaths, inhumane conditions, attempted suicides, and other problems at least since 2004, when a federal investigation revealed the issues. The Interior Department’s own inspector general called the prisons a “national disgrace.”
Several of the 19 deaths in just the past five years came after guards failed to provide timely medical care. And many of the arrestees were in custody for minor infractions like petty theft or breaking open container laws. The BIA has refused to release details of some deaths, even after multiple requests.
NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau recently conducted dozens of interviews with investigators, lawmakers, law enforcement, and victim’s families, and reviewed hundreds of pages of records including lawsuits, jail logs, autopsy reports, and internal government reports—and found that the same problems ...
by Matt Clarke
A national audit of state parole systems conducted in 2019 gave Texas an “F” grade, noting it had some of the most burdensome requirements prisoners must meet before being approved for parole. Now a new study by the University of Texas Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs entitled, Dead Man Waiting, has shown that many of the prisoners who met those requirements die during the lengthy delays they suffer while awaiting release.
According to the report, only about 10% of the prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)—over 10,700—have been approved for parole and are awaiting release. Many of those prisoners have been tentatively approved for parole by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) conditioned upon the completion of in-prison rehabilitation programming.
The programming is not available to parole-eligible prisoners until the BPP approves them for parole and sets the requirement for the programming. The programming is administered by TDCJ, which places parole-approved prisoners on a list to enroll in the BPP-required programming whenever space becomes available. As a result, prisoners can remain in prison a year or two after receiving approval for parole while awaiting space to become available in ...
Prison Legal News (PLN) is encouraging our readers to file complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) if you feel you are being made to pay expensive rates to transfer money to your loved one in jail or prison or, if you are a prisoner, to receive money transfers from people outside of prison or jail.
The CFPB is a U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat consumers fairly. They are concerned with the issues facing imprisoned consumers and their families.
As PLN has reported, private companies like Jpay, GTL and others charge exorbitant fees for transferring money to prisoners. Services that used to be free when performed by the government are now available through monopoly contracts where private hedge fund owned companies charge obscene fees to do the same thing the government used to do at no cost.
In order to send $50 to a prisoner, a person may be charged an additional $6.95. Fees can be as high as 35 to 45 percent of the amount sent. In the aggregate, the amount of money sent to prisoners nationally each year is in the billions of dollars with these companies ...
by Brian Dolinar and Panagioti Tsolkas
"I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 18, I grew up in the penal system,” shares Mishunda Davis. “I went from the Cook County jail, to Dwight prison, to Lincoln, and I have never seen as many condemned buildings as I’ve seen since arriving here at Logan. I know because I’ve lived behind these prison walls for 20+ years. Logan is by far in the worst shape.”
“Years of living like this was the spark,” says Davis. “I chose to starve for a change.”
The worsening conditions at Logan Correctional Center, the main prison for women incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), recently grabbed headlines when three women organized a hunger strike. They wanted to expose the toxic and dangerous environment for all women there.
The Chicago Tribune reported in June 2021 news of the hunger strike. Women had been made to stand in raw sewage for days. There were 49 women who were moved to fix what IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess called “plumbing issues.” The women were housed in an old unit which had been previously shut down due to its crumbling infrastructure.
Conditions were so bad for three of the ...
by Matt Clarke
According to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office employees used money from a fund paid for by profits from the prisoners’ commissary purchases and phone calls to pay for airline fares, hotel rooms, routine jail maintenance, employee salaries, and security-related equipment. The prisoner welfare fund is designed to pay for programs and services that benefit the prisoners such as education and reentry job training.
The Bee requested Sheriff’s Office financial ledgers for fiscal years 2014-2020 under the Public Records Law. In hundreds of pages of documentation, it discovered that the Sheriff’s Office had collected an average of around $5 million each year from phone call and commissary fees, depositing the money in the fund. Each year between 66% and 93% of the fund expenditures were for personnel salaries, benefits, training and facility maintenance. In most years, less than $1 million was spent on programs that directly benefit prisoners such as the law library and education programs. Phone services at the jail are provided by IC Solutions, which in turn is owned by Keefe Group, the prison commissary company.
Prior to 1993, by state law, prisoner welfare funds could “solely” be used for the “benefit and welfare” ...
by Doug Ankney
James Desper is a convicted sex offender incarcerated at the Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, Virginia. For six years, Desper received visits from his minor child without incident. None of Desper’s crimes or convictions involved his child. But in March 2014, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) amended Operating Procedure 851.1 (OP 851.1).
As amended, OP 851.1 prohibits prisoners who are required to register on Virginia’s Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry from having in-person visits with minors unless the prisoner receives an exemption from prison officials. Desper’s child was removed from his list of approved visitors and the two could no longer visit. Desper twice applied for an exemption but his applications were denied without any reason given. Desper filed suit against several officials from the VDOC alleging his right to association under the First Amendment, as well as his rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment were denied. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and Desper appealed.
The Fourth Circuit observed “[w]hile ‘[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution,’ Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), ...
by Kevin Bliss
The Virginia Mercury reported this year that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that a vast majority of contraband being introduced into the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) has not been coming from visitation as indicated by the Department. Statistics show stopping visitation did not have the effect of reducing incoming contraband by the expected amount.
The article said that the VDOC focused overwhelmingly on prisoners’ visitation as the primary means of contraband introduction into prison facilities. Starting from that flawed perspective, draconian visiting rules were implemented. The VDOC began requiring prisoners to be stripped, searched and changed into state issue underwear and jumpsuit in 2017. After their visitation was over they were again subjected to a strip search and clothing change.
The following year, the VDOC stated women could not wear tampons to visitation when menstruating. The Department had picked up a new type of body scanning device which could detect contraband hidden in body cavities and a tampon gave a false positive reading.
Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney emphasized the VDOC’s position with a comment she made at that time. “There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing ...
On July 6, 2021, Veronica Ortega, 45, a former medical assistant at the GEO-owned and -operated East Hidalgo Detention Center pleaded guilty to bribery after admitting she received cash to smuggle marijuana into the jail. She was the seventh GEO employee to plead guilty to the charges presented in federal indictments following a joint U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, and U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General investigation into bribery and drug smuggling at the jail.
The 1,300-bed jail is used to hold people in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Marshals, and other federal agencies. Notably, it held Erick Alan “Cachorro” Torres Davila, who was arrested along with his stepfather, Guillermo “Don Gio” Morales, as part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation targeting the Gulf Cartel. Although they pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2018, they were held in the jail awaiting sentencing for three years.
Former GEO guard Erasmo Loya confessed to providing Torres Davila cocaine between November 2016 and June 2019, before pleading guilty. Former GEO guard Jhaziel Loredo and former GEO commissary officer Jayson Catlan also pleaded guilty to the federal charges.
Former GEO guard Domingo Gonzalez Hernandez admitted ...
On August 9, 2019, an Indiana federal court memorialized the stipulations in a private settlement agreement between the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) and a class of prisoners subject to restrictions on incoming mail. The DOC agreed to photocopy non-legal mail, including greeting cards, and deliver the photocopies to the prisoners.
Charles Sweeney and Anthony Delarosa were the named plaintiffs in a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOC mail regulations that effectively banned greeting cards, colored paper, colored envelopes and printer paper in non-legal incoming correspondence.
Executive Directive #18-34 required that non-legal incoming correspondence “be in a plain white envelope and the letter/correspondence inside the envelope must be on originally purchased, plain while, lined paper. Photographs shall be permitted provided they are printed onto originally purchased, plain white, lined paper.”
The justification given for this restriction was that paper was being dipped in liquid drugs and mailed into the DOC and colored paper helped disguise it. By contrast, the lines on white lined paper became distorted when the paper was dipped in a drug solution, revealing the manipulation.
The plaintiffs pointed out that such an extreme restriction infringed on their First Amendment rights—especially since printer paper ...
by Douglas Ankney
In December 2016, Prince McCoy Jr. was confined in a segregation cell at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas. The prisoner in the cell adjacent to McCoy’s threw water on Officer Tajudeen Alamu. Alamu left and the prisoner covered the front of his cell with bedding. Alamu returned with pepper spray. Frustrated that he could not spray the prisoner who had thrown the water, Alamu sprayed McCoy.
McCoy filed suit in federal district court in 2017, alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court relied on Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S. Ct. 995 (1992) and ruled in Alamu’s favor. The district court determined that McCoy had failed to show that Alamu’s assault was excessive or malicious and that McCoy’s injuries were minor.
McCoy appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Alamu had indeed violated McCoy’s Eighth Amendment rights but ruled in Alamu’s favor on qualified immunity grounds. In a nutshell, the Court determined that because there wasn’t any circuit precedent with similar material facts to inform correctional officers that spraying prisoners with pepper spray without provocation or justification violated the Eighth Amendment, it was ...
by David M. Reutter
Residents of Allegheny County voted to restrict the use of solitary confinement. The ballot measure was overwhelmingly approved during a May 18, 2021 election.
PLN has previously reported on the brutalizing by guards and the improper use of solitary confinement within the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). [See PLN, Sept 2016, p. 27]. Voters apparently decided it was time for a change. Nearly 70% of them, or more than 166,000 people, supported the ballot measure to ban the use of solitary confinement within ACJ except in certain circumstances. Voters said such confinement may be used only in cases of lockdowns, medical or safety emergencies, and protective separation requests.
Officials used solitary confinement as punishment whenever a detainee violated jail rules. “It’s inhuman,” said Brandi Fisher, who heads the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) in Pittsburgh.
On the same day as the vote on ending solitary in the county, Pittsburgh voters banned no-knock warrants in the city. About 81% of voters, or more than 49,000 people, supported the measure. That approval amends the city charter to ban police from serving a search warrant without announcing themselves.
The measure is similar to laws enacted in other jurisdictions in ...
by David M. Reutter
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the defendants in a civil rights lawsuit alleging they were deliberately indifferent to a prisoner’s serious medical needs. This case highlights the need for expert medical testimony to win in such cases.
The court’s June 7, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Iowa prisoner Elvin Redmond. He reported on March 27, 2017, that he had a swollen and painful fifth toe on his right foot. As he has diabetes and hepatitis, he required ongoing treatment. He was examined by Nurse Practitioner Jana Hacker at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility (FDCF). She prescribed pain medication and ordered a follow up in two days.
After she saw a blister had formed, she prescribed an antibiotic injection, a daily oral antibiotic, and a twice-a-day topical cream. After the blister opened, Redmond ran a temperature. Hacker sent him to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) emergency room on March 31, 2017. He was evaluated and an x-ray was taken. A doctor prescribed an oral antibiotic, which a prison doctor substituted for a different antibiotic, and he was returned to FDCF the same ...
by Kevin Bliss
A suit against Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard was settled in June 2021. The New York State Commission of Correction (Commission) filed the suit against the Eric County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) for their inability to comply with a directive regulating the reporting and investigating of incidents “of a serious or potentially problematic nature.”
The lawsuit alleged that the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility (the Facilities) failed to report several incidents occurring after the directive was issued, including sexual misconduct and staff assaults on prisoners.
In 2017, the Commission held a hearing and determined the ECSO failed to properly report several incidents of assault, erroneous release, and suicide. This failure prompted the Commission to develop a set of directives regarding reporting and investigating incidents within the jails. First, all serious incidents of sexual misconduct and assault must be reported to the Commission within 24 hours. Reports of erroneous releasee or suicide attempts must be filed promptly. Serious incidents occurring within the Facilities must be reported immediately using eJusticeNY Integrated Justice Portal’s online submission form.
In March 2021, the Commission filed suit against the sheriff of Erie County claiming there were at least eight ...
by Chuck Sharman
On the heels of a May 2021 decision by federal regulators that sharply lowered rates prisoners and their loved ones pay for interstate calls, the California Public Utilities Commission (CAPUC) adopted a rule on August 19, 2021, which takes a hatchet to rates on intrastate calls—the lion’s share of the $1.2 billion U.S. market for prisoner calls, which currently run as high as $6.95 a minute in the state. The rule establishes a rate cap for the first time in the Golden State that now limits providers of “Incarcerated Person’s Calling Services” (IPCS) on an interim basis to a fee of $0.07 per minute.
Paul Wright, the director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida nonprofit which publishes Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News, provided expert testimony in the proceedings before CAPUC.
When the new rule takes effect on October 7, 2021, 45 days after it was both adopted and issued, it will provide immediate relief to nearly 77,000 prisoners held in California’s 249 local and county jails, plus almost 11,500 prisoners held in 16 federal prisons in the state. There are another 94,500 state prisoners held by the California Department of Corrections and ...
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that “in the context of civil complaints, the prison mailbox rule applies only to prisoners who are not represented by counsel and are proceeding pro se.”
The court’s February 17, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Blake Cretacci, who alleged that guards at Tennessee’s Coffee County Jail failed to protect him and used excessive force on him. His complaint is for three separate incidents that occurred on September 29, 2015, October 11, 2015, and January 14, 2017 while he was a pretrial detainee at the jail.
That occurred on September 29, 2015, October 11, 2015, and January 14, 2017. Cretacci alleged that during those incidents guards failed to protect him from assault by other detainees and that guards used excessive force by shooting pepperballs at him.
Cretacci secured attorney Andrew Justice to represent him in a lawsuit against the jail. On the eve of the one-year statute of limitations expiring to bring suit, Justice realized he was not admitted to practice law in the Middle District of Tennessee. He then took the complaint to Cretacci on September 29, 2016, and told him to give it to jail officials immediately to ...
In late August, 2021, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced what is likely a temporary closure of its Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), located in lower Manhattan. It has been cited for its repeated lack of oversight, most recently for the death of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein who died, or was murdered, while guards slept and surfed the internet [See PLN, Jul 2021, p. 65].
Other famous prisoners who have been held at the jail include Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, mob boss John Gotti, and Ponzi scheme financier Bernie Madoff.
More than 200 prisoners currently held at MCC are expected to be moved to a federal jail in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, security and infrastructure issues will be addressed at the Manhattan facility. The closure comes just weeks after a deputy attorney general toured the jail.
In early 2020, just before the pandemic broke out, a gun was found at the MCC, prompting a week-long lockdown and an investigation by then-Attorney General William Barr.
In April 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed which alleged administrators of MCC failed to provide an adequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The MCC’s treatment of those suspected of having COVID-19,” ...
On May 26, 2021, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed S.B. 753, Public Act 21-13, which created a new statute requiring the state to count most imprisoned persons as residents of the district where they were living before they were imprisoned for purposes of redistricting. The previous practice was to count them as residents of the district where they are imprisoned. That practice—known as prison gerrymandering—exaggerated the political power of the mostly rural districts where the prisons are located while diluting the political power of the urban districts most of the prisoners come from.
The Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP and the ACLU of Connecticut (ACLU-CT) have been championing an end to prison gerrymandering in the state for more than ten years. They were represented by the Yale School of Law’s Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic.
With the enactment of S.B. 753, Connecticut became the eleventh state to be added to the list of those abolishing prison gerrymandering. New York, California and New Jersey have also passed similar legislation.
“This moment is only possible because justice-impacted people and their loved ones have been fighting for it for more than a decade. No longer will Connecticut violate the dignity of ...
by David M. Reutter
Private prison operator CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), paid $56 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging it violated securities laws that resulted in a loss to stock holders.
The lawsuit was filed August 23, 2016, on behalf of the class of stock holders of CoreCivic, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “CXW.” The class consisted of persons who held CCA stock between February 27, 2012 and August 17, 2016. The class specifically excluded CCA and CoreCivic officers named as defendants.
At issue were allegedly materially false and misleading statements issued during the class period. The civil complaint cited statements made in Annual Reports CCA filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A 2012 report noted that 40-43% of CCA’s revenue was derived from contracts with the federal government through operation of prisons and detention centers.
CCA also boasted that, as of December 10, 2010, the American Correctional Association (ACA), “an independent organization of corrections industry professionals that establishes standards by which a correctional facility may gain accreditation,” had accredited 85% of its facilities. “We believe that this percentage compares favorably to the percentage of ...
by Jayson Hawkins
In July 2020, Judge Consuelo Marshall of the U.S. District Court for Central California granted class certification to a group of prisoners at Lompoc federal prison, granting in part and denying in part their motion for preliminary injunction.
The group of prisoners at Lompoc filed a complaint against the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the warden of Lompoc asserting violations of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in relation to conditions of confinement at Lompoc during the COVID-19 pandemic and the BOP’s failure to alleviate overcrowding at the prison through home confinement and early release procedures provided for by law.
The suit, Torres v. Milusnic, survived the standard motions for dismissal, and the plaintiffs subsequently petitioned the court for certification as a class comprising “all current and future people in post-conviction custody at Lompoc,” and also sought a preliminary injunction compelling the BOP to institute emergency procedures for early release and release to home confinement during the pandemic.
In order to succeed in a motion for preliminary injunction, a petitioner must show (1) they are likely to succeed on the merits, (2) they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in ...
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision, held a prisoner who had symptoms of fibrosis from Hepatitis C (HCV) and claimed prison officials refused to treat him was sufficient to satisfy that he was under imminent danger of serious physical harm. He, therefore, satisfied the exception to the three strikes rule in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) to proceed in forma pauperis.
The court’s March 5, 2011, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Georgia prisoner Lester J. Smith. His civil rights action alleged he has chronic HCV and he was seeking treatment that Georgia prison officials have been denying him. The district court found, and Smith admitted, that he has three strikes under § 1915(g).
That provision of law prohibits a prisoner from proceeding in forma pauperis in a civil action when he “has, on 3 or more occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” The only exception to the three strikes rule is when, “the prisoner is under imminent ...
by Kevin Bliss
Washington, D.C.’s jail safe cell use has been under scrutiny since 2013 when a rash of suicides prompted the jail to hire Lindsay Hayes, a nationally renowned jail and prison suicide prevention expert, to evaluate the jail’s operations and offer recommendations to make it more effective with fewer deaths and more humane conditions. Prisoner rights activists are concerned that conditions have still not changed since then, even after a 2015 lawsuit ordered the county to make changes.
The use of isolation in confinement by jails and prisons has been a major focus in the nation recently. Yet, that has not included the use of “safe cells” for those under suicide prevention watch. These cells are similar to other solitary confinement cells in prison with a few additions. Overhead fluorescent lights are left on 24 hours a day. A hard, plastic box with no mattress serves as a bed. Access to water for drinking or flushing the toilet must be specifically requested each usage. And the only clothing issued is a type of smock made out of blankets and Velcro which hangs loosely on the body, not fully covering anything.
Hayes recommended avoiding the use of isolation as ...
by Keith Sanders
On June 8, officials in Woodbury County, Iowa, voted unanimously to approve the use of money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help fund the construction of a new $65 million regional jail complex. The 110,000 square-foot facility will house 480 prisoners and provide space for four courtrooms and a county attorney’s office.
Originally, the county’s cost to build the new jail was $50 million, which was raised during a bond referendum in 2020. But according to reporting by IowaWatch, county supervisors announced that the cost had gone up due to inflation induced by the pandemic. They also disclosed that Woodbury County has less reserve funds than other counties in Iowa, thus needing to seek funding from other sources.
ARPA passed in early 2021 in order to provide economic relief to Americans amidst the coronavirus pandemic in the form of direct financial payments. The $1.9 trillion stimulus package was also supposed to stimulate the lagging U.S. economy. Money from ARPA was allocated to the states, which in turn dispersed it to counties and cities. Iowa received $4 billion.
The U.S. Treasury set specific guidelines for how states, cities, and counties could spend ARPA funds. IowaWatch ...
by David M. Reutter
A $1 million settlement was reached in a civil rights lawsuit alleging officials at Georgia State Prison (GSP) failed to take action to prevent a prisoner’s suicide attempt, which resulted in his death three years later.
Prisoner Nicholas Baldwin was 17 years old when he was transferred to GSP, which was a violation of its policy to house only persons 18 and older. Prior to that transfer, Nicholas had attempted suicide on two prior occasions. His mother, Debra Baldwin, became very concerned when he refused visitation with her on October 23, 2014, which compelled her to contact the prison to express her concern that Nicholas should be placed in a psychiatric facility.
Debra spoke to mental health counselor Kimberly Hall on November 6 and informed her of the prior suicide attempts. While Hall recognized after an interview with Nicholas that he needed “emergency” psychiatric care, her response was to schedule an appointment five days later on November 11.
Another mental health counselor, Madia West, met with Nicholas on November 6, and she suspected “possible psychosis” as his current mental health condition. He reported seeing Satan and practicing black magic. The reason he refused visitation was because ...
by Daniel A. Rosen
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently ordered two civil immigration detention facilities closed and terminated the contracts for both. DHS said the Carreiro Detention Center in Bristol County, Massachusetts and the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia were “no longer operationally necessary,” according to an agency official.
Both centers have been the subject of complaints about the conditions of confinement. The Massachusetts jail has been accused of inhumane conditions, abuse and neglect of detainees, and overcrowding. The Georgia facility was accused of failing to follow COVID-19 protocols, and abusive medical practices.
In announcing the closures, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “Allow me to state one foundational principle: We will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.” Mayorkas went on to say that “We have an obligation to make lasting improvements to our civil immigration detention system. This marks an important first step to realizing that goal.”
In Massachusetts, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has come under federal scrutiny for its management of the ICE contract. The state’s Attorney General, Maura Healey, also found in a 2020 report that the BCSO violated the rights of ...
A Ventura County, California jail deputy finds himself on the other side of the law after Superior Court Judge Gilbert Romero recently found him guilty of sexual misconduct with a female prisoner. The county of Ventura has paid $500,000 to settle a sexual assault lawsuit filed by the same former prisoner.
Megan Wilson was being held in the Ventura County Jail in 2019 when she was raped by guard Leonard Lopez. Lopez, a 49-year-old Southern California deputy, entered her cell in the special housing unit and the jail infirmary where she was recuperating from seizures and other medical conditions and proceeded to fondle and rape her. After the encounter, Wilson immediately reported Lopez’s misconduct to staff members at the jail.
Ventura County officials and Deputy Lopez denied the woman’s allegations. Nevertheless, criminal charges were later filed against Lopez, who was subsequently terminated in September 2020. Lopez was sentenced in June to 120 days in jail and a year on probation.
In February 2021, Wilson filed a civil suit in federal court against Ventura County and Lopez alleging civil rights violations. On August 16, 2021, the parties reached a settlement, with Wilson being paid $500,000 for agreeing to drop the suit. ...
by Dan Christensen, Florida Bulldog, September 20, 2021
In a ruling that undermines an 81-year-old anti-corruption law prohibiting pay-to-play political contributions by federal contractors, an impotent Federal Election Commission in September 2021, disclosed that it allowed Boca Raton private prison contractor The GEO Group to get away with making hundreds of thousands of dollars of otherwise illegal contributions to Super PACs.
The Federal Election Campaign Act, passed in 1940, bars any person or firm negotiating or performing a federal contract from contributing “directly or indirectly” to any political party, committee, federal candidate or any person for any political purpose or use. The idea: to prevent undue influence in the awarding of taxpayer-funded contracts.
Super PACs, technically known as independent expenditure-only committees, are allowed to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals. They can spend that money to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. They are not allowed to donate money directly to political candidates, and their spending cannot be coordinated with the candidates they benefit.
In 2016, Washington, D.C.’s Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the FEC against Rebuilding America Now, the primary pro-Trump Super PAC founded that year by then-Trump campaign manager Paul ...
Alabama: On August 19, 2021, twoconvicted robbers were convicted of murder in the death of a fellow prisoner they and two others attacked in 2017 at Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, Alabama. According to a report by Montgomery TV station WSFA, Dominique Covin and Roderick DeLaune were found guilty of killing Cedric Jerome Robinson in an attack which also left another unidentifed prisoner with injuries described as non-life-threatening. Two other convicted robbers involved in the attack, Anthony Bright and Byron Epps, also face capital murder charges in Robinson’s killing. Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson said that Covin was sentenced to a 30-year prison term for the murder conviction, adding that DeLaune’s sentencing was waiting on a pre-sentence investigation.
Arkansas: Ivermectin, a veterinary medicine touted by some conservatives as a COVID-19 treatment has been used to treat prisoners at the jail in Washington County, Arkansas, a justice of the peace there revealed at a county meeting on August 24, 2021. According to a report by TalkingPointsMemo.com,Justice of the Peace Eva Madison shared a photo at the meeting of a prescription for the medication written for a jail employee by its contracted healthcare provider, Dr. Rob Karas. Though Madison said ...