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Prison Legal News: December, 2021

Issue PDF
Volume 32, Number 12

In this issue:

  1. Environmental Indifference (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 22)
  3. $15,379,091 Judgment Entered Against Delaware DOC’s Former Health Care Provider for Narcotics and Medicare Fraud (p 22)
  4. Report Highlights Force Feeding of Hunger Striking Asylum Seekers by ICE and GEO (p 24)
  5. Fourth Circuit Holds CoreCivic Immigration Detainees in New Mexico Not “Employees” Under FLSA (p 24)
  6. San Luis Obispo County Jail Conditions Violate Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (p 26)
  7. Federal Jury Orders GEO Group to Pay $23 Million for Immigrant Detainee Slave Labor in Washington (p 26)
  8. How Trump Made a Tiny Christian College the Nation’s Biggest Prison Educator (p 28)
  9. BOP Trust Fund Accounts Reportedly Shield Prisoners from Payment Obligations (p 30)
  10. $53 Million Settlement in Los Angeles Jail Strip Search Lawsuit Approved (p 31)
  11. Disenfranchisement the Old Fashioned Way (p 32)
  12. Whistleblower Alleges Hawaii Prison Officials Provided False Audit Data (p 34)
  13. HRDC Sues Lincoln County Wisconsin Jail over Censorship Practices (p 36)
  14. Ninth Circuit: Pretrial Detainees Have Right to Direct-View Safety Checks (p 36)
  15. Federal Prisons’ Switch to Scanning Mail Is a Surveillance Nightmare (p 38)
  16. Eleventh Circuit: Preliminary Injunctions Have 90-Day Limit Under PLRA; Permanent Injunction Required to Extend Relief (p 40)
  17. Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Illegal Juvenile LWOP Sentence Undermined Validity of Later Conviction (p 42)
  18. Eighth Circuit Rules District Court Must Use Federal Law for Admissibility of Expert Testimony (p 42)
  19. Too Many In-Custody Deaths of BOP Prisoners are Unnecessary and Preventable (p 44)
  20. California Supreme Court: Prisoners Cannot Legally Possess Cannabis (p 46)
  21. Public Records Suit Filed Against Florida DOC To Obtain Formula Used To Compute Sentences (p 47)
  22. History Professor Fired After Criticizing University’s Racist Past and Pro-Prison Present (p 48)
  23. Prison Visitors Have Fourth Amendment Right to Refuse Strip Search and Option to Leave Prison (p 48)
  24. Unreliable Drug Tests Standard for Law Enforcement and Prisons (p 48)
  25. Massachusetts Prisons Pledge to End Solitary (p 49)
  26. Civilly Detained Sex Offender Plaintiff Proceeding In Forma Pauperis Not a Prisoner Under PLRA (p 51)
  27. $405,794 Paid by California Prison System for Prisoner Killed by Aryan Brotherhood Cellmate (p 52)
  28. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Sanctions and Award of $118,458 in Attorney Fees Against DOC for Withholding Documents Requested Under Right-to-Know Law (p 52)
  29. Texas County Jail Cited for Neglecting the Needs of a Pregnant Prisoner (p 54)
  30. $170,000 Settlement and New Policy on Gender Identity from Lawsuit Against New Jersey DOC (p 54)
  31. Salvation Army Sued for a Failing to Pay Wages to Drug Program Participants (p 55)
  32. Sherburne County, MN, Settles with HRDC for $98,000 Plus New Jail Publications Policy (p 56)
  33. New Jersey Women’s Prison to Close After Latest Abuse Debacle (p 56)
  34. Eighth Circuit Holds Arkansas Jailers Entitled to Qualified Immunity in Prisoners’ Suit Over Black Mold in Showers, Lack of Cleaning Supplies (p 57)
  35. ABA’s Private Prisons Prophecy Comes to Pass (p 58)
  36. Michigan Prisoner’s Corizon Suit Dismissed Due to “Morass of Irrelevancies” (p 58)
  37. Seven Ohio Guards Fired After Killing Prisoner, No Criminal Charges (p 59)
  38. Third Circuit: Gratuitous Use of Force on Prisoner Negates Qualified Immunity Defense (p 60)
  39. Delaware Mother Jailed for Not Paying $177 in Fines, Dies in Custody, Nurse Convicted (p 61)
  40. Forty-One Oregon Prisoner Firefighters have Sentences Commuted (p 62)
  41. News in Brief (p 62)

Environmental Indifference

How exposure to radon in prisons may be functioning  as a form of mass capital punishment

by Anthony Moffa

I can’t breathe.

–Eric Garner, George Floyd, and atleast seventy others

 

The thought of radioactive gas in the night air in the place you lay your head is the stuff ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

This is the last issue of Prison Legal News for 2021 and it is ending pretty much where it started in terms of widespread COVID outbreaks in prisons and jails across the country. The good news is there are now vaccines available which appear to mitigate if ...

$15,379,091 Judgment Entered Against Delaware DOC’s Former Health Care Provider for Narcotics and Medicare Fraud

by Chuck Sharman

Under a pair of consent judgments filed in federal court on October 29 and November 1, 2021, troubled former Delaware Department of Corrections (DOC) health care contractor Connections Community Support Programs (CCSP) agreed to pay the federal and state governments a total of $15,379,091.60 to settle claims ...

Report Highlights Force Feeding of Hunger Striking Asylum Seekers by ICE and GEO

by Ed Lyon

Regardless of what people without first-hand knowledge of prisons or detention centers believe, prisoners are generally not the blood-thirsty, brutal animals depicted in the media. In fact, especially in the face of SWAT-styled rapid response teams used within institutions, prisoners are mostly hopeless, helpless, often powerless individuals. ...

Fourth Circuit Holds CoreCivic Immigration Detainees in New Mexico Not “Employees” Under FLSA

A panel of judges in the Fourth Circuit agreed with the dismissal of an appeal brought by former ICE detainees held by CoreCivic at their Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico. The ruling was released March 5, 2021 in a case first filed in 2019.

Former ICE detainees ...

San Luis Obispo County Jail Conditions Violate Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments

by Keith Sanders

On August 31, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division released a report detailing its investigation concerning the conditions inside San Luis Obispo County Jail.

The findings of the report, conducted pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42, U.S.C. § 1997, ...

Federal Jury Orders GEO Group to Pay $23 Million for Immigrant Detainee Slave Labor in Washington

In a landmark case, a federal jury decided against the GEO Group for paying $1 dollar a day wages to immigrant detainees at its privately-operated prison in Washington.

The facility in question is the Northwest ICE Processing Center (formerly the Northwest Detention Center) in Tacoma located on a toxic waste ...

How Trump Made a Tiny Christian College the Nation’s Biggest Prison Educator

by Eli Hager, The Marshall Project

Six years ago, Ashland University, a small Christian college in the north-central region of Ohio known as the “Buckeye Bible Belt,” was in trouble. The school was $70 million in debt, was given a “junk” rating by the investors’ service Moody’s, and was later ...

BOP Trust Fund Accounts Reportedly Shield Prisoners from Payment Obligations

by Dale Chappell

Imagine being able to “hide” your money in an account where the government supposedly has no access to it and cannot force you to pay any court-ordered financial obligations, such as child support or restitution to victims of your crimes. That’s what critics are saying federal prisoners ...

$53 Million Settlement in Los Angeles Jail Strip Search Lawsuit Approved

by David M. Reutter

A California federal district court approved a $53 million settlement in a class action lawsuit alleging women held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) were subjected to “highly invasive body cavity searches” from March 5, 2008 to January 1, 2015. [See: PLN, Dec ...

Disenfranchisement the Old Fashioned Way

A federal district court judge looks at the history and impact of keeping prisoners from the polls

by Jayson Hawkins

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, legislatures across the nation responded to claims of election fraud by proposing a flurry of election laws that seem to be aimed at ...

Whistleblower Alleges Hawaii Prison Officials Provided False Audit Data

A staffer says false data in a 2018 audit of the Maui jail hid deviations from staffing requirements under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

by Kevin Dayton, Honolulu Civil Beat

State officials submitted data for a federal audit of the Maui jail in 2018 that dramatically understated the number ...

HRDC Sues Lincoln County Wisconsin Jail over Censorship Practices

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) sued the Lincoln County, Wisconsin, Jail (LCJ) alleging its mail policies violate HRDC’s First Amendment rights by banning all publications. The lawsuit also alleges Fourteenth Amendment violations for failing to provide due process when censoring HRDC’s publications and for its vague policy.

HRDC first ...

Ninth Circuit: Pretrial Detainees Have Right to Direct-View Safety Checks

by David M. Reutter

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to a jail nurse, holding that it was clearly established at the time of the events relevant to the lawsuit under review that an arrestee being booked into jail had a constitutional right to ...

Federal Prisons’ Switch to Scanning Mail Is a Surveillance Nightmare

The Bureau of Prisons has piloted a program that can give authorities “huge secret intelligence into the public sender of postal mail.”

by Lauren Gill, originally published by The Intercept, September 26, 2021

In a Pennsylvania federal prison, Joe used to trace his girlfriend’s handwriting with his finger as the faint ...

Eleventh Circuit: Preliminary Injunctions Have 90-Day Limit Under PLRA; Permanent Injunction Required to Extend Relief

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that “the entry of a permanent injunction is necessary to prevent a preliminary injunction from expiring by operation of law after 90 days under the PLRA’s (Prison Litigation Reform Act) ‘unless’ clause.” That holding resulted in the Court vacating ...

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Illegal Juvenile LWOP Sentence Undermined Validity of Later Conviction

by Douglas Ankney 

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that an illegal mandatory sentence of life without parole (“LWOP”) imposed upon a juvenile undermined the validity of a later conviction for assault by a life prisoner predicated on the LWOP.

In 1970, James Henry Cobbs was 17 years old when ...

Eighth Circuit Rules District Court Must Use Federal Law for Admissibility of Expert Testimony

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with Plaintiff Craig Shipp that a district court erred when it failed to rely on federal law in determining the admissibility of the testimony of Shipp’s expert, but in this case the error was harmless.

Shipp was ...

Too Many In-Custody Deaths of BOP Prisoners are Unnecessary and Preventable

by Casey J. Bastian

William Figueria was imprisoned at Butner, a federal facility in North Carolina. Figueria was 63-years-old, and was serving a 30-month sentence for Distribution of Cocaine Base. On April 20, 2020, Figueria died as a result of his significant underlying medical conditions which included chronic hepatitis C, ...

California Supreme Court: Prisoners Cannot Legally Possess Cannabis

by Casey Bastian

On November 8, 2016, California voters went to the polls to consider whether the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, known as Proposition 64 (Prop64), should be approved. Prop64 was easily passed with voters clearly supporting the legalization of recreational marijuana. Medicinal use in ...

Public Records Suit Filed Against Florida DOC To Obtain Formula Used To Compute Sentences

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has filed a second public records lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to obtain the formulas used to calculate a prisoner’s release date. The first resulted in information supplied, as well as several case studies, but no formulas. The DOC ...

History Professor Fired After Criticizing University’s Racist Past and Pro-Prison Present

by Keith Sanders

Dr. Garrett Felber, a history professor at the University of Mississippi (UM), has distinguished himself over the years as a vocal critic of America’s racist criminological and penological institutions. At conferences and public speaking engagements, he has decried mass incarceration, called for the abolition of prisons, and ...

Prison Visitors Have Fourth Amendment Right to Refuse Strip Search and Option to Leave Prison

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a strip search of a prison visitor without first giving them the option of the leaving the prison was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court, however, granted the defendants qualified immunity because that right was not clearly established at the time ...

Unreliable Drug Tests Standard for Law Enforcement and Prisons

by Keith Sanders

Illicit drugs pose a serious problem for both prisoners and officials inside America’s prisons and jails. To combat smuggling, many state and federal prisons use field test kits to evaluate substances introduced into the facilities. These kits allow prison officials to detect the presence of meth, amphetamines, ...

Massachusetts Prisons Pledge to End Solitary

by Jayson Hawkins

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) surprised many critics with a June 2021 announcement of its intent to eliminate solitary confinement as it currently exists in the state prison system.

State Public Safety and Security Secretary Thomas Turco said in a statement that after a comprehensive review, ...

Civilly Detained Sex Offender Plaintiff Proceeding In Forma Pauperis Not a Prisoner Under PLRA

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that “an individual detained pursuant to civil sex offender confinement statute is not a ‘prisoner’ under the PLRA.” The court directed the clerk to reimburse the appellant all funds it has withdrawn from his account to pay the filing fee.

The court’s June ...

$405,794 Paid by California Prison System for Prisoner Killed by Aryan Brotherhood Cellmate

On November 1, 2021, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to a settlement under which the state agreed to pay $405,794.06 to the mother of a state prisoner murdered by his cellmate after guards who placed them together failed to notice that one’s gang affiliation posed a ...

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Sanctions and Award of $118,458 in Attorney Fees Against DOC for Withholding Documents Requested Under Right-to-Know Law

On December 22, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a decision of a lower court finding the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) acted in bad faith in responding to a request for records under the state’s Right-to-Know (RTK) Law, 65 P.S. §§ 67.101-67.3104, making the award of $118,458.37 in attorney ...

Texas County Jail Cited for Neglecting the Needs of a Pregnant Prisoner

by Keith Sanders

In December, 2020, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) issued a Special Inspection Report detailing the Brazoria County jail’s failure to attend to the nutritional needs of a pregnant prisoner. The report cited the jail for not ensuring that pregnant prisoners are given meals appropriate to ...

$170,000 Settlement and New Policy on Gender Identity from Lawsuit Against New Jersey DOC

by Jayson Hawkins

The New Jersey Department of Corrections had a policy of housing prisoners according to their gender assignment at birth, regardless of whether they are transgender or of any non-binary sexual orientation. As a result, when Sonia Doe (not her real name) was sentenced to prison, she was ...

Salvation Army Sued for a Failing to Pay Wages to Drug Program Participants

A class action lawsuit alleges that the Salvation Army’s adult drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and adult rehabilitation programs violate California law by failing to treat participants in those programs as employees.

The civil complaint was filed in a California Superior Court on May 7, 2021. Plaintiffs Justin Spillman, Devin ...

Sherburne County, MN, Settles with HRDC for $98,000 Plus New Jail Publications Policy

by Chuck Sharman

A settlement was reached on May 11, 2021, in a censorship complaint filed in August 2020 against Sherburne County, Minnesota, and its Sheriff, Joel Brott, by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the Florida nonprofit that publishes Prison Legal News (PLN) and Criminal Legal News (CLN).

Under ...

New Jersey Women’s Prison to Close After Latest Abuse Debacle

by Jayson Hawkins

On the night of January 20, 2021, as the nation was buckling beneath the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a cascade of violence was unfolding inside a women’s prison in New Jersey.

Prisons are not immune to the social stresses playing out across the rest of ...

Eighth Circuit Holds Arkansas Jailers Entitled to Qualified Immunity in Prisoners’ Suit Over Black Mold in Showers, Lack of Cleaning Supplies

by Matt Clarke

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that Arkansas jailers were entitled to qualified immunity in a lawsuit brought by prisoners in 2017 who alleged their shower area was covered in black mold and they were never given any cleaning supplies. The court also ...

ABA’s Private Prisons Prophecy Comes to Pass

by Ed Lyon

Prison populations exploded in every state across the country during the 1980s and ‘90s. It was during that massive expansion that the modern private prison industry was born as a “way to ease the burden on taxpayers by reducing public spending on government-run facilities,” as touted by ...

Michigan Prisoner’s Corizon Suit Dismissed Due to “Morass of Irrelevancies”

by David M. Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights complaint because it was filled with “pages of irrelevant and unspecific allegations.” The Court said that in drafting a complaint, a “plaintiff must not append so many limbs and outward flourishes to ...

Seven Ohio Guards Fired After Killing Prisoner, No Criminal Charges

On January 26, 2021, 55-year-old Michael McDaniel entered the Corrections Reception Center in Orient, Pickaway County, Ohio, to serve a sixteen-month sentence for aggravated assault in Franklin County, Ohio. Jada McDaniel, his sister, said that he was a Black veteran of the U.S. Navy who struggled with drug addiction. “He ...

Third Circuit: Gratuitous Use of Force on Prisoner Negates Qualified Immunity Defense

by David M. Reutter

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment in a lawsuit against a guard at New Jersey’s Cumberland County Jail (CCJ). The Court held the guard was not entitled to qualified immunity because it was clearly established at the time of the ...

Delaware Mother Jailed for Not Paying $177 in Fines, Dies in Custody, Nurse Convicted

Tiffany Reeves, a mother of three, was arrested in October 2018 on two outstanding warrants and detained at the Sussex Correctional Institution, an all-male facility, to await hearings before two judges. One of the warrants stemmed from Reeves’ attempt to purchase heroin a year earlier in New Castle County, Delaware ...

Forty-One Oregon Prisoner Firefighters have Sentences Commuted

Oregon endured a devastating wildfire season in 2020. The fires raged across the state incinerating over one million acres of land and more than 4,000 homes. Prisoners enslaved in the Oregon Department of Corrections stepped up to assist their fellow citizens, risking their lives, health and safety for a meager ...

News in Brief

Alabama: A 20-year-old guard at the Lauderdale County Detention Center in Florence, Alabama, was arrested on October 29, 2021, on charges that he attempted to smuggle methamphetamine into the jail. According to a report by Huntsville TV station WHNT, the guard, Matthew Moran, faces one count of attempting to commit ...