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Prison Legal News: June, 2023

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Volume 34, Number 6

In this issue:

  1. Chronic Punishment: The Unmet Health Needs of People in State Prisons (p 1)
  2. Prisoners Caught in Ukraine War Crossfire (p 8)
  3. Over $3.5 Million Paid to Incontinent Colorado Prisoner Offered Diapers Instead of Dining Priority Pass (p 10)
  4. From the Editor (p 10)
  5. Sing Sing Prisoners File Suit Against New York State Alleging Vicious Beating by Guards (p 11)
  6. Eighth Circuit Lets Public Defender Withdraw from BOP Prisoner’s “Frivolous” Appeal (p 12)
  7. No More Naps for Massachusetts Guards (p 12)
  8. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Caves to Criticism, Accepts Resignation of Formerly Incarcerated Clerk (p 13)
  9. Massachusetts Settles One of Three Suits Alleging Retaliation by Prison Guards for Assault on One of Their Own (p 14)
  10. “All Signals Blinking Red” at Federal Prison in West Virginia After DOJ Releases Report on Killing of Mobster “Whitey” Bulger (p 16)
  11. Eleventh Circuit Won’t Force Condemned Alabama Prisoner to Die by Method He Didn’t Choose (p 18)
  12. Corizon Bankruptcy Threatens $6.4 Million Award to Family of Michigan Prisoner Whose Five-Day Jail Term Turned Into Death Sentence (p 20)
  13. California Easing Housing Hurdles for Released Prisoners (p 21)
  14. Federal Prisoner in Pennsylvania Gets Sentence Reduction After Guard Rapes Her (p 22)
  15. Hawaii Guard One of Four Convicted in Smuggling Scheme at Honolulu Prison (p 23)
  16. New York Finding Closed Prisons a Tough Sell (p 23)
  17. Ninth Circuit Says Arizona DOC Policy Cannot Be Used to Censor Prisoner’s Free Expression (p 24)
  18. “Night of Terror” in Indiana Jail Sees Detainees Assaulted by Fellow Prisoners Who Purchased Cell Keys From Guard (p 25)
  19. Minnesota Supreme Court: Prisoner Abused with Overtight Handcuffs Need Only Show Deliberate Indifference, Not Malicious Intent (p 26)
  20. Study Shows COVID-19 Drove Prison Death Rates 50% Higher (p 27)
  21. Wellpath Subsidiary Out of Australian Women’s Prison After Indigenous Prisoner’s Death (p 28)
  22. Bureau of Justice Statistics Releases Latest First Step Act Data (p 29)
  23. “Abdication of Responsibility”: Heads Roll in Tennessee DOC Over Botched Execution Protocols (p 30)
  24. Federal Courts Throw Out Smart Communications’ Mail-Scanning Patent (p 31)
  25. $775,000 Paid for Mentally Ill California Jail Detainee Who Compulsively Drank Water Until He Died (p 33)
  26. Dying for Being Deadbeat Dad in Missouri Jail (p 34)
  27. Report Reveals Extent of Federal Pretrial Detention Crisis (p 35)
  28. Eighth Circuit Requires Source-of-Funds Finding Before Allowing BOP to Raid Account of Federal Prisoner in Missouri (p 36)
  29. Arizona Prison Forcibly Induced Labor for Pregnant Prisoners (p 38)
  30. Senators Rail at DOJ Failure to Report In-Custody Deaths (p 38)
  31. $17.675 Million Paid for New Yorker’s Wrongful Conviction (p 39)
  32. Sixth Circuit: “Minimal Findings Necessary” Before Garnishing Funds From Federal Prisoner in Ohio (p 40)
  33. Prisoner Health Update: Tuberculosis (p 41)
  34. Four Escape Troubled Mississippi Jail After Fifth Circuit Postpones Federal Receivership (p 42)
  35. U.S. Prisoner Numbers Slowly Declining (p 42)
  36. No Charges for Georgia Guards Who Allegedly Abetted Attack That Left Prisoner Dead (p 43)
  37. Condemned Tennessee Prisoner Wins Fight Against Autopsy (p 44)
  38. 70 Months for Former Warden of BOP ‘Rape Club’ in California (p 45)
  39. Seventh Circuit Allows Illinois Prisoner to Prove Administrative Remedy Was “Unavailable” in Double-Celling Complaint (p 45)
  40. Illinois Makes Abortion Care Free for State Prisoners (p 47)
  41. Almost $42,500 Awarded to Illinois Prisoner for Denial of Physical Therapy by Wellpath Nurse (p 48)
  42. State Prison Systems Failing to Provide Meaningful Programming (p 50)
  43. Eighth Circuit Greenlights Arkansas Execution Protocol (p 51)
  44. Second Circuit Upholds Connecticut Prison Porn Ban, Sets Up Circuit Split Over “Vagueness” Test (p 52)
  45. Louisiana Sheriff Coughs Up $2.75 Million After Falsely Claiming Detainee Died From Accidental Fall (p 53)
  46. Nevada Pays Over $568,000 for Denying Prisoner Cataract Surgery, Ends “One Good Eye” Policy (p 54)
  47. Four Michigan Jail Guards Guilty in Detainee Death, Family Paid $2.4 Million (p 56)
  48. Former Mississippi Sheriff Indicted for Bribery After Allegedly Allowing Detainee Rape at County Jail (p 57)
  49. $3,000 Awarded to Ohio Prisoner for Denied Public Records (p 58)
  50. BOP Hits Back Hard After Federal Prisoner in Arizona Brandishes Gun (p 59)
  51. Prisoner Counselors STORMING California Prisons to Aid in Addiction Recovery (p 60)
  52. It’s Official: BOP Prisoners on Expanded COVID-19 Home Confinement Staying Put (p 60)
  53. Fifth South Carolina Prisoner Sentenced in “Sextortion” Scams Targeting Military Members (p 61)
  54. Imprisoned Former Head of New York City Jails Guards’ Union Granted Release (p 62)
  55. News in Brief (p 63)

Chronic Punishment: The Unmet Health Needs of People in State Prisons

by Leah Wang

Over 1 million people sit in U.S. state prisons on any given day. These individuals are overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately Black, Native, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQ, and often targeted by law enforcement from a young age, as we detailed recently in our report Beyond the Count. And all too often, they are also suffering from physical and mental illnesses, or navigating prison life with disabilities or even pregnancy. In this, the second installment of our analysis of a unique, large-scale survey of people in state prisons, we add to the existing research showing that state prisons fall far short of their constitutional duty to meet the essential health needs of people in their custody. As a result, people in state prison are kept in a constant state of illness and despair.

Instead of “rehabilitating” people in prison (physically, mentally or otherwise), or at the very least, serving as a de facto health system for people failed by other parts of the U.S. social safety net, data from the most recent national Survey of Prison Inmates show that state prisons are full of ill and neglected people. Paired with the fact that almost all of these individuals are eventually ...

Prisoners Caught in Ukraine War Crossfire

by Chuck Sharman

During Ukraine’s successful offensive to liberate the southern city of Kherson in October 2022, retreating Russian forces took 2,500 Ukrainian prisoners with them. What followed was a Kafka-esque journey through five countries, at the end of which the same Russian army that led the prisoners out of jail detained them again – this time for violating immigration laws.

“They asked me, ‘How did you enter Russia?’” said Ruslan Osadchyi, one of the Kherson prisoners. “‘You brought me here,’” he recalled replying, “‘under the muzzles of automatic guns!’”

Curiously, the Ukrainian convicts were passed over by recruiters from the Wagner Group, a private mercenary army partially drawn from Russian lockups. Instead, as another Ukranian prisoner recalled, they “were received with shouts, beatings, [and] humiliations” upon arrival at a Russian-controlled prison.

“Face to the ground,” recounted Oleksandr Fedorenko, 47, “don’t look, don’t speak, and blows, blows, blows.”

Russian officials have not publicly acknowledged the transfer of Kherson prisoners into Russia, which would violate international law prohibiting the forced removal of non-combatants from an occupied zone. The prisoners suffering this haphazard treatment, many convicted of murder, kidnapping and rape, had also been left behind by Ukrainian forces retreating from Russian’s ...

Over $3.5 Million Paid to Incontinent Colorado Prisoner Offered Diapers Instead of Dining Priority Pass

by David M. Reutter

On December 16, 2022, a jury in federal court for the District of Colorado awarded $3.5 million to state prisoner Jason Brooks, whose complaint alleged simply that the “offer of adult diapers was not a reasonable accommodation” of his disability by the state Department of Corrections (DOC).

The same district court had earlier dismissed Brooks’ claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ch. 126 § 12101 et seq. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed that decision, reasoning that “having to sit in soiled diapers among other inmates in the dining hall” left Brooks “at risk of assault.” [See: PLN, May 2022, p. 50.]

Brooks, who was sentenced for securities fraud, suffers from ulcerative colitis, a chronic and incurable disease causing frequent bowel movements that are “urgent, loose, watery, and often bloody,” according to his complaint. The condition is incurable. After a transfer to Fremont Correctional Facility (FCF) in February 2012, he was granted a pass to skip to the head of the chow line at mealtimes so that he could better manage his incontinence. But the pass expired after 30 days, and prison officials refused to renew ...

From the Editor

By Paul Wright

One thing that has remained a constant in the past 33 years of publishing PLN has been the woefully inadequate medical care that prisoners receive around the country. A significant portion of our coverage involves reporting on healthcare that ranges from nonexistent to barbaric and it drives a significant part of detention facility litigation. This month’s cover story from the Prison Policy Initiative gives a good national overview of where things stand which tends to confirm what prisoners and everyone else involved with the criminal justice system already knows: American prisons and jails are not the place to get sick.

Readers have been complaining about delays in receiving their subscriptions to both PLN and Criminal Legal News. One thing that used to work half way well and seems to be disintegrating before our eyes is the US postal system. Since Covid started in 2020 we have seen a steady decline in mail delivery times and services. Our printer is located in Oregon and our magazines are mailed from Portland. Since 2005 we have used the same printer and normally issues mailed would be delivered on the west coast within a week and to the East coast ...

Sing Sing Prisoners File Suit Against New York State Alleging Vicious Beating by Guards

by Keith Sanders

On January 31, 2023, a group of 26 prisoners housed in New York’s notorious Sing Sing maximum-security prison brought suit against the state for an assault on them by guards during a two-day prison-wide search in November 2022. The suit, filed for the prisoners in state Court of Claims by attorney Alexander Klein of Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea and LoTurco LLP, accuses guards and supervisors of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and failure to intervene, and it accuses the state of negligent hiring, training, discipline and retention of guards at the 198-year-old prison. Klein is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and another $500,000 in punitive damages for each prisoner claimant.

The incident unfolded on November 9, 2022, when Sing Sing and its 1,400 prisoners saw the arrival of a special Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) from the state Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) to conduct a two-day facility search. DOCCS maintains 21 CERT teams, which are notorious for violent tactics and disregard for policies and procedures under the guise of “security” to conduct their searches. When their operation began at Sing Sing, they were decked out in full “black tactical gear with visors,” ...

Eighth Circuit Lets Public Defender Withdraw from BOP Prisoner’s “Frivolous” Appeal

by Matt Clarke

On July 11, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a motion to withdraw from an attorney appointed to represent a federal prisoner in Missouri appealing his civil commitment. Though allowing the appeal was “frivolous,” the Court denied a companion motion to keep the withdrawal under seal, calling that request overbroad. The case is instructive for prisoners with reluctant appointed counsel, demonstrating the current limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling governing their withdrawal in Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967).

The government petitioned to determine whether federal prisoner David Garner’s present mental condition justified involuntary commitment for psychiatric treatment, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4245(a). “After a hearing,” the Court recalled, “the district court ordered Garner committed to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment of a mental disease or defect at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri.”

Garner filed a notice of appeal pro se, and the Eighth Circuit appointed counsel from the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. But that attorney said he was unable to find a non-frivolous issue for appeal, leaving him “ethically obligated to withdraw.” However, he moved ...

No More Naps for Massachusetts Guards

By Eike Blohm, MD

After two years of negotiations between the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC), an agreement was reached on December 20, 2022, to fix atrocious mental health care in state prisons, which the Feds consider so “cruel and unusual” that it violates the Eighth Amendment rights of state prisoners.

On November 17, 2020, at the conclusion of a two-year investigation by its Civil Rights Division, DOJ issued a notice finding DOC in violation of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §1997, by allegedly failing to provide constitutionally adequate supervision and care of prisoners in mental health crisis. [See: PLN, May 2021, p.29.]

While state prison officials denied any wrongdoing, they entered negotiations with DOJ to avoid litigation. The agreement reached grants DOC 18 months to rewrite its policies and train staff accordingly, as well as hire additional guards and mental health staff.

Specifically, the agreement requires DOC to hire sufficient guards to ensure prisoners in mental health crisis can still get escorted to out-of-cell activities such as recreation and therapy.

Importantly – incredibly even – the agreement also spells out that guards must not sleep while providing ...

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Caves to Criticism, Accepts Resignation of Formerly Incarcerated Clerk

by Kevin W. Bliss

On January 5, 2023, new Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Bolden announced she had accepted the resignation of her formerly incarnated clerk, Pete Martel. In doing so, the justice bowed to complaints that Martel, who served 14 years for shooting at police during a 1994 robbery, had too much access at the court to sensitive material concerning the cops.

Martel was released from prison in 2008 after serving time for armed robbery and assault during a Genesee County convenience store robbery that ended in a shootout with cops. Once released, he became an advocate for improving prison conditions while working as a mitigation specialist, helping convicted felons with legal matters for the State Appellate Defenders Office in Lansing.

“He should use his experience in an advocacy role to try to make a difference,” declared Justice Richard Bernstein, whose criticism of Bolden for her choice of clerk led to Martel’s resignation. “That’s the crucial thing here: He can do great things as an advocate, but this court should not be advocates.”

These are extreme arguments. Bernstein said because someone once shot at a cop – even though he served his time for the crime – he doesn’t ...

Massachusetts Settles One of Three Suits Alleging Retaliation by Prison Guards for Assault on One of Their Own

by Harold Hempstead

On February 17, 2023, an assistant to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) signed a settlement with a group of state prisoners, resolving claims they were subjected to retaliation after a January 2020 melee at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) that sent three guards to the hospital.

The suit is one of three filed by prisoners since the incident. In their complaint, Carl Larocque, Robert Silva-Prentice and Tamik Kirkland, along with the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (ACDL) and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), detailed for Suffolk County Superior Court how guards denied them and other SBCC prisoners “attorney visits and phone calls for almost three weeks” in retaliation for the incident.

“If you put hands on an officer,” the complaint quoted one guard, “you will all pay.”

The court granted the prisoners a preliminary injunction in February 2020, halting policies of the state Department of Correction (DOC) that restricted them from keeping legal paperwork in their cells and limited opportunities for attorney phone calls and visits, even during business hours. [See: PLN, Apr. 2020, p.26.]

Under the settlement that was reached, SBCC prisoners whose property is seized must get it back in three ...

“All Signals Blinking Red” at Federal Prison in West Virginia After DOJ Releases Report on Killing of Mobster “Whitey” Bulger

by Casey J. Bastian and Benjamin Tschirhart

Citing “bureaucratic incompetence,” as well as “flawed, confusing and insufficient” policies and procedures, a December 2022 report by a federal government watchdog attempted to answer the question: How did a notorious but elderly criminal end up transferred by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to a new prison where he was murdered within 12 hours?

Yet mystery shrouds James “Whitey” Bulger’s death at the U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Hazelton, West Virginia. The former Irish Mafia mob boss and leader of Boston’s “Winter Hill Gang” gained his nickname for his thick platinum hair and his notoriety for over 16 years spent as a fugitive on the FBI “most wanted” list. After his 2011 capture, Bulger was given two life sentences for crimes that included 11 murders.

In 2014, he was stabbed by another prisoner at USP Tucson. By 2018, he was 89 and confined at USP Coleman in Florida. His health seriously degraded in a series of cardiac events brought on by atrial fibrillation. After multiple hospital trips, he was left in a wheelchair, requiring frequent nursing care and daily medication. BOP classified him as Care Level Three on a four-level scale.

An altercation ...

Eleventh Circuit Won’t Force Condemned Alabama Prisoner to Die by Method He Didn’t Choose

by David M. Reutter

Once it begins a lethal injection, the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) “will attempt to carry out the execution and not stop until it becomes clear that they are likely to run out of time under the death warrant, and during that time, will do anything to obtain intravenous access, without regard to its own lethal injection protocol or the constitutional rights of the condemned.”

That explosive allegation was made in a lawsuit brought by death-row prisoner Kenneth Eugene Smith, 57. He and fellow condemned Alabama prisoner Alan Eugene Miller, also 57, are the only two living people in the U.S. to survive an execution attempt.

On September 22, 2022, DOC executioners poked, prodded, and punctured Miller in the arms, hands, and feet for over two hours before they finally threw in the towel. After that, the state settled with Miller on November 28, 2022, agreeing not to try to kill him again except by nitrogen hypoxia. His chosen method, it became a legally available option five years ago, though DOC still hasn’t developed a protocol for it. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.50.]

But first, without taking steps to review what went wrong at Miller’s ...

Corizon Bankruptcy Threatens $6.4 Million Award to Family of Michigan Prisoner Whose Five-Day Jail Term Turned Into Death Sentence

by Jacob Barrett

On December 5, 2022, a jury in federal court for the Western District of Michigan awarded $6.4 million to the estate of Wade Jones, 40, who was left to die from untreated alcohol withdrawal in his cell at Michigan’s Kent County Correctional Facility (KCCF) by guards and staff with Corizon Health, Inc., the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider. However, the award has been jeopardized by the pending bankruptcy of Corizon Health’s corporate descendant. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.56.]

Jones was detained and given a misdemeanor citation for shoplifting and retail fraud after stealing several bottles of liquor on April 13, 2018. He appeared for his arraignment 15 days later, and the trial judge directed Jones to speak with probation officer Deven Bonham prior to sentencing. He then consented to a portable breath test (PBT) which registered his Blood Alcohol Content at 0.159 the first time and 0.145 ten minutes later – well in excess of the 0.08 limit. Jones admitted he had “a couple drinks” before the hearing. Bonham informed the court that she was shocked at Jones’ PBT because he seemed functional. The trial judge also noted Jones had a “developed tolerance.” The court subsequently ...

California Easing Housing Hurdles for Released Prisoners

by Ed Lyon

As retributive minded states likeTexas pursue ever more draconian measures and policies to deny housing to released prisoners (PLN, May 2021, pp. 34-35), California is beginning to enact measures and policies to assist released prisoners in obtaining housing.

Easing housing restrictions for the formerly incarcerated began in 2020, with “Fair Chance” ordinances that prohibited landlords from performing criminal background checks on rental housing applicants in Berkely and Oakland. As a result, a full 33% of applicants surveyed reported they have been able to reunite with family or secure their own housing because of those new ordinances, according to Margaretta Wan-Ling Lin, a University of California researcher and Executive Director of the nonprofit Just Cities.

Since then, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed its own Fair Chance on December 20, 2022 – the first county in the U.S. to protect formerly incarcerated citizens from housing discrimination. The county is home to over 5,000 former prisoners and detainees, who are hugely overrepresented in its homeless population; a 2022 survey found that at least 30% of 9,700 homeless people had interactions with the criminal justice system, and 7% pointed the finger directly at their criminal record for ...

Federal Prisoner in Pennsylvania Gets Sentence Reduction After Guard Rapes Her

by Casey J. Bastian

On December 15, 2022, the U.S, District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reduced Rashidah Brice’s sentence by 30 months. Brice had filed a motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) and presented three circumstances that might constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons to grant the request. The Court found that her sexual assault by a guard and cooperating in his prosecution warranted a limited sentence reduction instead.

Brice was sentenced to 185 months in prison on August 20, 2013, after she pleaded guilty to three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 for sex-trafficking three victims, one of whom was a minor. The Court recalled the “heinous” and “horrifying” details of her crime, in which she and her co-defendant, Christian Dior “Gucci Prada” Womack – who is also the father of her two minor children – extorted and coerced two women and a 17-year-old girl to have sex with strangers for money and also with them, filming the encounters and forcing them to take cocaine to stay awake, as well as threatening them with guns.

When Brice returned to the court with a motion for compassionate release, she asserted three grounds: a sexual assault ...

Hawaii Guard One of Four Convicted in Smuggling Scheme at Honolulu Prison

by Chuck Sharman

A guard and a prisoner at Oahu Community Correctional Center in Honolulu were among four people convicted on federal conspiracy charges in a drug-and-gun-smuggling scheme at the lockup. All but the guard were sentenced in February and May 2023.

On February 10, 2023, prisoner Robert S. Gibson, 38, had 100 months added to his sentence for masterminding a plan to smuggle the contraband into the lockup. He was being held there for kidnapping, robbery and impersonating a law enforcement during a home invasion committed after walking off a work furlough in 2015.

Two days earlier, on February 8, 2023, his girlfriend, Ceceliacharity Hilo, a/k/a Cece Adams, was convicted of buying the meth for him and passing it to co-conspirators. For that she was sentenced to 27 months of time she had served plus two years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment.

Gibson’s stepsister, Keicha K.W. Brunn-Kekuewa, 30, pleaded guilty to setting up calls between the two in late 2019 and early 2020, as well as accepting the meth Hilo obtained. For that she got a 20-month prison term on May 10, 2023, plus two years of supervised release. She also lost her job as a ...

New York Finding Closed Prisons a Tough Sell

by Chuck Sharman

Since its peak nearly two decades ago, New York’s prisoner population has fallen by half. Added to the millions of dollars it cost the state Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) to build the prisons are millions more to shutter them. Some closed properties were sold at auction, but in most cases the state recovered only a fraction of its initial investment. The remaining former prisons, often located in remote rural areas, have proven impossible to sell, leaving the state with white elephants.

Or maybe it’s better to call them chickens, hatched from mass incarceration, clucking loudly as they come home to roost.

DOCCS has closed more than two dozen state prisons over the past 15 years, six since the beginning of 2022 closed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D). In some instances, investors purchased the properties but failed to find buyers who wanted to redevelop them. More often, it’s the state left holding the bag.

A rural prison creates its own mini-economy, with hotels and restaurants and convenience stores for those visiting prisoners, along with housing and services for those who staff them. All of that slowly goes dark when the prison closes. Hoping to revitalize ...

Ninth Circuit Says Arizona DOC Policy Cannot Be Used to Censor Prisoner’s Free Expression

by David Reutter 

An Arizona prisoner’s civil rights claim is headed to trial in June 2023, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated it, saying his prison’s policy on material he is allowed cannot be applied inconsistently without trampling his First Amendment liberties.

The suit was brought in federal court for the District of Arizona by Edward Lee Jones, Jr., a prisoner at Arizona State Prison in Eyman. In late 2017 and early 2018, Jones ordered two Nation of Islam books by Elijah Muhammad: Message to the Black Man in America (1965) and The Fall of America (1973). He also ordered six hip-hop and R&B CDs by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd and Snoop Dogg, among others.

Prison officials determined these items were contraband and confiscated them under Department Order (DO) 914.07. The CDs violated rules prohibiting depiction or promotion of violence, sexual excitement, gangs and drugs, they said, also citing a catchall for items that “may otherwise be detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the institution.” The two religious texts were taken for allegedly promoting racism or the superiority of one group.

Jones filed suit pro se in June 2018 under 42 U.S.C. ...

“Night of Terror” in Indiana Jail Sees Detainees Assaulted by Fellow Prisoners Who Purchased Cell Keys From Guard

by Kevin W. Bliss

An Indiana jail guard and a jail detainee are headed to trial in the summer of 2023 on charges that the guard sold the detainee access to keys that he used to unlocked the female housing area to a group of male detainees. But officials at the Clark County Jail insist the women who filed lawsuits alleging they were sexually assaulted are exagerrating those attacks.

“In fact, the surveillance footage shows male and female inmates talking in open areas and casually walking back and forth,” former Sheriff Jamey Noel posted on a now-defunct website,, which he created to counter rumors about the incident.

On the night of October 23-24, 2021, two pods holding female detainees were overrun by male prisoners who stole access keys from a control module and allegedly paid off guard David J. Lowe to look the other way. Lowe was quickly fired, arrested and charged with felony criminal escape and official misconduct, after reportedly admitting he sold access to the keys for a $1,000 bribe. [See: PLN, Dec. 2021, p.62.]

In suits filed in federal court for the Southern District of Indiana in July 2022, a group of women detained at ...

Minnesota Supreme Court: Prisoner Abused with Overtight Handcuffs Need Only Show Deliberate Indifference, Not Malicious Intent

by Matthew Clark

On December 14, 2022, the Minnesota Supreme Court took up a state prisoner’s claim that he was left with permanent nerve damage from restraints guards misused during a routine medical transport. The Court held that the proper standard to apply is whether the allegations show deliberate indifference, not intent to cause harm.

Christopher Welters was being transported from the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) at Stillwater to MCF Oak Park Heights for scheduled outpatient medical clinic appointments on July 31, 2017. Guards Cornelius Emily and Ernest Rhoney put him in full restraints for the trip, per policy of the state Department of Corrections (DOC). But Welters noticed right away that his handcuffs were too tight.

“Oh, it’s only a 15-minute drive,” Rhoney allegedly told him, “it’ll be all right.”

But it wasn’t “all right.” In fact, as Welters entered the transport van, he felt the restraints “click” even tighter – meaning the device was not double-locked, in violation of DOC policy. When he complained, Rhoney pushed on the handcuff to check, and it clicked tighter again. He agreed the device was not double-locked. But he did nothing to fix the problem.

By the time he arrived at the ...

Study Shows COVID-19 Drove Prison Death Rates 50% Higher

by Keith Sanders

The COVID-19 pandemic is over but not forgotten. Highlighting the virus’s deadly toll on American prisoners, an analysis published by the New York Times on February 19, 2023, tracked the impact of the disease during its first year. The data reveal significantly higher rates of infection and mortality inside state and federal prisons, underscoring how they were unprepared and unequipped to effectively maintain the health and safety of those they incarcerated.

According to the report, 2020 was the deadliest year for prisoners. COVID-19 accounted for a 50% increase in prisoner deaths nationally that year, with six states showing a 200% increase. Overall, death rates from COVID-19 in America’s prisons were twice as high as the national average, as well. Roughly 6,180 prisoners died from the disease in 2020 alone, compared to just 4,240 prison deaths in 2019 from all causes.

That happened despite a decrease in America’s prisoner population by over 100,000, as lockdowns shuttered courts and slowed the inflow of newly convicted prisoners to a trickle.

An August 2022 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) counted over 1.6 million prisoners at risk of contracting COVID-19 when the pandemic hit: 181,300 in custody of ...

Wellpath Subsidiary Out of Australian Women’s Prison After Indigenous Prisoner’s Death

by Keith Sanders

On January 19, 2023, Corrections Minister Enver Erdogan announced that the Australian state of Victoria is booting the private healthcare contractor from the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC). Effective July 1, 2023, Wellpath subsidiary Correct Care Australasia (CCA) will be replaced by the state-owned Western Health to provide healthcare. The change will affect not only the 538 women held at the prison but as many as 78 more held at the minimum-security Tarrengower prison, also in Victoria.

The announcement came just over three years after an indigenous prisoner was found dead in her cell at DPFC. Veronica Nelson died on January 2, 2020, after calling for help on the prison intercom system 49 times as she suffered from an undiagnosed medical condition and heroin withdrawal. After staff finally answered, a CCA doctor refused to send Nelson to a hospital, according to testimony from prison nurse Stephanie Hills.

Nelson was arrested on shoplifting and bail violation charges on December 30, 2019. An outside investigation conducted after her death found that no one checked on her as her symptoms worsened. A prison guard lied to Nelson “several times about calling for a nurse on her behalf,” the investigation found. ...

Bureau of Justice Statistics Releases Latest First Step Act Data

by Casey J. Bastian

The First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) was signed into law in December 2018. Among other hoped-for benefits was that the legislation would help reduce recidivism and decrease the overall prison population. However, data compiled by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) for the calendar year 2021 reflected that the prisoner population of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) actually increased more than three percent year over year.

FSA mandated that BJS collect and collate data from 26 points through its National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) program. The 2021 data was compiled by the Office of Research and Evaluation and provided to the BJS, which supplemented this data from the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI) and NPS’s Summary of Sentenced Population Movement. The counts in the 2021 BJS report encompass BOP prisoner populations in all 122 federal prisons. However, the number excluded all privately operated federal detention centers.

The data is revealing, and several of the demographic statistics are particularly noteworthy. First there is the increase in BOP’s prisoner population, which swelled by three percent, up from 151,283 in 2020 to 156,542 in 2021. Citizenship statistics reveal that 15% of all federal prisoners are ...

“Abdication of Responsibility”: Heads Roll in Tennessee DOC Over Botched Execution Protocols

by Kevin W. Bliss

A day before releasing a scathing report on the state’s execution procedures, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) fired the deputy commissioner of the Department of Corrections (DOC), Debbi Inglis, along with Inspector General Kelly Young. The last day of work for both was December 27, 2022.

Lee halted executions in May 2022, just before Interim DOC Commissioner Lisa Helton admitted in an explosive court filing that the state hadn’t followed its own protocol for testing execution drugs. Lee then tapped former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to investigate.  [See PLN Nov. 2022, p.44.]

Stanton’s report, which the governor released on December 28, 2022, blasted DOC for not following its own lethal injection protocol. The compounding pharmacy tasked with mixing the drugs didn’t even have a copy. And the only DOC employee who received whatever testing reports were provided lacked the training to understand what they meant – a misalignment of duties and authority the report called an “abdication of responsibility” by DOC.

“The fact of the matter is not one [DOC] employee made it their duty to understand the current Protocol’s testing requirements and ensure compliance,” the report stated.

Tennessee utilizes a three-drug combination for lethal injections: ...

Federal Courts Throw Out Smart Communications’ Mail-Scanning Patent

by K. Robert Schaeffer

On October 7, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee granted judgment on the pleadings to Rutherford County and VendEngine, Inc., the contractor that digitizes prisoner mail in its jail, in a suit filed by Smart Communications that alleged infringement of its patented rival digitization service, MailGuard. In its decision, the Court found the MailGuard patent “invalid because it is not directed to patent-eligible subject matter.” See: HLFIP Holding, Inc. v. Rutherford Cty., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184056 (M.D. Tenn.).

The decision mirrors an earlier ruling by the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which also decided that MailGuard was “patent ineligible” on April 22, 2022. In that case, Smart Communications sued the York County Prison for engaging rival mail-scanning service TextBehind, claiming its service infringed on the MailGuard patent.

Smart Communications, founded and run by CEO Jon Logan, emerged on the prison industrial landscape in 2009 primarily as a provider of electronic messaging to county jails. Since then it has expanded its communications service offerings to include phone calls, virtual visits, tablets, kiosks, digital media – and scanning incoming mail, ostensibly to prevent the introduction of contraband.

The ...

$775,000 Paid for Mentally Ill California Jail Detainee Who Compulsively Drank Water Until He Died

by Casey J. Bastian

On November 2, 2022, California’s Monterey County agreed to pay $775,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of Rafael Ramirez Lara, a mentally ill detainee allegedly ignored in the county jail while he compulsively drank water until he died.

An undisclosed portion of the payout was covered by Wellpath, the privately contracted healthcare provider at the Monterey County Jail (MCJ). Wellpath is one of the nation’s largest private providers of healthcare behind bars, with contracts in 394 county jails and community facilities and more than 140 state and federal prisons in 36 states. The firm has held the contract to provide healthcare at MCJ since it was given to a corporate ancestor, California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), in 1984.

MCJ and CFMG settled an earlier class-action suit in 2015 with an agreement to address issues of poor medical and mental healthcare, inadequate staffing, accommodations for disabled prisoners and serious safety problems. [See: PLN, Apr. 2016, p.18.]

That agreement also included a $4.8 million payment by Defendants for class attorney fees. But that couldn’t keep the parties from returning to the federal court for the Northern District of California, which ordered Defendants to pay ...

Dying for Being Deadbeat Dad in Missouri Jail

by Chuck Sharman

On January 23, 2023, just 10 days after Ryan Everson was put in Missouri’s Clay County Jail, the 42-year-old was found dead in his cell. That his three children no longer had a father is cruelly ironic, since Everson was behind bars for failure to pay $50 in child support.

The office of Sheriff Will Akin said the cause of death was suicide. But Everson’s family questioned why he was left alone in his cell despite having seizures. Moreover, they argue, jailing him was never going to help his children, ages 17, 19 and 20.

Instead it added to the growing number of deaths in the jail, the third in 21 months. With an average daily population of 313 detainees, according to Inside Prison, the jail’s annual death rate now stands at 548 per 100,000 – over three times higher than the U.S. average of 167 per 100,000 reported most recently by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Statistics on the number of parents jailed for nonpayment of child support are spottier. The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement in 2010 counted 662,000 incarcerated parents who owed child support, but the vast majority were behind bars for ...

Report Reveals Extent of Federal Pretrial Detention Crisis

by Casey J. Bastian

A report on the first investigation into federal pretrial detention on a national level was released in October 2022 by the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic (FCJC) of the University of Chicago Law School. Combing through data from over 600 detention hearings across four federal districts over a two-year period, the report found that federal courts “have allowed misguided and entrenched practice norms to overshadow the law,” resulting in “skyrocketing” pretrial detention rates.

The report, Freedom Denied, attempted to “identify why the federal system has abandoned the norm of liberty.” Back in 1984, Congress passed the Bail Reform Act to emphasize the “presumption of release,” placing the burden on prosecutors to establish a true need for pretrial detention. In United States v Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court found the law constitutional, noting its provisions “protect pretrial liberty and render pretrial detention” the “carefully limited exception.”

Now it appears those time-honored safeguards have collapsed.In 1983, only 23.8% of those charged were detained while awaiting trial, for an average period of two months. By 2019, 74.8% were detained for an average of nearly nine months.

Pretrial detention places a significant burden on individuals, their ...

Eighth Circuit Requires Source-of-Funds Finding Before Allowing BOP to Raid Account of Federal Prisoner in Missouri

by David M. Reutter

In a decision reached on August 10,2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit stayed the hand that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had reached into the pocket of a federal prisoner in Missouri. Though ultimately Anthony Robinson lost nearly all of the funds in his inmate trust account to make restitution to his victims, the ruling reinforces a similar Court decision reached earlier in the year, putting the burden on courts to determine the source of a prisoner’s funds before deciding whether they can be confiscated. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.60.]

When the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri sentenced Robinson to life imprisonment in 2013 for murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering, it ordered him to pay $14,186.17 in restitution, owed jointly and severally with two co-defendants. The judgment stated that all “criminal monetary penalties are due in full immediately.” However, if that were not possible, “then the defendant shall make payments under” a “minimum payment schedule … at the rate of 50% of funds available to the defendant.”

In May 2021, the government discovered Robinson had $2,753.21 in his inmate trust account ...

Arizona Prison Forcibly Induced Labor for Pregnant Prisoners

by Eike Blohm, MD

After a 2019 incident during which a prisoner gave birth in her cell – delivering a baby into the toilet while guards ignored her cries for help – Arizona’s Perryville Prison in Buckeye started inducing labor for pregnant prisoners.

Inducing labor involves intravenous administration of drugs that cause uterine contractions. These contractions can be more painful than those of spontaneous labor and carry a higher risk of soft tissue tears. NaphCare, the Alabama-based private firm that holds the contract to provide healthcare for the state Department of Corrections (DOC), told the Arizona Republic it had no such policy. So this apparently happened before DOC dropped its former private healthcare contractor, Centurion, at the end of September 2022. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.1]

An investigation by the news outlet revealed that three women were induced against their will at Perryville. While the procedure is generally safe for mother and baby at full term – typically 40 weeks – doing so before 38 weeks is reserved for high-risk pregnancies, such as when a woman suffers from diabetes or pre-eclampsia. Yet two of the deliveries at Perryville were induced at 37 weeks, both in the absence of medical ...

Senators Rail at DOJ Failure to Report In-Custody Deaths

by Jayson Hawkins

Congress has yet to demand systemic changes that could seriously reduce deaths in custody of law enforcement. This reluctance may stem in part from the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) fails to accurately count the number of people who die in custody, despite being ordered by Congress to do so.

Congressional action on deaths in custody traces to passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) of 2000. That law required DOJ to collect in-custody death data including gender, race, age, location and circumstances. States were compelled to comply if they wanted Violent Offender or Truth in Sentencing grant funding, which all states did. DOJ assigned the collection and compilation duties to its Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and within a year, the first DCRA reports were issued. Even after the act expired in 2006, BJS continued this work.

In 2014, Congress reauthorized DCRA and expanded its mandates to include more detailed reports and the ability of the U.S. Attorney General to withhold Justice Assistance Grants from states that did not fully comply with data collection efforts. This last aspect of the revised law ran afoul of the BJS mandate to operate outside ...

$17.675 Million Paid for New Yorker’s Wrongful Conviction

by Jacob Barrett

Johnny Hincapie spent more than 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. On December 7, 2022, New York City agreed to pay Hincapie $12.875 million for his wrongful conviction, one of the largest such settlements in city history. A separate claim had previously been settled with the state of New York for $4.8 million in October 2022, according to Hincapie’s attorneys, Baree N. Fett and Gabriel P. Harvis of Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek.

Hincapie, who was originally born in Columbia, was 18 years old in 1990 when he and several other youths were accused of fatally stabbing Utah tourist Brian Watkins, 22, on a subway platform. Under pressure from police, Hincapie was coerced into falsely confessing to the murder. He later recanted, and exculpatory evidence verified he was not guilty – but not before he served 25 years, three months and eight days behind bars.

Hincapie’s forced confession was not unusual for the New York Police Department (NYPD) at the time. The year before his arrest, the “Central Park Five” were also wrongly convicted of brutally raping jogger Trisha Meili, after they were forced to falsely confess to the crime. Former Pres. Donald ...

Sixth Circuit: “Minimal Findings Necessary” Before Garnishing Funds From Federal Prisoner in Ohio

by Casey J. Bastian

On December 16, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court order permitting the government to seize nearly $3,737.89 from the inmate trust fund account of federal prisoner Adam Carson, 40. As the lower court failed to make necessary findings necessary and cited no authority to do so, the Court vacated the decision and remanded the case.

Carson had already served a two-year sentence for a 2008 robbery of a bank in Youngstown when he was arrested and charged with robbing two more Ohio banks in 2012. It’s unclear how he was then released, but he robbed another bank in Cleveland in 2016, this time sending his girlfriend to a teller with a note claiming she’d been kidnapped and had a bomb strapped to her back.

Sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2018, Carson was ordered to “immediately begin paying $5,590 in restitution” to the victim banks. Carson agreed to participate in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which began taking 25% of Carson’s gross monthly income to apply towards the restitution amount. Carson remained in full compliance with his IFRP ...

Prisoner Health Update: Tuberculosis

by Eike Blohm, MD

Tuberculosis (TB) is an illness caused by a mycobacterium, a class of bacteria that is hard to see under the microscope, difficult to grow in culture, and has the audacity to live in the very immune cells (marcophages) that are tasked with hunting and killing bacteria. TB affects only humans, and traces of the disease can be identified by archeologists in the oldest mummified human remains.

How is TB transmitted?

The bacterium travels in the microscopicdroplets that get expelled when an infected person coughs. These droplets can be so small that they travel right through the holes in cloth masks, and only N95 masks offer protection. Fortunately, inhalation of a single droplet does not suffice to transmit the infection. Exposure in close quarters – such as prison – is usually needed to facilitate the spread of TB.

What happens when a person gets exposed?

There are three possible outcomes after exposure. The body’s immune system may kill all TB bacteria, and the infection is cleared. Or the TB bacteria may overpower the body’s defenses, and the person develops ACTIVE tuberculosis. It’s also possible that a stalemate ensues – a situation known as LATENT tuberculosis. A person ...

Four Escape Troubled Mississippi Jail After Fifth Circuit Postpones Federal Receivership

by Keith Sanders

Two of four detainees have been recaptured after escaping from jail in Mississippi’s Hinds County on April 29, 2023. The other two are dead. Meanwhile control of the Raymond Detention Center (RDC) remains in limbo after the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Fifth Circuit granted a last-minute injunction in December 2022 halting a federal takeover of the troubled lockup.

The four escapees got out through the jail’s roof, Sheriff Tyree Jones said. Dylan Arrington, 22, was then killed in a shootout with Leake County deputies, who found him inside a flaming Carthage home as it burned to the ground. He had been held at RDC on carjacking and weapons charges. After escape, on April 24, 2023, he is suspected of another carjacking during which Rev. Anthony Watts, 61, was fatally shot.

The corpse of a second escapee, Casey Grayson, 34, was found inside a pickup by a security guard at a New Orleans truck stop on April 30, 2023. Sheriff Jones indicated the death was a likely drug overdose. Grayson had been held at RDC since February 2022 on theft and drug charges.

A third escapee, Jerry Raynes, 51, was located on April 27, 2028, at ...

U.S. Prisoner Numbers Slowly Declining

by Ed Lyon

New data released in December 2022 by the federal Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showed a steady decline in prison population from 2011 to 2021 – nearly 25% overall. The number of people imprisoned today – 1,163,665 – reflects the largest slice of U.S. mass incarceration, but it is only a slice; over a half-million other Americans are locked up in local jails, and 100,000 more have been involuntarily committed to state hospitals or are being held in immigration and juvenile detention centers.

According to the BJS report, Prisoners in 2021, the number of Americans imprisoned in December 2021 was 1,163,665 – about the same as 25 years earlier. Since the total population has grown by 23% since then, that means incarceration rates today are lower. However, with 350 of every 100,000 citizens in prison, the U.S. rate remains higher than in any other country.

Prison numbers peaked in 2009 at 1,553,574 and by 2011 stood at 1,538,874. Over half of the decline since 2011 was recorded just between 2019 and 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This strongly suggests that falling prison population numbers do not reflect a dip in arrests nor ...

No Charges for Georgia Guards Who Allegedly Abetted Attack That Left Prisoner Dead

by Keith Sanders

On September 30, 2022, nineteen-year-old Quafabian McBride was fatally stabbed in the heart during a fight between rival gangs at Georgia’s Phillips State Prison. McBride and fellow “Rolax Bloods” member Dejuan Cannon, 22, allegedly attempted to attack another prisoner, “Crips” member Antavious Simon, also 19. But Simon got to McBride first.

A third prisoner, Joseph Williams, claimed he watched as guard Jarvis Jones led McBride into the building where Simon’s cell was located and opened another cell nearby, releasing Cannon and another member of Simon’s gang. Williams said the guard “[made] it possible for McBride and two other inmates to attack a rival gang member” by “unbolting the cell door.”

But Simon was on alert because another guard, Sgt. Geramy Brown, had removed Simon’s cellmate just before the attack and left that cell door unlocked, too. Brown was fired three days later “for violating employee standards of conduct, staff misconduct, and failure to comply with an investigation.” Jones was suspended with pay, along with fellow guard Sara Patterson, “pending the outcome of investigations into violations of employee standards of conduct,” according to personnel records. Patterson was reinstated in January 2023, the same month Jones was fired for ...

Condemned Tennessee Prisoner Wins Fight Against Autopsy

by Harold Hempstead

On April 20, 2022, the federal court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a highly unusal order enjoining the Davidson County medical examiner from performing an autopsy or collecting bodily fluids from a prisoner following his execution by lethal injection.

Oscar Franklin Smith filed his complaint seeking injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, on April 14, 2022. Explaining that his sincerely held Christian belief teaches “that his body is a temple of God,” he said “that it is OK to accept medical treatment to prolong life, but that it is not OK to alter the body in any other way.” Therefore, performing an autopsy or other invasive procedure on his body postmortem would violate his beliefs.

County Medical Examiner Dr. Feng Li said he would not perform the autopsy “provided no extraordinary information comes to light during or following the execution.” However, he intended “to collect samples of... Smith’s blood, urine, and vitreous fluids” postmortem. Li further contended that Tennessee has a compelling interest in the samples for the purpose of “assessing the efficacy and potential secondary effects of the lethal injection process,” and that collection ...

70 Months for Former Warden of BOP ‘Rape Club’ in California

by Benjamin Tschirhart

Ray Garcia was warden for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin, California. He served as supervisor at the lockup for regular audits conducted under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). But after his sentencing before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on March 23, 2023, Garcia is now a felon, sex offender and a prisoner himself. Before putting him behind bars for 70 months, Judge Gonzalez Rogers chided the disgraced prison official:

“You entered a cesspool and did nothing about it. You just went along for the ride and enjoyed the cesspool yourself…You should have done something about it.”

In December 2022, Garcia, 55, became the fourth FCI-Dublin staffer convicted out of five charged with sexually abusing prisoners. Former chaplain James Theodore Highhouse, 49, began a seven-year federal prison term on November 2, 2022. A 20-month prison sentence was handed to former prison cook Enrique Chavez, 49, on February 9, 2023. See: USA v. Chavez, USDC (N.D. Calif.), Case No. 4:22-cr-00104. That same month, former technician Ross Klinger, 37, pleaded guilty. [See: PLN, Feb. 2023, p.62.] He is expected to be sentenced in June 2023. See: USA v. ...

Seventh Circuit Allows Illinois Prisoner to Prove Administrative Remedy Was “Unavailable” in Double-Celling Complaint

by David M. Reutter

On December 14, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit took up the latest in a “slew” of cases by Illinois prisoners alleging they are “housed like cattle” at Menard Correctional Center (MCC), “where cells meant for one person are routinely used to house two,” the Court recalled, “in a policy that Plaintiffs call ‘double-celling.’”

The problem traces back at least to 1980, when the federal court for the Southern District of Illinois found the amount of cell space for each prisoner – 18 to 32 square feet – was inadequate, and it issued injunctive relief.  See: Lightfoot v. Walker, 486 F. Supp. 504 (S.D. Ill. 1980). But “[w]hatever the staying power of that injunctive relief may have been,” the Seventh Circuit noted, “by 2010, inmates began filing double-celling suits against Menard once again.”

In a civil rights action filed on behalf of themselves and a putative class of fellow MCC prisoners on August 27, 2018, Corrie Wallace and Rafeal Santos “explain that these tightly packed quarters impact everything from ventilation in the cells, to inmates’ freedom to exercise, to their ability to perform legal research,” the Court continued. However, it added, “this ...

Illinois Makes Abortion Care Free for State Prisoners

by Chuck Sharman

After a media investigation found Illinois prisoners were forced to pay for abortion procedures – even covering the wages of guard escorts to and from medical providers – Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) ordered the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to change its policy.

As a result, DOC spokesperson Naomi Puzello announced on November 2, 2022, that incarcerated women would no longer have to cover these expenses, and those who previously paid for them could get reimbursed.

That’s especially important to a woman working a prison job, which in Illinois pays an hourly wage that tops out at 89 cents. Covering just one hour of the $47,508 starting salary for a state prison guard would require her to work four days or more.

Advocates for abortion rights expressed surprise and elation at the decision. Emily Hirsch, a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, emphasized the importance of ensuring unfettered access to critical healthcare, including abortion, for every person in need.

“We applaud the Governor’s Office for taking an important step toward that goal,” she said.

Puzello confirmed that the new guidelines had been implemented and that DOC’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources, ...

Almost $42,500 Awarded to Illinois Prisoner for Denial of Physical Therapy by Wellpath Nurse

by Casey J. Bastian

On May 31, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois awarded attorney’s fees and costs totaling $17,449.90 to a state prisoner who earlier convinced a jury that a prison nurse’s dilly-dallying deprived him of prescribed physical therapy. For unnecessary pain and suffering that resulted, the jury had awarded Andrew D. Coe a total of $25,000 in damages on March 2, 2022.

Coe was housed at the Danville Correctional Center (DCC) operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2017. On June 27, 2017, Coe was to be provided three months of physical therapy for treatment of a back injury sustained in an automobile accident prior to incarceration.

Dr. Justin Young prescribed the treatment and directed a nurse to provide Coe with a “10-day medical permit card for physical therapy for Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday’s at 4:00 p.m.” Immediately thereafter, nurse Elicia Pearson assumed control of issuing Coe’s medical permit card. Pearson instructed Coe to wait in the healthcare unit waiting area to allow her time to prepare and issue the card.

Approximately 30 minutes later, Pearson stated to Coe that she was too busy right then to process the card, but ...

State Prison Systems Failing to Provide Meaningful Programming

By Casey J. Bastian

There are around 1.25 million prisoners in state prison systems. Prior to incarceration, most were poor, uneducated, disadvantaged or marginalized. But wait-lists for prison education and other programming indicate prisoners desire to better themselves. Yet prison systems are failing to provide the tools needed for post-incarceration success. Instead, prisoner labor is exploited to run the lockups that cage and keep operating costs down.

That is the takeaway from a report released on September 2, 2022, by the Prison Policy Initiative. Using data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, the report reveals how little state prison systems focus on setting prisoners up to succeed upon release. For that, prisoners need education and relevant job skills or vocational training. But prisons fail to offer these in any meaningful way. While prisoners want to be productive in prison, they are not allowed to choose “relevant, stimulating, and/or safe work assignments,” the study concludes.

Prisoners are given a choice: Provide menial labor to keep the prison running or face discipline. Worse, the average pay for prisoner labor is typically pennies per hour – if there is any pay at all. A prison work ...

Eighth Circuit Greenlights Arkansas Execution Protocol

by Jacob Barrett

Despite finding a “paucity of reliable scientific evidence concerning the effect of large doses of midazolam on humans,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit didn’t halt its use in Arkansas’s three-drug execution protocol. To the contrary, it found the lack evidence of means that midazolam is fine to use. The decision, reached on August 16, 2022, affirmed a district court’s finding that the protocol does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” denying Plaintiffs’ request for a new trial.

Nine Arkansas prisoners on the state’s death row sued then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and the director of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in March 2017. That was a month before Hutchinson had scheduled eight executions over 11 days, racing to beat the expiration date on the state’s supply of midazolam, one of the three drugs in its execution protocol. Four executions were carried out before the drugs expired. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.24.]

Plaintiffs marshalled evidence to support their argument that the drug has a “ceiling effect” – a maximally effective dosage, “after which increasing the dosage does not produce greater sedative effect,” the Court later recalled. That means ...

Second Circuit Upholds Connecticut Prison Porn Ban, Sets Up Circuit Split Over “Vagueness” Test

by Jacob Barrett

On October 3, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a writ of certiorari to hear an appeal by a group of Connecticut prisoners, who lost a challenge to the prohibition on sexually explicit material by the state Department of Corrections (DOC). See: Reynolds v. Quiros, 143 S. Ct. 199 (2022). That left to stand a decision reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on February 3, 2022, affirming that the prisoners have no First Amendment right to possess such material.

Importantly, that ruling found DOC’s ban on the material passed the four-factor test for reasonableness in restricting First Amendment rights laid out in Turner v. Safely, 482 US 78 (1987). The Second Circuit also said that the prisoners’ primary challenge to the ban – that it is unconstitutionally vague – involves a separate analysis, but one that is applicable only to disciplinary sanctions. In that, the Court acknowledged it was siding with the Third and Ninth Circuits while rejecting different conclusions reached in other circuits.

The case was filed by seven DOC prisoners in federal court for the District of Connecticut: Richard Reynolds, John Vivo, Kenya Brown, Dwight G. ...

Louisiana Sheriff Coughs Up $2.75 Million After Falsely Claiming Detainee Died From Accidental Fall

by Jacob Barrett

On October 18, 2022, officials in Louisiana’s Bossier Parish agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a federal suit filed over the 2017 death of a detainee in the parish jail. Collin James Fletcher, 24, died five days after arrest for minor drug possession charges. The cause was his untreated drug withdrawal in custody, though the Bossier Police Department (BPD) originally claimed – falsely – that Fletcher died from an “accidental fall.”

On September 7, 2017, Fletcher was traveling from New York to Texas to assist in recovery from Hurricane Harvey when he was stopped by BPD officers, who found over 200 Xanax bars on him. Fletcher had struggled for several years with addiction to the powerful sedative. Because withdrawal can cause fatal seizures, the U.S. Department of Health Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends hospitalization. Moreover, SAMHSA guidelines provide that Hydroxyzine should not be used to treat Xanax withdrawal symptoms.

After Fletcher’s arrest, he was booked into the Bossier Maximum-Security Facility, (BMSF) Intake records indicated that Fletcher suffered from psychiatric problems and was taking both Zoloft and Xanax nightly. He informed processing nurse Katrina O. Chandler that he also suffered from a seizure ...

Nevada Pays Over $568,000 for Denying Prisoner Cataract Surgery, Ends “One Good Eye” Policy

by Jacob Barrett

On July 15, 2022, the federal court for the District of Nevada awarded $560,587.50 in fees to attorneys representing a state prisoner who earlier settled his medical neglect claim against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for $7,500. In addition, DOC agreed to amend its policy effectively denying surgery to any future prisoner left with “one good eye.”

Clifford Miller shot himself in the head in 1999, losing sight in both eyes. One eye recovered before he was incarcerated by DOC in 2001. But repeated requests to see an eye surgeon for the other went ignored for nearly two decades before DOC finally relented, and Miller had the surgery in June 2020. Sadly, it was not successful.

By that time he also had a three-year-old suit in the Court filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accusing DOC Dr. Romeo Aranas of deliberate indifference to Miller’s serious medical need, in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual

After Miller filed his suit pro se in 2017, he picked up counsel from Reno attorney Terri Keyser-Cooper. With her help, he amended his complaint to include a claim under the Americans with Disabilities ...

Four Michigan Jail Guards Guilty in Detainee Death, Family Paid $2.4 Million

by Matt Clarke

Just weeks before their trial was to begin on charges of involuntary manslaughter in a detainee’s death, four guards at Michigan’s Muskegon County Jail pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of Willful Neglect of Duty on
April 20, 2023.

That means Crystal Grove, Jamal Lane, Jeffery Patterson and David Vanderlaan will not face jail time; instead each was immediately fined $1,000 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. All four are still employed at the lockup. A nurse formerly employed by Wellpath, the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider, escaped charges earlier in the case.

Their victim, Paul Bulthouse, 39, died on April 4, 2019, after suffering what surveillance video showed to be 18 seizures in just over four hours. The first five seizures were fairly evenly spaced over two hours, while the last 13 came at intervals of about 15 minutes. All the while Bulthouse lay naked and unconscious on the bunk in his cell.

He had been arrested for probation violation on March 22, 2019, and taken to the jail. There he was placed on suicide watch, which requires guards to check on him every 15 minutes. But even though the guards could observe Bulthouse ...

Former Mississippi Sheriff Indicted for Bribery After Allegedly Allowing Detainee Rape at County Jail

by Jordan Arizmendi

Three years after retiring, and 16 years after the first rape allegations surfaced at Mississippi’s Noxubee County Jail (NCJ), former Sheriff Terry Grassaree has been indicted on federal charges. On October 5, 2022, Grassaree and a former deputy were accused of bribing a detainee with a cellphone to send nude selfies with it, and then lying when questioned about it by federal agents.

NCJ staff has faced allegations of sexual misconduct with detainees since Grassaree was a deputy. That’s also something he was accused of turning a blind eye toward during an eight-year term as Sheriff that began in 2011. Whenever an allegation surfaced that led to a lawsuit, the Noxubee County insurer paid to settle the claim, and NCJ staffers escaped any charges.

When Grassaree was promoted to Chief Deputy in the 1990s, the jail reportedly was already a free-for-all spot with few rules. Detainees roamed the building without having to log in and with practically no supervision. One detainee even showed up at a court hearing without a deputy; he had driven from the jail by himself, according to the district attorney at the time.

Detainees and prisoners allegedly had such freedom at the jail ...

$3,000 Awarded to Ohio Prisoner for Denied Public Records

by David M. Reutter

The Supreme Court of Ohio issued a writ of mandamus to a state prisoner on December 15, 2022, awarding $3,000 in statutory damages for records he was denied in violation of the state Public Records Act (PRA) by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC).

Kimani Ware, a prisoner at the Trumbull Correctional Institution (TCI), sent a prison kite to staffer Waylon Wine on June 18, 2021, requesting “a copy of the B-Unit staff schedule.”  Wine responded it was posted in Ware’s unit, and no documentation was provided. Then on June 21, 2021, Ware sent two separate public records requests to TCI’s recreation department by prison kite. Another staff member, Tracy Ventura, responded that the recreational schedule was posted “in the blocks” earlier that day, and no documentation was provided.

Ware also sent two kites to Deputy Warden Anthony Davis requesting a copy of the June 17, 2021, memo that was sent to all TCI staff.  Davis responded that Ware needed to contact another staff member, Mr. Booth, and no documentation was disclosed.  Finally, on June 22, 2022, Ware sent a kite to Wine requesting “a copy of the housing unit split range schedules for ...

BOP Hits Back Hard After Federal Prisoner in Arizona Brandishes Gun

by Benjamin Tschirhart

As of mid-January 2023, almost 100 minimum-security prisoners from the Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Tucson were still being held in segregation at the nearby U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Tucson, six weeks after a fellow prisoner somehow got a gun and attempted to shoot his wife when she visited him.

The shooting attempt unfolded on November 12, 2022, in the visiting area at FPC-Tucson. Despite a guard pat-down before entering, a prisoner identified only as “Jaime” produced a gun and aimed it at his wife, pulling the trigger. The gun jammed four times. The prisoner dropped it and fled the building. Guards cornered and captured him in a maintenance shed a short time later. He was taken to the nearby USP-Tucson and placed in isolation.

Amid the many BOP lockups notorious for violence, camps like FPC-Tucson seem like peaceful oases. They were originally established near penitentiaries – like this one near USP-Tucson – to ease the comings and goings of low-security prisoners assigned to work details in the higher-security lockups nearby. With few fences and plentiful work-release programming, the worst problem is contraband, prisoners say. Not gunfire.

But if the incident left the federal Bureau of Prisons ...

Prisoner Counselors STORMING California Prisons to Aid in Addiction Recovery

by Kevin W. Bliss

On October 28, 2022, the first graduates of the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) at California State Prison (CSP) in Lancaster received their certificates. The new class of 29 will offer peer-to-peer drug abuse recovery and counseling to prisoners across the state. Upon release they can work toward state certification to continue counseling addicts outside.

Participants collectively refer to themselves as STORMING Cohorts, an acronym for a Scarred Team of Recovering Men Inspiring New Generations – alluding to the psychological storms they pull themselves through, as well as those they assist.

OMCP first began at Solano County State Prison in 2009. It has since expanded to Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison, both in Chowchilla. The one-year program culminates in certification as an addiction treatment counselor by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Enrollment requires two CDCR staff references and an interview. Candidates can have no serious disciplinary infractions and must submit a 500-word essay outlining how they maintain their recovery and could help others do the same. They must also have at least five years left on their sentences after graduation. Participants receive 350 hours of masters-degree-level curriculum in neurobiology, pharmacology, ...

It’s Official: BOP Prisoners on Expanded COVID-19 Home Confinement Staying Put

by Jordan Arizmendi

In its final rule that took effect on May 4, 2023, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) declared that prisoners placed on home confinement by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) under eligibility criteria expanded by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic would not have to return to prison, now that the pandemic has ended.

In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The law considered incarcerated individuals highly vulnerable to COVID-19 because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that those in close contact with an infected person – less than six feet – are likely to get infected with the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. As a result, spending a night in a crowded prison cell could turn any term into a death sentence.

The CARES Act expanded eligibility for home confinement under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(c)(2). Previously, it was available only to federal prisoners with no longer left to serve than “the lesser of ten percent of a prisoner’s sentence or six months.”

However, the expansion lasted only “for the period of the covered emergency.” As a result, in January 2021, former Attorney ...

Fifth South Carolina Prisoner Sentenced in “Sextortion” Scams Targeting Military Members

by Chuck Sharman

On April 21, 2023, South Carolina prisoner Dexter Lawrence, 27, was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a “sextortion” scam that targeted U.S. military personnel. Two co-conspirators also previously received federal sentences for money-laundering. Two other state prisoners were sentenced for blackmail in a similar scheme that led a young soldier to commit suicide. All must complete sentences they are already serving with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) before they begin their new terms.

The prisoners ran the scam from their cells from 2015 to 2017, and it worked like this: Using contraband cellphones to access the internet, they created fake accounts on dating sites, pretending to be females as they targeted on-duty U.S. military personnel and enticed them to request nude photos. It’s unclear whose photos the prisoners sent. But after they did so, an accomplice phoned the recipients, pretending to be an irate father claiming the photos were of his underage daughter. Of course, the “dad” was not so angry that he couldn’t be bought off. [See: PLN, Apr. 2019, p.63.]

Threatened with arrest and dishonorable discharge on child pornography charges, some ...

Imprisoned Former Head of New York City Jails Guards’ Union Granted Release

by Matt Clarke

On February 23, 2023, a federal judge who had earlier refused to reduce the sentence of the former head of the New York City jail guards’ union convicted in a costly bribery scheme, instead granted compassionate release to Norman Seabrook, 63.

The former president of the city’s powerful Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), Seabrook had by then served 21 months of his 58-month sentence. He remains subject to a three-year term of supervised release set in his original sentence.

Based largely on the testimony of real estate developer Jona Rechnitz, who served as bagman to deliver a $60,000 bribe, Seabrook was sentenced in February 2019 for taking the payoff to invest $20 million of COBA funds in a risky hedge fund that went bankrupt, resulting in a loss of $19 million from jail guards’ retirement accounts. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.46.]

In April 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that Seabrook, who is Black, ended up with a harsher sentence than his White co-conspirator; defunct Platinum Partners co-founder Murray Huberfeld initially received a 30-month sentence for paying the bribe, but his sentence was reduced to 13 months, after the ...

News in Brief

Arizona: A private prison guard in Arizona was picked up on drug charges in California on April 18, 2023, as he made his way back from Mexico with his wife and kids – along with almost 53 pounds of meth and heroin stashed in the gas tank. The Arizona Republic reported that when the California Highway Patrol stopped Fernando Urrutiaguillen, 34, on I-5 in Irving, troopers became suspicious and ordered a K-9 search of the vehicle, finding and seizing the drugs. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office charged the young father with eight felony counts related to the drug seizure. Officials do not believe Urrutiaguillen’s family knew of his smuggling activities, nor were they involved. Urrutiaguillen pleaded not guilty and was booked in the Orange County Jail in lieu of $3 million bail. The Army National Guardsman faces a possible 21-year prison sentence.

Arkansas: On April 22, 2023, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a former Dallas County Jail guard was sentenced for smuggling cellphones and vaping devices wrapped in a blanket to a federal detainee at the lockup. A federal judge sentenced Carah Bizzle, 37, of Bearden, to time served and three years of supervised release. Bizzle was also ordered ...