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Prison Legal News: July, 2023

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Volume 34, Number 7

In this issue:

  1. Despite #MeToo, Celebrity Justice Remains Massively Unjust (p 1)
  2. Georgia Prison Smuggling Ring Busted, Warden and Former Guard Arrested (p 11)
  3. From the Editor (p 12)
  4. Pennsylvania Jail Hit With Over $1.5 Million in Overages for Guards, Healthcare (p 12)
  5. $50,000 Settlement to Texas Prisoner for Feces-Covered Cell (p 13)
  6. New Jail Healthcare Provider Coming to Albuquerque – Again (p 14)
  7. Third Connecticut Prison Lockdown in Five Months (p 15)
  8. Guantanamo Prison Down to 30 Detainees (p 16)
  9. Fifth BOP Staff Conviction and Sixth Arrest in California Prison ‘Rape Club’ (p 17)
  10. Tennessee DOC Coughs Up Video of Condemned Prisoner Who Severed Own Penis (p 18)
  11. California LGBTQ Pardon Initiative Falls Short (p 20)
  12. Florida Returning Canteen Funds for Prisoner Programming (p 21)
  13. Fifth Detainee Dies in 2023 at California’s Santa Rita Jail (p 22)
  14. Ohio Makes Sweeping Changes to Criminal Justice (p 23)
  15. New York City Stops Reporting Rikers Island Deaths Amid Rampant Guard Misconduct (p 24)
  16. New York Prisoner Is Released After Conviction Is Vacated, Reinstated and Vacated Once More (p 28)
  17. Seventh Circuit: Attorney’s Submission of Illinois Prisoner’s Grievance Exhausts Administrative Remedies (p 28)
  18. $142,500 Settlement After Pennsylvania Jail Guard Allegedly Knocked Out Detainee and Broke Her Jaw (p 29)
  19. L.A. County Watchdog Takes Aim at “Deputy Gangs” (p 30)
  20. Seventh Circuit Revives Illinois Prisoner’s Claim Over Prison Work Injury (p 31)
  21. Newly Released Government Records Reveal Horrible Neglect of Terminally Ill Woman in Federal Prison (p 32)
  22. Prisoner Who Reached $11,400 Retaliation Settlement with South Dakota Jail Tries Again with DOC (p 33)
  23. Seventh Circuit: Low IQ and Segregation Placement May Render Administrative Remedies Unavailable to Indiana Prisoner (p 34)
  24. More Success for Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs in Prisons and Jails (p 35)
  25. Fourth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of North Carolina Prisoner’s ADA Claim for Failure to Show Deliberate Indifference (p 36)
  26. California Appeals Court Affirms Rate Caps and Fee Limitations for Prison Telecoms (p 39)
  27. $120,000 Settlement Reached With Long Island Detainee Assaulted by Jail Guards (p 42)
  28. $500,000 Settlement for Texas Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Child Sex Abuse (p 43)
  29. New York Bail Reform Laws Reduced Recidivism, Contrary to Critics’ Claims (p 44)
  30. $150,000 Verdict for South Carolina Jail Detainee’s Groin Injury During Pat-Down (p 45)
  31. Texas Prisons are Fire Traps (p 46)
  32. Over $7,600 Awarded to Tennessee Prisoner for Retaliatory Cell Search and Transfer (p 47)
  33. Tenth Circuit: Colorado Prisoner’s Injury Requiring Medical Treatment Not De Minimus (p 50)
  34. FCC Granted Broader Authority to Regulate Prisoner Call Costs (p 50)
  35. California Prisoners Embracing Arts (p 51)
  36. $15,001 Verdict Against Delaware Guard for Gaping Prisoner’s Butt During Strip Search (p 52)
  37. Almost 800 Deaths in South Carolina Jails and Prisons Six Years (p 53)
  38. Fourth Circuit Revives Virginia Prisoner’s Challenge to Discipline for Allegedly Sexually Harassing Guard (p 54)
  39. Georgia Prisoner Allowed to Proceed on Section 1983 Claim Seeking Execution by Firing Squad (p 56)
  40. States Take Legislative Action to Address Family Separation by Incarceration (p 57)
  41. Iowa DOC Changes Policy After Ombudsman Calls Out Unfair Prisoner Discipline (p 57)
  42. Biden Granting More Pardons Than Trump, Fewer Than Obama (p 58)
  43. Bad Lawyering, Bankruptcy Torpedo Suit Over Delaware Prisoner’s Death (p 59)
  44. California Appellate Court: Time Spent in Mental Hospital to Restore Competency is Time Served (p 60)
  45. FCC Requires Prison Telecoms to Provide Services for Deaf Prisoners (p 60)
  46. $1.325 Million Settlement after Virginia Detainee’s Opiate Withdrawal Ignored in Jail (p 61)
  47. Nebraska Parole Board Members Showing Up to Work More Often (p 62)
  48. The World’s Biggest Prison (p 62)
  49. News in Brief (p 63)

Despite #MeToo, Celebrity Justice Remains Massively Unjust

by Matthew Clarke

We all know celebrities accused ofcrimes, including actors, musicians, sports figures, business leaders, politicians and journalists. If they’re prosecuted at all, the punishment is rarely harsh. The rich and famous simply aren’t treated like everyone else.

However, the rise of the #metoo movement has undermined celebrity privilege within the U.S. justice system somewhat. For crimes of sexual misconduct, the wealthy and famous increasingly are treated more like the rest of us – especially when the victims are underage.

Nevertheless, celebrities continue to enjoy deference in other criminal allegations, such as assault, money crimes or property crimes. Nor is the accusation of a sex crime sufficient to remove the privilege of celebrity in some cases.

What is Celebrity Privilege?

Privilege in the criminal justice system is often thought of in racial terms. Research has proven an inherent bias among police, prosecutors, judges, and juries, who give more credence to white defendants and treat them with greater deference and more leniency than people of color. To be fair, though, it’s difficult to tease out whether this bias is racial or wealth-based, since wealth distribution in the U.S. falls along racial lines.

But just as there is “white privilege” for ...

Georgia Prison Smuggling Ring Busted, Warden and Former Guard Arrested

by Chuck Sharman

After Georgia prisoner Nathan Weekes and three others were indicted for murder in April 2022, a smuggling ring they operated at Smith State Prison was busted. That has now led to the arrest of the prison’s warden, Brian Dennis Adams, 48, on February 8, 2023.

The state Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said that Weekes, 27, ran what he called the Yves St. Laurent gang, moving large quantities of smuggled drugs and other contraband into and around the lockup. Adams allegedly accepted payoffs to look the other way and even lied to GBI agents investigating a trio of murders tied to the group.

First, GBI said, Weekes ordered his girlfriend killed – prison guard Jessica Gerling, 28 – apparently fearing the ring would be exposed after her arrest on smuggling charges in June 2020. GBI said that Weekes and his new girlfriend, former guard Keisha Janae Jones, 36, contracted for the killing with Christopher Sumlin, 31, who had been paroled from the prison.

But Sumlin botched his attempt in January 2021 and killed Gerling’s neighbor, Bobby Kicklighter, 88. For that murder, Weekes and Jones were indicted in May 2022, along with Jones’ roommate, Aerial Deshay Murphy, 23.

Just ...

From the Editor

by Paul Wright

The most striking thing about the American criminal justice system is its class-based nature. With one system of non-policing, lackluster prosecutions, lenient sentences and minimal consequences for the wealthy and another system of militarized policing, scorched earth prosecutions, draconian sentences and punishment that never ends for the poor. This very systemic inequality is one of the things that makes significant criminal justice reform so elusive: the people with the power to change it are not impacted by it, and the people impacted by it lack the power to change it.

Rivers of ink have been spent claiming that race-based disparities are the primary source of criminal injustice in the U.S. Yet no one is claiming that wealthy racial minorities are being herded into prison in vast numbers, or significant numbers at all for that matter. Instead, the burden of mass incarceration falls exclusively on the backs of the poor of all races. After more than three decades of reporting on wrongful convictions, I think I can safely say that wrongful convictions are the exclusive monopoly of the poor.

A number of years ago I was speaking at a conference about the death penalty, and one of my ...

Pennsylvania Jail Hit With Over $1.5 Million in Overages for Guards, Healthcare

by Kevin W. Bliss

On April 24, 2023, the board of Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County Prison unanimously recommended requiring extended shifts for five sergeants who supervise guards at the jail. That’s because after county lawmakers ended the hiring of part-time prison guards in 2021, mandated overtime for full-time guards cost more than $1.38 million the following year.

The following month, on May 22, 2023, county Controller Jeffrey Balzer questioned $175,000 in cost overruns on the prison’s contract with new healthcare provider PrimeCare Medical. The $20.9 million five-year agreement nearly doubled what the county was paying Wexford Health Sources before its contract ended in August 2022. PrimeCare’s contract caps outside services like doctor or hospital visits and prescription drug costs at $300,000 annually, but the prison blew through that in just six months.

Staffing levels at the lockup in Hempfield have been running around 80% since the change, forcing guards to work exorbitant amounts of overtime, including back-to-back eight-hour shifts. The overtime has nearly tripled some salaries. Senior guard Joseph Cueno earned $101,500 on top of his $59,134 base salary. Six of the county’s top 10 highest overtime earners in 2022 were prison guards.

County Human Resources Director Alexis Bevan said the ...

$50,000 Settlement to Texas Prisoner for Feces-Covered Cell

On July 8, 2022, a Texas prisoner’s decade-long legal battle over grossly unsanitary conditions in his cell finally came to an end, when he stipulated to dismissal of his lawsuit against the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) after accepting a $50,000 settlement.

For six days in September 2013, guards at the Montford Unit kept Trent Michael Taylor in cells that were simply disgusting, he said. The first was covered in feces almost completely – the floor, walls and even the water faucet. After four days Taylor was moved to another cell, but this one was extremely cold and had a clogged floor drain that served as a toilet. Taylor, who was naked, had to sleep on the floor in his own waste because the cell had no bunk.

Taylor filed suit pro se, but the federal court for the Northern District of Texas granted Defendants qualified immunity (QI) and dismissed the complaint, a decision affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on December 20, 2019. While the cell conditions that Taylor described amounted to the sort of “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, it was not clearly established at the time ...

New Jail Healthcare Provider Coming to Albuquerque – Again

by Kevin W. Bliss

New Mexico’s Bernalillo County is terminating the contract with its jail’s private healthcare contractor effective July 25, 2023. County Manager Julie Morgas Baca sent word to YesCare – the corporate descendant of Corizon Health – on January 26, 2023, pulling the plug two years early on a $64.9 million four-year contract that began in September 2021.

It is the second contract canceled in two years with a healthcare contractor at the county’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque. When county commissioners voted to hire YesCare, it was because previous provider Centurion Detention Health Services had quit in a firestorm that followed nine jail deaths in just one year.

Tennessee-based YesCare is the golem Corizon Health brought to life with much of the firm’s viable business when it successfully petitioned a Texas court to let it slough off its liabilities into another new corporation called Tehum Care Services. That firm then promptly declared bankruptcy. Known as the “Texas Two-Step,” the procedure is legal but ethically dubious; Tehum told the federal bankruptcy court for the Southern District of Texas in May 2023 that it had 30 unsecured creditors owed a total of $38,438,751. See: In Re: Tehum Care ...

Third Connecticut Prison Lockdown in Five Months

by Kevin W. Bliss

When an apparently intoxicated prisoner allegedly assaulted a guard at Connecticut’s largest prison on June 13, 2023, the lockup was put on lockdown. It was at least the third time this year that a state Department of Correction (DOC) prison was shutdown.

The first incident also occurred at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (CI). After prisoners registered over 50 new COVID-19 infections in just two weeks, Warden Daniel Dougherty placed the prison on lockdown on January 7, 2023. It wasn’t lifted until over two weeks later. DOC said that more than 700 state prisoners and 659 staffers tested positive for the disease in December 2022 and January 2023.

Then on May 19, 2023, New Haven CI went on a lockdown that lasted three days. DOC officials did not say what sparked the investigation that prompted it, however.

Connecticut’s 13 active prisons – five more are shuttered – hold some 10,000 prisoners. Over 30 have died from COVID-19 since March 2020. Civil rights activists blame inattention to prevention. “They don’t have proper cleaning items to clean their cells with, they don’t have proper PPE [personal protective equipment], they don’t have hand sanitizer, they don’t have paper masks,” said Katal ...

Guantanamo Prison Down to 30 Detainees

by Jordan Arizmendi

My name is Majid Khan, and I am a real person. I am a human being. I am a Muslim man, and I first want to thank God for freeing me.”

With that, the 43-year-old Pakistani was transferred to Belize from the U.S. Military Prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on February 2, 2023. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and murder in the 2003 bombing of the Jakarta Marriiott Hotel, which killed 11 civilians. Military jurors decided to grant him clemency, setting up his release.

His departure left just 32 remaining detainees at the “Gitmo” prison. Khan was the first victim to detail a CIA torture program he endured at the prison, which was established by former Pres. George W. Bush (R) the year after attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., by the al-Qaida terrorist group. Khan, who went to high school in Maryland before moving back to Pakistan and joining al-Qaida, was captured by U.S. forces in 2003 and has spent almost half of his life in U.S. detention.

Bush’s successor, former Pres. Barack Obama (D), broke a campaign promise to close the prison. So far the same is true of his ...

Fifth BOP Staff Conviction and Sixth Arrest in California Prison ‘Rape Club’

by Jo Ellen Nott

Sexually abusive guards and their former warden are falling like dominoes as prisoners brave retaliation to report sexual abuse at the Federal Correction Institute (FCI) in Dublin, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) lockup in California now known as the “Rape Club.”

Six staffers have been charged. Five have been convicted. Four have been sentenced.

The latest guilty verdict was returned by a jury in federal court for the Northern District of California on June 5, 2023, against John Russell Bellhouse, 40. The former guard was convicted on five counts of sexually abusing two prisoners in 2019 and 2020.

He was originally charged with assaulting a prisoner he called his “girlfriend” in 2020, giving her earrings and letting her use his office phone. In return, he twice accepted oral sex from her in the prison safety office where he worked. A superceding indictment added another victim recruited to act as lookout for these liasons, though he had sex with her, too. Federal prisoners cannot legally consent to sex with BOP staff, and any sexual contact between them is a crime.

For each of two convictions of sexual abuse of a ward, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ...

Tennessee DOC Coughs Up Video of Condemned Prisoner Who Severed Own Penis

by Eike Blohm, MD

After a month of foot-dragging, the Tennessee Department of Corrections (DOC) complied with a court order on February 24, 2023, releasing surveillance video of a death-row prisoner who cut off his own penis and was then left strapped to a foam mattress in his cell.

Henry Hodges, 56, pleaded guilty in 1990 to murdering a man in Nashville who allegedly accepted Hodges’ proposition for paid sex. With testimony at his sentencing from his 15-year-old girlfriend, who participated in the killing, Hodges was condemned.

Over the next three decades, DOC documented his extensive history of mental illness with recurrent psychotic episodes – including one in early October 2022, when Hodges began smearing feces on his cell walls at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI). Instead of treating his psychosis, staff simply withheld food. Four days later he slit his wrists. He begged medical staff to place him on suicide watch, but he was bandaged and returned to his cell instead.

In the midst of his decompensated psychosis, Hodges then used a piece of broken window glass and razor blades he’d secreted in his cell to cut off his penis. After surgery to reattach it, he was kept naked ...

California LGBTQ Pardon Initiative Falls Short

by Chuck Sharman

Three years after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) unveiled a plan to pardon LGBTQ Californians prosecuted for their sexual orientation, the program has exactly one living beneficiary: Henry Pachnowski, 83, whose 1967 lewd conduct conviction was pardoned in 2022.

“While this initiative may appear to rectify historical wrongs, it has little, if any, impact on the actual lives of those subjected to discriminatory laws,” declared Jennifer Orthwein, an attorney representing LGBTQ clients who is also a forensic psychologist in state prisons.

Launched in February 2020, the initiative was focused on pardoning vagrancy, loitering and sodomy charges historically used to target LGBTQ individuals. Pachnowski, a Holocaust survivor, was caught engaging in consensual sex with another man outside an Orange County warehouse. He said he was “thrilled that this finally happened.”

“I thought I was going to die with that burden,” he added. “It almost feels like now I’m whole.”

The first pardon under the program was granted posthumously to civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who died in 1987. Convicted of vagrancy in 1953 for engaging in consensual sexual activity with another man, he was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 by former Pres. Barack Obama ...

Florida Returning Canteen Funds for Prisoner Programming

by Harold Hempstead

Pickleball is one of America’s fastestgrowing sports. Played with a paddle and a large plastic ball on an outdoor court, the game offers the speed of ping pong with less risk of an ankle injury than tennis, while still a more competitive alternative to badminton for aging Baby Boomers.

It’s also being played by prisoners held in the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), at least a few hundred of them. For at least a few days. As of February 2023, the game had been introduced to eight prisons in the Sunshine State by Roger BelAir, 76, a self-style pickleball guru traveling the nation on his own dime to introduce the sport into jails and prisons.

BelAir said he got the idea while watching a TV program about Chicago’s jail, and he was struck by images of idle detainees. “I said to my wife, ‘They ought to be playing pickleball,’” he recalled. He sent a letter to the jail’s chief, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who noted BelAir “was offering something for free, which obviously got my attention in a hurry.”

Of course, Florida can afford to pay for programming such as education and sports. It even has ...

Fifth Detainee Dies in 2023 at California’s Santa Rita Jail

by Jo Ellen Nott

A homeless man who lived behind a Kohl’s Department Store in Livermore, California, become the fifth detainee to die this year in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail (SRJ). Eric Magana, 26, committed suicide by “consuming a profuse amount of water” in his cell on April 27, 2023. 

Just a month earlier, Magana had been picked up on unspecified charges, when he told cops he threw a rock at a jewelry store because he was just “trying to survive.” Magana also said “he was worried about his life because he [didn’t] have any money, food or work.” Then he apologized for anything bad he had done. 

That apparently included an “extensive assaultive history on staff” at the jail, which was noted when Magana was booked on March 28, 2023, and placed in a single-man cell in SRJ’s Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU). Magana admitted to using drugs the day before his arrest, but the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) said that “there was no cause for concern found during the medical and mental health intake process.” 

Acute water intoxication flushes the body of sodium until levels become lethally low, a condition known as hyponatremia. Depressingly, it is not unheard-of ...

Ohio Makes Sweeping Changes to Criminal Justice

On January 3, 2023, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed Senate Bill 288 (SB288), making sweeping reforms from heavier penalties for crimes plaguing the state to increased chance for early release, either through the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) or by petitioning the courts for sentence review.

The new law, which took effect April 2023, is the product of a two-year legislative project. DeWine complimented legislators “on the fact that they reached out to prosecutors, they reached out to defenders, they reached out to law-enforcement agencies.”

At 1,000 pages, SB288 covers a myriad of topics. It allows for most convicted felons to petition once released to have their record expunged, improving their odds of obtaining housing, employment or a loan. Low-level marijuana and paraphernalia possession crimes are to be erased from people’s records, too. DRC also has more opportunity to grant early release. And Ohio’s Good Samaritan law is expanded to provide immunity from prosecution to people seeking medical assistance for themselves or others in drug overdoses, as long as addiction treatment is sought within 30 days.

SB288 reduces certain sentences, such as underage drinking, but enhances others like distracted driving. Possession of fentanyl testing strips is decriminalized; ...

New York City Stops Reporting Rikers Island Deaths Amid Rampant Guard Misconduct

by Kevin W. Bliss, Chuck Sharman and Benjamin Tschirhart

On May 31, 2023, Luis Molina, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), announced his agency would no longer make public reports of in-custody deaths. Why? Molina blamed the federal monitor overseeing a long-running class-action lawsuit to improve conditions at the city’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex, claiming Steven J. Martin was weaponizing the data to make DOC look bad.

Molina’s ire was apparently piqued a day earlier, when Martin reported to the federal court for the Southern District of New York that Molina had mischaracterized five detainee deaths in ways that made them appear less preventable than they were. There were 19 deaths at the jail in 2022, and three more by May 2023.

The gloves then came off as Martin accused Molina and DOC of “inaccuracies and a lack of transparency” in another filing in the case on June 8, 2023. In a third filing on June 12, 2023, Martin told Judge Laura Taylor Swain that “it is difficult for the Monitoring Team to keep the Court appropriately apprised of matters when the City and [DOC] take positions and actions that shift day to day and ...

New York Prisoner Is Released After Conviction Is Vacated, Reinstated and Vacated Once More

by Chuck Sharman

After a wild legal ride, Norberto Peets was exonerated of attempted murder on May 9, 2023, and he was released from a New York prison after 26 years.

Early on September 29, 1996, two New York City policemen patrolling in Fordham Heights heard gunfire. They traced the shots to a nearby elevated train platform, where a man wearing a dark baseball cap shot another man carrying a baseball bat. The cops gave chase, exchanging gunfire with the assailant. The victim survived, but the gunman got away.

A week later, Peets and two other men were arrested and detained for attempted robbery of a chicken stand. The charges against Peets were later dismissed, but not before one of the cops saw Peets in a detention cell and claimed to recognize him from the earlier shooting.

Peets was tried for attempted murder in Bronx County Supreme Court on April 26, 1999. Both cops identified him as the gunman, though they admitted seeing his face only briefly. So did one of two men shot as the gunman fled the subway platform. The other could not make an identification of Peets.

Peets claimed he was home that evening recovering from a ...

Seventh Circuit: Attorney’s Submission of Illinois Prisoner’s Grievance Exhausts Administrative Remedies

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on January 11, 2023, affirmed a district court ruling that when an Illinois prisoner’s attorney submitted his grievances to the appropriate administrative office on time, his administrative remedies were exhausted, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

While held by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) at Hill Correctional Center, Randall J. Behning was allegedly attacked by guards after requesting daily medication that had been delayed. He accused two guards of assaulting him while others looked on. Behning further claimed he received inadequate medical care from Nurse Paula Young when taken to the prison emergency room. He also alleged denial of due process in prison disciplinary proceedings, when he was found guilty of assaulting the guard instead.

As a result of that finding, Behning was transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center and placed in solitary confinement. He attempted to file grievances there concerning the altercation, his claims of inadequate medical care and alleged procedural defects in his disciplinary hearing. Because he was at a prison other than the one where the incidents occurred, he was required by policy to submit his grievances ...

$142,500 Settlement After Pennsylvania Jail Guard Allegedly Knocked Out Detainee and Broke Her Jaw

by Matthew Clarke

On September 30, 2022, a lawsuit was dismissed against Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County, after a former pretrial detainee at the county lockup reached a $142,500 settlement on claims that a jail guard knocked her unconscious and smashed her jaw while she was handcuffed.

Barbara Barngetuny, then 26, was detained at the Dauphin County Prison on November 10, 2017, when jail guard Joshua Marshall allegedly slammed her to the floor, breaking her jaw and two teeth and cutting her chin. When she then passed out – for 10 minutes – a second, unidentified guard pepper sprayed her twice as she lay unmoving on the floor, she said.

Afterward, Barngetuny said she was disciplined for being combative with placement in solitary confinement. There she was denied visits from her mother. She was also allegedly ridiculed by guards, who laughed at her when she cried. One said she cried worse than his two-year-old niece, Barngetuny recalled.

Her broken jaw required surgery, and her two broken teeth required repair. She also had to heal the cuts on her chin. In addition to those injuries, she claimed to suffer migraine headaches, PTSD, severe emotional distress and insomnia as a result of the assault. ...

L.A. County Watchdog Takes Aim at “Deputy Gangs”

by Douglas Ankney

In a letter sent to 35 deputies withtheLos Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on May 12, 2023, county Inspector General Max Huntsman demanded they report for questioning about their involvement in deputy “gangs,” including showing their gang tattoos and giving up the names of other gang members.

Huntsman said that LASD “conducted incomplete internal affairs investigations” into two of the groups, the Banditos and Executioners, “failing to identify all members.” But he added that “California’s new gang law addresses discrimination based on race and gender and gives inspectors general enhanced authority to collect evidence.”

“We’re using that authority to complete the investigations by directing deputies to show their tattoos and tell us who else has them,” he said.

An anonymous survey of LASD deputies found that 16% had been asked to join one of the gangs. Huntsman’s letter follows the creation of a new Office of Constitutional Policing in LASD by recently elected Sheriff Robert Luna. [See: PLN, May 2023, p.1.].

A February 2023 report from county Civilian Oversight Commission’s (COC) Special Counsel counted more than a half-dozen illegal gangs or cliques of LASD deputies, which also include such colorful names as the Regulators, Spartans, Gladiators, ...

Seventh Circuit Revives Illinois Prisoner’s Claim Over Prison Work Injury

by Matthew Clarke

On December 15, 2022, the U.S. Courtof Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a district court erred when it dismissed an Illinois prisoner’s lawsuit for misjoinder of defendants and claims. Finding the claims and defendants were in fact properly joined, the Court reinstated the prisoner’s complaint.

After he was admitted to the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in September 2017,  Jermari C. Dorsey was injured on his prison job at Robinson Correctional Center, while emptying an industrial washing machine that was not attached to a drain. A supervising guard named Julius refused him permission to seek medical attention. When his pain worsened the next day, he submitted a request for medical care and waited.

When finally admitted to the healthcare unit six days later, his severe leg pain was duly noted by an unnamed “Doe” Nurse with the state prison system’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources. But Doe also recorded her belief that Dorsey was exaggerating his symptoms. Why? She allegedly observed him approach the waiting room walking normally, only to begin limping and moaning once he thought himself under observation. Dorsey later called that entry false, alleging also that it negatively influenced his ...

Newly Released Government Records Reveal Horrible Neglect of Terminally Ill Woman in Federal Prison

by C.J. Ciaramella

A woman who died in federal prison suffered in pain for eight months while waiting for a routine CT scan, records released to Reason show.

Doris Nelson was one of three inmates identified by a 2020 Reason investigation who have died since 2018 from alleged medical neglect at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Aliceville, a federal women’s prison in Alabama. Reason reported on allegations of disastrous delays in medical care at Aliceville; desperate letters, lawsuits, and numerous interviews with current and formerly incarcerated women inside the prison described months-long waits for doctor appointments and routine procedures, retaliation from staff, and terrible pain and fear.

Reason filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2020 for post- mortality reviews of all inmate deaths at Aliceville. Three years later, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) finally released some of those reports. The Eighth Amendment is supposed to protect incarcerated people from medical neglect and cruelty, but a multi-level mortality review performed by the BOP shows that staff ignored Nelson’s pleas for help for months while she lost the ability to walk. Staff advised her to take Motrin for excruciating pain and delayed and denied a CT scan that would ...

Prisoner Who Reached $11,400 Retaliation Settlement with South Dakota Jail Tries Again with DOC

by Keith Sanders

On March 31, 2023, most of South Dakota prisoner Travis McPeek’s federal civil rights claims were dismissed against officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) – and he was barred from collecting damages on those that were not dismissed because he suffered no physical injury, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.

McPeek may have expected lightning to strike twice, after winning an $11,400 settlement on earlier retaliation claims against the Yankton County Jail, where he awaited trial on aggravated assault charges that ultimately sent him to state prison.

He was indicted for that after a traffic stop in Tyndell on August 6, 2016, during which he drove over a policeman’s foot and got away. When he was arrested in Mesa, Arizona, on December 15, 2016, he was shot  multiple times with rubber bullets, leaving him with injuries that required hospitalization and medication.

During extradition to YCJ, he was held in various lockups, including Pennington County Jail in Rapid City. Arriving there on January 26, 2017, he was immediately placed in “administrative segregation” or “ad seg” – essentially solitary confinement – reportedly for medical reasons. But jail records later showed he ...

Seventh Circuit: Low IQ and Segregation Placement May Render Administrative Remedies Unavailable to Indiana Prisoner

by David M. Reutter

On February 3, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reinstated an Indiana prisoner’s civil rights complaint that had been dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The Court found the prisoner’s low IQ and his placement in segregation may have rendered those remedies unavailable.

Howard Smallwood was found unresponsive in his cell at Pendleton Correctional Facility on October 22, 2017. He was taken to the prison medical unit and treated for a presumed drug overdose with two doses of Narcan. When he awoke, Smallwood denied taking any drugs and reminded the nurse he was a diabetic and had been similarly found unresponsive before.

Dr. Paul Talbot, however, ordered urinalysis screening for drugs. It came back negative. Talbot then ordered a blood test to further screen for drugs. Smallwood refused, but guards told him he had no choice. When Smallwood resisted, guards allegedly “twisted his hands and wrists, placed him in a head lock, and held a taser to his chest while they placed him in restraints,” the Court recalled, before “[t]hey then forced Smallwood into a chair and ...

More Success for Medication-Assisted Treatment Programs in Prisons and Jails

by Keith Sanders

The opioid crisis has reached every segment of American society, from fentanyl-laced candy found in elementary schools to party-goers dying from innocent-looking pills that are really fatal fentanyl cocktails.

Opioid abuse killed over 80,000 people in 2021, pushing U.S. life expectancy to its lowest level in 25 years. Prisons and jails have not been spared; approximately two thirds of those incarcerated suffer substance abuse disorders.

The crisis has prompted some prison systems to think outside the box. Rhode Island’s Department of Corrections (DOC) became the first state prison system in 2016 to provide FDA-approved Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Maine’s DOC followed suit the next year. California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) instituted its Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment Program in 2019, offering MAT for both alcohol and opioid abuse. Over the next three years, CDCR’s overdose rate plummeted 62% – while opioid overdose deaths nationwide increased almost 30% in 2021. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.42.]

Such programs not only save prisoner lives but also taxpayer money through reduced recidivism. Yet according to the Jail and Prison Opioid Project, a nonprofit research organization, only 12% of U.S. jails and prisons provide MAT.

There is a widespread misperception ...

Fourth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of North Carolina Prisoner’s ADA Claim for Failure to Show Deliberate Indifference

by Douglas Ankney

In an instructive case for prisoners making claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ch.126 § 12101, et seq., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held on October 5, 2022, that a North Carolina prisoner failed to create a genuine issue of material fact that could demonstrate deliberate indifference to his serious medical need by prison officials.

Rodney A. Koon is an “ADA-assigned” prisoner in the state Department of Public Safety (DPS). Injuries sustained in an automobile accident prior to incarceration left him with chronic pain in his hips, his right knee and his left ankle. He is “not able to go up and down steps without difficulty,” the Court noted. Officials at Lanesboro Correctional Institution (CI) determined Koon’s ADA accommodations to be, inter alia, “no climbing permitted.”

While held there, Koon did not seek a “handicap pass” because he was able to access everything he needed. But when later transferred to Pender CI, Koon found it difficult and painful to climb up two flights of stairs to the general population library. There was a handicap library at the prison, accessible without using the stairs, but it required a handicap pass. ...

California Appeals Court Affirms Rate Caps and Fee Limitations for Prison Telecoms

by Douglas Ankney

On February 1, 2023, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate Division, affirmed the denial by the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) of challenges to rate caps and fee limitations brought by Securus Technologies LLC (Securus) and Network Communications International Corporation (NCIC) over their contracts in the state’s prisons and jails.

In 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began regulating incarcerated person calling services (IPCS) due to the lack of competition among providers. By 2016, the FCC had adopted regulations capping per-minute rates at 13 cents in prisons and in jails a range of 19-31 cents, depending on the average daily population (ADP). Caps were also placed on automated payment fees – at $3.00 per transaction – and “live-agent” fees at $5.95 per transaction, as well as fees for paper statements at $2.00 each. IPCS providers were also prohibited from adding any fee to that charged by third-party financial institutions for processing single-call transactions, usually when the recipient of a collect call from a prisoner does not have an account with the IPCS provider at that facility.

However, the caps on intrastate calls were voided when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the ...

$120,000 Settlement Reached With Long Island Detainee Assaulted by Jail Guards

by Jacob Barret

On April 27, 2023, the Ways and Means Committee of New York’s Suffolk County legislature approved a $120,000 settlement with a former detainee assaulted by guards at the county lockup. In addition to the payout, the case is notable for the length of time it took for the wrong to be redressed – nearly 17 years – as well as the county’s long-game legal strategy.

Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs can pursue civil rights claims against jail guards and other municipal employees. However, recourse against the municipal employers requires showing a “pattern, custom or practice” that led to the violation, as laid out in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). If the municipality successfully argues that the constitutional violation was caused by a lone “bad apple” employee, it avoids liability. But if the victim shows that the municipality permitted the circumstances under which the employee committed the violation, a court may hold the municipal government liable – providing powerful incentive for the municipality to mend its ways.

Yet municipalities often attempt to bifurcate such claims. They argue that it is more efficient to first prove a violation against an employee ...

$500,000 Settlement for Texas Man Wrongly Imprisoned for Child Sex Abuse

by Benjamin Tschirhart

In 2013, Greg Kelley was a 17-year-old high school football star from Cedar Park, Texas. A good student, he already had a full scholarship to play football for the University of Texas in San Antonio. His coaches believed he might go on to the NFL. Instead, the teenager was about to witness the methodical and deliberate destruction of his whole life.

Kelley’s parents both had serious medical problems. So for a portion of his junior year of high school, he stayed with the family of his friend, a look-alike teammate named Jonathan McCarty, whose parents, Shama and Ralph, ran a daycare out of their home.

On July 13, 2013, about four weeks after Kelley had left the McCarty family home, a four-year-old boy who attended the daycare told his mother he had been sexually assaulted there. The parents of the boy, identified later in court as “H.M.,” reported the allegations to Cedar Park Police. Then-Chief Sean Mannix and Detective Chris Dailey suspected Kelley and set about securing his conviction. 

When Dailey swore a probable cause affidavit against Kelley, he dated the offense “on or about December A.D. 2012 to June A.D. 2013” – not based on H.M.’s ...

New York Bail Reform Laws Reduced Recidivism, Contrary to Critics’ Claims

by Chuck Sharman

A study released on March 14, 2023, revealed that New York’s controversial new bail laws have not led to more rearrests of offenders, as some politicians claimed. In fact, according to the study’s authors at the John Jay College Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ), the opposite is true.

The study focused on the effect in New York City of 2020 bail reform laws, which eliminated a judge’s discretion to impose bail for low-level crimes. What researchers found was that these reforms reduced the likelihood of rearrest, with one exception: The re-arrest rate for those released following a recent violent felony arrest showed a slight increase.

According to DCJ Director Michael Rempel, “Fundamentally, we found that eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies reduced recidivism in New York City.”

The study did not attempt to explain reasons for decreased recidivism among those released without bail. But experts suggest that even temporary incarceration can lead to job loss, family disruption, and housing instability, any of which may lead to further criminal activity.

The 2020 reforms allow New Yorkers charged with most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to be released while their cases are being processed. For those in New ...

$150,000 Verdict for South Carolina Jail Detainee’s Groin Injury During Pat-Down

by Eike Blohm

After turning down offers to settle for far less, South Carolina’s Aiken County wound up on the losing side of a $150,000 verdict on November 4, 2022, after a state court jury found that a guard at the county lockup crushed a detainee’s scrotum during a rough pat-down. No criminal charges have been filed in the incident. But following the verdict, long-time Sheriff Michael Hunt announced in January 2023 that he would not seek re-election to a sixth term.

Otis Owens was detained at Aiken County Detention Center in late January 2017 when he returned from the recreation yard and was subjected to a pat-down. Guard Timothy Gibson bizarrely probed Owens’ belly button before running his hands up Owens’ legs, grabbing his scrotum and testicles and squeezing hard.

Left in pain, Owens requested medical treatment. But he didn’t receive any until after his release. On February 24, 2017, according to the complaint he later filed, “a sonogram revealed that [he] had sustained injuries to his groin and that fluid had accumulated around his testicles.”

While sonography cannot distinguish between types of fluid – it may be blood, seminal fluid or another serous fluid accumulation – the presence ...

Texas Prisons are Fire Traps

by Ed Lyon

With almost 122,000 prisoners, Texas has the largest state prison system in the U.S. According to a report on January 9, 2023, it appears to be the most fire prone system, as well.

Fire and safety spending by the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) rose from $2.9 million for fiscal year 2020 to $8.6 million the next, and it rose again for the 2022-2023 to $14.3 million. TDCJ officials are currently begging the state legislature to more than double the current bi-yearly fire and safety budget to $30 million.

Yet for decades TDCJ has pooh-poohed fire safety concerns in its prisons. In 2012 the State Fire Marshal discovered 237 buildings in the prison system that were required to have fire alarms but did not. Others had inoperative alarms waiting for repairs. In a 2019 inspection, the State Fire Marshal uncovered over 3,000 fire safety violations.

At the beginning of 2023, fire safety violations had skyrocketed to more than 8,000 violations. Fires are common in TDCJ’s close-custody and restrictive-custody housing areas. Since these prisoners seldom are allowed out of their cells, not as many guards are needed – allegedly. But even if that’s true, staff preparedness has ...

Over $7,600 Awarded to Tennessee Prisoner for Retaliatory Cell Search and Transfer

On March 13, 2023, the federal court for the Western District of Tennessee awarded $3,176.67 in costs to a state prisoner in his suit against the warden and three guards at West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP). After a jury earlier found in his favor on his retaliation claim, the Court awarded damages of $1,776 to Kenneth W. Parnell on November 10, 2022. Another $2,664 in attorney fees – of which Parnell was ordered to cover $444 – was added on January 10, 2023. That brought the total judgment in his favor to $7,616.67.

Parnell’s prison job at WTSP was grievance clerk under Associate Warden Johnny Yolanda Fitz. According to the complaint he later filed, Fitz appointed Sgt. Kristy Parker the new grievance chairperson when Cpl. Sueann Brewer took a temporary leave of absence in April 2017. But Parker allegedly violated grievance policies and practices, and when Parnell drew this to her attention, she entered a false “adverse contact note” against him.

Parnell prepared a grievance, including details about Parker’s policy violations and her apparent goal of taking over Brewer’s position permanently. On June 13, 2017, two guards then searched Parnell’s cell, finding and taking the grievance he had prepared – ...

Tenth Circuit: Colorado Prisoner’s Injury Requiring Medical Treatment Not De Minimus

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in a mixed ruling issued on January 11, 2023, found a prisoner’s allegations satisfied the physical injury requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The Court found that because the injuries required medical treatment, they were not de minimus.

Colorado prisoner Jabari J. Johnson is a “prolific pro se litigant,” the Court began, one who “by his own count” had filed over 60 civil rights suits accusing prison officials of violating his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. But all those lawsuits, except for those pending at the time of the instant appeal, were dismissed for failure to prosecute or failure to comply with court orders or procedural rules.

Johnson was escorted on May 3, 2018, to his prison’s case manager to retrieve copies he had requested of prior grievances. The case manager inquired about Johnson’s upcoming suits.  When Johnson refused to answer, the case manager became irate and ordered Johnson to leave if he wouldn’t answer questions. Johnson agreed to leave, and he was ordered to “cuff up.”

Moments later, Sgt. Joaquin Reyna, Lt. Brett Corbin, and another guard named Wargo ...

FCC Granted Broader Authority to Regulate Prisoner Call Costs

by Chuck Sharman

On March 16, 2023, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to begin rule-making to implement the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act of 2022. Named after a determined woman who tirelessly campaigned to lower her bill to call her imprisoned grandson – which sometimes exceeded $1 per minute – the law passed Congress in November 2022, expanding the FCC’s regulatory power to cover intrastate calls.

Since 2014, when Congress initially granted the FCC authority to cap interstate prison call costs, prices have decreased to approximately 12-14 cents per minute. However, the limits did not apply to calls made within a state, which account for 80% of the total. The new law closed that loophole, over the predictable objections of companies that have sprung up to provide what they call “inmate calling services” (ICS).

The two largest ICS firms are ViaPath – formerly Global Tel*Link (GTL) – and Aventiv Technologies, which owns both Securus and JPay. Aventiv eventually came out in support of the new law, but Chief Communications and Community Engagement Officer Margita Thompson emphasized the need to protect the firm’s investment in setting up and delivering phone and video calls in high-security prison and jail ...

California Prisoners Embracing Arts

by Kevin W. Bliss

In November 2022, about 20 prisoners at California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino staged a dance show.

You read that right.

Smashing what New York Times reporter Brian Selbert called “prison culture codes of masculine behavior,” the men said no one was more surprised than they were at where they ended up.

“Nobody dances in prison,” Kenneth W. Webb recalled saying back in 2018, when the idea was suggested by a fellow prisoner at California State Prison (CSP) at Lancaster, Dimitri Gales.

Webb, then 27, was early in a 50-year sentence for fatally shooting another 18-year-old at a party in 2008. Gales, a year younger, was serving 18-years-to-life for involuntary manslaughter for
his role in a gang shooting.

“It sounded super crazy,” Gales agreed. But he and Webb drafted a proposal for prison officials that emphasized the rehabilitative benefits of dance.

Receiving approval, they taught the class themselves, working out dance and hip-hop routines for about 20 fellow prisoners. They were also taking Words Uncaged classes with the program’s founder, Cal State-L.A. English professor Bidhan Chandra Roy. He introduced them to Dimitri Chamblas, the recently recruited dean of the School of Dance at California Institute ...

$15,001 Verdict Against Delaware Guard for Gaping Prisoner’s Butt During Strip Search

by Keith Sanders

On February 6, 2023, Judge Paul Wallace in Delaware Superior Court upheld a jury’s $15,001 award for damages against George Pyle, a guard with the state Department of Corrections (DOC), in a suit filed by Richard M. Chamberlain, a prisoner serving time at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution after a sixth DUI conviction in 2016.

Chamberlain, then 47, alleged in 2017 that Pyle snapped a pair of plastic gloves on his hands and leered, “It’s strip-search time!” The guard then took both hands to spread Chamberlain’s butt cheeks wide and search between them, while fellow guard Bernard Smith stood by watching.

For this humiliation, Chamberlain filed a complaint accusing the prison warden and his guards of conducting a strip search that was “harmful or offensive and unnecessary to enforce prison procedures.” Pyle denied inappropriately touching Chamberlain, but he added during trial that “if he did touch him, it was in accordance with prison rules.”

Pyle was represented by a state attorney who, unsurprisingly, argued the guard did nothing wrong; he simply told Chamberlain that it was time for a strip search, albeit with a smirking grin as he “snapped his gloves on.” Nevertheless, the guard’s actions, the ...

Almost 800 Deaths in South Carolina Jails and Prisons Six Years

A new report published in January 2023 by Madalyn Wasilczur, a professor leading the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Law Incarceration Transparency project, reveals a troubling number of deaths in jails and prisons in the Palmetto State between 2015 and 2021. During that time, 777 deaths occurred in the state’s 52 lockups.

South Carolina incarcerates almost 11,500 people in county jails and almost 16,000 more in state prisons, ranking 26th in the nation in per capita incarceration rate, at 304 per 100,000. Racial disparities are also apparent, with Blacks accounting for 61% of those serving time in state prisons, yet just 27% of the total state population. Black children represented 57% of those confined in juvenile detention, too.

The state also has some of the highest mortality rates behind bars. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics calculated the death rate in South Carolina jails at 196 per 100,000 in 2019, exceeding the national average of 167 per 100,000. The rate in state prisons was an astonishing 386 per 100,000, tops in the nation, which averaged 330 per 100,000.

Wasilczur’s report analyzed data collected from the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Public Safety, along with other ...

Fourth Circuit Revives Virginia Prisoner’s Challenge to Discipline for Allegedly Sexually Harassing Guard

by David M. Reutter

On February 3, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to Virginia prison officials, in a civil rights complaint by a state prisoner alleging a guard falsely accused him of sexual harassment and supervisors refused him evidence that would exonerate him.

Before the Court was an appeal brought by Emmanual King Shaw, who has been held at Sussex I State Prison (SISP) since 2017. A female guard charged Shaw on July 19, 2017, with directing lewd behavior toward her in the prison showers. Shaw denied the allegation and contended security-camera footage would vindicate him.

Shaw was placed in isolation pending a hearing on the charge, which should have occurred within 15 days under state Department of Corrections (DOC) policy. From August 2 to 10, 2017, Shaw filed multiple internal complaints and letters to prison officials regarding the delay in his hearing, accusing staff of opening and intercepting them under pretense they had a faulty destination address.

When a disciplinary hearing was finally held on August 17, 2017, the supervising guard refused to review any security-camera footage and found Shaw guilty on the charging guard’s statements. ...

Georgia Prisoner Allowed to Proceed on Section 1983 Claim Seeking Execution by Firing Squad

by David M. Reutter

On January 30, 2023, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rebuffed Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) officials who wanted to execute a condemned prisoner by lethal injection. Instead, the Court found that Michael Wade Nance offered a plausible alternative method for his death: Firing Squad.

Nance was 27 when he robbed an Atlanta-area bank in 1993. After dye packets that tellers bagged with the loot exploded inside his getaway car, he ran across the street and carjacked liquor store customer Gabor Balogh, fatally shooting the 43-year-old. A jury sentenced Nance to death in 1997.

In January 2020, Nance sued DOC in federal court for the Northern District of Georgia. Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he argued that his veins are “severely compromised,” so inserting an intravenous catheter for lethal injection might cause a vein to “blow” and leak toxins into the surrounding tissue. He also said his prescription Gabapentin lowered the effectiveness of the pentobarbital used as a sedative in DOC’s lethal injection protocol. Both claims, he said, put him at unconstitutional risk of pain. The state had no alternative execution method, but Nance offered one - ...

States Take Legislative Action to Address Family Separation by Incarceration

by Jordan Arizmendi

When incarceration begins for a prisoner, a separate punishment also begins for his or her children. On February 27, 2023, Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) published its findings in How 12 States Are Addressing Family Separation by Incarceration – and Why They Can and Should Do More. The report summarizes state laws to alleviate incarceration’s impact on families.

In the federal prison system and five states – Florida, Hawaii, New York, Montana and New Jersey – requirements have been enacted to keep incarcerated parents within geographic proximity to their children. Seven more states – Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, California, Louisiana, Illinois and Tennessee – have passed legislation in which caregiver status is a mitigating factor in sentencing or access to alternatives to incarceration.

Proximity laws ensure a child and an incarcerated parent are never too far apart. After all, the single most important demand in a parent-child relationship is time together. But many states have only one or two prisons for women, often in rural locations far from cities. Also, not every child has someone to make the drive to a parent’s lockup. As a result, if the proximity legislation does not include funding for visitation as well ...

Iowa DOC Changes Policy After Ombudsman Calls Out Unfair Prisoner Discipline

by Kevin W. Bliss

In its Annual Report on December 15, 2022, the Iowa Ombudsman Office (IOO) called out the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for unfairly addressing abuse of K2 by prisoners and also failing to protect those in protective custody (PC). But Ombudsman Bernardo Granwehr said policy changes had been made to address his concerns.

Like many states, Iowa has struggled with K2, a synthetic drug easily smuggled into lockups. There it is cut into hundreds of doses and resold at a massive profit, making it extremely appealing to traffickers.

But field testing for K2 is not conclusive. Guards use field-test kits whose manufacturers state that results need to be confirmed in a certified laboratory. Since certain component chemical compounds of the drug are commonly found elsewhere, false positives occur in about 38% of field tests.

Nevertheless, IOO found that many state prisoners lost privileges for alleged rule violations based solely on these undependable drug tests – without any confirmation by a lab. It recommended a change in DOC policy to verify field tests and reinstate lost privileges to prisoners when those laboratory results come back negative. Earlier in 2022, the report stated, DOC “had suspended use of ...

Biden Granting More Pardons Than Trump, Fewer Than Obama

by Jordan Arizmendi

A raft of Presidential pardons for federal marijuana-possession convictions ballooned the total number of clemencies extended to current and former prisoners by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D). But even without those pardons, Biden had by April 2023 far out-paced his predecessor, Pres. Donald J. Trump (R) – though both remain behind the last Democratic President, Barack Obama.

Biden pardoned six people at the end of 2022, including Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas, 80, who was sentenced in 1977 for killing her husband after he beat her while she was pregnant. Another pardon went to Charles Byrnes-Jackson, 77, who pleaded guilty in 1964 to selling liquor without federal tax stamps. Also pardoned was John Dix Nock III, 72, who was sentenced in 1996 for growing marijuana. Another pardon for marijuana trafficking went to Edward Lincoln De Coito III, 50; he was sentenced in 1999. Gary Parks Davis, 66, was pardoned for an over-the-phone cocaine buy that he was sentenced for in 1979. For using ecstasy and alcohol while serving in the Air Force when he was 19, Vincente Ray Flores, 37, was sentenced in 2008. He also was pardoned.

A pardon recognizes both acceptance of criminal responsibility and that ...

Bad Lawyering, Bankruptcy Torpedo Suit Over Delaware Prisoner’s Death

by Jayson Hawkins

After a long run of bad news,formerDelaware prison health care contractor Connections Community Support Programs (CCSP) caught a break when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit involving a prisoner’s withdrawal death after a CCSP nurse lied about providing methadone. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit then affirmed that decision on April 4, 2023.

The suit was filed on behalf of Tiffany Reeves, 37, who died not long after her 2018 arrest for $177 in outstanding fines. The mother of three was on methadone while withdrawing from heroin. But a CCSP nurse at Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI), Erin Clark-Penland, failed to administer the medication, and she then attempted a cover-up with falsified records and false statements to law enforcement. She was convicted on misdemeanor record-tampering charges in August 2021. [See: PLN, Dec. 2021, p.61.] In October 2021, she received a six-month probated sentence, and her license was suspended for two years.

With the aid of Wilmington attorney Christofer Curtis Johnson of the Johnson Firm LLC, Reeves’ mother, Janice Grossnickle, filed suit in federal court for the District of Delaware, alleging her daughter’s civil rights were violated by CCSP; state Department of Corrections (DOC) Director ...

California Appellate Court: Time Spent in Mental Hospital to Restore Competency is Time Served

by David M. Reutter

On March 28, 2023, the CaliforniaThird District Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to recalculate a prisoner’s custody credits for time spent in a facility to bring the defendant back to competency. The Court’s ruling follows one almost a year earlier by the state Court of Appeals, which found in April 2022 that defendants receiving treatment to restore competency must be given the same opportunity at sentencing for credit whether the time was served in a hospital or in a jail. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.42.]

In the more recent case, a jury found Yarsoslav Viktorvic Shkrabak guilty of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury upon his mother. Based on the injury she suffered and a prior strike conviction he had for assault with a deadly weapon upon his father, the trial court doubled its sentence.

The Appellate Court’s order addressed two issues, though the Court certified only partial publication of its ruling. The unpublished portion included a motion to dismiss under People v. Superior Court, (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497 (Romero). That case requires the trial court to give “great weight” to the fact that Shkrabak’s “current offense is connected ...

FCC Requires Prison Telecoms to Provide Services for Deaf Prisoners

by Jordan Arizmendi

Life in prison is difficult for anyone, but especially for deaf people. Without a video phone or teletypewriter (TTY), a deaf person cannot communicate with loved ones by phone. Under a new rule that takes effect in 2024, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will require prison phone companies to provide video communication services for prisoners who are deaf and hard of hearing. Announced on September 29, 2022, the new order applies to prisons, jails, immigration detention, juvenile detention and mental health lockups across the nation.

Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the deaf have a right to communication “as effective as” that enjoyed by others. Prisoners must navigate complicated prison bureaucracy, besides being able to comprehend what happens around them. Without special accommodation, a deaf prisoner unable to read English would find it almost impossible to obtain medical care, file a grievance, understand a disciplinary write-up or even read a prison handbook.

The new rule covers point-to-point video calls, which allow direct communication between two signing people. It also covers video relay services, a three-way system that allows a deaf user to sign to a speaking interpreter. ...

$1.325 Million Settlement after Virginia Detainee’s Opiate Withdrawal Ignored in Jail

by David Reutter

On January 31, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved a $1.325 million settlement in a suit brought by the estate of Darryl Terrell Becton against the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and its private healthcare contractor at the Arlington County Detention Facility (ACDF), Corizon Health, Inc., as well as a doctor and several nurses the firm employed at the lockup.

During booking into ACDF on September 29, 2020, Becton, 46, informed staff he was an opiate user who also suffered from “hypertension and heart problems,” as the complaint later filed on his behalf recalled. Nurses Lois Ntiamoah and Natasha Toy noted when he turned pale and vomited. A Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) protocol was ordered, including regular assessments and blood pressure checks.

But that was allegedly botched; the complaint noted that Licensed Practical Nurse Antoine Smith was subsequently charged criminally with falsifying patient records. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.52.] In his cell, his blood pressure skyrocketing, Becton told Ntiamoah early on October 1, 2020, that he was “withdrawing from heroin and fentanyl.”

Becton was then admitted to the medical unit, where Dr. Richard Ashby was admitting practitioner. Ntiamoah again ordered ...

Nebraska Parole Board Members Showing Up to Work More Often

by Jordan Arizmendi and Chuck Sharman

Attendance at parole hearings by all five members of the Nebraska Parole Board has improved, after a 43-month stretch from 2018 to 2021 when all five showed up for just 37% of parole hearings. [See: PLN, Nov. 2022, p.53.]

When media reports in March 2022 highlighted that statistic, attendance jumped. It jumped again after state lawmakers introduced a bill in January 2023 to define “neglect of duties” – a reason for removal from the board – as missing three hearings in a year.

Over the next two months after LB 631 was introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney (D-Omaha), attendance at parole hearings for the full board quickly climbed to 63%. The bill was still pending after a floor debate in the state legislature on March 31, 2023.

Board members pointed to reasons other than media attention for their attendance improvement, including the waning COVID-19 pandemic and fewer family deaths, as well as medical leave in 2021 and 2022 for board chair Rosalyn Cotton, leaving her attendance rate over the past five years – missing 22.7% of hearings – the lowest of any board member.

Board counsel Nicole Miller called the earlier low attendance ...

The World’s Biggest Prison

by Ed Lyon 

In February 2023, officials in El Salvador began admitting detainees to a new prison that is the largest in the world.

The prison, which has its own utilities, is isolated on 56 acres in the middle of a 410-acre plot of thick forest. The cells are spread over eight “pavilions,” each consisting of two cellblocks. Each cellblock, in turn, holds 32 of the 80-prisoner cells.

But what Salvadoran prison officials call a cell would be a dormitory in most U.S. prisons. Each of the new prison’s 512 cells holds 80 prisoners. Cells are ungenerously equipped with two sinks and two toilets – but at least there is running water and flush capability.

Each cell covers about 1,076 square feet, only slightly smaller than the average two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., according to 2018 government statistics. Beds, or bunks, consist of iron sheets without mattresses. In fact there are no mats or linens at all. There is no reported recreation available, either. Prisoners will be spending a great deal of their time in their “iron sheet cabin” beds.

For this humongous prison, holding 40,960 prisoners, a guard force of just 650 is tasked with providing security and keeping ...

News in Brief

Alabama: A guard with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was indicted on April 27, 2023, on charges he sexually abused two prisoners at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Aliceville, according to a report by the Birmingham News. Robert D. Smith allegedly had sexual intercourse with prisoners “T.M.” and “R.R.L.” in 2018 and 2019. Federal prisoners cannot consent to sex with BOP staff, and any sexual contact between them is illegal. If convicted, Smith faces up to 15 years in prison and three years of supervised release on each charge, plus a fine up to $250,000. One of the newest federal prisons, FCI-Aliceville holds up to 1,508 low-security female prisoners.

Alaska: A guard with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was arrested on April 27, 2023, on suspicion of smuggling drugs into Spring Creek Correctional Center, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Steven Manuel, 44, of Seward, faces charges of promoting contraband in the first degree and misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third and fourth degrees. Video footage confirmed what prison officials had suspected: Manuel delivered something he had been fidgeting with in his pocket to prisoner Aric Tolen, 37. When another guard searched Tolen’s cell, he ...