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Prison Legal News: September, 2023

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Volume 34, Number 9

In this issue:

  1. “Frozen in Solitude’’: Heat-Sensitive Texas Prisoners Get More Than Air Conditioning Locked Inside Former Segregation Cells (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 10)
  3. Four Hawaii Prison Guards Sentenced for Beating Prisoner – But One Wins Back-Pay (p 11)
  4. Sheriffs Offered Caribbean Cruises and Florida Retreats As Part Of Jail Telecom Contracts (p 12)
  5. $1 Million Settlement Reached After Detainee’s Suicide in Washington Jail (p 14)
  6. The Lecturer at the Lockup: Maine Prisoner Is First to Teach College Courses from His Cell (p 15)
  7. Arkansas Parole Board Denies Release to Sex Offender For Failure to Find Appropriate Housing (p 15)
  8. Unyielding Pursuit of Justice or Unfulfilled Promises: Doubts Surround California Habeas Attorney (p 16)
  9. After $300,000 Settlement for Detainee’s Death, Texas County Looks to Replace Jail (p 17)
  10. LGBTQ+ Detainees at Rikers Island Suffer Under Mayor Adams (p 18)
  11. $8.25 Million Verdict Against Former Colorado Sheriff for Detainee’s Sexual Assault During Jail Transfer (p 19)
  12. Life Sentence for Alabama Jail Escapee After Suicide of Guard Lover Who Helped Him (p 19)
  13. Calls for California Sheriff’s Department Oversight After Jail Deaths, $30,000 Settlement for Botched Traffic Stop (p 20)
  14. Innovative Brazilian Prison Claims “Here the Man Enters, the Crime Stays Outside” (p 22)
  15. Oregon Parole Hearing Exclusion Rule Invalidated (p 23)
  16. U.S. Marshals Pull Out of Virginia Jail After Two Escapes in One Day (p 24)
  17. Government Watchdog Adds BOP to List at “High Risk” of Mismanagement (p 25)
  18. BOP Guard, Nurse in Virginia Indicted in Prisoner’s Death (p 25)
  19. Washington Supreme Court: Requiring Certificate of Merit for Medical Malpractice Suits Held Invalid (p 26)
  20. Four Deaths in Seven Weeks at Pennsylvania Prison (p 27)
  21. Two Dead and $4.675 Million Paid After Deputies’ Alleged Misconduct in California’s Sonoma County (p 28)
  22. Congress Forces BOP to Upgrade Security Cameras (p 29)
  23. Prisoner Health Update: Over-the-Counter Medications (p 31)
  24. San Diego County Pays $4.35 Million After Jail Guards Failed to Stop Detainee From Blinding Herself (p 32)
  25. New York Prison System Found Liable for Failure to Protect Prisoner from Assault (p 33)
  26. Prison Ministry Sues Indiana Jail Over Book Ban (p 34)
  27. Insider Trading Charges Dropped Against JPay Founder (p 34)
  28. Five Years After Limiting Personal Visits and Banning Mail, Drug Use Worse in Pennsylvania Prisons (p 35)
  29. FBI Crime Report Lacking Data from Police Agencies Serving 25 Percent of U.S. Population (p 36)
  30. At Massive and Corrupt Philippine Prison, Contraband Includes Jacuzzis and Horses (p 36)
  31. Incarceration Increases Death Risk for Cancer Patients (p 37)
  32. $120,000 Paid to Muslim Detainees for Discrimination by Maryland Jail (p 38)
  33. Oregon Will Hold Release Hearings for 73 Prisoners Sentenced to LWOP as Juveniles (p 39)
  34. Federal Watchdog Finds BOP Staffing, Maintenance in Crisis (p 40)
  35. Senators Slam “Egregious” Prisoner Sexual Abuse by BOP Employees (p 40)
  36. Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Qualified Immunity for Delayed Transfer of Sex Offenders (p 42)
  37. Former BOP Employees Guilty of Assaulting a Prisoner and Taking Bribes at Troubled Federal Prison in Massachusetts (p 43)
  38. Second Circuit Affirms $600,000 Punitive Damage Award to New York Prisoner Brutally Beaten by Guards (p 44)
  39. “Be Christian or Be Penalized”: After Fourth Circuit Revives Muslim Prisoner’s Challenge, Virginia Jail Settles Suit for $30,000 (p 46)
  40. Aramark Sparks Nevada Prison Hunger Strike (p 46)
  41. HRDC Granted Injunction to End Censorship in Arkansas Jail (p 48)
  42. $50,002 Jury Award to Illinois Prisoner Retaliated Against for Daughter’s Facebook Posts (p 48)
  43. As e-Messaging Takes Off in U.S. Prisons, Complaints Over Service and Costs Multiply (p 50)
  44. California Guard Charged with Raping 22 Prisoners (p 53)
  45. Maryland Sheriff Charged with Illegally Procuring Machine Guns from ATF (p 53)
  46. Nevada Pays $75,000 for Religious Discrimination Claims of Prisoners in Episcopal and The Way Faith Groups (p 54)
  47. California Supreme Court Remands Guards’ Overturned Murder Convictions In Detainee Death At Santa Clara County Jail (p 55)
  48. Former Connecticut Prisoner’s Challenge Proceeds Against “Pay-to-Stay” Fees (p 56)
  49. Alabama Denies Parole to 90% of Eligible Prisoners (p 56)
  50. No Summary Judgment for Private Transportation Company in Maryland Detainee’s Suit Alleging “Horrific” 2,000-Mile Journey (p 57)
  51. $5,000 Settlement for Warrantless Search of Pro Se North Carolina Prisoner’s Cellphone (p 58)
  52. Challenge Survives to Maryland County’s Cash Bond Program (p 59)
  53. Shocking Video Footage Reveals Rampant Violence and Neglect in Los Angeles County Jails (p 60)
  54. Oregon Governor Commutes All Death Sentences (p 60)
  55. Voting Rights Restoration for Virginia Ex-Felons Once Again Subject to Governor’s Whim (p 61)
  56. Solitary Confinement is a Catch-22 for Colorado Prisoners and a “Moral Injury” for Mental Health Workers (p 62)
  57. Doctor Convicted of Sexually Abusing USA Gymnasts Is Stabbed in Prison Cell (p 62)
  58. Exasperated Federal Judge Issues Permanent Injunction to Arizona DOC in Healthcare Class-Action (p 63)
  59. News in Brief (p 63)

“Frozen in Solitude’’: Heat-Sensitive Texas Prisoners Get More Than Air Conditioning Locked Inside Former Segregation Cells

by Matt Clarke

After the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) settled a lawsuit over life-threatening excessive heat at the Wallace Pack Unit in 2018, it realized it needed to apply the suit’s heat-sensitivity criteria systemwide – and found a quick solution.

For years, officials had been moving prisoners out of administrative segregation (ad seg) and super segregation (super seg) cells, slowly freeing thousands of beds in some of the prison system’s only air-conditioned cells. So TDCJ decided to begin moving all its heat sensitive prisoners – most of whom are elderly, infirm or taking psychotropic medications – into the former isolation cells.

But there is a cruelty baked into the architecture of ad seg and super seg, not to mention the attitudes of guards who work there. Those spaces were designed to hold very dangerous prisoners in extreme isolation; simply changing occupants does not change the fact that the isolation is much greater than it is for prisoners in general population, while also denying access to programs and activities such as education, library, recreation, law library and chapel services.

Simultaneously, housing elderly and infirm prisoners alongside young prisoners with mental illness – often in the same cells – is ...

From the Editor

By Paul Wright

As summer winds down our cover story reports on the impact of extreme heat on Texas prisons; in the next few months we will report more on what the heat did this summer in American prisons. For decades now Prison Legal News has been the only publication highlighting and reporting on the intersection between the environment and mass incarceration as part of our Prison Ecology project. As this issue of PLN is in production news reports show Hurricane Hilary bearing down on the Southwest US with projections of flooding and massive rainfall. Those same reports are silent about government plans to evacuate or protect prisoners or what steps will be taken to minimize the impact on prisoners.

I have previously noted the cascading effect multiple bad policy decisions have had: first lock up more people and a higher percentage of a nation’s population than has ever been done in human history; then build hundreds of prisons in remote, rural areas far from population centers to serve as something of a half assed jobs program for poor, rural white communities; make sure a lot of these prisons are not just in the middle of nowhere but also on ...

Four Hawaii Prison Guards Sentenced for Beating Prisoner – But One Wins Back-Pay

by David M. Reutter

On January 17, 2023, the last of four former Hawaii prison guards convicted of beating a state prisoner was sentenced to federal prison. The sentences ranged from one to 12 years. Three of the guards – Jason Tagaloa, 31, Craig Pinkney, 38, and Jonathan Taum, 50 – were convicted by a federal jury in July 2022 of assaulting the prisoner in June 2015 at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center; they also were convicted of trying to cover up the crime by submitting false reports between June 2015 and December 2016.

The prisoner, Chawn Kaili, suffered a broken jaw, nose, and eye socket from the two-minute beating in a prison recreation yard. Surveillance video captured Kaili being escorted across the recreation yard by one guard, who was then joined by the other three. Though the prisoner was nonviolent, they took him to the ground and beat him.

Tagaloa “delivered the most vicious punches and kicks to the victim’s head,” prosecutors said. Pinkney held the prisoner down as Tagola delivered the beating. Prosecutors said Taum supervised the beating and orchestrated the conspiracy to cover it up.

The fourth guard, Jordan DeMattos, 31, pleaded guilty in December 2020 and ...

Sheriffs Offered Caribbean Cruises and Florida Retreats As Part Of Jail Telecom Contracts

by Hayden Betts

Members of five sheriff’s offices across the country were offered cruises from “Tampa Bay to the Caribbean” as part of jail telecommunications contracts with the vendor Smart Communications, according to documents obtained by The Appeal.

Smart Communications is a for-profit company that sells communications services including phone, video call, and email-like messages to people incarcerated in publicly funded prisons and jails. It contracts with the public agencies that operate those facilities, often sheriffs offices, to secure the exclusive right to operate within them. Its Florida-based CEO and founder, Jon Logan, is already controversial among critics of the criminal legal system—Logan has faced scrutiny for posting lavish images of himself on Instagram on board his yacht, driving luxury cars, and wearing expensive suits, among other high-end pursuits funded by selling expensive communications services to incarcerated people. In the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, Smart Communications charges people $3.00 for a 30-minute video call, $.50 per electronic message, and $1.00 per electronic image.

Activists and families of incarcerated people have long criticized Smart Communications’ digitized mail services—which scan hard copies of prison mail, create searchable databases of imprisoned people’s communications, and prevent imprisoned people from receiving original versions of ...

$1 Million Settlement Reached After Detainee’s Suicide in Washington Jail

by David M. Reutter

In November 2022, a $1 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a 23-year-old indigenous woman who committed suicide at Washington’s Fork City Jail in 2019. Kimberly Bender took her own life following weeks of alleged sexual harassment by guard John Russell Gray.

The October 2021 federal civil rights complaint alleged that Bender, a Quileute tribal member, had a history of criminal offenses as well as mental health issues, including depression and past suicide attempts. Jail officials knew or should have known that history, the complaint continued, because Bender was in and out of the jail between July and December 2019.

The complaint alleged that while Bender was locked up in July 2019, Gray sexually harassed her with verbal comments, as well as committing sexual misconduct towards two other prisoners – all part of a quartet of victims he was convicted of sexually assaulting, receiving a 20-month prison term in May 2021.

The jail had hired Gray in April 2019, after he was removed in 2018 from Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) by the state Department of Corrections for making inappropriate sexual comments during Prison Rape Elimination Act training.

Bender was ...

The Lecturer at the Lockup: Maine Prisoner Is First to Teach College Courses from His Cell

Professor Leo Hylton’s class is like almost every other at Colby College in Maine. Students form a circle with their chairs around their professor. His course on prison abolition – the movement to end incarceration – is offered through the school’s anthropology department. But there is one thing that sets it apart from any other undergrad class. Experts on prison education say Hylton’s class is the first of its kind because he co-teaches the course via Zoom from his prison cell.

Arranging a class to be taught by a prisoner was practically impossible in Maine. Randall Liberty, the sheriff who arrested Hylton 14 years ago, had an instrumental role in clearing the hurdles after he became Commissioner of the state Department of Corrections. First, he granted Hylton permission to earn an associate degree, then a bachelor’s, and finally a master’s degree.

Hylton had the opportunity to meet his students in person, an experience he treasures by keeping a cherry-flavored seltzer from the visit. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound prisoner was escorted by armed guards to the college campus in March 2023. A month later, those same students journeyed to the Maine State Prison and saw their professor’s home on a tour of ...

Arkansas Parole Board Denies Release to Sex Offender For Failure to Find Appropriate Housing

by David M. Reutter

On February 2, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas dismissed a state prisoner’s habeas corpus petition challenging denial of his parole because he did not have approved sex offender housing. While bad news for him, the decision is instructive for any prisoner facing housing restrictions when paroled or on probation.

Charles Isaac Wilson, Jr., is serving a 40-year sentence for a 2010 conviction for delivery of cocaine. In November 2021, the state Parole Board recommended he be transferred from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to supervision of the state Division of Community Correction (ACC). But that transfer hit a snag because Wilson was convicted in 1983 of rape, which classifies him as a Level 3 sex offender. A transfer to ACC required Wilson to (1) register as a sex offender and (2) stay away from schools and parks.

According to DOC Director Dexter Payne, none of ACC’s approved transitional housing facilities had an available bed for a Level 3 sex offender at that time. There were no family members or friends willing to provide housing for Wilson. He provided two parolee plans to for living arrangements outside transitional housing, but ...

Unyielding Pursuit of Justice or Unfulfilled Promises: Doubts Surround California Habeas Attorney

In a quest to exonerate Abel Soto, his family and friends hired Aaron Spolin, a Los Angeles lawyer who advertises himself as “California’s top-ranked habeas attorney.” Soto and his supporters believe he was wrongfully convicted of a 2003 murder, when he was 19 years old. By 2019, he had spent over a dozen years behind bars when they decided to invest their hopes and $21,500 to get Spolin to prove Soto’s innocence.

But rather than meticulously investigating the case and presenting compelling evidence, Spolin’s efforts seemed hasty and ineffective, they said. The petition he filed named eight people who could corroborate Soto’s alibi, placing him elsewhere at the time of the murder. But none of them was interviewed, and no sworn declarations were taken and submitted to the court. The petition was swiftly rejected.

Spolin jumped into his business with a heavy marketing effort in 2019, when California passed AB 2942, expanding review of sentence lengths, and SB 1437, ordering resentencing for anyone convicted under the state’s felony murder statute who did not directly participate in the killing. Then 33, the attorney promoted himself to prisoners and their families via direct mail, also buying up websites with search terms they ...

After $300,000 Settlement for Detainee’s Death, Texas County Looks to Replace Jail

Using detainees’ money to push forward with plans to replace Texas’ Nueces County Jail, Sheriff J.C. Hooper tapped a commissary fund in April 2023 to spend up to $220,770 for an outside consultant to prepare a study for a new lockup, after the current one failed its last two state inspections.

The cost of the study is not much less than what the county paid the family of a jail detainee who died during a violent cell extraction by jailers in March 2018. Daniel Emilio Carrillo, 27, was being held at the jail when he experienced a “prolonged psychiatric event,” according to a complaint later filed on his behalf.

He was booked into the jail on a probation violation on February 12, 2018; the underlying charge was burglary of a habitation – Carrillo was foraging for metal at a relative’s abandoned house. During the three weeks he spent at the jail, his mental health deteriorated as he experienced withdrawal from Xanax, which he used to treat his anxiety. One jailer described him as having an “altered state of mind.” In a phone call to his father, Carrillo said he thought the guards were setting him up to fight with other ...

LGBTQ+ Detainees at Rikers Island Suffer Under Mayor Adams

by Kevin W. Bliss

On June 8, 2023, the New York City Council passed legislation to ensure transgender, gender-nonconforming, non-binary and intersex (TGNCNBI) detainees and prisoners at city lockups are provided with services designed to make their reentry into society easier and more successful.

But nothing comes for free, including these policy changes, which resulted from a five-month investigation by New York magazine that revealed Mayor Eric Adams (D), a former captain in the city police department, pushed out leaders in the city Department of Correction (DOC) who were supportive of sexual minority detainees, drafting a policy directive to assign more TGNCNBI detainees at the city’s Rikers Island jail complex into housing that aligned with their gender identity. That has now been discarded.

But the new legislation is the first passed of three proposals to reverse that reversal. Both of the remaining pending bills will also protect incarcerated TGNCNBI people, who experience some of the highest rates of sexual violence.

Under former Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D), a transgender housing unit was opened at Rikers Island in 2015. Three years later DeBlasio directed DOC to house detainees in units consistent with their gender identity, since “[i]t’s the city’s responsibility to protect ...

$8.25 Million Verdict Against Former Colorado Sheriff for Detainee’s Sexual Assault During Jail Transfer

by Matt Clarke

On October 4, 2022, a federal jury in Colorado awarded $8.25 million to a woman taken by a former sheriff to his home and sexually assaulted as he was transporting her to another jail.

Peatinna Biggs, 46, who is developmentally disabled, was in custody of Sedgwick County when then-Sheriff Thomas Hanna decided to transport her to the Logan County Jail in August 2016. Before leaving the Sedgewick lockup, he had her change into street clothes. Then, using his personal pickup truck – in violation of department policy – he didn’t take her directly to the other jail. Instead Hanna allegedly drove to his house and ordered Biggs to go inside.

There he allegedly offered her $60 to have sex with him, and when she refused, he ordered her to undress, removed some of his own clothing and sexually assaulted her. He then threatened her, she said, vowing she would go to prison for the rest of her life if she told anyone about the sexual assault. Then, at last, he took her to the Logan County Jail.

Sedgwick County Deputy Sheriff Larry Neugebauer witnessed as Hanna had Biggs change into street clothes, which was highly unusual for ...

Life Sentence for Alabama Jail Escapee After Suicide of Guard Lover Who Helped Him

On June 8, 2023, a judge in Alabama’s Lauderdale County handed a life sentence without parole to a state prisoner for escaping the county lockup with his jail-guard lover, who then committed suicide as pursuing police closed in. Casey White, 39, pleaded guilty to felony escape in a deal with prosecutors, who dropped a capital murder charge that might have sent him to death row.

White was serving a 75-year prison sentence for attempted murder with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) when he was transferred to the Lauderdale County Detention Center in 2020 to face trial for a 2015 murder in the county. Not quite two years later, jail Assistant Director Vicky White, 56 – who was no relation – hurriedly arranged her own retirement and sold her home at a steep discount for cash to finance the prisoner’s escape on April 29, 2022. Their getaway triggered a nearly two-week manhunt before cops caught up with the couple near Evansville, Indiana, running their car off the road on May 9, 2022. Vicky White then fatally shot herself.

“You think you know someone,” county Sheriff Rick Singleton said of his dead jailer, whose 17-year career was spotless. “And it turns ...

Calls for California Sheriff’s Department Oversight After Jail Deaths, $30,000 Settlement for Botched Traffic Stop

By January 7, 2023, after the second death in the county jail in just over 10 weeks, a grassroots nonprofit calling for civilian oversight of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department (SMSD) had rounded up support from the county Board of Supervisors as well as the councils of several cities and 16 of their current or former mayors, plus 23 other community organizations.

The announcement by Fixin’ San Mateo County came after SMSD released nothing more than bare facts about the deaths of Maycarla Fernando Sulapas, 25, who died after a “medical emergency” on January 7, 2023, and Matthew Britton, 34, who was found dead in his cell on October 27, 2022, of what SMSD called “likely…natural causes.”

The nonprofit’s skepticism likely traces back at least to February 2021, when SMSD also offered no comment on a $30,000 payment made to settle claims that deputies assaulted a local man whose domestic dispute ended in a botched traffic stop, after which he was manhandled and jailed on charges later dropped.

Michael Juricich was walking along a San Carlos street on December 1, 2018, when he passed a car driven by his domestic partner, Michelle Gore. She made an illegal U-turn and ...

Innovative Brazilian Prison Claims “Here the Man Enters, the Crime Stays Outside”

Though Brazil’s incarceration rate is just two-thirds that in the U.S., the South American country’s prisons offer plenty of misery to those incarcerated there. Which makes the boast of a Christian nonprofit running a few dozen Brazilian lockups all the more remarkable: Their prisoners don’t want to run away, they claim, so there is no need for armed guards – in fact prisoners have keys to their own cells.

According to a report by al-Jazeera on May 16, 2023, the facilities are managed by the Association for Protection and Assistance of Convicts (APAC), a Brazilian non-profit advocating for better treatment of prisoners. There prisoners are called “recovering persons” and referred to by their names, rather than a number. They have clean cells, fresh food and educational opportunities, along with keys to their own cells and responsibility for overseeing security and discipline.

A 2021 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that most Brazilian prisoners were “often held in overcrowded and structurally deficient prisons, maltreated, and frequently subjected to torture.” But new prisoners entering APAC’s Sao Joao del-Rei prison are greeted by a sign that reads, “Here the man enters, the crime stays outside” – an aspirational message setting ...

Oregon Parole Hearing Exclusion Rule Invalidated

by David M. Reutter

The Oregon Court of Appeals on November 23, 2022, held that the state Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision exceeded its statutory authority when it adopted a rule that excludes prisoners convicted of aggravated murder – including those for whom an initial parole release date has been set – from personal review eligibility.

Before the Court was a petition filed by Oregon prisoner Jacob Barrett that challenged the validity of the Board’s new rule, OAR 255-040-0005(5). That rule provided, in relevant part, that “inmates sentenced for aggravated murder … are not subject to personal reviews.”

The Court’s opinion began with background on aggravated murder sentencing. It noted that there are only three sentencing options for a conviction of aggravated murder: (1) life imprisonment; (2) life imprisonment without the possibility of release or parole; or (3) death.

If a defendant is sentenced to life imprisonment, the trial court will order imprisonment “for a minimum of 30 years without possibility of parole or release to post-prison supervision … and without the possibility of release on work release or any form of temporary leave or employment at a forest or work camp.”

After completing that minimum three-decade period, the ...

U.S. Marshals Pull Out of Virginia Jail After Two Escapes in One Day

After two detainees escaped from Virginia’s Piedmont Regional Jail (PRJ) on April 30, 2022, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced it was relocating its detainees while the jail “works to improve security measures.” This is bad news for PRJ: It receives $50 per day for up to 200 federal detainees held there, according to its most recent intergovernmental agreement. See: USMS Agreement No. 83-03-0018.

A PRJ statement read, “Based on the anticipated reduction, the PRJ Board is looking to make adjustments to the FY ’24 budget to include the anticipated reduction in expenditures and revenues.” How much of a reduction? According to Jail Authority Vice Chair Doug Stanley, federal detainees make up 42% of the jail’s population. So that “anticipated reduction” for the jail translates to about $2.7 million.

The escapes shone a bright light on PRJ’s security failures. Cellmates Bruce Callahan and Alder Marin-Sotelo walked out an unsecured door – though not together. Marin-Sotelo, 26, got out around 1:40 a.m. and scaled two perimeter fences before fleeing in a waiting red Ford Mustang. Callahan, 44, walked out near 11:00 p.m. the same day, also scaling fences to flee.

He remained at large over a week before he pulled a ...

Government Watchdog Adds BOP to List at “High Risk” of Mismanagement

by Kevin W. Bliss

In March 2023, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its bi-annual “high-risk list” of federal programs or operations that are susceptible to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement. Added to the list this year was the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), mainly due to its inability to correct persistent staffing shortages.

GAO comptroller Gene Dodaro recently testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that BOP staffing issues have adversely affected the safety of both prisoners and guards, as well as compromising efforts to evaluate BOP programs aimed at reducing recidivism and prison overcrowding. Staffing has consistently run at least 15% below authorized levels for some time, he noted. BOP has changed directors six times in as many years.

In March 2021, GAO labeled BOP management an “emerging high-risk.” At that time, an audit was prepared with 50 recommendations provided to rectify critical issues. Thus far, only 22 of those recommendations have been addressed.

“Enhancing management of staff and resources, and improving the planning and evaluation of inmate programs, would allow BOP to more effectively deliver services, enhance its emergency preparedness and safety, determine if its investments are facilitating inmates’ successful reentry into ...

BOP Guard, Nurse in Virginia Indicted in Prisoner’s Death

On June 6, 2023, a federal grand jury in Virginia indicted two employees of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for allegedly showing deliberate indifference to a prisoner suffering a cardiac emergency that killed him in 2021.

Guard Lt. Shronda Covington, 47, and Registered Nurse Tonya Farley, 52, are accused of violating the civil rights of prisoner Wade Waters, 47, by willfully ignoring the medical emergency he suffered at the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg on January 9, 2021. Farley is also accused of lying in her official report, and both employees are charged with lying to investigators in an attempt to cover up their negligence.

Waters died the following day. The former businessman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was serving an 18-year sentence handed down in 2021, after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud and money laundering.

The conviction stemmed from Waters’ role in bilking a half-billion dollars from TRICARE – the government healthcare provider for U.S. military members – for expensive pain creams and weight-loss pills that were compounded with dubious and even legally controlled substances, like ketamine. Patients were prescribed the phony products, without necessarily needing them or even seeing a doctor, at exorbitant prices ...

Washington Supreme Court: Requiring Certificate of Merit for Medical Malpractice Suits Held Invalid

A Washington prisoner allegedly subjected to ruthless medical treatment by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) can take his claims to a jury, following a determination from the state Supreme Court on May 26, 2022, which invalidated a Washington law requiring a certificate of merit before his claims could proceed.

Timothy Martin was confined at Monroe Correctional Complex when he injured himself on his prison job in January 2012. Over a year later, in February 2013, he finally had surgery for an inguinal hernia. But his pain persisted. For that he got nothing more than a hot-water bottle – and even that took another seven months before it finally arrived in September 2013. The next year he got an ultrasound, but his request for a CT scan was denied as “medically unnecessary” because he could still walk. A follow-up with the surgeon in August 2014 resulted in injections for the pain, but those did not provide much relief.

Martin received only “intermittent” medication for pain in 2015, according to the complaint he later filed. Another ultrasound and a CT scan in 2016 produced inconclusive results. Meanwhile, the prison doctor decided that Martin was faking his symptoms to get drugs. Yet ...

Four Deaths in Seven Weeks at Pennsylvania Prison

During the spring 2023, a troubling number of mysterious deaths took place in the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Rockview, Pennsylvania. Richard Woods, 46, was found unresponsive in his cell on April 20, 2023. He was rushed to Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, where he was declared dead hours later. A few weeks before that, on April 9, 2023, Jamie Houseknecht, 43, was also found unresponsive in his cell. He was later declared dead at the same hospital. Robert D. Williams, 40, and Andrew Yuhas, 61, were also found unresponsive in their cells and later declared dead on March 3 and 6, 2023, respectively.

Woods, who was serving a life sentence for a Philadelphia murder, had been at SCI-Rockview since 2003. Houseknecht was serving 12-24 years for a child rape in Berks County; he had been at the prison since 2010. Williams was serving a 2-to-10-year sentence for retaliating against a witness or victim. He had been in custody of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) since 2010, and an inmate at SCI-Rockview since October 2021. Yuhas, who was serving 16-to-32 years for a rape in Luzerne County, arrived at the prison in March 2016.

The Centre County ...

Two Dead and $4.675 Million Paid After Deputies’ Alleged Misconduct in California’s Sonoma County

by Casey J. Bastian

A coroner’s report on March 14, 2023, confirmed that an undocumented worker was fatally shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) deputy after a foot chase the previous summer. Sebastopol attorney Izaak Schwaiger, who is representing the estate of the dead man, David Pelaez-Chavez, 35, cited SCSD’s poor supervision, training and discipline of deputies – arguments he also used to secure nearly $4.7 million in settlements for deputies’ alleged use of excessive force against two other arrestees on their way to the county jail.

One settlement was reached on October 21, 2021, when the county agreed to pay $875,000 to settle claims by a former Marine who said he was Tasered and beaten without provocation by deputies responding to a domestic disturbance at his home.

Fernando Del Valle was home in Boyes Hot Springs on September 24, 2016, when an argument erupted with his intoxicated wife. As it escalated, Del Valle went to a bedroom, locked the door and tried to sleep, unaware that neighbors had already called the police.

When SCSD deputies Scott Thorne, Anthony Diehm and Beau Zastrow arrived, Del Valle’s wife refused them entry. Deputy Thorne then forced open the door, grabbed ...

Congress Forces BOP to Upgrade Security Cameras

by Mark Wilson

“Broken prison camera systems are enabling corruption, misconduct and abuse” within America’s 122 federal prisons, declared U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), when Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) signed Ossoff’s bipartisan Prison Camera Reform Act of 2021 into law on January 10, 2023.

When he introduced the legislation, Ossoff said that federal prisons “must be cleaned up and held to the highest standards,” so surveillance camera blind spots, lost footage and technical failures are simply unacceptable.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has long been criticized for insufficient and malfunctioning security cameras. A 2016 report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that BOP camera problems compromised investigations into staff misconduct and civil rights violations, as well as contraband smuggling, escapes and prisoner deaths.

Camera deficiencies took center stage in the suspicious 2019 suicide of billionaire financier and convicted child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. In March 2022, AP News reported that a lack of cameras in critical areas also permitted prisoner sexual abuse by staff at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, which was so pervasive that the lockup became known as the ...

Prisoner Health Update: Over-the-Counter Medications

by Eike Blohm, MD

Various medications are available to prisoners for purchase in commissaries and can be taken without instructions from medical staff. Yet taken incorrectly, these medications may have significant adverse effects or result in false positive drug tests, leading to loss of good time and potentially solitary confinement.


Acetaminophen (Tylenol ®) is one of the most frequently used analgesics (pain reliever) in the U.S. It also has antipyretic (fever reducing) effects. Despite decades of use, it is still not entirely understood how it actually works. Likely, it modulates the sensation of pain in the brain rather than working at the site where the pain originates. A person can safely take 1,000 mg three times a day if the doses are spaced six-to-eight hours apart. In normal dosing, acetaminophen does not damage the liver and even people with cirrhosis (liver scarring) can safely take the medication. However, using more than 6,000 mg a day can lead to liver damage.

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

In addition to treating pain and fever, NSAIDs also fight inflammation. The process of inflammation is integral to the body repairing damaged tissue (e.g., ankle sprain) and fighting infection (e.g., cellulitis). Unlike acetaminophen, NSAIDs actually address ...

San Diego County Pays $4.35 Million After Jail Guards Failed to Stop Detainee From Blinding Herself

by David M. Reutter

The County of San Diego agreed on September 14, 2022, to pay $4.35 million to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard at the county lockup stood by and failed to stop a detainee high on meth from clawing her eyes out.

Tanya Suarez was taken into custody on May 6, 2019, after police found her wandering outside a motel where she had taken drugs. Suarez, 23, a student at San Diego State University, had started experimenting with meth. On the evening of her arrest, that “experiment went terribly wrong,” according to the complaint later filed on her behalf.

After she was booked into the Las Colinas women’s jail, she began acting oddly and started clawing at her eyes. In a delusional hysteria, Suarez screamed at guards to shoot her. She also voiced suspicion that they and medical staff were going to torture her.

Guards tried to restrain her, handcuffing her and placing a spit sock over her head – even clipping her nails so that it would be more difficult to harm herself, though one deputy admitted the attempt left her nails looking more ragged. A surveillance camera than captured the moment six minutes later when ...

New York Prison System Found Liable for Failure to Protect Prisoner from Assault

On July 19, 2022, the New York Court of Claims found the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) partially liable for failing to protect a prisoner from being assaulted by another prisoner.

Jeremy Sanchez was incarcerated at Great Meadow Correctional Facility (GMCF) when he was viciously attacked by another prisoner. He filed a complaint in New York’s Court of Claims, arguing that prison officials were negligent in failing to prevent the attack.

At the time of the attack, Sanchez, a reported gang member, was housed in E-5 Company at GMCF. The E-Block unit, unlike others at that facility, had only one Console guard or “CO” instead of the usual two. The Console CO was responsible for remotely opening cell doors, ensuring they were closed after being opened, as well as activating gates that provided access to each company.

Open cell doors were indicated on a panel in the “bubble,” where the Console CO worked and could travel between E-Block’s four floors using an internal stairway. The standard practice was that cell doors must be kept closed and locked.

But Sanchez testified that on January 25, 2016, his cell door was remotely opened multiple times by the Console CO ...

Prison Ministry Sues Indiana Jail Over Book Ban

Unshackled Hearts is a central Indiana prison ministry that says its mission is to bring spiritual “restoration and freedom” to incarcerated Hoosiers through bible study, positive communication, and heart healing. But it hit a wall at the Howard County Jail (HCJ) in Kokomo on January 1, 2023, when a new policy took effect. Now that all books are banned for jail detainees, Unshackled Hearts is suing the jail to reverse the policy.

To fulfill its mission, the group offers a bible to any prisoner in central Indiana who requests one. After that, group members maintain communication with prisoners through regular letters and emails. But the recent policy changes ended the practice of sending bibles to prisoners seeking spiritual redemption.

The jail’s book ban has just a few exceptions, too, including one for “the holy scripture” donated by a “verified religious organization.” The policy otherwise allows detainees to receive books sent only through a publisher and not distributors, such as Amazon.

Before the policy change, Unshackled Hearts would ship its reading material to prisoners using Amazon. Its lawsuit notes that a book delivered by Amazon is less likely to contain contraband than a book delivered by, say, a prisoner’s ex-wife. Also, ...

Insider Trading Charges Dropped Against JPay Founder

by Matt Clarke

On December 5, 2022, federal prosecutors moved to dismiss insider trading charges against JPay founder Ryan Shapiro, 45. For a hefty fee, the firm provides financial and communications services to people incarcerated in jail and prisons. JPay was acquired by Securus Technologies in April 2015. Both are now subsidiaries of Dallas-based Aventiv Technologies.

Shapiro was charged with financial securities crimes in a Boston federal court in January 2022, along with his friend, founder and manager of the hedge fund Sakal Capital Management, Kris Bortnovsky, then 40, and David Schottenstein, then 38, whom the Miami Herald called “a member of one of America’s richest families.” [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.10.]

Schottenstein signed an affidavit swearing, under penalty of perjury, that he provided the other two men with insider information so they could illegally profit from the stock market. Schottenstein received the information from a relative, a member of the board of DSW and Green Growth Brands. The information included a pending merger not yet announced between Albertson’s and Rite-Aid, as well as a planned hostile takeover attempt by Green Growth Brands of marijuana distributor Aphria. Both the merger and takeover ultimately failed but not before their announcements briefly ...

Five Years After Limiting Personal Visits and Banning Mail, Drug Use Worse in Pennsylvania Prisons

As reported by the Harrisburg Patriot News on April 21, 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) implemented a solution to the drug problem in state prisons in September 2018 that has proved cruel and ultimately ineffective. That year, a rash of illnesses befell prison staff, which DOC blamed on incoming prisoner mail soaked in K2 and fentanyl.

So DOC prohibited prisoners from receiving physical mail and contracted a mail scanning system. Now any mail sent to a prisoner in Pennsylvania is forwarded to a center in Florida where it is scanned and destroyed, sending the prisoner a facsimile – either by re-printing it or making the document available on an electronic tablet.

At the time of the changeover, Pennsylvania was desperate to end the rash of drug exposure incidents alarming prison staff. Although Keystone State cops never concluded that the illnesses were caused by drugs – nor was there any evidence they were smuggled through the mail – officials insisted that mail was the most likely source of entry.

However, medical experts said it was “effectively impossible to become ill from such incidental contact with K2, fentanyl or similar substances.” Ryan Marino, a toxicology expert, called it “not possible ...

FBI Crime Report Lacking Data from Police Agencies Serving 25 Percent of U.S. Population

In October 2022, the FBI released its 2021 report titled Crime in the U.S. Published annually for a century, it is considered the gold standard for data on criminal activity in the U.S. However, the new report – which covered 2021 – lost much of its value because a change in reporting methods caused participation to plummet, with just 63% of the nation’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies submitting any data at all.

The annual snapshot provided by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program has historically allowed law enforcement agencies at all levels – city, state and federal – to track the total number of crimes by category, such as car thefts, murders and robberies, as well as by geography, down to a specific zip code.

But when the FBI tried to modernize reporting in 2021, law enforcement agencies found they could suddenly submit data only through a new system. Since their participation is strictly voluntary, many agencies apparently let their reporting fall through the cracks.

The nonprofit Marshall Project has tracked participation in the program. It found that more than 6,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law agencies – representing roughly one-quarter of the entire U.S. population – were missing ...

At Massive and Corrupt Philippine Prison, Contraband Includes Jacuzzis and Horses

by Kevin W. Bliss

In an article published on March 3, 2023, ABS-CBN News said that conditions at the Philippines’ New Bilibid Prison (NBP) – one of the largest prisons in the world – were simply deplorable. Overcrowding and insufficient resources have resulted in abundant contraband, establishing a power hierarchy among prisoners and increasing the potential for corruption at all levels of the Philippine prison system, as well as fostering an unsanitary and violent environment that is killing many prisoners.

The murder of journalist Percival Mabasa at NBP on October 3, 2022, prompted an investigation and an institutional shakedown, during which tens of thousands of contraband items were collected, ranging from the usual weapons, alcohol and drugs, to more extravagant luxuries like air conditioning units and Jacuzzi tubs – even horses and pythons.

In November 2022, prison system chief Gerald Bantag was charged with ordering the hit on Mabasa. But widespread corruption has long persisted at NBP. One prisoner was able to bribe officials into building a sound studio in his cell from which he recorded and sold 15,000 copies of an album of love songs. Mabasa’s murder and Bantag’s arrest have brought attention to this long history of abuses. ...

Incarceration Increases Death Risk for Cancer Patients

PBS News Hour reported on March 7, 2023, that people with cancer who have been incarcerated are more likely to die than patients who were never in prison. The reporting was based on research from the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice at the Yale University School of Medicine published in September 2022.

Researchers examined the relationship between cancer survival and incarceration by analyzing 10 years of data from more than 216,000 adults in Connecticut who were diagnosed with invasive cancers. They found that the risk of death rose when the cancer diagnosis took place during incarceration or during the first year after release from incarceration.

According to the study, cancer accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths among incarcerated people. Worldwide, the death rate from cancer is about 16%, though in the U.S. it is 20%, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There, the death rate from cancer is about 60% higher for those in prison.

Lack of adequate healthcare, according to the study, is a contributing factor to these higher mortality rates. Healthcare in prison is deplorable. But after release it doesn’t get much better, with many obstacles keeping a newly freed person from ...

$120,000 Paid to Muslim Detainees for Discrimination by Maryland Jail

by David M. Reutter

On March 31, 2023, the federal court for the District of Maryland granted dismissal to a suit by a former detainee at the Prince George’s County lockup, after he and co-Plaintiffs accepted a settlement resolving their claims that the county Department of Corrections (DOC) operated under an “Islam-specific policy,” singling out Muslim detainees for less-favorable treatment than that afforded to practitioners of other faiths.

While awaiting transfer to the state Department of Public Safety, Enrico Brown said that he and other Muslims detained at the Prince George’s County Detention Center were prohibited from performing religious services, engaging in daily congregational prayers, wearing religious headwear or other clothing items, receiving certain mail and even accessing a Kosher meal.

Brown’s handwritten complaint was filed pro se with the Court in July 2019, a year and a half after attorneys with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, DC, filed suit on behalf of another group of jail detainees making similar claims. Those lawyers then took on Brown’s case and filed an amended complaint for him in 2020. As the group argued, the jail didn’t allow Muslims to congregate in small groups for prayer, a privilege it extended ...

Oregon Will Hold Release Hearings for 73 Prisoners Sentenced to LWOP as Juveniles

by Mark Wilson

On October 6, 2022, the Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition for review from prosecutors seeking to stop the Governor and Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (BPPS) from granting early release hearings to 73 prisoners who were sentenced to life for offenses committed as juveniles. See: Marteeny v. Brown, 370 Or. 303 (2022).

That left to stand a decision by the ­Oregon Court of Appeals on August 10, 2022, which in turn reversed a lower court’s order in favor of the prosecutors. Importantly, the Court made clear that prosecutors lack authority to bring suit on behalf of the state or its citizens.

As PLN has reported, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1008 in 2019, eliminating life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles and granting a release hearing after 15 years of confinement to those then imprisoned on an LWOP conviction for a crime committed as juveniles.

However, the legislation did not apply retroactively to prisoners who committed their offenses before January 1, 2020. So on October 20, 2021, then-Gov. Kate Brown (D) used her clemency power to grant SB 1008 release hearings to 73 prisoners left behind by the law.

Attorney Kevin Mannix, who authored ...

Federal Watchdog Finds BOP Staffing, Maintenance in Crisis

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report in early May 2023, finding “four foundational, enterprise-wide challenges” confronting the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

The first involves “weaknesses in the BOP’s internal audit function,” deficiencies “that undermine confidence in reports and ratings of institutional conditions.” The report also calls out BOP for “delays in [its] employee discipline process,” as well as the “inadequacy of BOP assessments of institution staffing level needs.” Adding fuel to the fire: BOP’s “inability to address its aging infrastructure,” reflected in a myriad of critically deferred maintenance needs for which the agency has low-balled appropriations requests.

OIG initiated its review after things got so bad in 2021 that BOP evacuated two lockups – the U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Atlanta and the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City. Widespread corruption among guards at USP-Atlanta was blamed for a massive problem with smuggled contraband, leading BOP to transfer out most prisoners by August 2021 and re-open four months later as a minimum-security prison. Two months later, MCC was shuttered after two guards were charged with falsifying cell-checks to shop online or nap while billionaire child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein committed ...

Senators Slam “Egregious” Prisoner Sexual Abuse by BOP Employees

by Mark Wilson

“I was sentenced and put in prison for choices I made,” said Briane Moore. “I was not sentenced to prison to be raped and abused.”

She was testifying at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on December 9, 2022, about being repeatedly raped by a guard captain while incarcerated at a federal prison in West Virginia. As PLN has reported over and over again, Moore is far from alone.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confines nearly 160,000 prisoners nationwide. About 7% – 11,200 – of them are women, held in 27 lockups. A scathing report released by the Committee during that December 2022 hearing revealed that BOP employees have sexually abused prisoners in at least two-thirds of those facilities since 2012. The investigation also found “egregious abuse” suffered by some prisoners, lasting for months or even years.

It’s not just guards who show up to work looking for sex; some prisoners were abused by high-ranking BOP officials. The report also highlighted especially awful abuse at BOP facilities in New York and Florida, as well as California, where a scandal has turned the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Dublin into the “Rape Club.” ...

Minnesota Supreme Court Denies Qualified Immunity for Delayed Transfer of Sex Offenders

by Mark Wilson

On February 1, 2023, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that civilly committed sex offenders have a clearly established right to transfer to Community Preparation Services (CPS) within a reasonable time. What is reasonable under any given circumstances, however, is a fact issue to be determined in the first instance by the trial court, the high court added.

Minnesota is one of 20 states allowing civil commitment of sex offenders. Along with a wave of “tough on crime” laws passed about the same time, the state opened its high-security Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) in 1994 in Moose Lake.

About 93% of MSOP’s 741 residents were civilly committed after completing a prison sentence for a sex offense. The rest have been locked up with no clear path to release even though they have never been charged with a sex offense. The state has the nation’s highest per-capita sex offender commitment rate and one of the lowest release rates. In fact, during MSOP’s first two decades of operations, nobody was released. Those committed are essentially confined for life – about six times more likely to die there than be released.

Those confined call MSOP a “shadow prison” hidden from ...

Former BOP Employees Guilty of Assaulting a Prisoner and Taking Bribes at Troubled Federal Prison in Massachusetts

On July 10, 2023, a sentence of 12-months plus one day was handed to a former guard at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Danvers, Massachusetts, for brutally assaulting a mentally ill prisoner who was restrained. Seth M. Bourget, 43, was also ordered to serve two years of supervised release and pay a $100 special assessment.

The incident unfolded at the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) lockup four years earlier on July 18, 2019, when Bourget was accused of kneeing the unnamed prisoner and using a large shield to beat him. The prisoner, who was not only suffering severe mental illness but also handcuffed at the time, was left with a wound to the back of his head needing 12 staples to close.

Also charged with Bourget was fellow BOP guard Lt. Joseph M. Lavorato. The now-54-year-old was accused of falsifying his incident report and obstructing the subsequent investigation. But he was acquitted on both charges by a jury in federal court for the District of Massachusetts on April 7, 2022.

That same day, jurors also acquitted Bourget on one charge of deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly kneeing the prisoner. But they hung on a companion ...

Second Circuit Affirms $600,000 Punitive Damage Award to New York Prisoner Brutally Beaten by Guards

by Kevin W. Bliss

On July 18, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed an earlier ruling for the federal court for the Southern District of New York by Judge Cathy Seibel, who decided that punitive damages awarded to state prisoner Nicolas Magalios for an unwarranted attack by guards at Fishkill Correctional Facility (FCF) were excessive. That left standing Seibel’s decision handed down on February 10, 2022, granting remittitur to defendant officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) and reducing Magalios’ punitive damages by $400,000.

On September 3, 2017, Magalios was violently beaten by guards Matthew Peralta and Timothy Bailey as fellow guard Edward Blount looked on. Represented by attorney Edward Sivin of Sivin, Miller & Roche LLP in New York City, Magalios took the issue to the district court. After a four-day trial, the jury ruled in his favor on April 30, 2021, awarding $50,000 in compensatory damages collectively from the three guards and $950,000 in punitive damages – $350,000 from Peralta, $350,000 from Bailey and $250,000 from Blount.

The following year, when Judge Seibel took up Defendants’ motion for remittitur, she called what the guards did reprehensible. It was violently malicious, she said, ...

“Be Christian or Be Penalized”: After Fourth Circuit Revives Muslim Prisoner’s Challenge, Virginia Jail Settles Suit for $30,000

by Douglas Ankney

On May 22, 2023, a $30,000 settlement was reached between officials with a Virginia jail and a Muslim prisoner who objected to its broadcasts of Christian religious programming, which he claimed violated the First Amendment prohibition against any government action “respecting establishment of religion.”

The agreement between Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ) Authority and the prisoner, David Nighthorse Firewalker-Fields, came on the heels of a decision in his favor by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on January 17, 2023. Declining to be “a court of ‘first view’ and not ‘a court of review,’” the Court revived and remanded to the district court the question of whether the programming violated the Establishment Clause.

However, the Court said that a companion challenge failed under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, since the comparative lack of Muslim programming at the jail where Firewalker-Fields awaited transfer to the state Department of Corrections reflected restrictions “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests,” as laid out in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987).

During nearly three months at MRRJ in 2017, Firewalker-Fields was unable to engage in Jumu’ah prayer services. One reason was his placement in maximum ...

Aramark Sparks Nevada Prison Hunger Strike

By Mark Wilson

Approximately 40 Nevada prisoners at a maximum-security lockup near Reno started a hunger strike on December 1, 2022, that lasted at least nine days. Top officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) claimed the strike at Ely State Prison was due to skimpy portions served by its new food vendor, Aramark Correctional Services.

While portion size may be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, prisoners say the strike was about much more. “Food, I think, is the thing that pushed it over the edge,” said Jodi Hocking, executive director of Return Strong, a prisoners’ rights group advocating for better prison conditions that supported the striking prisoners. “People feel like this is their only way to get anyone to listen, and we’re going to do everything we can to elevate their voice.”

One of those voices belongs to prisoner Sean Harvell, 35. He called his mother, Nina Fernandez, on the second day of the strike, telling her the protest was over unsafe and inhumane living conditions, physical abuse by prison staff, excessive lockdowns and unreasonably long solitary confinement sanctions, as well as the food concerns. “Mom, if I never make it out,” he said, “just ...

HRDC Granted Injunction to End Censorship in Arkansas Jail

by David M. Reutter

On March 31, 2023, the federal court for the Western District of Arkansas concluded that a “postcard-only” policy at the Baxter County Correctional Center (BCCC) constituted a de facto blanket ban on publications, in violation of the First Amendment rights of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), publisher of PLN.

HRDC sued Baxter County in 2017 to enjoin the jail’s policy prohibiting all detainee mail except for legal mail and postcards. When the nonprofit attempted to send copies of PLN or its sister publication, Criminal Legal News (CLN), jail officials refused them– though they helpfully offered to deliver the issues if they were reprinted on postcards.

That “postcard-only” policy prevented HRDC from sending its publications and informational packets to anyone held at BCCC. After a three-day trial in April 2019, the district court found the policy was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and did not violate HRDC’s First Amendment rights. HRDC appealed.

On June 8, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed. It remanded for the district court to more broadly assess the second factor under Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), to determine “whether HRDC proved its assertion that ...

$50,002 Jury Award to Illinois Prisoner Retaliated Against for Daughter’s Facebook Posts

by David M. Reutter

On March 30, 2023, a jury sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois awarded $50,002 in damages to state prisoner Larry ‘Rocky’ Harris on his claim that prison officials punished and transferred him to a less desirable lockup because of what his daughter posted on her Facebook account.

Harris, now 64, filed his pro se federal civil rights complaint on March 27, 2017, accusing Warden Victor Calloway at Danville Correctional Center (DCC) of throwing the prisoner in segregation in retaliation for Facebook posts made by Amanda Carrasco, Harris’ daughter. In those posts she claimed that a DCC guard was stealing from prisoners’ canteen orders, purposely overcharging them and stealing taxpayer’s money.

As the prisoner’s complaint later recalled, guard Lt. Charles Campbell wrote a disciplinary report after the posts were discovered, charging Harris with engaging in “Threats and Intimidation.” The guard supported that charge by stating the Facebook posts created a “Hostile Work Environment.” The DCC Adjustment Committee agreed and found Harris guilty. Among other sanctions, it ordered a disciplinary transfer to Big Muddy River Correctional Center.

On September 30, 2019, the district court took up the case, first agreeing with Defendants ...

As e-Messaging Takes Off in U.S. Prisons, Complaints Over Service and Costs Multiply

by David M. Reutter

Historically, prisoners have been largely left out of the technology wave changing the way the rest of the world communicates and does business. It wasn’t until March 2009 that the first phones for prisoner use were installed by the Texas Department Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Before then, prisoners were limited to legal calls. To use the phones, prisoners could not have any major disciplinary infractions. Gang-affiliated offenders or those on death row could not use them at all. Almost 15 years later, the Internet and cellphone have swept society, but many prisoners are still left with a wall phone – at exorbitant prices – or snail mail.

Of course most prisoners use their electronic devices to communicate with friends or family members, some they have been out of contact with for years or decades. In Florida from around 1999 to 2009, accepting a 15-minute collect call from a prisoner to someone in Michigan cost around $26. Intrastate prisoner calls were so cost prohibitive that many prisoners were told not to call anymore.

Since then prices for phone calls have decreased, squeezing earnings for the prison profiteers peddling communication services. But smart executives foresaw the future lay in ...

California Guard Charged with Raping 22 Prisoners

A former guard at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla was arrested on May 24, 2023, and charged with raping 22 prisoners since 2014. The 96 counts handed Greg Rodriguez, 55, include sodomy, sexual battery and rape with threat to use authority, according to the office of Madera County District Attorney (DA) Sally O. Moreno.

In August 2022, as investigators closed in, Rodriguez retired after 12 years with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Prison officials stressed it was CDCR’s own investigation that resulted in the charges, which allege 39 separate sexual assaults. If convicted on all counts, the former guard faces up to 300 years in prison.

“As stated when we brought this case to light, the department resolutely condemns any staff member — especially a peace officer who is entrusted to enforce the law — who violates their oath and shatters the trust of the public,” a CDCR statement read.

Two lawsuits were filed in December 2022 on behalf of a pair of the guard’s alleged victims in federal court for the Central District of California. In those, Rocklin attorney Robert Chalfant accused Rodriguez of assaulting prisoners “Jane Doe” and “Jane Roe” in a Board of ...

Maryland Sheriff Charged with Illegally Procuring Machine Guns from ATF

by Kevin W. Bliss

On April 5, 2023, the Sheriff of Maryland’s Frederick County was charged with using his office to order machine guns from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) that were supposed to be used for demonstration and evaluation – but which were later rented out for profit instead. Along with Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, 66, gun shop owner Robert Justin Krop, 36, was also charged with conspiracy and providing false statements to acquire machine guns.

Jenkins has been the county Sheriff for several terms. In 2013, he was lambasted when three of his off-duty deputies serving as movie theater security forcefully removed a 26-year-old man with Downs syndrome from a screening. The man collapsed during the altercation and later died. That incident followed on the heels of the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old by two deputies performing a raid. Jenkins was also named in a racial profiling lawsuit, and he is a vocal proponent of the controversial 287(g)-program, under which local authorities detain suspected undocumented aliens for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Krop, 36, owns the Machine Gun Nest, selling firearms to local residents as well as law enforcement. The indictment charges him with requesting ...

Nevada Pays $75,000 for Religious Discrimination Claims of Prisoners in Episcopal and The Way Faith Groups

by David M. Reutter

On March 6, 2023, the Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) reached an agreement with a group of state prisoners to settle claims that a change in chapel schedule substantially burdened the exercise of their religion, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal constitution, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq.

Under terms of the settlement, DOC paid $75,000 to four of the prisoner-plaintiffs and agreed to schedule three weekly Episcopal religious services plus another three for The Way faith group. A picture of a wolf that was visible from the chapel was also removed from Lovelock Correctional Center (LCC).

The agreement resolved claims brought pro se in federal court for the District of Nevada by prisoners Norman Shaw, Joseph Cowart and Ansell Jordan, as well as former prisoners Charles Wirth and Brian Kamedula. They alleged that when Warden Renee Baker took over LCC on August 29, 2016, she sought to bring the chapel into strict compliance with DOC Administrative Regulation (AR) 810 to end alleged threats to prison safety and security caused by the “lack of supervision and increased foot traffic ...

California Supreme Court Remands Guards’ Overturned Murder Convictions In Detainee Death At Santa Clara County Jail

On May 31, 2023, the Supreme Court of California vacated and remanded to the Court of Appeal a decision handed down in August 2022, overturning the second-degree murder convictions of three guards who fatally beat a mentally ill detainee in the Santa Clara County Jail. 

Home to Silicon Valley, the county is one of the most prosperous on the planet – the median home price hit $1.8 million in July 2023 – yet that concentration of wealth does not necessarily trickle down to the treatment of the mentally ill in its detention facilities nor does it guarantee well-managed and constitutional conditions of confinement.

When he died on August 26, 2015, Michael Tyree, 31, was being held at the jail on charges of petty theft and violating probation for misdemeanor drug possession. He was under the supervision of the county Superior Court’s mental health court when he was picked up. But he was placed in the general jail population instead of the acute psychiatric ward – despite a booking classification that indicated he was at risk for suicide. 

As PLN previously reported, Tyree died after a violent attack for which three guards got 15-years-to-life sentences in 2018. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, ...

Former Connecticut Prisoner’s Challenge Proceeds Against “Pay-to-Stay” Fees

According to an analysis published by the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice on April 19, 2023, the cost of locking up America’s two million prisoners and detainees exceeds government agencies’ ability to afford it. With the help of tough-on-crime lawmakers, that has created a financial hell for prisoners and their families with “pay-to-stay” fees in at least 43 states where they are forced to pay for their own incarceration.

Nearly 20 years after her release from a two-and-a-half-year imprisonment on a drug conviction, Teresa Beatty still owed $83,762 to the state of Connecticut – which showed up in probate court when her mother died to demand satisfaction with a piece of Beatty’s inheritance. The claim was quickly quashed because the state’s “pay-to-stay” scheme includes a two-year period after release to make such claims, and the window had long ago closed in Beatty’s case. However, she wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again, so with the help of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, she filed suit in federal court for the District of Connecticut, claiming the law violated her Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from excessive fines.

On March 6, 2023, the Court ruled that the ...

Alabama Denies Parole to 90% of Eligible Prisoners

According to an AP News report on January 18, 2023, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole (BOPP) denied parole in fiscal year 2022 to 90% of eligible prisoners — the highest rate of denial in state history. Leola Harris, 71, received one of those denials. In 2001 she was convicted of killing a homeless man found dead at her kitchen table. Harris testified at her trial that the man was a friend who would often come by the house at night. She denied killing him.

Harris is in a wheelchair now, with end stage renal disease and diabetes. She undergoes dialysis three times a week and cannot go to the bathroom without help. The circumstances of the crime have always been questionable, and she had no prior convictions. Harris has served 19 of her 35 years without causing any problems. When her BOPP hearing finally arrived, her application was supported by a former state Supreme Court Justice, a nurse and the state Department of Corrections.

After six minutes of consideration, BOPP denied the request. Her next chance at parole is five years from now. Harris was sent back to her cell, probably to die. 

BOPP’s three members granted parole ...

No Summary Judgment for Private Transportation Company in Maryland Detainee’s Suit Alleging “Horrific” 2,000-Mile Journey

by Keith Sanders

Over nine days in December 2015, during transport from Maryland to South Carolina to face charges he skipped child support payments, William Karn endured a grueling trek stretching more than 2,000 miles while shackled to a metal bench in a van owned and operated by Prisoner Transport Services (PTS) and Brevard Extraditions.

Karn, who was arrested in Maryland’s Montgomery County on a warrant out of Horry County, South Carolina, spent much of that time in handcuffs so tight that he was left with injuries to his wrists, he said. He also alleged deplorable conditions inside the van, with discarded refuse, human waste and flies.

The trip could have been completed in eight hours, but it lasted many times that long, meandering across five states to pick up and drop off other detainees along the way. During one infrequent bathroom stop, Karn fell out and injured his shoulder. But transporting guards refused him medical attention he said. When a fight erupted in the van, all the detainees were sprayed with a chemical agent and not allowed to wash it off afterwards.

On September 16, 2016, Karn filed a federal civil rights action in the U.S. District Court for ...

$5,000 Settlement for Warrantless Search of Pro Se North Carolina Prisoner’s Cellphone

by Matt Clarke

A North Carolina prisoner who alleged his constitutional rights were violated during his arrest and pretrial detention eventually filed five federal lawsuits. Three were dismissed by the federal court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. One is still pending. Another was settled on August 12, 2021, for a payment of $5,000 to the prisoner, Cornelius Lamont Barnes, 42.

The complaints date back to September 5, 2018, when Barnes was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Virginia and returned to North Carolina to face rape charges. Kinston police took him to Lenoir County Jail (LCJ). While he was there, Kinston Detectives executed a search warrant at Barnes’ residence on October 30, 2018, seizing a cellphone they found. They sent it to the State Bureau of Investigation lab, where a digital copy was made of its contents – despite the absence of a search warrant for the phone.

A CD with the copied information was given to Assistant District Attorney Tonya Montanye, who advised Barnes that she intended to use it in his criminal prosecution. On January 27, 2020, Barnes filed suit pro se in the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the search of the phone ...

Challenge Survives to Maryland County’s Cash Bond Program

by David M. Reutter

Finding that changes in pretrial release procedures of Prince George’s County “may or may not be ameliorative,” the federal court for the District of Maryland on June 7, 2023, refused to dismiss a complaint filed by a group of pretrial detainees who claim the county’s bond review process and pretrial release program are unconstitutional.

The suit was filed almost a year earlier in July 2022 against the county, its jail officials and 11 of its judges by a group of pretrial detainees. They alleged that during bond reviews in the county’s district and circuit courts, judges “abdicated their constitutional duty” and unlawfully deferred to the county jail’s pretrial services program to determine a defendant’s level of supervision or release from jail.

Despite being entitled to release, many defendants often languish in jail for weeks or months while waiting for pretrial services to make a determination on their release eligibility, the lawsuit alleged. Plaintiffs called the process opaque, saying it was bogged down in backlogs. They sought class-action status.

Defendant county officials and judges moved for dismissal, asserting immunity and also arguing that a federal court had no jurisdiction over the issues. They further argued the lawsuit ...

Shocking Video Footage Reveals Rampant Violence and Neglect in Los Angeles County Jails

A collection of graphic videos reported by the Los Angeles Times on June 24, 2023, pulled back the curtain on rampant violence and chaos inside Los Angeles County jails. The footage, saved on a discarded thumb drive, portrays a shocking lack of supervision from jailers, as well as incidents of detainee-on-detainee violence and guards using excessive force.

Stabbings, fistfights and suicide attempts from the past six years play out on the videos, as well as disturbing incidents of neglect. In one, a woman gives birth while restrained in a wheelchair, leaving jailers to collect her newborn from the floor where it fell. In other clips, detainees apparently desensitized to violence continue daily activities while brutal fights and beatings occur a few feet away.

Most of the footage came from Men’s Central Jail, date-stamped between 2017 and 2021. The clips highlight slow or no response to violence by jailers, leaving vulnerable detainees unattended. One 20-minute video captured a prolonged attack by detainees on a fellow detainee while no guards intervened.

The absence of supervision – despite the presence of functioning cameras – raised concern about a lack of oversight for Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer in criminal justice at the University ...

Oregon Governor Commutes All Death Sentences

by Mark Wilson

“I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people – even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” said outgoing Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on December 14, 2022, in commuting the 17 remaining Oregon death sentences to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP).

During the last 60 years, Oregon has executed only two prisoners. Both of them waived their appeals and asked to be executed in 1997, and the State obliged. Oregon Governors have imposed a moratorium on capital punishment since 2011. During her first press conference after becoming governor in 2015, Brown announced that she was continuing the moratorium during her administration.

The Oregon Legislature enacted Senate Bill (SB) 1013, effective September 29, 2019, redefining Oregon law to prohibit the death penalty in all but three cases: the murder of a child under 14 years of age; the murder of a law enforcement official; and a prison murder committed by someone who has previously been convicted of murder. Most of those on Oregon’s death row could not have been sentenced to death under the new definition. ...

Voting Rights Restoration for Virginia Ex-Felons Once Again Subject to Governor’s Whim

by Kevin W. Bliss

In a letter to Virginia lawmakers on March 22, 2023, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) took executive action to roll back voting rights restoration to ex-felons. It is the fourth time since 2013 that a governor has modified procedures. State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) said the move makes restoration “a secret process with secret criteria in the complete absolute discretion of the Governor,” setting the state “back to 1902-era policy.”

In 2013, former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) announced that all nonviolent offenders would be granted voter rights restoration upon completion of their sentence, including any period of probation or parole. In 2016, his successor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), expanded that policy to include all ex-felons. And his successor, former Gov. Ralph Northam (D), expanded that again in 2021, scrapping the requirement to complete any probationary period after release from prison. It became almost automatic that an ex-offender had voting rights restored as soon as he or she was released from prison.

But while campaigning for office that year, Youngkin pointed to the moves to criticize his opponent, McAuliffe, who was running for office again. (Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms.)

Prisoner rights ...

Solitary Confinement is a Catch-22 for Colorado Prisoners and a “Moral Injury” for Mental Health Workers

Responding to an open-records request, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) revealed on April 11, 2023, that 1.7% of the state’s prison population was in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day or more.

A mentally ill woman held for DOC at the Delta County Jail (DCJ) was in that group. When she eats feces or attacks others at the jail, she is placed in solitary confinement, according to the Colorado Sun. “We have limited resources,” explained Joel Watts, a therapist at the jail. “If we don’t put them in isolation, they become a danger to themselves, to others and to staff.”

But throwing people like her in “the hole” presents a troubling ethical dilemma – “a Catch22,” Watts added. “In putting them in isolation, we know they’re going to get worse.”

Prisoners are sent to solitary confinement for several reasons: Acting violently towards the staff or other prisoners, being in a certain gang, receiving severe disciplinary infractions or needing to be placed in protective custody. Suffering from mental illness is another common reason, when a prisoner poses such a risk that he or she is sent to solitary confinement. However, the negative psychological and physical effects brought on by ...

Doctor Convicted of Sexually Abusing USA Gymnasts Is Stabbed in Prison Cell

One of the more notorious prisoners at a federal lockup in Florida was stabbed by a fellow prisoner on July 9, 2023. Larry Nassar, 59, survived and was recovering from the assault by 49-year-old Shane McMillan. The incident was reportedly provoked by a comment Nassar made about the Wimbledon Women’s Tennis championship game they were watching at the Federal Correctional Institution in Coleman, Florida.

“I wish there was girls playing,” the disgraced physician allegedly said.

That was apparently enough to provoke the in-cell attack with a homemade weapon by McMillan. He is serving what was originally a 20-year term for a 2002 meth-trafficking conviction in Wyoming, though the sentence has since been more than doubled with additional convictions for punching out a BOP guard in Louisiana in 2006 and attempting to murder a fellow prisoner at the “supermax” lockup in Colorado in 2011.

Nassar, the former doctor for U.S. Women’s Gymnastics, pleaded guilty in 2017 to sexually abusing young athletes under his care. He also admitted possessing child pornography. He came to the prison in 2018 from the U.S. Penitentiary in Tucson, where he had been assaulted within hours of his arrival. He is serving a 40-year sentence with the ...

Exasperated Federal Judge Issues Permanent Injunction to Arizona DOC in Healthcare Class-Action

by Matt Clarke

On April 7, 2023, a visibly annoyed U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued a highly-detailed permanent injunction (PI) specifying what must be done by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (DCRR) to meet minimum constitutional standards in providing prisoner healthcare and mental health care, as well as conditions in isolation.

As PLN previously reported, the Court found in June 2022 that healthcare and mental health care in the prison system was “plainly grossly inadequate,” and the conditions in its restrictive housing units were unconstitutional. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p.l.]

Before issuing the PI, Judge Silver noted that she was forced to throw out a six-year-old settlement because DCRR showed little interest in making the improvements it agreed to, despite $2.5 million in contempt-of-court fines.

“Given this history, the Court cannot impose an injunction that is even minutely ambiguous,” Silver wrote, “because Defendants have proven they will exploit any ambiguity to the maximum extent possible.”

The final PI includes “a specific number of key personnel that must be hired.” That number was determined by court-appointed experts Dr. Marc Stern, Dr. Bart Abplanalp and John McGrath. The court ordered DCRR to immediately hire the specified number of ...

News in Brief

Alabama: According to WSFA in Montgomery, a guard at the Montgomery County Detention Center was charged on July 18, 2023, with conspiracy to provide contraband to a prisoner as well as bribing a public official. Timothy Bernard Summerlin, 33, had worked at the lockup for roughly three and a half years before his arrest, which took place in a Walmart parking lot following a seven-month investigation conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Summerlin was then charged in federal court.

California: KGET in Bakersfield reported that a state prisoner was convicted of assaulting a Wasco State Prison (WSP) guard on June 7, 2023. Not quite two weeks later, farther north in California, a Solano County Jail (SCJ) prisoner pleaded guilty to assaulting another guard there, according to the Vacaville Reporter. For attacking the unnamed WSP guard in July 2022, a Kern County jury convicted Jose Carrasco, 27. He was set for release in 2024 but now faces up to 10 more years of incarceration. The SCJ prisoner, Derek Edward Dunlap Jr., 32, admitted assaulting a guard there in 2020. His three-year sentence will run concurrently with a sentence of 25 years to life he received ...