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Correctional Law Reporter Pln Wins Suit Pg-54 Dec-jan 2001

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Page 54

Correctional Law Reporter

December/January 2001

Congress Demands Reporting of Prison and Jail Deaths
Inmate deaths in jails and prisons will
soon have to be reponed to the U.S. Department of Justice under the "Death in
Custody Reporting Act of 2000," a new
law signed by President Clinton on October 13, 2000.
Sponsored by Rep. Asa Hutchinson
(R- Ark.), the law directs the Attorney
General to adopt guidelines for the quarterly reporting of deaths in custody. It
requires information "at a minimum,"
on name, gender, race, ethnicity, and age;
the date, time, and location of death; and
a brief description of the circumstances
surrounding the death." Presumably additional information could be required.
The law applies not only to deaths in
custody, but also to deaths which occur
while someone is "en route to be incarcerated" The law amends the Violent
Crime Control and Law Enforcement
Act of 1994 and extends its obligations
to states which receive Truth in Sentencing funding.
Rep. Hutchinson reports an estimated 1,000 men and women die questionably each year while in police custody
or in jail. A statement from his office
says "a number of deaths that occur in
state and local jails are ruled suicides,
but that determination is often tainted by
inadequate record-keeping, investigative

incompetence, and physical evidence
that suggests otherwise. In addition,
many of the individuals listed as 'suicides' had been arrested for relatively
minor offenses- greatly reducing their
incentive to take their own lives." (http:// hutchinson/Whatshot/death%20in%custody%20summary.htrn.)
Examples of some suspicious in-custody deaths around the country include:
• Arkansas State Police are investigating the death of Daniel Grayson in
Crawford County jail, described by a
spokesman for the sheriffs office as a
gruesome suicide.
• Deaths of three inmates in a Multnomah County, Oregon, detention center in July 2000 sparked investigation
by federal authorities relating to use
of excessive force and possible civil
rights violations.
• Lawrence Frazier, an inmate in the
Wallens Ridge State Prison, Virginia,
went into a coma after being shocked
I repeatedly with a stun gun and died
July 4, 2000.
• The Southern Human Rights Center is
suing county officials over the deaths
of nearly two dozen inmates in the


Fulton County, Georgia, jail during
1998 and 1999.
• State and federal authorities are looking into the July 17,2000 beating death
of Frank Valdez. a death row inmate
at the Rorida State Prison. Starke. who
had been involved in a brawl with
guards. Source: Arkansas DemocratGazette, October 20. 2000.
COMMENT: Some cumulative infonnation on prison inmate deaths appears in The Corrections Yearbook
(Criminal Justice Institute, annual).
For instance, the 1999 Yearbook gathered reports from Departments of
Corrections showing nearly 3,000 state
prison inmate deaths in 1998, approximately two-thirds of which were reported as being from natural causes.
Approximately 10% were from suicide
and another 10% from AIDS. Texas
reported the greatest number, 373,
while California was second with 283.
Gathering information from both
state and local facilities should help
focus public attention on issues surrounding inmate deaths. However, because the information will still be
reported by jails and prisons, it may
not respond to Rep. Hutchinson's concerns about poor investigations, etc. •


Prison Legal News Removed From Banned Publication List
Paul Wright. an inmate at the Washington State Reformatory. is an outspoken advocate for inmate rights. He is the
plaintiff in a case reported elsewhere in
this issue. Wright v. Riveland. 219 F.3d
905 (9th Cir. 2ooo). His advocacy also
takes the form of editing the Prison Legal
News. a monthly magazine which may
roughly be described as an inmate versionofCLR.
Because it reports on lawsuits which
inmates win and on issues of importance
to inmates. and perhaps because its tone
is seldom favorable to correctional administrators. Prison Legal News may not
be the publication wardens would most
like to see their inmates receive. But can
it be banned?
In a Stipulation and Judgment/Order
.signed in late September by a Nevada fed-

eral district court judge. Nevada prison
officials agreed to a subscription policy
for inmates. They further agreed to "cause
to be posted in all law libraries within the
DOP system a notice stating the Prison
Legal News is no longer a banned publication and that NDOP prisoners may subscribe to Prison Legal News." Notices
also had to include PINs address and
subscription information. Prison Legal
News v. Crawford. No. CV-N-QO-0373.
D. Nev., Sept. 22. 2000.
The Stipulation also included an agreement by defendants to pay $5.000 damages to the plaintiffs. PLN. and its
publisher. Rollin Wright. Attorneys' fee
claims are yet to be resolved.
In an interesting Prison Litigation Reform Act (pLRA) related twist, the parties
agreed not to seek modification or termi-

nation or otherwise challenge the order
for five years. despite the fact that the
PLRA allows a party to such a decree to
seek termination after two years. Thus.
defendants agreed to negotiate down some
of their rights under the PLRA.
COMMENT: Other agencies considering a ban on PLN, or which currently do not pennit inmates to receive
the publication, should take note of this
decision, even though it is not a published, precedent-establishing case.
While we do not always agree with the
spin PLN puts on issues or decisions,
our examination ofthe publication leads
to the conclusion that it is not one properly banned from a prison. In fairness,
we note that regular PLN readers probably do not always agree with the spin
CLR puts on issues or decisions.