Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘department of justice

Tell the DOJ to Keep Teenagers Out of Adult Jails and Prisons

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On Wednesday I noted how you can submit your feedback to the Department of Justice on the proposed prison rape elimination standards. Another option is to sign on to the letter that will be submitted by the Campaign for Youth Justice. Here are the details — note the deadline to sign onto the letter is 5 PM TODAY (UPDATE: deadline has been extended to 10 AM SUNDAY):

In response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) proposed regulations on the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the Campaign for Youth Justice is circulating a sign-on letter calling on DOJ to ban the placement of youth (under 18) in adult jails and prisons. Their goal is to obtain at least 500 national, state and local organizations and individuals in all 50 states. As the DOJ comments are due at close of business on Monday, April 4, we are asking for signatories by Friday, April 1, at 5 PM Sunday, April 3, at 10 AM. If you or your organization would like to sign onto the attached letter, please email jjcampaign@cfyj.org.

You can read the letter here (PDF), and see the list of signatories here.

Written by sara

April 1, 2011 at 11:03 am

Take 2, 5, or 15 Minutes Today to Speak Out against Government Tolerance of Prison Rape

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This coming Monday, April 4, is the deadline for submitting public comment to the Department of Justice about its proposed regulations aimed at reducing prison rape and sexual abuse. Just Detention International has compiled a handy how-to that walks you through the process. You can choose to take literally 2 minutes to click through and submit JDI’s form letter in your name, or take a little longer to write your own message. If you’re looking for additional fodder for your letter, visit the Prison Fellowship site which takes AG Eric Holder to task for weakening the standards. This article, from the New York Review of Books, will give you additional background on the issue and the proposed standards.

Ortiz v. Jordan, Prison Rape Elimination Standards, &c.

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I’ve been lax posting here lately, but not because there hasn’t been prison legal news. Miscellaneous other projects require my attention at least for the next few days — all apologies, but also, that’s what you get when you rely on a prison blog that’s an on-the-side project — but for now, here are a few links to keep you busy:

  • The Supreme Court decided Ortiz v. Jordan (decision and other docs here), ruling in favor of Michelle Ortiz, who was molested by a prison guard and then sent to solitary when she spoke up about it.
  • The Justice Department has finally gotten around to releasing proposed rules pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act. In the words of AG Eric Holder: “Sexual abuse is a crime, not punishment for a crime.” When the rules are opened to public comment at regulations.gov, I’ll post a how-to for those interested in entering their thoughts into the public record. As noted by the hard-working folks at Just Detention International, by the DOJ’s figures some 600 inmates are sexually abused every day.

Also: admittedly I actually have approximately “negative infinity” interest, as a 5-year-old might say, in watching the State of the Union or any other political speech — I just don’t really care about “politics” per se, or “positioning” or “rhetoric” or whatever you want to call it, and it’s not like the State of the Union has practical policy significance; so fine, lump me in with the Great Uninformed — so I have no idea what Obama may or may not have said last night, but I did like this tweet.

After Inmate Suicides in New York and Ohio, Calls for Probes into Local Jails

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After a Nassau County inmate with a history of mental illness committed suicide last week — the county’s fourth inmate suicide in 12 months — a state legislator and inmate advocates are calling for a federal investigation:

“Given the fact that the feds have had involvement in the facility, it makes sense for them to take a look at what is or is not going on that might be helpful,” said Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), chairman of the Assembly’s committee on correction.

The U.S. Justice Department had closely monitored the jail both for overcrowding and, more recently, after finding gross civil rights violations stemming from the 1999 beating death of an inmate and problems with [Nassau University Medical Center]‘s inmate medical care.

The DOJ’s earlier monitoring efforts in Nassau County were concluded in 2005.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Ohio is seeking information about procedures at the Summit County Jail after an apparent inmate suicide:

[Michael Carl] O’Neill, 51, was taken off life support Tuesday, about two days after he jumped from a second-story ledge from a visitation area inside the jail. The Akron man was being held over the weekend on public-drunkeness-related charges and was assigned to a cot in the open area.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Alexander expressing concern of potential overcrowding issues. The group is seeking the department’s policies on inmate housing and any mental health evaluation given to O’Neill.

”Housing inmates in a large common area typically used for other purposes raises red flags over potential safety flaws and indicates that the jail may be dangerously overcrowded,” ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman said Friday.

Written by sara

January 10, 2011 at 7:54 am

Ghailani May Spend Life in Florence Supermax

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As I’ve noted before, the War on Crime and the War on Terror have a lot of overlap. So, for students of mass incarceration, I wanted to highlight some particularly relevant snippets from the past few days’ coverage of the Ghailani verdict.

(1) Supermax, solitary confinement, and the politics of terror trials. Guantanamo military prosecutor Morris Davis has published this op-ed defending the verdict as just. Although his argument focuses mainly on procedural issues having to do with the trial itself, he also addresses Ghailani’s likely punishment:

Mr. Ghailani may well serve his sentence at the “supermax” federal prison in Florence, Colo., where others convicted in the embassy bombings are confined. If so, he will spend more time in solitary and enjoy fewer privileges than those under the most restrictive measures at Guantánamo.

Of course, this is the same supermax that proponents of keeping Guantanamo open (most of whom aren’t exactly prison experts) have claimed is incapable of holding terror detainees. At least one prisoner has been held there in solitary confinement for decades, conditions that many psychologists don’t hesitate to call torture.

(2) The devalued currency of the life sentence? Here’s Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution: Read the rest of this entry »

Lawsuit Alleges “Barbaric Conditions” at Mississippi’s Privately-run Youth Prison

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The private prison company GEO Group will face a lawsuit over conditions at Mississippi’s Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and Mississippi lawyer Robert McDuff representing the plaintiffs. Walnut Grove was already under investigation by the federal Department of Justice. The Clarion-Ledger reports:

Some prison staff exploit youth by selling drugs inside the facility and engaging in sexual relationships with youth in their care, the suit alleges. Many youth have suffered physical injuries, some permanent as a result of dangerously deficient security policies. …

In 2007, Dennis Earl Holmes died after a lawsuit claimed he was denied adequate medical care. He suffered from treatable diabetes, according to a lawsuit his family filed on Oct. 29 in federal court. …

Michael McIntosh of Hazlehurst alleges that because of the abuse his 21-year-old son suffered in the Walnut Grove prison, “he will live with permanent brain damage for the rest of his life.”

More information, including the full complaint, available here from SPLC.

Are Federal Prisons Exposing Inmates and Employees to Hazardous Waste?

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FairWarning has this report on an ongoing DOJ investigation:

A government-owned company that runs electronics recycling plants at federal prisons from New Jersey to California is coming under intensified scrutiny for repeatedly exposing prison employees and inmate laborers to excessive levels of lead and other toxic metals.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is expected within days to release its report on a years-long investigation of the recycling operations — including accusations that prison officials ignored basic workplace safety precautions.

Separately, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has quietly paid about $1 million to settle a grievance over hazardous duty pay for employees of an Elkton, Ohio, prison with one of the recycling plants. On one occasion, an air test at the eastern Ohio institution found cadmium levels 450 times higher than federal safety limits.

And a union for employees at the federal lockup in the central California community of Atwater also is demanding retroactive hazardous duty pay. Barring a settlement, that case is scheduled for arbitration in December.

On another front, lawyers preparing health claims for employees of the prison at Marianna, Fla., last week sued the Bureau of Prisons, claiming it has illegally withheld records about the recycling operation there, including by blaming a loss of documents on Hurricane Ivan.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Problem of Legislative Deadlines

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Poor Eric Holder: It can’t feel good to know that the ACLU, Focus on the Family, the American Conservative Union, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Jim Wallis, Prison Fellowship, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP, and the National Immigrant Justice Center—among others—are all “furious” with you, and all for the same reason. Back in June, Obama’s attorney general missed his statutory deadline to promulgate national standards for reducing prison rape. The standards have been proposed by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was convened pursuant to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, and represent what are already best practices at the facilities that have done the most to curtail prison rape. But they still require Holder’s formal say-so to become binding conditions on federal funding for prisons and jails nationwide.

(Incidentally, for a skeptical take on whether such conditions can actually reduce prison rape, especially in light of widespread public indifference to the problem, see this 2003 Slate article by my criminal law professor, Bob Weisberg. Ever-insightful readers: Do you think things have changed since 2003? Just Detention International thinks so: “The standards release was a turning point in the struggle to end sexual abuse in detention. After decades of institutional denial, downplaying, and flippant repetition of stereotypes, government agencies and corrections officials have finally begun to describe the problem of sexual abuse behind bars as a serious violation of human rights … .”)

Yesterday, the above-listed coalition of strange bedfellows issued an open letter urging Holder to promulgate the standards sooner rather than later. In fairness, it’s not that Holder has completely ignored the issue: rather, he says his office needs more time to assess the implementation costs to prisons and jails (as required by the PREA itself), and to ensure that the regulations promulgated “will endure” (PDF link to Holder’s letter). But many advocates view the delay as indefensible foot-dragging in the face of widespread violations of prisoners’ human rights. In any event, this controversy sparked my interest in the broader question of statutory deadlines of this type. What exactly were the terms of the Attorney General’s deadline, and what, if any, are the consequences for Holder’s failing to meet it? If there are no consequences, what was the point of Congress’s legislating the deadline to begin with? I’ll (sketchily) consider these questions after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

More on the Poisonous Punditry Surrounding South Carolina’s HIV-Segregation Policy

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Yesterday I blogged about the latest teapot-tempest in the online echo chamber: outrage over the DOJ’s threatened lawsuit over South Carolina’s policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates (outrage which seems to be motivated by a desire to score political points against the Obama Administration rather than genuine concern for inmates, and which seems to be informed by little to no research into the broader issue of prison transmission of HIV/AIDS). Today I just wanted to highlight one particular passage from J. Christian Adams’s Washington Examiner column:

The DOJ is in a lose-lose situation. Even if DOJ wins a lawsuit, sources tell me South Carolina is simply going to cancel all of the special testing, treatment and counseling, thereby saving the state $2 million a year.

Instead, the state will dump infected prisoners into the general population, and nobody will know they have AIDS. Worse, prisoners who come to prison with HIV/AIDS will never know they have the disease and their lives will be shortened because the testing program will end.

Special counseling would end, too.

First, note how both Adams and his “sources” (seemingly SC’s prison director, Jon Ozmint) conflate mandatory testing, forced disclosure of status, and residential segregation with the far less objectionable — indeed, laudable — practices of providing testing, counseling, and treatment for HIV-positive prisoners. Second, note that Adams’s “sources” have either been unfairly paraphrased or, if paraphrased accurately, are just posturing, because Ozmint surely well knows that the system he oversees has an Eighth Amendment obligation not to exhibit “deliberate indifference” towards prisoners’ known, serious medical needs. While the case law is mixed on prisons’ specific obligations towards inmates diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it’s a safe bet that cutting off literally “all” testing, treatment, and counseling for such inmates would not pass Eighth Amendment muster.

Finally, note how both Adams and Ozmint utterly ignore the real issue here, which is not about medical treatment, but basic principles of fairness and due process: South Carolina’s policy means that, purely by virtue of a diagnosis, HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina may serve longer and harsher sentences than their non-HIV-positive counterparts who’ve committed similar crimes. As reported by Human Rights Watch: Read the rest of this entry »

DOJ Hands Sheriff Joe an Ultimatum in Ongoing Civil Rights Investigation

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The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has handed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., an ultimatum: Cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation into his office’s treatment of immigrants, or face a federal lawsuit. Sheriff Arpaio has previously announced his refusal to cooperate in the investigation, and his office has denied the DOJ access to its facilities, personnel, and requested documents. Among the practices being investigated, as summarized by the Seattle Times:

Arpaio’s office has conducted 17 sweeps in which deputies and “posse” volunteers, focusing on heavily Latino neighborhoods, stop people for sometimes minor violations, such as jaywalking, and then check their immigration status. Prisoners are fed twice a day, sleep in tents with no air conditioning and are issued striped prison uniforms and pink underwear and socks.

Main Justice links to the letter sent to Sheriff Arpaio by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Some highlights:

MCSO’s refusal to cooperate fully with the Division’s investigation makes it an extreme outlier when compared with other recipients of federal financial assistance… Although we would prefer voluntary compliance in this case as well, we will not hesitate to commence litigation on August 17, 2010…

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