Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘contraband

Georgia Prisoners Strike for Better Conditions

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The Black Agenda Report, a Georgia-based news site “from the black left,” reported on Saturday that inmates were on Day 2 of a strike (mirrored here at Open Left):

Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

Although there were some reports of a “media blackout,” the New York Times did report on the strike, here (online only) and here (online and page A13 of yesterday’s newspaper) (and picked up by Slate here), emphasizing the use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the strike. However, most local news outlets reported, via the Georgia Department of Corrections, that the prisoners were not on strike, but rather had been placed on lockdown to pre-empt the strike. Examples of local Georgia coverage portraying the weekend’s events as a lockdown are here at the Rome News-Tribune, here from the AP, here from Atlanta’s WSB-TV, and here from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

With about 52,000 inmates, Georgia’s prison system is not among the largest in the country in absolute numbers. But relative to the state’s population, it has an outsize reach. In Georgia, 1 in 13 adults is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole — the highest rate of correctional control in the country. (Nationwide that figure is 1 in 31.) According to the Sentencing Project, over 4% of Georgia adults and almost 10% of African-Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights has been a leading advocate for prisoners in Georgia and its neighboring states.

A few more links and the prisoners’ complete list of demands after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

December 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

Florida Inmates Challenge Jail’s Postcard-Only Policy

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The AP and the Gainesville (Fla.) Sun both have reports on policies in a handful of Florida counties that limit jail inmates’ mail to postcards only (with exceptions for legal correspondence). Jail officials say that the policy both cuts down on contraband and gets inmates their mail faster since it’s easier to sort. However, a group of Manatee County inmates have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the policy as a First Amendment violation. From the AP article:

Manatee’s policy, begun in June, even restricts writing to blue or black ink, and bars drawings of any kind. Jail officials say the restrictions prevent gang symbols and communication.

Attorneys for the Manatee inmates and relatives, James E. Felman and Katherine Earle Yanes, filed a 22-page amended complaint Feb. 18 alleging the rule unfairly limits the inmates’ primary means of communication.

It even prevents relatives from sending children’s drawings or family pictures, the complaint alleges.

Yanes said most inmates are being detained pretrial, and haven’t even been convicted of wrongdoing.

“The First Amendment protects the rights of inmates, just like it protects the rights of everyone in this country,” she said. “It’s not only the inmates’ rights that are implicated in this, but the rights of anyone who wants to communicate to inmates.” …

Case law may be on the jails’ side, said John F. Stinneford, assistant professor of law at the University of Florida. Stinneford said courts have found similar jail restrictions constitutional if they represent a legitimate government interest [such as security].

“Obviously, there are certain types of communication the prisoners won’t be able to receive via postcard,” Stinneford said. “But I’m not sure that is going to be big enough of a problem to overcome.”

Written by sara

March 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

Puerto Rico Prisoner Forced to Undergo Abdominal Surgery, or, the Case of the Apparently Nonexistent Contraband Cell Phone

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The First Circuit held last month that a Puerto Rico prisoner’s lawsuit claiming Fourth Amendment violations can proceed, where the inmate alleges that he was

forced to undergo dangerous, painful, and extremely intrusive abdominal surgery for the purpose of finding a contraband telephone allegedly concealed in his intestines, even though the basis for believing there was a telephone was slight, several tests had indicated the absence of any such object, and additional, far less intrusive testing could easily have obviated any need for such grievous intrusion.

(Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, et al., No. 08-1748, 1st Cir., Dec. 23, 2009, p. 21)

Although prisoners are not afforded full Fourth Amendment protections — for instance, their cells can be searched at any time — they do retain a limited right of bodily privacy while incarcerated (see pp. 15-16). Here, the court emphasized the dramatically invasive nature of the search — involving “total anesthesia, surgical invasion of the abdominal cavity, and two days of recovery in the hospital” (p. 23) — combined with the lack of justification for such an extreme procedure, given that a variety of less intrusive measures, such as an X-ray, could have been used. The court also rejected the government’s arguments that the surgery was not a search at all, or, if it was a search, was not unconstitutional, simply because it was a medical procedure: “When a medical procedure is performed at the instigation of law enforcement for the purpose of obtaining evidence, the fact that the search is executed by a medical professional does not insulate it from Fourth Amendment scrutiny” (p. 26). More details after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

January 27, 2010 at 5:49 pm

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