Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘incarcerated women

No Criminal Charges in Case of Arizona Inmate Who Died after Four Hours in 107-Degree Cage

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The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office recently announced that it will not file criminal charges against correctional officers involved in the death of Marcia Powell, an Arizona inmate who succumbed to heat exhaustion after she was left outside in a cage, in 107-degree heat, for four hours. From the Phoenix New Times:

A 3,000 page internal investigation released by [the Arizona Department of Corrections] last year revealed accounts by inmates that Powell was never given water and that she was mocked or ignored by ADC staff when she asked for water, to go to the bathroom, or to be taken back inside.

Though corrections officers maintained that Powell had been given water, her desiccated corpse argued otherwise. She had been kept outside in the blazing Arizona sun hours past the department’s own two-hour cutoff for such en plein air detention. Also, her body was covered in excrement, as she soiled herself while in the enclosure.

But according to ADC spokesman Barrett Marson, the County Attorney’s office never reviewed the 3,000 page report released last year. Instead, the CA received a copy of ADC’s separate, criminal investigation, which Marson characterized as “even more voluminous.”

Based on that criminal investigation, the CA’s office concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to go forward with a prosecution.

Why didn’t the CA get to see the internal investigation, which was made public and reported on by several news outlets? This has to do with something called “the Garrity rule,” based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision Garrity vs. New Jersey.

According to the Garrity rule, law enforcement officers can be compelled to answer certain questions by their employers, but those statements cannot be used against a LEO in criminal proceedings.

Meanwhile, another Arizona prisoner was apparently recently kept in a cage overnight, for 19 hours, though not under the life-threatening conditions that killed Powell. After learning of the incident from a prisoners’ advocacy group, Middle Ground Prison Reform, ADC Director Charles Ryan ordered an investigation and ultimately suspended the warden involved for a few days without pay.

California Readers: Help End Shackling of Pregnant Women

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will soon be presented with AB 1900, which would extend California’s current prohibition on shackling inmates during labor to also limit the use of restraints on pregnant women while they are being transferred, except in cases of a clear security or flight risk. The bill has the support of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among a host of other groups. The ACLU of Northern California’s Reproductive Justice Project has a form email you can send here urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the bill into law.

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 »

“They Come to Expect Sub-Human Treatment”

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The ACLU of Southern California wrote an open letter to Lindsay Lohan, Los Angeles County’s most famous inmate, that’s been making its way around the blogosphere. Worth highlighting is the letter’s summary of the important work done by that particular ACLU branch as the court-appointed monitor for the L.A. County system:

Based on the ACLU’s decades of experience as an official court-appointed monitor of the jails, and the stories of countless women with whom we’ve spoken, the facility where you are staying is an overcrowded detention facility where women are needlessly humiliated for so long that they come to expect sub-human treatment.

It’s a place where an eight-months-pregnant woman was forced to sleep on the floor because she could not access the top bunk to which she was assigned. A  place where women have said they are made to stand naked while menstruating, as they waited for jail-issued clothes. And a place where women routinely tell us they cannot get access to the same medications they took in the community (though we doubt that you will face this same problem.)

Group punishments and degrading group strip searches are routine, as are reports of deputies calling women “bitches” and other derogatory names. And while you get private visits with your family and friends, every other woman’s visitors must wait in long lines on the weekends.

We know from the more than 4,500 complaints we receive annually that the women’s facility is a lot nicer than the Men’s Central Jail – where rats roam the tiers, and violence is as routine as sunshine in California. We’ve seen men with broken legs and black eyes. It‘s not uncommon for a prisoner to be thrown up against the wall or punched, simply for asking a deputy a question.

Written by sara

July 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The Journalistic Trope of Comparing Jails to Hotels

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Sometimes journalists who cover jails, prisons, immigration detention centers, etc. spice up their ledes by making some imagined comparison to hotel amenities. In fairness, their sources who are also fond of the comparison (see, e.g., this post). Anyway, here’s an example from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

New menus. Redesigned living areas. Bingo nights. Dance classes. Continental breakfasts. Self-serve beverage bars.

These aren’t features of some swanky new hotel. They are among a host of new amenities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering at two immigration detention facilities in Georgia.

I would really like to see a moratorium on this trope. It’s somewhat offensive and virtually always inaccurate. This article refers to eight private immigration jails run by Corrections Corporation of America that are due to be redesigned. Whatever the new amenities after the renovations, I can pretty much guarantee they will not resemble “swanky new hotels.” Hotels typically aren’t surrounded by concertina wire. And I’ve known some swanky people in my time and they do not typically build their travel itineraries around where they can get bingo and self-serve lemonade.

At most, the redesigned CCA facilities will resemble prisons somewhat less than they do now. This makes some people angry. But note: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

July 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Washington DOC Settles with Woman Shackled During Childbirth

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As reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Washington DOC will pay a $125,000 settlement to former inmate Casandra Brawley, who was shackled while giving birth in April 2007 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma. Partly in response to Brawley’s case, Washington has since passed legislation banning the practice of shackling inmates during childbirth. In her lawsuit, Brawley was represented by Legal Voice, a women’s rights nonprofit, and the Seattle law firm Peterson Young Putra. More information on this case as well as Legal Voice’s anti-shackling advocacy efforts more generally is available at the Legal Voice website.

Happy (Belated) Mother’s Day to All the Mothers in Prison, or with Children in Prison

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Nearly 70% of women in state prisons have young children, and over half have never had a visit from them. Those statistics come from the Sentencing Project, which has put together some stories of how women in prison spend Mother’s Day. The video above is from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which collaborated with the Center for Restorative Justice Works to bring over 700 children to visit their incarcerated mothers yesterday in the 11th annual Get on the Bus event. A similar event is also being planned for Father’s Day.

Written by sara

May 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Two Days into Her 30-Day Sentence for Misdemeanor Negligence, Vermont Woman Dead Because of Prison Staff Negligence

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After Ashley Ellis of Rutland, Vt. got into a car accident that left a motorcyclist partly paralyzed, she developed anorexia and bulimia, “going from a healthy, 120-pound 21-year-old to a depressed, 86-pound 23-year-old.” Ellis was convicted of misdemeanor criminal negligence for her role in the accident and sentenced to 30 days in prison (along with community service and the indefinite loss of her driver’s license). Within two days of arriving at Vermont’s Swanton prison to serve her term, Ellis was dead of complications from low potassium. The state medical examiner listed “denial of access to medication” as the cause of death. Although Ellis had mentioned to several prison staffers that she needed prescription potassium pills, the prison was out, and no one ever made it to the pharmacy to pick up a new supply. At the time, Vermont’s prisons contracted with Prison Health Services to provide medical care; in part because of Ellis’s death, Vermont did not renew PHS’s contract when it expired and now contracts with Correct Care Solutions. Although the Vermont police tried to investigate the death, they were stonewalled by Prison Health Services employees, who were told by the company’s lawyers to keep quiet. The state will not file any criminal charges against PHS employees, but Ellis’s parents are considering a civil lawsuit.

I’d recommend reading the Times Argus article on this tragic case, which is full of inexplicable details that illuminate the absurdity that America’s prison system has become. Why would a prison nurse in Vermont have to e-mail a “regional supervisor” in California for approval to order medication for an inmate? Why did two nurses scheduled for work that day fail to report, leaving one nurse to do the work of three? Why would a prison’s method of communication regarding inmate medical needs be voice mail, when the night-shift nurse “didn’t usually check her messages” until the next day? Why would an inmate’s receiving needed medication be dependent upon whether or not the on-duty nurse decided to extend the “courtesy” of stopping by the local Rite Aid on the way to work? After Ellis died, a filled-out casework request form was found under her bed, reading, “On Tuesday I’d like to meet my case worker to discuss my meds and get everything straightened out.”

Written by sara

March 11, 2010 at 10:56 am

In Federal Lawsuit, (Yet Another) Woman Alleges She Was Raped by Employee at Kentucky Private Prison

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A former inmate at Kentucky’s Otter Creek Correctional Center, a private prison run (like most private prisons) by the Corrections Corporation of America, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging she was raped repeatedly by a CCA employee who threatened to block her parole if she did not comply with his demands. This inmate is apparently one of many who alleges she was raped by Otter Creek employees. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports:

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an e-mail Thursday that the employee was terminated last March. …

At least six workers at Otter Creek have been charged with sex-related crimes involving inmates at the facility.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced last month that the state will move more than 400 women prisoners out of Otter Creek given the allegations of sexual misconduct by male workers there.

The women prisoners will be transferred to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia this summer, and the nearly 700 male inmates now there will be moved to Otter Creek, which has more than 650 beds, and other prisons in the state.

Note that private prisons are considered “state actors” to the extent that they can be sued for constitutional violations — but unlike state employees, private prison guards don’t enjoy qualified immunity, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399 (1997).

Written by sara

February 27, 2010 at 8:15 am

New Book: Reading Is My Window

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Readers may be interested in Reading Is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women’s Prisons, new this month from UNC Press, by Megan Sweeney, an English professor at the University of Michigan. The bulk of the book is based on Sweeney’s interviews with 94 women prisoners, and examines how these women read urban crime fiction, victimization narratives, and self-help books, to show “how some women prisoners use the limited reading materials available to them in important ways: to come to terms with their pasts, to negotiate their present experiences, and to reach toward different futures” (pp. 1-2).

Sweeney situates her present-day findings within the history of reading in American prisons from the 18th century through the present. Although reading was central to the rehabilitative ideal of the earliest penitentiaries, Sweeney argues that over time, “penal authorities often abandoned their emphases on reading and education when nonwhite and female prisoners were involved” (p. 22). More recently, as prisoners have been increasingly dehumanized and prison policy has increasingly emphasized retribution over rehabilitation, prison libraries have been gutted and prisoners’ access to reading materials curtailed.

Despite the dearth of resources available to them (and here I’m quoting from the UNC Press description linked above),

Sweeney illuminates the resourceful ways in which prisoners educate and empower themselves through reading. Given the scarcity of counseling and education in prisons, women use books to make meaning from their experiences, to gain guidance and support, to experiment with new ways of being, and to maintain connections with the world.

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