Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘north carolina

New Book: “From Black Power to Prison Power”

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Here’s a new book likely of interest to readers of this blog (h/t: Al Brophy at the Faculty Lounge): From Black Power to Prison Power, by Donald F. Tibbs (Macmillan, 2012):

This book uses the landmark case Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union to examine the strategies of prison inmates using race and radicalism to inspire the formation of an inmate labor union. It thus rekindles the debate over the triumphs and troubles associated with the use of Black Power as a platform for influencing legal policy and effecting change for inmates. While the ideology of the prison rights movement was complex, it rested on the underlying principle that the right to organize, and engage in political dissidence, was not only a First Amendment right guaranteed to free blacks, but one that should be explicitly guaranteed to captive blacks—a point too often overlooked in previous analyses. Ultimately, this seminal case study not only illuminates the history of Black Power but that of the broader prisoners’ rights movement as well.

Prisoners’ rights to unionize last came up on this blog during the Georgia prison strike (?) of 2010. You can read the full Jones opinion here.

North Carolina Lawsuit: Inmates with Disabilities Say They’re Effectively Barred from Sentence Reduction Credits

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Via the Crime Report, here’s a news item on a new lawsuit against the North Carolina prison system:

Brought on behalf of six inmates with disabilities, the lawsuit contends that the system for rewarding “sentence reduction credits” violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and other federal laws. Inmates in North Carolina can shave up to six days a month off their sentences by performing work assignments and earning education credits.

“We don’t think anybody in North Carolina should be serving additional time in prison simply because they’re living with a disability,” said Mary Pollard, the director of N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, which filed the suit.

Questions Remain in Death of Mentally Ill North Carolina Inmate; Kept in Solitary for 1,400+ Days

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After spending much of his life in the custody of North Carolina (whether in a mental hospital or prison), Timothy Helms died this week of complications from an August 2008 fire in his prison cell at Taylorsville, in the course of which his skull was smashed. Despite conducting an investigation, the prison system remains unable to provide a conclusive account of how he received his injuries. The Charlotte Observer has the story, which highlights — among other things — how solitary confinement, which many psychologists do not hesitate to call to torture, has become a default means of “caring” for the severely mentally ill in our society. From the Observer:

Helms had an IQ of 79 and had attended special-education classes until he dropped out of high school at 16. Diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders, he was frequently admitted to state mental health facilities, including Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh.

He was sentenced to three life terms on three counts of second-degree murder following a 1994 drunken-driving collision. Helms, who did not have a driver’s license, claimed a drinking buddy who died in the accident was driving.

Helms’ disabilities made him a difficult inmate for the prison system. In 14 years behind bars, he racked up 125 rules infractions, ranging from threatening to harm staff and possessing a razor to using profanity and hoarding 84 postage stamps.

As punishment, he had spent at least 1,459 days in disciplinary or administrative segregation – terms used in North Carolina to describe solitary confinement. He was let out of his maximum security cell at Alexander Correctional Institution only a few hours each week to shower or go to an outdoor recreation cage.

Correction Department policy is that no inmate should be housed in isolation for more than 60 days in a stretch, a period prisoners commonly refer to as being in “The Hole.” But Helms’ prison records show he was kept in isolation 571 consecutive days.

Written by sara

September 9, 2010 at 7:10 am

North Carolina Settles Prisoner Lawsuit Over Destroyed Manuscript

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Imagine you’re a novelist and you’ve just completed your latest manuscript — a fictionalized version of your life story — only to have the government seize and destroy all 310 handwritten pages. That’s what happened to Victor L. Martin, an “urban fiction” writer who’s currently incarcerated in the North Carolina prison system as a “habitual felon” after several theft-related convictions. Martin filed a federal lawsuit challenging the destruction of the manuscript as a violation of his First Amendment and due process rights, with the help of Raleigh-area lawyer Swain Wood along with the ACLU of North Carolina. According to Wood, Martin may have been singled out for punishment because of the gritty content of his novels.

Now, Martin’s lawyers have announced that they’re dropping the lawsuit after reaching a settlement with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In addition to awarding Martin $10,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, and overturning 10 disciplinary infractions given to Martin because of his writing, the NC DOC will alter its policies on inmate publishing activities. From the ACLU press release:

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the DOC must change its policy to allow inmates to prepare a manuscript for publication, for outside typing, for copyrighting or for private use, so long as the inmate does not receive direct compensation for publication of the manuscript. This agreed-upon policy protects a variety of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and music, lyrics, drawings and cartoons and other writings of a similar nature. The policy also sets out guidelines for DOC handling of an inmate manuscript that might be confiscated for violation of any prison rule, ensuring that such a manuscript would be maintained and not destroyed without providing any notice to the inmate, which is what happened to Victor Martin. Finally, inmates may still receive compensation for published manuscripts, so long as the inmate authorizes a family member to handle all issues and correspondence related to the business aspect of publishing for compensation.

Written by sara

March 9, 2010 at 7:08 am

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