Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘second circuit

Second Circuit Reinstates Lawsuit over Sexual Abuse in New York State Prisons

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Since 2003, the Legal Aid Society has been pursuing a class-action suit on behalf of “present and future” female inmates in the New York state prison system, alleging a pattern of “sexual abuse—including forcible rape—of women prisoners by state correctional officers,” facilitated by inadequate staff screening, training, oversight, and grievance procedures. Claiming violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the plaintiffs are asking a federal district court to issue an injunction requiring the New York DOC to implement more effective policies and procedures for preventing sexual abuse.

At the trial court level, the case had been dismissed by district judge Kevin Duffy, in part because some of the plaintiffs are no longer in prison, so their requests for injunctive relief are moot. Now the Second Circuit has reversed that ruling, reinstating the lawsuit as to those plaintiffs and sending it back to the district court for further proceedings to determine if the case can proceed as a class action. (Full opinion PDF here — note, the case has had a very complicated procedural history and this is mainly a procedural ruling, so the opinion may be hard to follow; I’ll translate some of the legalese after the jump, if you’re curious).

The AP reports on the stance of the New York Department of Corrections:

In April, Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer testified the department has adopted a series of directives and orientation materials for prisoners and notices to staff and inmates emphasizing zero tolerance sexual abuse. He noted the department’s inspector general has one of the few prison sex crimes units in the nation investigating allegations of misconduct by staff, as well as abuse by inmates on one another.

“The reality, however, is that while we do not willingly tolerate sexual abuse of our offenders, we may not be able to ever fully eradicate the occurrence,” he said. “Our approach is to take proactive preventive measures, immediately respond to all allegations and seek criminal penalties where appropriate believing that such efforts have a deterrent effect within the system.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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New York Prisoner Punished for Distributing Pamphlet in Violation of First Amendment, Second Circuit Holds

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In 2000, New York state prisoner Mujahid Farid was put in solitary confinement for 90 days (among other sanctions) for helping to write and distribute a pamphlet entitled “The Politics of Parole,” which criticized New York’s parole policies as corrupt and racially discriminatory. The Second Circuit recently held that Farid’s punishment violated his First Amendment rights, because the rules under which he was punished were unconstitutionally vague, and remanded the lawsuit back to the district court for further proceedings to determine whether the defendant prison officials are liable for the violation or are entitled to qualified immunity (reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants on the qualified immunity issue).

Farid was punished under catch-all contraband and smuggling provisions of the New York state prison rulebook. For instance, the catch-all contraband provision reads that “an inmate shall not possess any item unless it has been specifically authorized by the superintendent or designee, the rules of the department or the local rules of the facility.” The Second Circuit panel upheld the district court’s ruling that these provisions were unconstitutionally vague as applied to Farid: they did not provide him with adequate notice of what was prohibited, and

gave almost complete enforcement discretion to prison officials. … Indeed, the catch-all contraband rule allowed prison officials to determine in their unbounded discretion what was and was not “specifically authorized” in the facility.

(Farid v. Ellen, 07-4057-pr(L), 07-4070-pr(XAP), 2d Cir., Jan. 28, 2010, pp. 16-17)

Written by sara

January 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

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