ACLU Case: We filed this suit because the ODRC is violating the First Amendment rights of the prisoners and of the press

From: Free Greg Curry: This is about the ACLU Media-access case from the ACLU Ohio website:

May 6, 2014
21 years after the Lucasville prison uprising, the media is still waiting for face-to-face interviews with the condemned prisoners.

For more than two decades, Siddique Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes, Keith LaMar and Greg Curry have claimed they are innocent of the crimes attributed to them during the 1993 prison uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF).

Among other things, these five men accuse the state of coercing false testimony from other SOCF prisoners in order to convict them. They have spent years in solitary confinement, soliciting media attention in an attempt to convince the public—and ultimately the court system—that they do not belong where they are.

In response, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has completely banned face-to-face media contact with these men, arguing that they are too much of a security risk to be allowed to tell their stories in person.

In late 2013, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit challenging this ban. The suit was filed on behalf of Hasan, Robb, Skatzes, LaMar and Curry, as well as one teacher and four reporters, including Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.  

We filed this suit because the ODRC is violating the First Amendment rights of the prisoners and of the press. It’s not hard to see that their actions have very little to do with security and everything to do with silencing an uncomfortable conversation about the Lucasville uprising.

For proof, consider that many other death row inmates in Ohio have been granted face-to-face access to the media. They include spree killer John Fautenberry, neo-Nazi murderer Frank Spisak, and convicted arsonist Kenneth Richey, who has since been released from death row.

In all, Ohio prison officials have approved nearly two dozen media interviews with other death row inmates while denying each and every request for face-to-face interviews with the five Lucasville prisoners. This ban is a special form of extended vengeance, reserved only for them.

These prisoners are complicated characters, and the Lucasville uprising is a complex story.

Hiding these complexities behind a wall of censorship will not make them go away.
The Basics

21 years ago, on Easter Sunday 1993, more than 400 inmates at an overcrowded prison in Lucasville, Ohio staged an 11-day prison uprising. In the ensuing violence, nine inmates and one corrections officer lost their lives.

The Basics – read more here.

(clockwise from top left) Jason Robb, Siddique Hasan, Greg Curry and Keith LaMar are all incarcerated at Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. Not pictured is George Skatzes, who is incarnated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution (photo courtesy of Siddique Hasan and Greg Curry).


Artist Laurel Herbold’s imagined rendering of an actual legal meeting between prisoner Jason Robb, former ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman, prisoner Greg Curry, ACLU Volunteer Attorneys Alice and Staughton Lynd, prisoner Siddique Hasan, ACLU of Ohio Managing Attorney Freda Levenson and prisoner Keith LaMar.

ACLU of Utah files federal lawsuit over use of tear gas in prison’s mental health unit

From: Salt Lake Tribune, June 3rd 2013:

ACLU of Utah says gas used in mental-health unit to subdue prisoner spread to enclosed cells.

By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune, Jun 03 2013

The ACLU of Utah filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging constitutional rights of inmates housed in the mental-health unit at the Utah State Prison were violated when tear gas used to subdue one inmate spread into other enclosed cells.

Correctional officers fired tear gas on Aug. 3, 2011, after one inmate refused to return to his cell from a courtyard, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Utah. The gas was pumped through air vents into the fully enclosed cells of other inmates, causing burning eyes, lungs and skin. Many inmates thought the wing was on fire.

Read the rest here: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56406088-78/inmates-complaint-gas-prison.html.csp

Medical care tops inmate grievances

This comes from: Wyoming Tribule-Eagle:
May 27 2013

Complaints about health care in state prisons and jails increased, according to a recently released report.

By Kelsey Bray
kbray@wyomingnews.com

CHEYENNE — Poor medical and mental health care again topped the list of complaints from Wyoming prisoners, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report.

“We have always received medical and mental health care complaints from prisons and jails,” Wyoming ACLU attorney Jennifer Horvath said. “Last year, we saw a significant rise in those complaints, and the nature of the complaints was more serious.”

In the second annual report, titled “Incarceration in Wyoming,” 30 percent of complaints from prisons and 27.2 percent of complaints from jails in 2012 were about medical care. In 2011, the numbers were 24.8 percent from prisons and 21 percent from jails.

Prisoner complaints

The ACLU gets complaints from prisoners and others, including inmates’ family members.

According to the report, the total number of complaints doesn’t correspond to the number of letters the organization gets. Sometimes one prisoner complains about more than one issue, and sometimes multiple letters from one prisoner are received about one issue, which only counts as one complaint.

These complaints include civil liberty concerns such as religious freedom and expression, which made up 14.7 percent of prison complaints and 15.5 percent of jail complaints in 2012.

“We have people who are not able to have diets consistent with their faith, like kosher diets,” Horvath said. “Some (complaints) are about people’s access to religious materials.”

Inmates also complained about excessive force by guards and solitary confinement, where they are alone in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day.

Medical complaints

Most medical complaints centered on denial or delays of adequate medical or mental health care.

Read the rest here: http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2013/05/26/news/20local_05-26-13.txt

Judge Rules That Retaliation Lawsuit Against Department of Corrections Can Proceed

A press release by the ACLU
March 1, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

A federal judge yesterday refused to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit brought on behalf of an ACI inmate who was retaliated against by guards after he publicly criticized Department of Corrections’ mail policies and sought legal assistance from the ACLU. The pattern of harassment against inmate Jason Cook, which included strip searches, loss of his prison job, destruction of his personal property, and disciplinary time in segregation, began after Cook was quoted in a Providence Journal story criticizing a DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. The policy was later rescinded.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that corrections officials’ actions “in retaliating against Cook for publicly criticizing policy changes” at the DOC violated his First Amendment right to freedom of speech “and displayed both deliberate indifference and a reckless disregard of Cook’s constitutional rights.” The suit further claims that the various disciplinary actions taken against him violated Cook’s due process rights.

In court, the Department of Corrections made the troubling argument that Cook had no First Amendment right to speak to the Providence Journal about the policy and therefore his suit should be thrown out. Last September, a magistrate judge rejected DOC’s argument, but the agency appealed that ruling. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith agreed that the ACLU’s retaliation claims could proceed, and further ruled that Cook’s due process claims should also not be dismissed.

The mail policy at issue that Cook initially protested, and that was ultimately withdrawn after the ACLU intervened, barred family members from ordering books or magazine subscriptions for inmates. Instead, inmates could only obtain publications directly from a publisher with their own funds. The lawsuit is being handled by ACLU volunteer attorneys from the law firm of DeLuca and Weizenbaum.

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today: “The DOC’s position that inmates could be disciplined simply for bringing prison conditions and policies to the public’s attention was extremely troubling. We are pleased that the court has rejected it, and that Mr. Cook can proceed with his claims.” A summary of the actions taken against Cook after he spoke out:

ALLEGATIONS OF RETALIATION AGAINST JASON COOK BY DOC OFFICIALS

  • In October 2007, a Providence Journal story quoted Cook criticizing a new DOC policy limiting the written materials available to inmates. A week later, he was fired from his kitchen job under the pretext that he was caught on a video camera stealing state property. He was later found not guilty of the charge.
  • In February 2008, the RI ACLU intervened on Cook’s behalf in the dispute over the new inmate mail policy by writing DOC officials in support of his position. Shortly thereafter, correctional officers conducted a destructive search of Cook’s cell that damaged some of his personal property.
  • After complaining to the DOC’s Office of Inspections about that search, Cook was advised that other inmates in his module with similar complaints should contact the Office. Cook posted a notice to that effect on an inmate bulletin board. A few days later, as a result of that posting, he was disciplined for “engaging in or encouraging a group demonstration and/or activities,” strip searched and taken to segregation. Two weeks later, he was finally given a hearing on the charge, but not allowed to present and/or question any witnesses. In the meantime, the mail policy about which he and the ACLU had complained was rescinded by the DOC.
  • Cook was found guilty of the charge and sanctioned with 30 days in segregation and the loss of good time. At the end of the hearing on the charge, the hearing officer turned off the tape recorder of the proceeding and told Cook that “this is what happens when you get the ACLU involved in our business.”
  • In May 2008, Cook was once again strip searched and thrown into segregation on the grounds that a letter he had written to the Parole Board was “threatening.” He was held in segregation for almost three weeks without a hearing before being released.
  • In September 2008, Cook sent a letter to Corrections Director A.T. Wall protesting the lack of a response to grievances he had submitted. Two days later, Cook was again subjected to a strip search and a cell search where his property was destroyed. Officers also looked through Cook’s legal materials and asked him if he had communicated further with any Providence Journal reporters.

Ind. scrambles to address ruling on mentally ill inmates

This article comes from USAToday, Jan. 2nd 2013, written by: Tim Evans:

INDIANAPOLIS — Weeks after a doctor at an Indiana prison determined a suicidal prisoner was experiencing “severe difficulty coping with segregation,” the Indiana Department of Corrections placed the inmate back in a segregation unit.
Isolated for 23 hours a day in a cell not much larger than a closet at New Castle Correctional Facility, the inmate’s mental state continued to deteriorate.
Two weeks later, he was dead — one of at least 11 mentally ill inmates who committed suicide while in IDOC segregation units from 2007 through July 2011.
Now state officials and advocates are scrambling for solutions in the wake of a federal court ruling that found Indiana’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners in segregation units violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
The decision was issued Monday by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission and a group of inmates.
Pratt found “mentally ill prisoners within the IDOC segregation units are not receiving adequate mental health care in terms of scope, intensity, and duration.”
The judge also noted IDOC was aware of concerns about its treatment of mentally ill prisoners and “has been deliberately indifferent.”
Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, hailed the ruling as a win not only for mentally ill inmates, but for all Indiana residents.

Alabama’s segregation for inmates with HIV faces court scrutiny

From: Reuters
Sept. 17th 2012

By Verna Gates

(Reuters) – Alabama, one of two U.S. states that segregate inmates with HIV from the rest of their prison population, will seek to defend the policy against a class action lawsuit headed to trial in federal court on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Alabama in 2011 for what the group contends is a discriminatory practice that prevents most HIV-positive inmates from participating in rehabilitation and retraining programs important for their success after prison.

The state says the civil liberties group has failed to prove that there would be no significant risk of the infection being transmitted to other prisoners if inmates with HIV were fully integrated, according to court documents.

An appeals court upheld the segregated housing policy in 1999, but ACLU attorney Margaret Winter said advances in treatment for HIV infection warranted the court taking another look at the practice.

“It is based on an uneducated view on HIV and how it is transmitted, which really goes back to the dark ages of when it first started and there was hysteria,” she said.

South Carolina is the only other U.S. state that houses inmates with HIV away from other prisoners. Mississippi ceased a similar practice in March 2010 and has since integrated inmates with the infection, Winter said.

Two of Alabama’s 29 prisons have dormitories set aside specifically for prisoners with HIV. A handful of prisoners have been allowed to live and work in non-segregated settings in two work-release programs, Winter said.

Approximately 270 inmates out of the 26,400 in the state prison system have tested positive for the virus and none has developed AIDS, according to Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett.

Read the rest here:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/17/us-usa-alabama-hiv-idUSBRE88G0KS20120917

Study lays out costs associated with death penalty in Nevada

The ACLU of Nevada recently highlighted a study conducted by a UNLV professor who found that defending the death penalty in Clark County costs at least $170,000 more than defending cases where life in prison is sought.
Terance Miethe, of UNLV’s department of criminal justice, began the study in January and determined that the 80 pending capital murder cases in Clark County will cost approximately $20 million, according to the report.
Miethe’s research estimates that public defense attorneys have spent double the time, about 2,300 hours, on capital murder cases as opposed to non-capital murder cases, the report says.
According to the study, 35 cases resulting in the death sentence between 2009 and 2011 took, on average, more than three years to complete. The study concluded that life with parole and life without parole cases took 2 to 2 1/2 years, respectively.
Read the rest here
See also the press release on the website of ACLU Nevada here.