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 The policy was later rescinded.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The mail policy at issue that Cook initially protested, and that was ultimately withdrawn after the ACLU intervened, barred family members from ordering books or magazine subscriptions for inmates.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.
Advertisements

RI Second In Nation For Prison Inmate Spending

From:
Go Local Providence

Friday, June 03, 2011
Chip Young, Senior Editor

Rhode Island ranks second in the U.S. in annual spending on prison inmates per year.

With a three-year contract with the RI Brotherhood of Correctional Officers in place until June 30, 2012, it is unlikely that costs will go down. And despite a gradually decreasing incarceration rate, the cost per inmate may actually go up, according to RI Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall.

Only Maine pays more for the care and feeding of their prison population, according to the National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons.

At approximately $43,000 per year, per inmate, the total cost for the RI inmate population comes to nearly $150 million per year as of 2010, according to Wall.
Personnel Costs Run High

In 2010, the Adult Correctional Institutions had an average population of 3,300 inmates, down from 4,000 in 2008.

“Over 80 percent of our costs are personnel-related,” said Wall. “This involves intense supervision at all our facilities, around the clock. And 80 percent of that is “direct supervision” employees (essentially corrections officers).”

Average salary for the COs is $56,610, and there are currently 829 on the books, 61 percent of the total DOC staff. They work three regular shifts, with varied numbers based upon time of day. There is also a shift from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. that is required for handling of visitors and inmate recreation.

Read the rest here

Open Records Suit filed against Department of Corrections over Policies governing Pregnant Prisoners

This comes from the ACLU:

FEBRUARY 1, 2010

The Rhode Island ACLU and the R.I. Chapter of the National Organization for Women have today filed an open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections (DOC), contesting the agency’s refusal to release its policies relating to the use of restraints on women prisoners when they are in labor, delivering a baby or in post-delivery recuperation. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Neal McNamara and Jillian Folger-Hartwell, seeks a court order releasing the requested documents, imposition of a fine and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Issues surrounding the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners by correctional institutions have been the subject of recent public debate nationwide. In an effort to examine the propriety of Rhode Island’s practices, the RI ACLU filed an open records request last September with the DOC to obtain its policies and procedures on the subject. Citing “security” reasons, however, the Department refused to release the documents. The DOC did acknowledge, though, that most pregnant women are handcuffed while being transported to, and while in bed recovering from labor at, the hospital.

The lawsuit notes that RI NOW and RI ACLU “share an interest in reviewing and analyzing the requested [DOC] policies and procedures and advocating for changes to them in order to better promote the health, safety and well-being of pregnant women prisoners,” but have been precluded from doing so due to the DOC’s refusal to release the documents.

For the Complete article click Here

ACLU objects to Request by ICE to be dropped from Lawsuit over Death of Immigrant Detainee

This comes from the ACLU:

MARCH 3, 2010

The Rhode Island ACLU objected today to attempts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be dropped from the federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the family of a detainee who died while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, the 34-year-old Chinese detainee, died in August 2008 after complaining for months to prison officials about being in excruciating pain. Guards and medical personnel at Wyatt continually accused Ng of faking his illness and denied him medical care, and he was only diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and a broken spine less than a week before he died.

The lawsuit claims that ICE had legal custody over Ng and knew of violations of his constitutional and statutory rights but did not act to stop them. In a hearing on Wednesday, the lawyer for ICE argued that the federal agency cannot be held responsible for the way corrections officers, medical staff and prison officials at the Wyatt treated Ng because ICE had contracted out the work to the Wyatt and so it was their responsibility to provide care for Ng.

For Complete Article click Here