Wyoming State Prison in dire shape

This was published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, July 16th 2015

Officials say repairs will be very expensive.

By Trevor Brown, WY.Trib Eagle

CHEYENNE – Wyoming could be looking at expensive repairs – perhaps costing tens of millions of dollars – to fix structural problems at the state prison in Rawlins.

Construction officials told the State Building Commission on Wednesday that problems at Wyoming’s only maximum security facility are more widespread and likely more expensive than they previously feared.

A cost estimate to correct the problems is expected in the next month or two.

State officials said they do not want to speculate on the potential cost. But they hinted it could be extreme enough that it might be cheaper to build a new prison instead of repairing the current one. A new facility cost more than $90 million when it was built in 2001.

“If the dollar amount is so huge (to make the repairs), we will have to say, ‘Is it is worth it?'” said Gov. Matt Mead, who chairs the commission.

Bob Kiser is a project manager with the state’s construction management division. He said the 14-year-old facility is only one-third through its estimated lifespan.

But he agreed a “cost evaluation comparison” would have to be made to see if it would be better to make the fixes or just build a new prison.

“That is on our minds at this time,” he said.

The State Penitentiary houses about 650 inmates and has a staff of 336, according to 2012 count by the Department of Corrections.

The state has been monitoring cracks and movement in the walls and floors at several locations in the prison since 2013. But new preliminary investigations have discovered more structural problems in other parts of the prison.

Read the rest here.

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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

Wyo. bill would end life without parole sentences

By BEN NEARY: from: Associated Press.  – SF Chronicle 
Updated 5:20 pm, Thursday, January 17, 2013
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Under a bill proposed Thursday, Wyoming would no longer have a prison sentence of life without parole — a punishment currently reserved for first-degree murder convictions or repeated sex offenses.

The measure would prohibit such sentences in the future and allow the governor to shorten prison terms for inmates facing such time.

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he raised the plan “for the sake of the state.”

“Right now we have about 21 or 22 people in for life without parole, and there will be more,” Burns said. “And at some point, we’re going to have an aged population of people serving life without parole, and the state’s going to be responsible for their medical care.”

Burns said the plan would give the governor the authority to “basically get rid of the state’s responsibility for these people.”

Cheyenne District Attorney Scott Homar opposes the measure, saying that in some cases, particularly when it comes to sex offenses, “There’s just no question that life without the possibility of parole is the only penalty they should get.”

Linda Burt, with the ACLU of Wyoming, said her group might have concerns with Burns’ bill because it could result in more people receiving death sentences.

Burns spoke at a hearing last week in favor of a separate House bill that would prohibit sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

Wyoming must change its law in regard to juvenile offenders in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

The pending House bill would specify that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder must serve at least 25 years before they would be eligible for parole.

“You’re not the same person when you’re 17 that you are at 42,” Burns said. “And I don’t think their maturity is formed enough to, frankly, be responsible for the rest of their lives. The fact is, they’re going to serve at least a minimum of 25 years in prison.”

Burns said he expects his fellow legislators will give his bill “a reasonable reflection.” Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Greene, R-Laramie, declined comment.

Homar, the Cheyenne prosecutor, said the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t taken a formal position on the proposal.

He said, however, that sex offenders who have been convicted three times have likely committed many more crimes.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Wyo-bill-would-end-life-without-parole-sentences-4203737.php#ixzz2IVaxHEEw

ACLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Wyoming Prisoner Retaliated Against For Reporting Abuse

February 24, 2009
Officials At Wyoming State Penitentiary Trumped Up False Charges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

CHEYENNE, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wyoming today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a prisoner at the Wyoming State Penitentiary who was forced into solitary confinement for nearly two months in retaliation for reporting the abuse of a fellow prisoner by prison guards.

Joseph Miller was wrongfully convicted of false disciplinary charges and spent 57 days in isolation after filing a formal complaint with the penitentiary’s warden about physical abuse inflicted upon a prisoner by guards who warned Miller to keep his mouth shut.

The lawsuit also includes a class action claim against the penitentiary’s warden, Michael Murphy, for refusing to release un-redacted copies of prison incident reports and other public documents.

“It is unconscionable that Mr. Miller would be disciplined and forced into solitary confinement simply for reporting the excessive use of force by prison guards against another prisoner,” said Stephan Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “All prisoners have a constitutional right to file complaints as a result of any perceived wrongdoing and those complaints should be treated respectfully and taken seriously. They should never result in a prisoner being subjected to retaliation by prison guards or administrators.”

Miller filed his complaint with Murphy in the aftermath of a verbal argument that broke out between prisoner Ryan Bartlett and a prison guard. Eight guards arrived on the scene moments after the argument began and Bartlett was sprayed in the face with pepper spray. After the guards had forced Bartlett to the ground, shackled his hands behind his back and pressed on his back and neck to prevent him from moving, guard Michael Grubbe appeared to kick Bartlett in the head. When Miller informed Grubbe and guard Lonnie Prindle that he intended to file a complaint, he was told by Grubbe and Prindle to keep his mouth shut or he would be “in trouble.” When Miller reiterated his intention to complain, Prindle told Grubbe to “write him up for calling you a m….. f….. and I’ll witness to it,” according to the complaint, despite the fact that Miller said nothing of the sort. Both guards swore at Miller in an effort to get him to back down.

During Miller’s hearing on the trumped up disciplinary charges, Hearing Officer Clyde Goodman refused to allow Miller to call witnesses on his behalf. Miller was found guilty by Goodman, and his conviction was upheld by Murphy. Miller appealed Murphy’s decision to Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Robert Lampert, who reversed the conviction and ordered that Miller be given a new hearing.

During that new hearing yesterday, three eyewitnesses corroborated Miller’s account and confirmed that guards had threatened to retaliate against him if he reported the guards’ abuse. But despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the hearing officer found Miller guilty.

“The deck has been stacked against Mr. Miller from the very outset,” said Jennifer Horvath, an attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming. “Mr. Miller did the right thing by letting the warden know about abusive conduct of his prison guards. In response, not only were false charges brought against him, but his every attempt to defend himself has been rigged in favor of his being convicted. There is no question that Mr. Miller is the victim of retaliation by prison guards and administrators, and his due process rights have been repeatedly violated.”

Prior to filing today’s lawsuit, Miller requested a copy of the staff reports submitted by guards to the penitentiary’s administration in connection with this incident. The reports he received were all heavily redacted in violation of state and federal law.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, seeks to have all references in Miller’s prison file to the unlawful charges expunged, and a ruling that Miller’s constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment were violated. Miller also is asking the court to rule that the censorship of public documents by prison officials violates state and federal law.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/gen/38806lgl20090224.html

Additional information about the ACLU is available online at: www.aclu.org

Additional information about the ACLU of Wyoming is available online at: www.aclu-wy.org