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.
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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.

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.

Deaths in Custody – Homicide: Nunuha family sues CCA and state.

This poor man’s murder was preventable – and horrendous. Condolences to his loved ones. I hope you make CCA and the State of Hawai’i pay – it’s the only thing that seems to make these people change how they abuse and neglect other human beings. If you need the support of other prisoners’ families surviving similar traumas, please let me know (Peggy Plews 480-580-6807 prisonabolitionist@gmail.com). I am in Phoenix, AZ.
Arizona State Legislature, Phoenix.
February 15, 2011
—————-from the ACLU of Hawai’i————–

Family of Hawaii Prisoner Murdered in Mainland Prison Files Lawsuit Against State of Hawaii, Corrections Corporation of America

Today the family of Bronson Nunuha, a 26-year-old Hawaii prisoner who was brutally murdered at a Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) (NYSE:CXW) private prison in Arizona in 2010, filed a lawsuit in state court against CCA and the State of Hawaii.  The suit exposes CCA’s business model of grossly short-staffing prisons and cutting corners in every way possible to make its private prisons profitable.  These systemic practices violated fundamental safety requirements and subjected Hawaii prisoners to rampant gang violence in under-staffed prison units.  Bronson Nunuha was just months away from release on a burglary conviction when CCA forced him to share housing with extremely violent, gang-affiliated prisoners in the same unit.  A copy of the complaint is here

“Bronson’s death was senseless and preventable.  CCA and the State of Hawaii needlessly put him in danger,” said attorney Kenneth M. Walczak, who, along with the Human Rights Defense Center and the ACLU of Hawaii, represents the Nunuha family. 

“Private prisons are known to have higher levels of violence due to understaffing and high staff turnover that result from their goal of generating ever-greater profits,” added HRDC director Paul Wright. “But prison companies are not allowed to make profit more important than human life.  Unfortunately, CCA’s desire to turn a corporate profit needlessly cost Bronson Nunuha his life.”

Bronson was transferred to CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona as part of a controversial practice in which Hawaii prisoners are sent to for-profit mainland facilities. He was serving a 5-year sentence for burglary and property damage when he was killed by other prisoners. Bronson, who was only months away from completing his sentence and returning to his family on Oahu, left behind a grieving mother, sisters, and his seven-year-old son. 

Under Hawaii law, the State was required to return Bronson to Hawaii when he had only a year left on his sentence so that he could complete necessary programs to help him re-enter the community.  The State ignored this law.

Bronson was murdered in CCA’s “Special Housing Incentive Program,” or SHIP. The SHIP program places rival gang members and prisoners who do not belong to any gang together in one unit, where they share recreation time and sometimes the same cell.  Predictably, this practice results in violent incidents like Bronson’s murder. Only one CCA employee was present to oversee approximately 50 prisoners in the SHIP unit where Bronson was housed.

While at the CCA prison, Bronson had asked to be removed from the SHIP unit but CCA staff denied his requests.  On February 18, 2010, two gang members attacked Bronson in his cell; the cell door had been opened by a CCA employee, who then left. Bronson was beaten and stabbed over 100 times. His assailants carved the name of their gang into his chest and even had time to leave his cell, shower and change clothes before CCA staff knew that Bronson had been killed. 

One of Bronson’s assailants, Miti Maugaotega, Jr., had previously been involved in several attacks on other prisoners at a different CCA prison. Maugaotega, a gang member, was serving multiple life sentences for attempted murder, rape, and armed robbery. CCA and the State knew that Maugaotega was dangerous and capable of extreme violence but still housed him in the same unit as Bronson, a non-violent offender close to finishing a 5-year sentence.

CCA prisons that house Hawaii prisoners have been plagued with problems. In addition to Bronson’s murder, another Hawaii prisoner, Clifford Medina, was killed at the Saguaro facility in June 2010. In 2009, Hawaii removed all of its female prisoners from CCA’s Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky following a scandal that resulted in at least six CCA employees being charged with rape or sexual misconduct. Other Hawaii prisoners have sued CCA, charging that the company has tolerated beatings and sexual assaults in its mainland prisons, and for refusing to allow them to participate in native Hawaiian religious practices.

“Why the State of Hawaii continues to contract with this company is mystifying, frankly,” said Wright. “After two murders, disturbances, allegations of rampant sexual abuse and a lack of accountability by CCA employees, it’s fairly obvious that CCA is unable or unwilling to safely house Hawaii prisoners, and the State is unable or unwilling to adequately monitor conditions at mainland prisons. Hawaii taxpayers are certainly not getting what they’re paying for.”

ACLU of Hawaii Senior Staff Attorney Dan Gluck added, “the ACLU has long warned the State about the damaging effects of its short-sighted policy of shipping prisoners to the mainland. This tragedy is bound to be repeated unless Hawaii adopts more effective prison policies.” 

Bronson’s family is represented by the San Francisco law firm of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, by HRDC chief counsel Lance Weber, and by the ACLU of Hawaii’s Dan Gluck.  The attorneys ask anyone with information about Bronson’s death – or information about violations of other safety rules at the CCA Saguaro Correctional Facility – to contact them.              
 
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The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents. 

 Rosen Bien & Galvan, LLP has a unique practice blending public interest and private sector litigation.  The firm represents individuals and companies in complex trial and appellate litigation in state & federal courts.

Louisiana Legislature votes to parole some elderly prisoners

From: SF Bay View, June 28th 2011
By Natasha R.

Baton Rouge, La. – The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the passage of a bill in the Louisiana legislature making it easier for elderly prisoners to get a parole hearing as an important step towards reducing the state’s unnecessarily high prison population.

The bill, H.B. 138, passed June 20 by the Louisiana Senate after it was passed two weeks ago by the state’s House of Representatives, will enable some prisoners to go before a parole board upon turning 60 years of age. The board can then decide to grant parole to those individuals who would pose no danger to the community upon release.

“Louisiana should not be using taxpayer dollars to lock up elderly individuals when they pose no danger to our communities,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The state’s legislature deserves credit for tackling the state’s problem of over-incarceration by passing bills like this one.”

Louisiana has the largest incarcerated population of any state in the nation and half of those behind bars in Louisiana are there for non-violent offenses. The state has 1,224 people over the age of 60 locked up, 3 percent of the state’s total prison population.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections estimates that while it costs $19,888 to house a state prisoner for a year, it costs $80,000 to house an ailing inmate.

Research also shows that the likelihood of recidivism drops significantly with age. According to state corrections statistics, only 0.3 percent of those released at age 55 or older recidivate and end up reincarcerated.

With the passage of today’s bill, Louisiana tackled what is a national problem of needlessly incarcerating elderly prisoners. Across the nation, more than 35,000 people over the age of 60 are in prison, or 2.3 percent of the nation’s total prison population.

“Today, more Americans than ever before are unnecessarily and unfairly deprived of their liberty with no benefit to public safety and at great expense to taxpayers,” said Inimai Chettiar, policy counsel with the national ACLU. “Louisiana is to be commended for looking for ways to reduce its bloated prison population, and other states around the country should follow Louisiana’s lead.”

More information about the ACLU of Louisiana is available at www.laaclu.org. More information about the ACLU’s national initiative to combat mass incarceration is available at www.aclu.org/combating-mass-incarceration