NZ’s Newest Prison Permits Inmates to Use Cell Phones, Computers, and Tablets

By Christopher Zoukis Excerpt from original article published in The Huffington Post on May 27, 2015. In an era where American prison administrators are losing the battle against illicit cell phone usage in our nation’s prisons and lawmakers are creating draconian criminal statues to punish offenders, New Zealand’s newest prison, the…

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Seventh Circuit: Dismissal due to Nonpayment of Filing Fee Requires Assessment

By Mark Wilson The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in March 2014 that a district court had abused its discretion when it dismissed a prisoner’s suit for failure to pay a filing fee without determining his ability to pay. Indiana prisoner Leonard Thomas filed suit in 2012, alleging inadequate…

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$750,000 Settlement for Washington State Prisoner’s Wrongful Death

By Carrie Wilkinson Although Prison Legal News and its parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), are best known for litigation involving censorship by prison and jail officials, HRDC also co-counsels select other cases, mainly involving wrongful deaths on behalf of prisoners’ surviving family members. As detailed in this…

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Searing Summer Heat Kills Inmates: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Blazes On

By Christopher Zoukis It is important to remember that, even while incarcerated, inmates retain an inviolable set of rights: the right to dignity, health, life, and freedom from cruel, unusual, inhumane, or degrading treatment. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) continues to violate these rights of their inmates by…

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LGBT Month Celebrated in Federal Prison: A Validation for Lives Dismissed

By Christopher Zoukis / Huffington Post At the start of June, pink flyers announcing LGBT Month started appearing around FCI Petersburg, a medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia, where I am incarcerated. The fliers, along with many colorful postings in the Education Department, explained what LGBT means: lesbian, gay, bisexual…

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Malta Prisoner Obtains Partial Pension Benefit

By Christopher Zoukis

Today we have an interesting case out of Malta, where a prisoner is asserting that he is entitled to his full retirement pension benefits even though he is currently incarcerated in a prison.

The story starts in 2003 when a man by the name of Paul Hill attempted to murder Victor Testa by repeatedly beating him in the head with a wooden plank.  Come August 2004, Mr. Hill was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.  Upon appeal, the Court of Appeal reduced Mr. Hill’s sentence to 12 years imprisonment.

Prior to Mr. Hill’s imprisonment, he was an employee of Air Malta.  In 2011, he turned 61, the age his retirement pension would vest.  As such, while in prison, he applied for pension benefits.

While Mr. Hill’s pension application was accepted, a decision was made against him which stated that he would only receive half of his pension while in custody.  This way his wife would be supported while he was in prison, and that upon his release from custody he would receive his full pension benefits.

The case becomes even more convoluted when the Social Security Department uncovered that Mr. Hill’s wife was already receiving an invalid pension.  This resulted in an agreement being struck between the Social Security Department and Mr. Hill’s wife which stipulated that she was ineligible for half of Mr. Hill’s pension.  Since she had already received 9,257 Euros of Mr. Hill’s pension, she agreed to reimburse the Social Security Department with 5 percent of each future payment, until the 9,257 Euros issued to her in error were paid back.

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Illinois DOC’s Failure to Accommodate Disabled Prisoners

By Prison Legal News

In separate decisions, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of two lawsuits filed by disabled state prisoners, finding that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) may have violated their rights under the Rehabilitation Act (RA), while skirting claims raised under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In May 2010, Phillip E. Jaros was sent to the Vandalia Correctional Center (VCC) to serve a two-year sentence for driving on a suspended license.

Medical records indicated that Jaros suffered from several serious physical ailments, including advanced osteoarthritis and vascular necrosis in his right hip. He required a cane to walk, and walking for more than a few minutes made him tired. He suffered chronic, severe pain whether walking, sitting, standing or lying down. Private physicians had recommended a hip replacement.

VCC was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and lacked grab bars for the physically disabled near toilets and in showers and walkways. Two days after his arrival at VCC, Jaros told Teanah Harter, a grievance coordinator, that he required such accommodations. She conceded that VCC was not ADA compliant but told Jaros “to just deal with it,” because the prison’s administrators “did not do” medical transfers. Harter recommended that the warden deny a grievance filed by Jaros on the grounds that he could not be transferred as he had less than a year left to serve.

VCC’s failure to accommodate Jaros’ disability caused him to miss some meals because he could not walk fast enough to the cafeteria. He also limited himself to four showers a month out of fear that he would fall. Further, he alleged he was not approved for work release due to a “medical hold” placed in his file due to his disability.

Following his release, Jaros brought claims under the RA, ADA and Eighth Amendment. The suit was dismissed at the screening stage for failure to state a claim, and he appealed.

The Seventh Circuit held that the district court had properly dismissed the Eighth Amendment claim because “the alleged conditions of Jaros’s confinement did not deprive him of life’s necessities.” The Court of Appeals then turned to the RA and ADA claims.

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PLN Prevails in Challenge to Postcard-only Policy at Oregon Jail

By Prison Legal News

On April 24, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon held that a postcard-only policy at the Columbia County Jail, which restricted mail sent to and from detainees at the facility to postcards, was unconstitutional. The court therefore permanently prohibited enforcement of the policy – the first time that a jail’s postcard-only policy has been struck down following a trial on the merits.

The ruling, by federal judge Michael H. Simon, was entered in a lawsuit against Columbia County and Sheriff Jeff Dickerson filed by Prison Legal News. PLN sued in January 2012 after Columbia County jail employees rejected PLN’s monthly publication and letters sent to detainees. Further, the jail had failed to provide PLN with notice or an opportunity to appeal the jail’s censorship of its materials. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.50].

The rejection of PLN’s publications and letters was attributed to the jail’s postcard-only policy and a policy or practice that prohibited prisoners from receiving magazines. PLN contended that such policies violated its rights under the First Amendment, and that the lack of notice and opportunity to appeal was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

During the litigation the defendants admitted “that inmates have a First Amendment right to receive magazines and inmates and their correspondents have a Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.” However, the jail defended its postcard-only policy and claimed there was no official policy that banned magazines at the jail.

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Prison Law Blog Announces Prison Survival Reports Service; Reader Input Sought

By Christopher Zoukis

For the past several months we at the Prison Law Blog have been searching for ways to better answer your questions about the Federal Bureau of Prisons, prisoners’ rights, and prison survival.  We have been seeking ways to delve more comprehensively into the realm of prison life so that those soon-to-be-incarcerated, those already incarcerated, and  those who work with or know the incarcerated will have better information upon which to understand incarceration and the rights of prisoners. 

In our search for effective information dissemination methodologies, we have increased our publication volume on the Prison Law Blog by coming to content sharing agreements with Prison Legal News, Jean Trounstine’s Justice With Jean blog, and other media outlets (both online and in print).  We have invited guest bloggers — experts in the prison consulting and prison survival realms — to contribute their voices through interviews and articles.  We have even penned a book about prison survival — which is currently being reviewed by literary agents for representation consideration — and are currently working on another book which profiles every institution within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Long story short, we have strived to be innovative, unique, and active in all of our efforts.  We feel that we have succeeded on all three counts.

Now we’re back at it again with our Prison Survival Reports service.  The Prison Survival Reports service is a concept which we have been mentally toying with for quite some time and are now ready to start working on.  We plan on producing downloadable Prison Survival Reports which delve into all areas of the arrest, incarceration, and release arenas.  These reports will cover all manner of criminal justice topics which the Prison Law Blog readership will find of interest.  Several Prison Survival Report topics, which we are considering researching, are as follows:

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