On August 7, Texas governor Greg Abbott announced a new package of proposals intended to reform the state’s bail system. Together the collection was named the “Damon Allen Act,” to commemorate a state trooper who was killed in the line of duty last Thanksgiving. During a traffic stop, Trooper Allen was ambushed and fatally shot…

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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an Illinois prisoner’s complaint that frequent lockdowns for substantial periods of time deprived him of exercise and caused him various health problems stated an Eighth Amendment claim. However, the Court found that he failed to state a due process claim concerning the loss of his monthly…

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In an unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s sua sponte dismissal of a California prisoner’s claims that prison officials improperly removed money from his trust account without adequate due process protections. California state prisoner Anthony Brazier filed a federal civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,…

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By Christopher Zoukis

Prisoners incarcerated in both federal and state correctional systems are subject to prison disciplinary codes of conduct through which they can be sanctioned for committing disciplinary code violations.  Often these disciplinary processes are nothing more than a proverbial kangaroo court.  The prisoner is charged with misconduct, issued an incident report (sometimes called a “Disciplinary Report” or informally known as a “Ticket” or a “Shot”), brought before a hearing body consisting of the reporting officer’s peers, found guilty of the alleged prison disciplinary code violation(s), and sanctioned for the alleged conduct.  Sadly, this is not an exaggeration as the process truly is this simple, straightforward and unfortunate.  There are no true judges and juries present, only a colleague or two of the reporting officers who make the guilty/not guilty determination.

With the understanding that almost every prisoner who is charged with disciplinary misconduct will be found guilty of the alleged disciplinary code violation, it is vital for prisoners to know what to do when such issues arise.  They must know what steps to take before even being issued the incident report for the alleged disciplinary code violation and how to intelligently proceed through the various hearings and stages in the disciplinary process.  This article strives to provide a crash course in what to do when faced with a prison disciplinary proceeding and how to slant the odds in the accused’s favor.  The United States Supreme Court has ruled that prisoners have a Due Process Clause right to a fair tribunal of disciplinary matters, vesting them with certain rights, including the right to written notice of a hearing, the right to an impartial tribunal, the right to present evidence, and a written statement of the evidence and findings made at the hearing.  Each prisoner should be aware of these rights and should exercise them whenever they are facing such misconduct allegations.

Tip One: Remain Silent When Charged With Inmate Misconduct

The most important rule of thumb when faced with a prison disciplinary proceeding is to remain silent.  As with traditional law enforcement, prison guards investigating inmate misconduct are not the prisoner’s friends.  They are not there to search for the truth.  They are not impartial fact finders: their job is simply to gather evidence for a conviction of the alleged misconduct.  The best way to handle such prison guards is to remain silent or to only point out facts which support an acquittal.  Most prisoners acknowledge some amount of guilt when speaking with such prison investigators and really hurt their chances at a favorable outcome by doing so.  By remaining silent, this potentially crippling problem can be sidestepped in its entirety.  A mere “I wish to remain silent,” “I have nothing to say at this point in time,” or “I reserve the right to remain silent” is all that needs to be said when confronted with prison disciplinary proceedings.

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Prison disciplinary work is a staple of my practice.  There will always be someone who has recently received an incident report for violating a prison disciplinary regulation, and many will seek counsel as to how to defend against the proceedings.  Truth be told, I like this sort of work.  It allows me to think outside…

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By Christopher Zoukis In another series of court rulings upholding the use of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a prisoner at the federal ADX supermax facility in Florence, Colorado was prohibited from receiving certain publications and communicating with his nieces and nephews. The federal Bureau of Prisons’ use of SAMs originated in a regulation promulgated in 1996 –…

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By Christopher Zoukis The term “jailhouse lawyer” has been a polarizing one for many years.  To some, these men and women are the saviors of those who lack funds or legal wherewithal to mount a collateral attack upon an unjust criminal conviction or sentence.  They are considered the champions of those behind bars whose rights…

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