April 2017 News Briefs

Vermont — Disability Rights Vermont filed a lawsuit in federal court in February, alleging that some state prisons are holding inmates in segregation even when it puts the inmate in danger. The lawsuit claims a man is in solitary confinement despite extensive and significant histories of self-harming behavior, particularly when put in segregation, reports Elizabeth Murray, Burlington Free Press. DRV is asking for a permanent order that mandates appropriate medical treatment settings whenever an inmate needs to be separated from general population inmates.

Boise, Idaho — The trial in a lawsuit by former inmates against the nation’s largest private prison company, CoreCivic — formerly called Corrections Corporation of America — began in February. The lawsuit claims that CCA purposely understaffed the prison in an effort to boost profits in what they dubbed a “ghost worker” scheme, and the understaffing led to an attack in which the plaintiffs were stabbed and beaten by other inmates, The Associated Press reports. The allegations against CCA include that company officials, including the vice president, knew that the understaffing was compromising safety of inmates and staff and that the understaffing meant the prison was often in violation of its $29 million annual contract with the state. The CCA lawyer explained that the inmates were not hurt that badly in the surprise attack and that they could have hidden in their cells but instead wanted to fight. He said the unit where the inmates were housed was actually staffed by more employees than was required under CCA’s contract with Idaho on the day of the attack. On Feb. 23, a federal jury found that CoreCivic had a longstanding custom of understaffing the prison, and the company was deliberately indifferent to the risk of serious harm that’s posed to inmates. However, jurors also found CoreCivic doesn’t have to pay damages because the inmates who sued failed to prove the understaffing happened in the hours before they were attacked by a prison gang.

Columbus, Ohio — (SAT Press Release) Planned changes to the state’s administrative rules include limiting solitary confinement to 30 days for all individuals with serious mental illness, juveniles and pregnant women, according to an SAT press release. Disability Rights of Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union said the changes are an important first step but do not go far enough.

Gainesville, Fla. — Families Against Mandatory Minimums praised the introduction of legislation designed to reform the state’s drug laws. The law builds on previous legislation that raised trafficking thresholds for certain drugs, reduced mandatory sentences for certain drug trafficking offenses, and allowed departures from mandatory minimum sentences for lower-level drug offenses.

Phoenix, Ariz. — (2-16-17) One-time Death Row inmate turned prisoner-rights advocate Shujaa Graham performed Life After Death Row at the Herberger Theater, Eric Newman of The Arizona Republic reports. The performance is about Graham’s 11-year experience in the California prison system, part of which included time spent on Death Row for a wrongful murder conviction. Born in Louisiana, Graham grew up on a plantation in the segregated South of the 1950s. After moving to Southern California, he spent much of his youth in juvenile institutions and was sent to Correctional Training Facility in Soledad upon turning 18. Graham taught himself to read and write and studied history. He later became a leader of the Black Prison Movement within the California prison system as the Black Panther Party expanded.

Harrisburg, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a new $25 per resident fee on municipalities relying on state police coverage. Over half of the state’s 2,500 municipalities rely full-time on state police protection.

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