States Study Use of Fentanyl as Execution Drug

By Christopher Zoukis

Faced with pharmaceutical supplier refusals, states are having serious difficulty obtaining the lethal drugs used for current execution protocols, so they are increasingly examining alternatives — including fentanyl, the synthetic drug that is in large part responsible for the nation’s deadly opioid epidemic.

Nevada and Nebraska have developed execution protocols including fentanyl, and plan to employ them early in 2018.

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Girlfriend’s Kiss Proves Lethal for Oregon Inmate

By Christopher Zoukis

Anthony Powell was a 41-year-old inmate at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem serving a life sentence for an aggravated murder conviction for fatally stabbing his mother-in-law. In June last year, he received a “privileged contact” visit from his girlfriend Melissa Ann Blair.

Thought to help promote family stability, privileged contact visits allow inmates and visitors to share some physical contact, such as holding hands, cradling small children, or exchanging brief hugs and kisses at the start and end of a visit. Shortly before leaving Powell, Blair planted a lingering kiss on his mouth.

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Taser Use Implicated in Deaths of Over 20 Inmates

y Christopher Zoukis

In “Shock Tactics,” a six-part series of articles published between August and early December, Reuters news service takes a critical look at use of Taser stun guns, their connection with deaths, and related litigation.

A part of the series delves into use of the device to control inmates in state and local prisons and jails. The investigation into the device, which uses a pair of dart-tipped wires to deliver a strong pulsed electric shock, examined official reports, autopsies, wrongful death lawsuits by relatives of fatally shocked individuals, payments made by governments, and interviews with academics, manufacturing officials, lawyers, and people who survived Taser shocks.

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Latest Louisiana Public Defenders Funding Problem: No Lawyers for Death Penalty Defendants

By Christopher Zoukis

In its 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges have a fundamental right to counsel, even if they are unable to pay.

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Audit: Louisiana Loses Track of Some Inmates’ Whereabouts

By Christopher Zoukis

Whatever else a state prison system knows about its inmates, you’d think it ought to be able, at a minimum, to tell you where they are, and for how long.

But a recent report entitled Management of Offender Data: Processes for Ensuring Accuracy, by the Louisiana legislature’s auditor will quickly dispel that expectation where the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is concerned.

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St. Louis Workhouse Inmates Sue over “Hellish” Conditions

By Christopher Zoukis

Claiming a variety of problems at their former place of incarceration created “unspeakably hellish and inhumane conditions,” seven former inmates (two of whom shielded their identities with pseudonyms) of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the “Workhouse,” filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on Nov. 13.

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Body Cameras Catch Evidence of Police Misconduct

By Christopher Zoukis

Body-worn cameras, being adopted by increasing numbers of police departments, have prompted divided opinion among both law enforcement agencies and civil liberties groups. Some voice concern over possible invasion of the privacy of those whose images are captured, while others argue the cameras can provide useful evidence and make police actions more transparent.

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Law Revisions Bring Early Release for About 1,900 Inmates in Louisiana

By Christopher Zoukis

New laws taking effect Nov. 1 brought early release for about 1,900 inmates from local jails and state prisons in Louisiana, the state with the nation’s highest incarceration rate.

The move is a direct result of the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Act, a package of 10 measures enacted by the state legislature with support from both parties and signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on June 15.

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Employee May Have Stolen Fajitas Worth Over $1.2 Million

by Christopher Zoukis

There doesn’t seem to be much exceptional about Cameron County, the southernmost county in Texas. Its population in the 2010 census was at about 400,000. There are about 100 juveniles in the custody of the county’s juvenile justice department, based in Brownsville. But that county may have set a record likely to stand for some time: the amount its juvenile department spent on fajitas over the past nine years — well over $1.25 million.

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Asthmatic Inmate’s Suit Bans Smoking in Missouri Prisons

By Christopher Zoukis

To settle long-running litigation, including a jury verdict of $111,000 against state corrections officials, Missouri has agreed to ban smoking in all 22 of its prison facilities by next April. In an order issued Sept. 21, a federal judge issued an order embodying the agreement to make all the state’s correctional facilities entirely smoke-free by April 1 next year.

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BOP Slammed on Refusal to Evacuate Hurricane Harvey-Hit Prison

Inmates at federal and state prisons in Beaumont, TX, which  flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, were not initially evacuated, despite conditions including losing water supply for a week. 

Inmates at federal and state prisons in Beaumont, TX, which  flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, were not initially evacuated, despite conditions including losing water supply for a week. 

By Christopher Zoukis

After Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas Aug. 25 and devastated Houston, it wreaked further havoc on the southeastern corner of Texas. Included in that damage was the city of Beaumont, home to about 120,000 residents, plus three federal prisons and three state ones.

Although rising floodwaters disrupted the municipal water system citywide for around a week by knocking out both its primary pumping station and its backup source of water, and evacuations were ordered or recommended in Beaumont and some surrounding areas, the federal prisoners remained in place. That decision, together with rumors of dire conditions at the Beaumont Correctional Complex, drew waves of criticism aimed at Bureau of Prisons (BOP) managers.

The most serious, but least verified, allegation made about conditions at the Beaumont federal prison complex came from the spouse of an inmate, who told the Trotskyite ezine Left Voice she learned from an email sent by the wife of another inmate that two Beaumont prisoners had died due to the storm. BOP officials flatly denied that, and follow-up accounts in more mainstream press outlets reported they had tried but failed to obtain names of the supposedly deceased inmates from inmate families spreading that rumor. The spouse who first aired the rumor of inmate deaths also said her husband had told her in a phone call that Beaumont inmates had been held in lockup for five straight days, in cells invaded by flood water. BOP officials admitted parts of the federal prison complex had been inundated, but denied any inmate housing had been affected.

Other complaints passed on in emails from inmates and their families included power outages, lack of adequate sanitation and air conditioning, limited drinking water and hot meals, and being unable to flush toilets, shower or get clean laundry for about a week. They also griped that widespread roadway flooding in the Beaumont area prevented many prison staffers from making it into work during the worst parts of the flooding, hurting the availability of healthcare services.

On Sept. 11, a lengthy letter, prepared by a “legal response team” of the Prisoners Legal Advocacy Network (PLAN), run by the Delaware-New Jersey chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was hand-delivered to the BOP regional director in Grand Prairie, Texas. It was also sent to BOP headquarters and the Beaumont warden. Besides containing allegations of hardships suffered by Beaumont inmates and demands for improvements, the letter contained statements from five Beaumont inmates and one inmate’s spouse. PLAN said it was also working on a filing to detail unconstitutional conditions at the three state penal facilities within Beaumont city limits, none of which was evacuated.

Joining the controversy, CNN commentator Van Jones, a former Obama staffer, filed an opinion piece, unfavorably comparing inmate protections against the extreme weather conditions to efforts to evacuate the animals in Houston’s zoo and animal shelters. And Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a longtime House member who represents a district running from San Antonio to Austin (but not including Beaumont), announced on Sept. 11 he had sent a request to BOP seeking information on the “actions… undertaken to protect” both inmates and staff, and to “restore the facility to pre-disaster conditions.”

This article first appeared on Blogcritics. 

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.

Escape Demonstrates Unreliability of Prison Transport

By Christopher Zoukis

On Aug. 22, a private extradition company’s van was relocating inmates to various midwestern institutions when two inmates, Andrew Foy and Darren Walp, overpowered one guard (the other guard was dozing). They relieved the guards of their cash, offloaded the pair and other prisoners, and took off in the company’s van.

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Lawsuit Challenges NJ Bail Reform Law

By Christopher Zoukis

He’s probably not the first name you’d think of when hearing a celebrity is taking a stand against a New Jersey criminal law, bur cable-channel reality star Duane Chapman, better known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” was recently on the steps of the federal courthouse in Trenton, NJ, decrying what he sees as the evil effects of the state’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, which took effect at the start of this year.

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Burglar Pays Price for Forgetting to Flush

 

By Christopher Zoukis

 

If you search your memory, you’ll probably find the one of the earliest, longest-lasting (and for most, now automatic) lessons you learned came from a parent instructing you in mechanics and ethics of bathroom behavior.

But because he apparently failed to recall or act on those early lessons, Andrew David Jensen, a 42-year-old man from Ventura, California, is being held in pre-trial custody in the Ventura County jail, unable to raise $180,000 bail, and is awaiting trial.

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California’s controversial parole overhaul advances

By Christopher Zoukis

California corrections officials are revamping the state’s parole system, aiming to make thousands more inmates eligible for early release.

Last November, by a nearly 2-1 margin, California voters approved Proposition 57, a ballot initiative seeking to trim the state prison system’s population by 11,500 over the next four years.

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