In prison, Norway’s worst modern mass murderer complains of having to play outdated video games [EuroNews, Lowering the Bar, earlier on his 2012 complaint about not being allowed moisturizer]
One would think the whole concept of the union-backed “correctional officers’ bill of rights” might have been thrown into disrepute by last year’s Maryland scandal, in which the statute was found to have entrenched problem guards even as the Baltimore jail descended into a scandalous state of gang-run corruption. But apparently not: the Pennsylvania House has unanimously (!) voted in favor of having that state adopt its own such “bill of rights,” weakening administrators’ power to investigate possible officer misconduct. Details of H.B. 976 here.
An inmate serving a long term at Solano state prison in California “has filed a lawsuit against a Sacramento-area car-repair-shop owner asking for $15,000 in damages for the lost use of his transmission.” While a 1996 federal law places limits on suits by federal prisoners, inmates in state prison systems like California’s, what with indulgent filing rules and plenty of time on their hands, “can tie up the court system with cases that would strike most anyone as frivolous. Their court fees are typically paid for by California taxpayers.” [Steven Greenhut, San Diego Union-Tribune]
Or would it instead be a human rights violation to let hunger-striking inmates starve? Or maybe both? Debra Saunders quotes my puzzlement at “the emotional atmospherics of hunger strikes, in which people are using other people’s morality as a weapon against them.” [San Francisco Chronicle/ syndicated]
And more litigation besides: “[Steven] Phillips sued a lawyer who billed him more than $1 million for lobbying lawmakers to increase the compensation for exonerees. And another ex-wife is seeking to recover child support that went unpaid during his years in prison. He said that he has spent at least $300,000 on lawyers since he was freed and that despite the compensation [package valued at $6 million], he has struggled to keep his business afloat.” [Texas Tribune] The “last thing a guy freed from 24 years of wrongful imprisonment needs is more time in court.” [Scott Greenfield]
Justin Caldwell Somers, in jail for not paying a jaywalking fine, brutally murdered his sleeping cellmate by stomping him to death on the cement floor, but was found not criminally responsible because he had been acting under the influence of delusions and hallucinations. Now he is suing various personnel of the remand center for not preventing the incident, in part by not heeding the recommendation of a nurse and psychiatrist that he be housed alone: since the murder Somers “has experienced severe mental anguish and mental distress as a result of his role in causing the death of Mr. Stewart, as well as a result of the conditions of his incarceration.” [Edmonton Journal]
Last month 13 guards and 12 others were indicted on charges of letting a gang effectively take over management of the Baltimore City Detention Center; according to the indictment, corrupt guards allegedly smuggled in drugs, cellphones and other contraband and had sex with the gang leader, several becoming pregnant by him. Since then the public and press has been asking what went wrong. A Washington Post editorial suggests one place they might look:
The absurd situation described in the indictment took root at least partly because of a “bill of rights” for corrections officers, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2010 at the behest of the guards union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This bill of rights grants extraordinary protections to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing.
While Gov. O’Malley has sought to minimize the relevance of the 2010 law, the Post notes that FBI recordings suggest that a guard who was deemed “dirty” was transferred to another facility, rather than fired — transfers-instead-of-firing being a less than optimal way of dealing with public employee corruption, but one typical of systems with strong tenure entrenchment. AFSCME, which boasted at the time of its “relentless lobbying” on behalf of the law, is now doing damage control. More: “those protections left officers at the jail without fear of sanctions for allegedly smuggling contraband or having relationships with inmates, the FBI said in an affidavit.” [Baltimore Sun] Union-allied lawmakers defend the measure [AP]
“Nearly 18 years after a man was convicted of murder, he filed a lawsuit against the murdered victim’s family.” [KING 5; Tacoma, Wash.] Larry Shandola alleged that Paula Henry, widow of the murder victim, had said defamatory things about him, impeding a prison transfer to his native Canada. A judge in the state of Washington has now dismissed the suit. [National Post]
An inmate filing pro se gets certiorari, then follows through with a unanimous nine-Justice SCOTUS win, Thomas, J., correcting the Third Circuit. Credit Justice Alito? [Max Kennerly]
“[Keith Allen] Brown and four other inmates at Idaho’s Kuna facility are suing major beer companies, blaming their crimes on alcoholism and claiming that the companies are responsible because they don’t warn consumers that their products are addictive.” The laudatory Nicholas Kristof column practically writes itself, though one should note that the inmates “do not have attorneys and drafted the lawsuit themselves.” [Idaho Statesman]
How a seemingly unlikely assortment of libertarians, religious conservatives and small-government advocates have been helping to turn around the debate on incarceration. [David Dagan and Steven Teles, Washington Monthly]
Another milestone in chutzpah, this time from the perpetrator of last year’s politically motivated atrocity in Norway. “Perhaps they have moisturizer in Hell, sir, although one thinks it unlikely.” [Lowering the Bar]
“A group of Westchester County Jail inmates will have to fight their own legal battle for access to dental floss, a federal judge has ruled. …the 11 Westchester inmates… sued the county Sept. 10 for $500 million because they were denied access to dental floss.” [Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, White Plains Journal-News]
“The Cook County Board on Tuesday agreed to pay more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle a federal lawsuit brought by female County Jail inmates who said their civil rights were violated during repeated weekend lockdowns at the massive detention facility. The bulk of the settlement — $850,000 — will go to attorneys who represented the four inmates in the nine-year court case. Two inmates won federal judgments totaling $143,000, and the county opted to pay two others $5,000 to end the suit. … In addition to the $1 million settlement, the county spent at least $732,144 over the years to pay an outside firm to defend it against the suit, according to county records.” The plaintiffs had failed in a bid for class action status. [Chicago Tribune]