Accused of Stealing a Backpack, High School Student Jailed for Nearly Three Years Without Trial

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

On the evening of May, 15, 2010, 17-year-old Kalief Browder had no idea his life was about to change. The chain of events that led to Browder’s bizarre life change began when he and his friend were walking through the Bronx coming home from a party and were stopped by police. Browder soon found himself surrounded by a police squad with a spot light blinding him. You would have thought he was being accused of murder, but in actuality he was framed for stealing a back pack.

The police informed Browder and his friend that a Mexican individual claimed they stole his back pack. Browder revealed to the police his personal items in the back pack he carried and insisted he did not steal the back pack. A police officer stepped away to speak with the alleged victim who was sitting in a police car. When he returned he informed Browder the accuser had changed his story to indicate his back pack was stolen a few weeks ago. Apparently, the information was enough to warrant a trip to the Bronx precinct. The police officer promised Browder his visit to the precinct would be short lived, but the nightmare was just beginning.

Browder was interrogated and strongly encouraged to take a plea deal if he wanted to go home soon. Browder adamantly refused to accept a plea bargain and insisted on his innocence. His friend was released, but Browder was retained because he was currently on probation for being present during an auto-theft and accident. Bail was set at $3000, which Browder’s family was unable to post.

Browder was soon on his way to Rikers Island. He was held without bail while the case literally crawled through the system. Browder was continually pressured to plea out, but he didn’t give in because he was innocent. Browder was adamant about getting a trial to prove his innocence, but every time he went before the judge the trial was delayed for various reasons. One of the main reasons for a trial failing to transpire was the overload of cases in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, which was clogging-up the court system, making it impossible for a short staffed judicial system to deliver. 

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Visitors Fingerprinted at Alabama Prisons

By Prison Legal News

Alabama’s prison system is the first – and currently only – in the nation to require visitors to be fingerprinted. In late 2012, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) implemented the new policy due to what officials claimed was a need for greater efficiency. A new computer system had the capacity to scan fingerprints, something the old system was not able to do. The fingerprinting procedure was “part of the upgrade” and the brainchild of the ADOC’s IT department, according to prison system spokesman Brian Corbett.

The old system required guards to review each visitor’s driver’s license to verify their identity before allowing them into a state prison.

“That was a time-consuming task,” Corbett told the Montgomery Advertiser. “Now, the verification process is much faster, so visitors are moved through the process much faster.”

“We still require visitors to have a government-issued photo ID, and that requirement will remain in place,” he added. “But there are times when someone else resembles the photo on an ID. Scanning the fingerprint of visitors verifies they are who they say they are.”

The program prompted an immediate response from the American Civil Liberties Union. David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, didn’t buy the ADOC’s purported security concerns.

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Two Murders in Seven Months at CCA-run Prison in Tennessee

By Prison Legal News

On May 23, 2014, the Medical Examiner’s Office in Nashville completed an autopsy report on Tennessee state prisoner Jeffery Sills, 43, who was murdered at the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Wayne County on March 28. The facility is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.

Sills’ death was classified as a homicide caused by “blunt and sharp force injuries.” He was allegedly beaten and stabbed to death by his cellmate, Travis Bess, who was later transferred to the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Jeffery Sills was at least the second prisoner murdered at the CCA-run prison since September 1, 2013, when Gerald Ewing, 28, was killed during a series of fights at the facility. Comparably, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction there were no homicides at state-run prisons in calendar year 2013 and to date this year.

Jeffery Sills’ death was particularly brutal, according to the autopsy report. He suffered lacerations, abrasions and contusions to his head and neck, fractured cheek and nasal bones, cutting and stab/puncture wounds, and hemorrhages in the “posterior cervical spinal muscles” and “skeletal muscle of back and intercostal muscles of posterior thorax.”

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Ninth Circuit: Damages Required for Compelled Religious-Based Treatment

By Mark Wilson

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that damages are required, as a matter of law, when a parolee is incarcerated for objecting to compelled participation in a religious-based drug treatment program.

Citing “uncommonly well-settled case law,” the Court of Appeals found in 2007 that the First Amendment is violated when the state coerces an individual to attend a religious-based substance abuse program. See: Inouyev.Kemna, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007).

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) contracts with Westcare, a private entity, to provide drug and alcohol treatment for parolees in Northern California. Westcare, in turn, contracts with Empire Recovery Center, a non-profit facility. “Empire uses a 12-step recovery program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that includes references to ‘God’ and to ‘higher power.’”

Barry A. Hazle, Jr., an atheist, was incarcerated due to California drug convictions. His parole conditions required him to complete a 90-day residential drug treatment program.

Prior to his February 26, 2007 release from prison, Hazle had asked prison and Westcare officials to place him in a non-religious treatment program. Westcare officials directed Hazle to Empire.

When Hazle realized Empire was a religious-based program, he repeatedly objected to Westcare officials. They responded “that the only alternative to Empire was a treatment facility whose program had an even greater focus on religion.”

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Exploitation Inspires a Better Publisher

By: Anthony Tinsman

Best Selling author Kevin Bullock hadn't ever written anything before serving time in federal prison. His first novel Daddy Dearest was published by Triple Crown Press in 2003, after serving two years. Daddy Dearest became a hit with the well-known Urban Market publisher and launched his career. Two more novels rapidly followed but Bullock soon found himself in a legal argument with Triple Crown. Their ambiguous contracts had not been reviewed by IP (Intellectual Property) Attorneys and there was no means for mediation or re-negotiation once Triple Crown failed to report sales or pay royalties on time. It got so flagrant that Bullock threatened suits against the publisher until they relinquished all rights, and ceased printing his books in 2004. He decided to avoid publishers and incorporated Isness Publishing LLC, in Durham, NC., with his sister. Bullock’s fans followed eagerly. 

Bullock’s criminal career was peppered with minor offences until his arrest in 2002. The federal indictment promised time in prison, 90 percent of all federal offenders receive a sentence of imprisonment (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2012, Sourcebook). Rather than dwell on what could not be changed, Bullock used his time to take a new direction. Writing had always interested him. But his success continued to attract less savory characters as well. In 2013, after self-publishing 15 novels and enjoying good fan support and family stability, Bullock received more bad news about Daddy Dearest, yet again. Someone had pirated his work and was stealing his customers.

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