College for Convicts wins prestigious literary award


book award.png

Incarcerated writer Christopher Zoukis 
proves the case for Prisoner Education

Petersburg, VA - Eric Hoffer was a moral and social philosopher who was lauded as one of America’s free thinking writers and a champion for the underclass of working men. It’s interesting that a writer who is currently behind bars in FCI Petersburg has won an Eric Hoffer award - since his free thinking thoughts can be tough to get out of the prison system.

College for Convicts - The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons, published by McFarland & Company, has been awarded the Montaigne Medal for most thought-provoking book. His book advocates that while it may seem expensive to educate prisoners, the resulting drop in recidivism is worthwhile.

“It’s quite an honor for my book to receive the Montaigne Medal - given that it was named after Michel De Montaigne, who was passionate about education and the way it was taught. He believed in individualized learning so that everyone could benefit. That’s exactly what I hope to convey in my book,” says Zoukis.

"Incarcerated author Zoukis gives excellent examples to demonstrate that the US would benefit from higher education for inmates by preparing them for life after prison. The author cites statistics showing prisoners with higher education have a much lower recidivism rate, reducing prison overcrowding and saving society billions. The book ends with important appendices on the FBP's position, on becoming pen pals with prisoners, funding, free book, & more. A strongly suggested purchase. Highly recommended. All public & academic levels/libraries." - M. G. Meacham of Valdosta State University

Zoukis is a prison rights advocate who won the 2011 PEN American Center Prison Writing Award for two works, and is a member of the American Bar Association, National Writers Union and the American Civil Liberties Union. He contributes to the Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, and Blog Critics. For more information, visit


To book an interview contact:
Rachel Sentes, Publicist, 604-366-7846

Incarcerated Writer Christopher Zoukis Vindicated!

All Incident Reports Overturned and Expunged

By Middle Street Publishing



It is with great pride and joy that we at Middle Street Publishing share the terrific news that embattled prison writer Christopher Zoukis has been vindicated once again! He's now back available via email and can again make telephone calls from Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg following his victorious fight with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The History: The 2012 Incident Reports

In 2012, Chris was issued three incident reports for allegedly conducting a business. The alleged business was the free "Education Behind Bars Newsletter" (EBBN). Prison staff, led by Special Investigation Supervisor (SIS) Department agents, decided that the free EBBN was a business because the publisher accepted donations and advertisements to help defray her costs. Rather unsurprisingly, those involved with the publication disagreed.

As a result of the incident reports, Chris was confined to the FCI Petersburg Special Housing Unit (SHU) for five months and had his email and telephone restricted for over a year. While in the hole he managed to dodge a retaliatory transfer to USP Lee, a maximum-security federal prison. As a result of the ongoing harassment and retaliatory actions by FCI Petersburg staff, Chris and his family retained the services of renowned criminal defense attorneys Alan Ellis and Todd Bussert. Together they fought the BOP back into their corner. While it took some time, all three of the incident reports were eventually overturned on appeal and Chris' record was expunged.

Recent Events: The 2014 Incident Reports

In late 2014 Chris was again subjected to a series of retaliatory incident reports for his writing endeavors. This time SIS agents issued him four incident reports for allegedly conducting a business. The business this time included writing articles for "The Huffington Post," inquiring about the number of Facebook likes and Twitter tweets that his articles receive, asking a friend to start printing and mailing him his "Prison Legal News" writing assignments, offering to help a fellow prisoners' rights activist update his prison survival guide, and obtaining his own personal credit reports. For this he was sanctioned to nine months loss of email, six months loss of telephone, and three months loss of commissary and visitation.

As in 2012, Chris again retained the services of attorneys Alan Ellis and Todd Bussert. This time he also retained noted First Amendment attorneys Steve Rosenfield and Jeff Fogel. After seven months of fighting the Federal Bureau of Prisons, all of the adverse findings were overturned on appeal and Chris' record once again cleared.

The Path From Here

With Chris back in daily communications with us we proceed forward with our prison education and prisoners' rights advocacy. While we had to slow down somewhat due to communications being delayed, we can now push forward and make 2015 the year that it is meant to be. For this means a new series of research papers and possibly a more robust section on in-prison and correspondence education programs for prisoners. For this means a new, online directory of federal prisons which will provide information on every federal prison, along with a new design by the team at MKT Communications. And for this means regular postings profiling Chris' reform and publication efforts.

As for Chris, while he's still under many levels of monitoring (after all, all of his emails, postal mail, and telephone calls are now monitored by SIS staff), he's looking forward to June when his next book, "Correspondence Courses for Prisoners," will be released by Prison Legal News Publishing. He's also looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and preparing for a series of interviews with CBS, NBC, and several websites and podcasts. In his words, "It's time to do what we do best: push forward and raise our voices for our brothers and sisters behind bars who don't have a voice loud enough to raise above the din of prison censorship."

We couldn't agree more.

Fifth Circuit: Sleep Deprivation May Violate Eighth Amendment

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Matt Clarke

In an unpublished ruling, the Fifth Circuit held on April 1, 2014 that a Texas prisoner’s sleep deprivation-based challenge to the security schedule used by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) may state a valid claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Michael Garrett, incarcerated at the TDCJ’s McConnell Unit, filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against prison officials, alleging that the TDCJ’s schedule deprived him of a minimum six hours of sleep per night; the prison’s use of cameras in the toilet and dressing areas of his dorm unit was an invasion of privacy; and the prison failed to conform to ADA standards. A federal magistrate, who was presiding over the case with the permission of the parties, dismissed the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and Garrett appealed.

The Fifth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the privacy and ADA claims. In doing so it noted that under the ADA, prison officials must make reasonable accommodations or modifications for disabled prisoners regardless of when the facility was constructed, but Garrett failed to allege that the prison had not made such an accommodation or modification for his vertigo. Since his ADA complaint alleged a lack of handrails or safety bars in his dorm unit, he also should have explained why he never requested a transfer to a cell block where medical showers with such accommodations were available.

Addressing the sleep deprivation claim, the Court of Appeals noted Garrett’s allegation that the prison’s schedule of lights out at 10:30 p.m. and breakfast call at 2:30 a.m. allowed for only four hours of sleep, which was interrupted by guards conducting “head counts.” The Court observed that sleep is one of life’s basic needs, and therefore “conditions designed to prevent sleep may violate the Eighth Amendment.”

According to an article in Popular Science, studies have shown that acute sleep deprivation causes mental impairment and can boost hunger-stimulating hormones, leading to obesity, while “chronic sleep of five or fewer hours over a 10-year period is associated with a 45% elevated risk of heart attack” and increases the likelihood of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, ADHD, alcoholism and mood disorders.

The appellate court wrote the magistrate judge had relied on the unpublished case of Walker v. Nunn, 456 Fed.Appx. 419 (5th Cir. 2011) in dismissing Garrett’s sleep deprivation claim. However, the opinion in that case, which was decided on summary judgment with a developed record, contained no indication of how many hours of sleep were allowed and thus did not bar Garrett’s specific claim of having only four hours of sleep per night. The magistrate judge also erred by stating Garrett would have to prove a physical injury in order to prevail, due to the physical injury requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Garrett was not required to show a physical injury as he was seeking only injunctive relief, not monetary damages.

The Fifth Circuit further noted that in Harper v. Showers, 174 F.3d 716 (5th Cir. 1999) [PLN, Dec. 1999, p.23], it had previously held sleep deprivation could constitute cruel and unusual punishment, and a sister circuit had made a similar finding in Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119 (2d Cir. 2013) [PLN, May 2014, p.21].

The appellate court therefore affirmed the dismissal of Garrett’s privacy and ADA claims but reversed the dismissal of his sleep deprivation claim, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Garrett appeared pro se on appeal after the Fifth Circuit declined to appoint counsel to represent him. See: Garrett v. Thaler, 560 Fed.Appx. 375 (5th Cir. 2014).

The case remains pending before the district court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. The defendants have alleged that Garrett failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies as he did not complete a Step 2 appeal in the grievance process after his initial grievance was deemed “not grievable,” and on October 1, 2014 the magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the case on that basis.


Additional source: Popular Science

(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)

Federal Court Caseloads Threaten Constitutional Protections

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Matt Clarke

Civil and criminal case filings in federal courts have grown dramatically over the past two decades, but at the same time the number of judges available to hear them has barely increased according to a report by researchers at Syracuse University. As a result, the study concluded, if Congress fails to act to solve the problem, large caseloads threaten to jeopardize Constitutional protections of equal justice under the law and the right to a speedy trial.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University released a report on October 23, 2014 which found that over the past 20 years, from 1993 to 2013, the growth in the number of federal court filings has slowed the judicial process to a point where it now takes nearly two-thirds longer for civil cases to go to trial.

“For civil matters, the substantially higher workloads and increased processing times have major economic and social consequences,” the study noted. “This is because the federal courts frequently serve as the essential referee in resolving a large number of important economic and social conflicts.”

According to TRAC, “The legal struggles here involve a wide range of filers, from giant corporations and mom-and-pop businesses trying to resolve their disputes, to public interest groups pressing the government to act on important public issues, to civil rights organizations fighting for a more just society.”

Civil cases can involve government officials on both sides of litigation: “In some circumstances, the government is the plaintiff when it uses its civil authority for many different purposes, whether enforcing environmental laws against polluters or cracking down on fraudulent drug manufacturers. The federal government also can be the defendant, for example when a private party feels the government is improperly using its powers.”

Researchers determined that the time required for criminal cases to go to trial had also lengthened, but not as much – increasing by 16% in 2013 compared to 1993.

“Although this change is comparatively small, the damage to the broad goal of equal justice before the law that is guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution is nevertheless vitally important,” the report stressed.

The researchers who authored the TRAC study compiled “comprehensive caseload information for all active and senior district court judges who have handled more than 50 cases in the past year” – 950 judges in total.

After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that Congress must take the blame for increased pressure placed on the federal courts by burgeoning caseloads. The report pointed out that requests by the judiciary for more federal judges have gone unanswered, while political squabbling and partisanship has delayed the filling of vacant positions.

“Court administrators have made repeated requests to Congress for funds to increase the number of federal judgeships,” the report said. “The imbalance between the increasing flow of matters presented to the courts and the number of working judges and staff has also been a concern of Chief Justice John Roberts for many years. In his year-end report for 2013, Judge Roberts said that the ‘budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts.’”

Researchers determined that the number of authorized judgeships across the nation has actually declined, from 680 in 2003 to 677 in 2013.

“Those numbers understate the problem as Congressional inaction on disputed nominations, along with other factors, means that the actual number of full-time judges is less than the count of authorized judgeships,” the report noted. Although 677 judgeships remained authorized in 2013, the number of full-time judges fell to only 612, according to TRAC’s analysis of the U.S. District Court data.

Fewer judges means that criminal cases must take precedence in order to maintain the Constitutional right of defendants to a speedy trial, but researchers said that emphasis comes at the expense of complicated civil cases.

“While Constitutional guarantees of a speedy trial mean that judges have understandably focused on minimizing the increases in criminal matters, the slowing of the ability of the courts to resolve complex civil litigation has far reaching economic and social consequences.”

The TRAC analysis revealed that in criminal cases, the length of time from when a defendant is charged with a felony to the final disposition of the case increased from 6.3 months in 1993 to around 7.3 months in 2013. But in civil cases, a lawsuit that once took 16 months from start to finish in 1993 now takes more than 26 months, an increase of 63%.

The data showed the total number of federal court filings across the nation grew by 28%, from 275,323 in 1993 to 353,522 in 2013.

“It is clear from the analysis that federal courts in America are experiencing unprecedented pressure due to increased filings and stagnant resources,” the report concluded. “The end result is that the federal courts are taking significantly longer to adjudicate both civil and criminal disputes, an outcome that has important social, economic and justice implications for the nation.”

The complex set of data compiled by the TRAC researchers revealed a wide disparity in caseloads based on different judicial regions and, in some cases, even between judges within the same region. For example, the report found that the seven district court judges in the Eastern District of Texas had the highest workloads in the nation, with an average of 1,510 cases each during 2013, followed by Delaware, whose four district court judges had an average of 1,446 cases each.

Researchers determined that both locations are popular for filing patent lawsuits; in fact, around 47% of all patent cases filed in the nation in 2012 and 2013 were litigated in those two districts, with East Texas receiving the most.

The report observed that East Texas had instituted court rules designed to help move patent cases through the system more quickly, though researchers said that practice creates questions: Patent cases tend to be highly complex, “but if [East Texas judges] are resolving them more quickly than the average court.... Are these ‘rocket docket’ procedures producing fair, just and well-reasoned results? And if so, why aren’t they being adopted elsewhere?”

Ranking third in the number of caseloads are federal district courts in Arizona, which the report characterized as an “obvious aspect” of the state’s border with Mexico. “As a result of this geographic reality and the concentration of Border Patrol (BP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials along the border, Arizona had one of the highest numbers of immigration prosecutions in the nation.” The district with the lowest caseload? Alaska.

There were other anomalies revealed by the data. For example, the Southern District of New York had a spike in personal injury cases. “Most of these cases arise from the cleanup work in downtown Manhattan following the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and are the last of approximately 11,000 cases filed by first responders and cleanup workers,” the TRAC report noted.

Judge Billy Roy Wilson in the Eastern District of Arkansas closed 3,008 civil cases in the 12-month period from July 2013 to June 2014, more than any other federal district court judge in the nation. Researchers pointed out, however, that comparisons are difficult due to court procedures that allow similar cases from more than one district to be consolidated and assigned to a single judge.

Judge Wilson was assigned numerous lawsuits filed across the country against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Corp., maker of the drug Prempro, to treat menopause. According to court documents, 9,761 cases against the company were combined on Wilson’s docket.

Not including filings that were consolidated, the judge who closed the most cases during the same 12-month period was Arizona District Court Chief Judge Raner C. Collins, who resolved 1,368 cases. Researchers said that’s because over 95% of those cases were filed by prisoners – the highest number of any jurisdiction in the nation.

Judge Collins downplayed the finding. “My closings look more impressive than they should as most of them come from one prisoner [in Arizona] who filed more than 2,000 cases by himself,” he said. “So regardless of the numbers, I do not believe I am the hardest working judge in the country. I am sure I am not.”

The prisoner who filed those 2,000-plus lawsuits, Dale Maisano, 62, has been trying to draw attention to his claims of inadequate medical care and food by repeatedly suing Arizona prison officials and staff employed by Corizon, the prison system’s medical contractor.

Despite the complexity of the data, researchers said the TRAC report raises fundamental questions that have a far-reaching impact on the federal judiciary and on the administration of justice in the United States.

“Has the pressure of rising workloads led judges to spend less time carefully reviewing the evidence and rendering clear, thoughtful and correct decisions?” the report asked. “Have the same pressures contributed to a growth in plea bargains for criminal cases and the acceptance of imperfect civil settlements to avoid court delays?” Further, when will Congress act to address increasing federal court caseloads and the need to fill judicial vacancies?

“In 2013, the chairman of the Judicial Conference’s committee on resources recommended that Congress establish 65 new permanent judgeships and 20 new temporary judgeships at the district court level. It also recommended that eight temporary judgeships be converted to permanent,” the TRAC report noted. “That request is still pending.”


Sources:, Associated Press, USA Today

(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)

Only BOP, Not Private Contractors, Can Tally Good Time Credits in Disciplinary Hearings

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

By Prison Legal News

On February 14, 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a habeas corpus petition that sought restoration of good time credits forfeited after a prison disciplinary hearing.

The appeal was brought by federal prisoner Oscar Arredondo-Virula (Arredondo) after a California federal district court denied the petition. Arredondo was docked 27 days good time credit, ordered to serve 15 days administrative segregation, and lost visitation privileges after he was found guilty of violating a prison rule.

Curtis Logan, an employee of Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private contractor operating the federal prison Arredondo was held at, found Arredondo guilty based on an incident report and imposed the sanctions.

Logan was not an employee of the Bureau of Prisons or Federal Prison Industries, Inc. Arredondo argued that under 28 C.F.R. §541.10(b)(1)(2010), “only institution staff may take disciplinary action.” Staff was defined as “any employee of the Bureau of Prisons or Federal Prison Industries, Inc.”

The Ninth Circuit wrote that a significant difference exists between employees and independent contractors. It held the plain meaning of the law prohibited Logan from disciplining Arredondo. It reversed the district court, and ordered it to promptly grant the petition. The Court also noted that 28 C.F.R. § 541.10(b)(1) is no longer in force. See: Arredondo-Virula v. Adler, 510 Fed. Appx. 581 (9th Cir. 2013). Following remand, the district court granted the habeas petition and ordered reinstatement of the 27 days of good time credit.

(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)