Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label prison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prison. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

'Behind Bars': Petroff article explains how secrecy shields private prison labor from public scrutiny

Alyssa Petroff, a judicial law clerk at the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, has published Behind Bars: Secrecy in Arizona’s Private Prisons’ Labor Pool in the new volume 4, number 2, of The Journal of Civic Information.

In a foreword, Journal Editor David Cuillier, professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, wrote,

Alyssa Petroff educated me on the exploitative private for-profit prison complex in my home state of Arizona—shrouded in secrecy because of a public records law interpreted in favor of corporations. I was astounded by her research findings.... She has a great career ahead of her, based on the eye-popping revelations in Behind Bars....

An Arizona native and 2022 law school graduate, Petroff started work on the article with a paper in my Freedom of Information Law class. Her finished work won the 2021-2022 student writing competition of The Journal of Civic Information, an honor co-sponsored by the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and accompanied by a $2,000 cash prize.

Here is the abstract:

Prisons run by private corporations in the United States have at hand a pool of individuals who are, by law, required to work while they are incarcerated. This article examines the secrecy behind the use of inmate labor, including on-the-job injuries  sustained by prisoners, focusing on the state of Arizona as a case study. Ultimately, the  article recommends that states create oversight boards of private prison systems or allow private prison records to be accessible through already existing public records laws.

Attorney Petroff was a student also in my Comparative Law class. So I benefited immensely and from her presence and participation, ceaselessly inquisitive and gracious, in law school. I share Professor Cuillier's enthusiasm for her budding career as she cuts her teeth in judicial writing at the Maine high court.

The article, again, is Alyssa Petroff, Behind Bars: Secrecy in Arizona’s Private Prisons’ Labor Pool, 4:2 J. Civic Info. 1 (2022).

Friday, July 29, 2022

Lawsuit alleges excessive force against federal immigration detainees held near public law school

Warning: indecent language.

Latino detainees of the Bristol County House of Corrections, which is located just three-quarters of a mile from the University of Massachusetts Law School, sued the county sheriff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging serious physical abuses.

Filed in April, the complaint, stating Bivens and § 1983 claims for excessive force, is available from the federal district court docket at Court Listener. The factual allegations detail incidents of violence and some not so flattering quotations of officers, such as: "Shut the fuck up. You bitches are a bunch of immigrants without papers. You have no rights."

Sheriff Hodgson shakes hands with former President Trump
at a White House event recognizing sheriffs in 2019.

(Official White House photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr.)
Named in the lawsuit is Bristol County, Mass., four-term "tough on crime" Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson. This lawsuit is not his first tangle with unsavory allegations.

A 2020 report by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey determined that authorities employed excessive force in violation of the civil rights of federal immigration detainees (press release). New Bedford, Mass., tort lawyer Betty I. Ussach has written letters to local media complaining of the high cost of defending Hodgson's style of criminal justice (EastBayRI, Dartmouth Week Today).

But in past years, Hodgson's name recognition has seemed to work a no-publicity-is-bad-publicity magic in his reelection bids. Hodgson faces a slate of challengers this year.

I wonder whether the geographic juxtaposition of the Bristol prison and the Immigration Clinic at the state's only public law school is not telling of state conflict-of-interest policy, which would complicate if not prohibit clinic litigation against state and local actors. 

Clinic director Professor Emerita Irene Scharf retired just one one month ago. She exited amid some turbulence over how and even whether the law school would take responsibility for existing clients. It remains to be seen what the clinic will look like under new management. Scharf and sociology and anthropology Professor Lisa Maya Knauer have labored diligently for decades on behalf of the immigrant Latino community in south coast Massachusetts. But university personnel at Dartmouth, Mass., far from the aegis of the "flagship campus" at Amherst, must tread lightly in politically sensitive matters, lest they jeopardize the very existence of the system's less favored locations.

The present lawsuit, Morocho v. Bristol County Sheriff's Office (D. Mass. filed Apr. 29, 2022), was filed by Washington, D.C.-based NGO Rights Behind Bars and signed by its Boston-based litigation director, attorney Oren Nimni. Nimni is a graduate of Northeastern Law and an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law. So let the record reflect that monied Boston private law schools can make grief for public officials, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

'Civil death,' denial of tort claims, violates prisoners' right of access to courts, R.I. high court holds

N.C. State Archives public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons
The Rhode Island Supreme Court in March struck down the state "civil death" statute, which disallowed civil claims by inmates imprisoned for life.

The statute at issue states:

Every person imprisoned in the adult correctional institutions for life shall, with respect to all rights of property, to the bond of matrimony and to all civil rights and relations of any nature whatsoever, be deemed to be dead in all respects, as if his or her natural death had taken place at the time of conviction. However, the bond of matrimony shall not be dissolved, nor shall the rights to property or other rights of the husband or wife of the imprisoned person be terminated or impaired, except on the entry of a lawfully obtained decree for divorce.

Alleging negligent maintenance, one plaintiff-inmate complained "that his arm was severely burned and permanently disfigured when he made contact with an exposed hot water pipe at the [prison]." Another alleged negligence when he slipped and fell after being compelled "to walk across an icy walkway at the [prison]." The trial court rejected both claims as barred by the "civil death" statute.

I was shocked to read of this case in my home state's Providence Journal; I never had heard of a "civil death" statute. The R.I. ACLU provided some background:

Rhode Island was apparently the only state in the country still enforcing a law like this, whose origins date back to ancient English common law. As far back as 1976, a court struck down Missouri's civil death statute, noting that "the concept of civil death has been condemned by virtually every court and commentator to study it over the last thirty years." The court observed that such laws had been characterized even before then as "archaic," "outmoded," "an outdated and inscrutable common law precept," and "a medieval fiction in a modern world." In 1937, when 18 states still had civil death laws, a law review article called the concept "outworn."

Applying the 1843 state constitution (article 1, section 5), a four-justice majority of the Rhode Island Supreme Court had little trouble reaching the conclusion that I thought was obvious, that the law violates the fundamental due process right of access to the courts.

Justice Lynch Prata
(via Ballotpedia)
Employing strict scrutiny, the court acknowledged that "civil death"

functions as an additional sanction imposed upon some of the state's worst criminals and furthers the goals of punishment and deterrence. This Court has recognized that "[t]he loss of civil status as a form of punishment is a principle that dates back to ancient societies." .... However, it is our opinion that this particular additional punishment is not a compelling reason to override the right of access to the courts that is textually guaranteed by the Rhode Island Constitution.

Justice Goldberg
(via Ballotpedia)
Even were the statute supported by a compelling state interest, it is not narrowly drawn, the court further opined, as it fails to distinguish between prisoners based on their eligibility for parole.

Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissented. "Prison inmates, especially life prisoners, are not entitled to the same degree of constitutional rights as are members of society at large," she wrote, "and that includes the right to bring tort claims against the warden for a slip and fall or a burned hand." She would have narrowed the question to the plaintiffs' negligence claims and upheld the statute.

"In my more than two decades of service on this Court, I cannot recall ever having declared a statute to be unconstitutional," Justice Goldberg opined. "[T]his should not be the first case with such a drastic result in light of our longstanding jurisprudence."

The case is Zab v. R.I. Department of Corrections, No. 2019-459-Appeal (R.I. Mar. 2, 2022). Justice Erin Lynch Prata wrote the majority opinion.

A former state senator Judge Prata was nominated to the court by Governor Gina Raimondo in December 2020, just three months before she left office to become the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Justice Lynch Prata is 2000 graduate of Catholic Law, for which I periodically teach as a visitor. Judge Goldberg is the senior-most justice on the court, having served since her appointment in 1997.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Incarcerated persons have access to information in Massachusetts law, court confirms, but not in all states

Image by Ichigo121212 from Pixabay
A man imprisoned for murder has a right of access to public records no less than anyone else, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held in the summer.

Nine years ago, Adam Bradley was co-perpetrator of a home invasion in Billerica, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, in which 22-year-old resident Quintin Koehler was shot and killed.  The crime was tied to the Bloods gang, according to The Boston Globe.  In 2017, at age 32, Bradley was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a life term.

Lately, Bradley has used the Massachusetts Public Records Law (PRL, or FOIA) to investigate his conviction by requesting police records.  He alleged in a lawsuit that the State Police records access officer (RAO) failed to respond to multiple PRL requests.

In court, the RAO resisted production under the PRL on two grounds, (1) the ongoing investigation exemption of the PRL and (2) the parallel availability of records to Bradley in criminal discovery.

The Appeals Court soundly rejected both state arguments.  On the first ground, RAO overreached by declaring the entirety of the case file within the investigation exemption.  On the second ground, the PRL operates independently of parallel access in criminal process, the court held.  The RAO anyway owed Bradley a response asserting grounds for non-production.  The state public record supervisor twice ordered the RAO to respond.

The court holding accords with state freedom-of-information norms; the most noteworthy point of the case is that an appeal was required.  As in other states' FOIA exemptions for ongoing investigations, the Massachusetts PRL requires record-by-record review, redaction for partial production when possible, and, if necessary, in camera inspection by the trial court in a legal challenge.

The problem of parallel access is somewhat more vexing, though still should not have confounded the RAO.  Some states expressly exclude active litigants from FOIA uses that might subvert judicial procedure.  But such exclusions, which are far from universal, typically do not bar post-conviction access in criminal matters, even with ongoing appeals.  The RAO in the instant case relied on regulatory language that faintly suggested discovery exclusivity, and the court properly dispelled that theory.

Parallel access questions are thornier when there are state regulatory mechanisms in play that arguably supersede state FOIA as a matter of legislative intent, especially in the area of business regulation.  For example, a statutory framework for state contracting might regulate disclosure and non-disclosure of records maintained by the contractor or submitted to the state, arguably superseding FOIA access.  Even then, the rule of statutory construction that FOIA access is to be construed liberally and FOIA exemptions to be construed narrowly usually makes FOIA a trump card.  Bradley's case presented no such wrinkle.

The case is noteworthy also for a rule that is not at play.  Massachusetts is not one of the states that has limited or simply disallowed FOIA use by prisoners.

The Arkansas Department of Corrections (DOC) lobbied successfully for an amendment to the Arkansas FOIA in 2003 to exclude incarcerated felons from the state definition of "citizen."  Access advocates, including me, managed at that time to negotiate the exclusion down to only DOC records and pro se requests, allowing attorney-representatives to make requests.  Eight years later, the exemption was amended to eliminate the DOC limitation.

It was difficult to advocate for prisoner access.  Incarcerated felons are not a popular constituency and don't vote.  And to be fair to state officials, many dilatory and hardly comprehensible requests emanate from prisons and tie up public resources with no clear public benefit.  At the same time, of course, persons deprived of liberty are susceptible to human rights abuses for which accountability is notoriously elusive.  Michigan public radio in 2016 explored the problem of prisoner civil rights in the absence of access to information in that state's law.

The Massachusetts case is Bradley v. Records Access Officer, No. 20-P-419 (Mass. App. Ct. 2021).  Justice Gregory I. Massing authored the opinion for a unanimous panel also comprising Justices Henry and Ditkoff.  Before appointment to the bench in 2014, Justice Massing served as executive director of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service, and previously as general counsel for the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

FOIA committee ponders access amid privatization

I had the great privilege last week to speak to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee, working under the aegis of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on the subject of access to the private sector in the public interest.

The OPEN the Government Act of 2007 augmented FOIA to follow public records into the hands of government contractors.  But the federal FOIA's reach into the private sector remains extremely limited relative to other access-to-information (ATI) systems in the United States and the world.  U.S. states vary widely in approach; the vast majority of state open records acts reaches into the private sector upon some test of state delegation, whether public funding, function, or power.  The same approach predominates in Europe.

The lack of such a mechanism at the federal level in the United States has resulted in a marked deficit of accountability in privatization.  The problem is especially pronounced in areas in which civil rights are prone to abuse, such as privatized prison services, over which the FOIA Advisory Committee and Congress have expressed concern.  By executive order, President Biden is ending the federal outsourcing of incarceration.  But access policy questions remain in questions about the past, in waning contracts, and in persistent privatization in some states.

As I have written in recent years, and examined relative to ATI in the United States, Europe, and India, an emerging model of ATI in Africa advances a novel theory of private-sector access in the interest of human-rights accountability.  I was privileged to share this model, and the theory behind it, with the committee.  I thank the committee for its indulgence, especially OGIS Director Alina Semo for her leadership and Villanova Law Professor Tuan Samahon for his interest in my work now and in the past.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Policy behind 'home confinement' as criminal sanction has evolved, law grad writes in transnational journal

A graduate of my Comparative Law class and our outgoing Student Bar Association President, Markus Aloyan, J.D. '20, has published a research article on criminal home confinement in the Trento Student Law Review.

Despite the mention of, and my current feeling of, home confinement, I didn't think that the article is related to the pandemic.  And then, lo and behold, college admission scandal perpetrators started staying home (e.g., USA Today, N.Y. Post, L.A. Times).

Here is the abstract.
Markus Aloyan
Home confinement, also known as house arrest or home detention, first appeared in the United States in the 1970s as a form of pretrial release issued after a defendant's indictment. Today, this alternative sentencing scheme possesses several additional purposes. Home confinement is imposable as a form of supervised release from incarceration and as a term of parole. More importantly, it has evolved into a condition of probation and an autonomous criminal sanction that serves in a capacity independent of probation. This article aims to show that although historically spurred in large part by the practical deficiencies of the American prison system (namely its overcrowding and excessive costs), the study of home confinement actuation promulgates a broader understanding of its effectiveness in the promotion of rehabilitation and the prevention of recidivism. Psychological and fiscal aspects will be analyzed with domestic and international (New Zealand) considerations. Concurrently, this paper draws attention to the margin of judicial discretion afforded in shaping individual home confinement implementations, and discusses its advantages and related concerns.

The article is Markus Aloyan, Home Confinement in the United States: The Evolution of Progressive Criminal Justice Reform, 2:1 Trento Student L. Rev. 109 (2020).