NC Jail Officers Cited in Suicide of Teen

State probe found that detention officers in Wake, N.C., didn’t monitor properly an 18-year-old man who hanged himself while awaiting a psychiatric evaluation.

A North Carolina state investigation found that Wake, N.C., detention officers didn’t keep a proper eye on an 18-year-old man who hanged himself in the county jail five months ago while awaiting a psychiatric evaluation, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Jose Humberto Lara-Pineda is among six inmates in county jails this year who didn’t get proper supervision in the hours before they died, state Department of Health and Human Services investigators say. They included a 17-year-old girl who hanged herself in the Durham jail and a 61-year-old man who died of natural causes in the Johnston County jail. A The News & Observer series, “Jailed to Death,” reported that state investigators had cited jails across the state for poor oversight in the cases of 51 inmates who died in county jails in the past five years.

The stories showed why some jail deaths are not reported, how some jails struggle to care for mentally-ill and drug-addicted inmates, and that some judges allow legal settlements to be keptsecret. State rules require that inmates be checked at least twice an hour, and at minimum four times an hour if the inmate is believed to be suicidal, mentally ill, on drugs or alcohol, or behaving erratically. The state investigation said that Lara-Pineda was on a special psychiatric watch and should have been checked four times an hour. Logs of inmate checks showed they didn’t happen at that frequency until 87 minutes had gone by. Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison fired two detention officers after Lara-Pineda was found, but he said supervision wasn’t the problem. He cited other policy violations that he didn’t specify.


N.C. Judges Conceal Details in Jail Settlement Cases

In the deaths of two young women, judges barred the public from learning if any public money was paid to the inmates’ families. An advocate calls the secrecy “incredibly disappointing.”

Jessica Lynn Martin and Kelly Ann Green died after being booked in North Carolina jails. They were young women with serious health issues, and their families claimed that negligence in the jails contributed to their deaths. Officials agreed to pay settlements to their families. In both cases, judges barred the public from finding out if any public money was paid to the inmates’ families. One judge initially didn’t follow the law on explaining his ruling, while the other judge made a finding but didn’t explain his order, the Raleigh News & Observer reports in the last of a five-part series. Generally, the details of settlements involving state and local governments are public record. The law allows for an exception, but only after a judge has issued a written order that concludes “the presumption of openness is overcome by an overriding interest” that “cannot be protected by any measure short of sealing the settlement.”

In the case of Green, Judge Craig Croom’s order found that the settlement wasn’t a public record and that the parties’ interest of privacy overrode the presumption of openness. In the case of Martin, Judge Bradley Letts even sealed his order that sealed the settlement. After The News & Observer cited the need for an explanation, Letts revisited the Haywood case and came up with a new justification. He ruled the terms should stay secret because the section of the jail where Martin was treated meets the definition of a “hospital facility,” which is protected under the law from disclosing medical malpractice settlements. Jonathan Jones, a former prosecutor in Durham who leads the N.C. Open Government Coalition and Sunshine Center at Elon University, said both cases are “incredibly disappointing” examples of judges keeping the public in the dark.


How Jail Video Visits Became ‘Revenue Opportunities’

Video-visitation technology has been around for two decades but only recently has it turned into a money maker for private firms and local governments.

A 384-bed jail opened in Lancaster, Oh., this summer. It has high-tech security gadgetry, up-to-date living areas, and a controversial innovation that in recent years has spread across the country: video visitation. Visitors use a telephone-like handset, a camera, and a screen to communicate with an inmate using a similar setup elsewhere in the jail, reports The Atlantic. The two parties never see each other in person even when a visitor is physically inside the jail complex. Though video-visitation technology was first used in jails and prisons about 20 years ago, it was slow to catch on because the operations were clunky and the upkeep a hassle. Over the past decade, instead of purchasing and having a contractor install a system the jail or prison would own, facilities have outsourced the systems to corporations, often as part of a package that includes phone services. As of 2014, according to a report by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, over 500 jails and prisons in 43 states had adopted video visitation.

An unknown number of those 500-plus facilities have also adopted “remote” video visitation, something akin to Skype, in which a “visitor” can communicate with an inmate via a computer, from any location. Unlike the in-facility video visitation systems, these remote setups come with charges of up to a dollar per minute, not counting account-deposit fees and set-up charges—expenses that can be burdensome for the often-poor families of inmates. Such systems make jailers—whether local governments or private corporations—the de-facto business partners of the companies, while enriching private-equity firms and their investors. “Video visitation is a link in the whole system that sees inmates as a revenue opportunity,” says Daniel Hatcher, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and the author of The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens. “It’s part of a larger system that sees the broader vulnerable family as a revenue opportunity, too.”


No Charges In North Carolina Jail Deaths

There have been 51 deaths in five years in which jailers failed to monitor inmates properly, but no officials have been charged in criminal chases, says the Raleigh News & Observer in an investigation of jail deaths.

North Carolina regulators have the authority to inspect local jails at any time when the care of inmates is in question. Charges can be filed against those who fail to provide proper supervision of inmates. For many years, the state Department of Health and Human Services unit tasked with making sure inmates are safe rarely investigated when one died, reports the Raleigh News & Observer in the third of a series on jail deaths. State officials aren’t aware of any criminal charges being filed against a jail employee as a result of a department investigation. The unit began inspecting deaths in 2012 routinely after a change of leadership and the death of the 19-year-old grandson of a prominent Winston-Salem lawyer who went to sleep on a mat on the floor of an overcrowded jail and never awoke.

Ralph Madison Stockton IV’s death from a drug overdose resulted in a $250,000 settlement. He hadn’t been checked in more than an hour when he was found dead. Steven Lewis took responsibility for the jail inspection unit in 2010. Lewis said by the time Stockton died, he had seen several inmate death reports from jails that suggested the supervision requirements hadn’t been followed. He decided his staff should begin investigating deaths that showed the potential for violations. “I’m as human as I hope most people are, and hearing an 18- or 19-year-old died is a bad thing, regardless of how it happened and what happened,” Lewis said. Since then, more than one of every two death investigations has turned up non-compliance in the supervision of inmates. There have been 51 deaths in five years in which jailers failed to monitor inmates properly. That’s one-third of the 151 inmates who died in North Carolina jails during that time.


Little Supervision Allows 51 NC Jail Inmates to Die

Jailers failed to make timely checks, left in place sheets or towels that allowed suicide attempts, or didn’t fix cameras or intercoms that helped them keep in touch with inmates, a Raleigh News & Observer investigation finds.

Fifty-one inmates died in North Carolina’s county jails in the past five years after being left unsupervised for longer than state regulations allow, the Raleigh News & Observer reports in the first of a five-part series. Jailers failed to make timely checks, left in place sheets or towels that allowed suicide attempts, or didn’t fix broken cameras or intercoms that helped them keep in touch with inmates. The deaths of unsupervised inmates came in 38 different jails, in rural and urban areas. Twelve jails have been cited for violation of regulations in more than one death. In Dare County in 2012, Matthew Clayton Reynolds, 29, went nearly seven hours between checks, plenty of time to hang himself. “There were no rounds made the entire day,” a state report said of Reynolds’ death. “…It is clear that there was a gross failure to properly supervise inmates.”

At any given time, up to 24,000 inmates are held in North Carolina’s 113 jails supervised by elected sheriffs. They include inmates awaiting trial, some convicted of misdemeanors and a few federal prisoners. Often, the inmates who died had not been convicted of the charges that landed them in jail. Many were for lesser offenses such as illegal panhandling, drug possession and larceny, though some had been charged with more serious offenses, such as murder. A lack of supervision was blamed for one out of every three of the 151 deaths in county jails from 2012 to 2016. The deaths also expose the rising number of inmates who suffer from mental illness, drug addictions or both, and underline the importance for jailers to check on them frequently.



A Tour of St. Louis’ ‘Workhouse’ Jail

One inmate says of St. Louis’s Workhouse, “This place is hell,” but a reporter’s underground tour doesn’t find the sweating hellhole described by activists.

By reputation, the St. Louis Workhouse is a mold-infested pit whose 700-plus detainees— nearly all of whom are merely awaiting trial — are drawn from the ranks of the poor, addicted, homeless and mentally ill. Inmates, lawyers and anti-incarceration activists have alleged that medical care is withheld for months and that guards beat inmates and put them against each other in “gladiator-style combat.” In the summer, the cells broil with triple-digit heat, although temporary air-conditioning units installed last month may finally address that problem, reports the Riverfront Times.  On Friday, a reporter from the weekly newspaper accompanied Alderwoman Megan Green on an unannounced visit to the facility. The Times reporter did not disclose his identity as a reporter but was described as a graduate student in social work.

The Times reported that in a three-hour tour, physical conditions appeared better than the sweating hellhole described by activists recently, although the jail, officially called a medium security institution, is dirty and grimy. Some inmates are being held for the smallest of offenses, and simply because they don’t have money for bail, condemning them to city custody while they’re waiting for their day in court. The nickname comes from an 1848 city ordinance saying prisoners who could not pay their fines would be committed to the “Work House” to pay off their debts, and then released. These days, many men and women in the Workhouse find themselves imprisoned because they cannot pay their bonds or traffic tickets. One female inmate hissed for attention, then whispered, “This place is hell.” Another prisoner motioned at the showers and advises visitors to watch out for fleas.


OK Jails Raise Income From Video Visitations

Tulsa jail reduces on-site visitations from six days weekly to two. Many outsiders pay 50 cents a minute to talk to inmates via home computers or smartphones, increasing income for jailers.

A move by Tulsa jail officials to reduce on-site visitation from six days each week to two is part of a broader effort across Oklahoma for jails to move toward a more lucrative video visitation system, reports The Frontier. Tulsa officials said a state survey showed that only one of 25 other jails and prisons allowed visitation more than two days a week. Promoting video visitation over in-person jail visits stands to be a financial boon for a sheriff’s office saddled with financial stress leftover from the former administration. When Tulsa Sheriff Vic Regalado was elected last year, he immediately set upon finding ways to balance his budget.

The reduced visiting hours should increase the number of visitors who use the video visitation options offered by the jail through the “HomeWAV” company. Video visitation systems are on the rise nationwide. Primarily ran through third-party vendors, they offer cost savings for jails, that no longer have to hire detention officers whose primary purpose is to watch over visitation. They also offer convenience for users who no longer have to travel to the jail to speak to incarcerated loved ones. That convenience comes at a price. For 50 cents a minute, anyone can talk to a Tulsa Jail inmate through a home computer, or a smartphone app. Such calls already have raised nearly $90,000 in three months for the sheriff’s office, which gets a portion of the fees. That figure could rise once the limited visitation goes into effect next week.


Weapon Used in Alabama Jailbreak? Peanut Butter

Inmates used the substance like paint to trick a greenhorn jailer into opening a door that led outside. “It may sound crazy, but these people are crazy like a fox,” said the county sheriff.

A dozen inmates escaped from an Alabama county jail on Sunday by using peanut butter as a paint substitute to change the numbers above a door and trick a new employee into opening another door that led outside, reports the Associated Press. “It may sound crazy, but these people are crazy like a fox,” said Walker County Sheriff James Underwood. He said the inmates changed the number above a cell to the number that identified the door leading outside the jail. When an inmate asked an inexperienced jailer to let him into his cell, the jailer was fooled into opening the outside door instead. The 12 then fled, throwing off orange uniforms and using blankets to climb over a razor-wire fence.

Inmates “scheme all the time to con us and our employees at the jail,” Underwood said. “You have to stay on your toes. This is one time we slipped up. I’m not going to make any excuses.” All but one of the inmates was arrested without incident within eight hours, Underwood said. The only serious injury was to an inmate who sliced his thumb climbing the fence, the sheriff said. The escapees were between ages 18 and 30 and faced charges ranging from disorderly conduct to attempted murder. The missing escapee, Bradley Andrew Kilpatrick, 24, had been jailed on drug charges.


California Officials Say Prison Realignment Puts State on ‘Right Track’

The state prison population has declined under the six-year-old plan to keep many convicts in local jails, the National Forum on Criminal Justice was told today . But violent crime has also gone up recently.

A panel of California officials from across the criminal justice system agreed that the state’s nearly six-year-old “realignment” of inmates has led to a long list of improvements for crime victims and lawbreakers alike.

The officials spoke yesterday at the opening session of the National Forum on Criminal Justice, which is being held this week in Long Beach, Ca. The event is attended mostly by state criminal justice leaders from around the U.S. and is sponsored by the National Criminal Justice Association, the Justice Research and Statistics Association and the IJIS Institute.

It was less clear that the changes, which were led by Gov. Jerry Brown in response to a Supreme Court ruling to cut the state’s prison population, have led to a reduction in crime.

Last summer, the state said that after two years of decline, the number of violent crimes increased by 10 percent the previous year. The FBI’s preliminary crime data for the first half of last year said that reported violent crime increased in two-thirds of California’s largest cities.

Under “realignment,” many prisoners formerly in state custody were shifted to the state’s 58 counties, along with funds to aid in ex-inmate rehabilitation. Also, what are known as the “three nons”–non-violent, non-serious, and non-sexual offenders–are kept in local jails or on probation or in treatment programs instead of going to state prison in the first place.

The state’s prison population totaled about 160,000 when realignment began. It was down to 131,000 last week, but that was up slightly from a year earlier.

Scott Kernan, director of the state’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, declared that “we are on the right track,” based both on the record of realignment and of Proposition 57, which was approved by voters last November by a 64 percent to 35 percent margin.

The measure gives prisoners the opportunity to earn credits that can speed their release. That provides “a motivation to do something” useful while they are incarcerated, Kernan aid.

Proposition 57 also allows for earlier release of prisoners serving life terms who have good records behind bars. Kernan said that more than 3,000 lifers have been released in recent years, and their recidivism rate is only one percent.

The significance of California’s realignment was that it has begun to turn around a trend in which “we were spending a great deal of money on incarceration and we weren’t getting good outcomes,” said Linda Penner, chair of the California Board of Community Corrections.

The shifting of funds formerly being spent to keep criminals locked up to an expansion of local services across the justice system is part of several “dramatic changes” in the justice system instituted by Gov. Brown, Penner said.

The improvements have been seen in most corners of the criminal justice system, other panelists reported.

Robin Lipetzky has been chief public defender of Contra Costa County since 2009. When she began in the criminal defense field in the 1990s, she and fellow lawyers believed their jobs consisted only of fighting for their clients and not “fixing their lives.”

In what she calls a “huge change,” the availability of more funds for local inmate rehabilitation has defenders looking for ways to keep their clients from committing more crimes, she said.

Prosecutors have joined in the process, too, said Nancy O’Malley, district attorney in the relatively high-crime area of Alameda County near San Francisco.

Many prosecutors once focused only on sending offenders to prison. Now, it is common to seek ways of “catching people early before they can get too far into the justice system,: she said. This goal is explained more clearly to crime victims, who generally support it, O’Malley said.

One important goal of modern-day prosecutors should be to “explain to people what we’re doing,” O’Malley said.

A somewhat less enthusiastic view of realignment was offered by the law enforcement spokesman on the panel, Sheriff John McMahon of San Bernardino County, a large area that stretches from east of Los Angeles to the Nevada border.

Realignment’s prisoner shift meant that his county’s 5,000-prisoner total rose to 6,000, McMahon said. It became harder to manage the inmate population, which he said had more options for activities while they were in state prisons.

At the same time, the change has made sheriff’s deputies more conscious of their role in rehabilitation, compared with their attitude years past in sending criminals to state prisons and forgetting about them.

Now, his department takes a bigger role in expanded programs for prisoner reentry into society, and the recidivism rate of local ex-inmates is 40 percent and dropping, he said. (Typically, recidivism rates in many areas nationally have been 67 percent or higher.)

All of the speakers agreed that a positive change under realignment was having representatives of all justice system components — law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders and corrections programs — meet periodically to discuss criminal justice improvements. Other agencies need to be involved, too, especially schools, said prosecutor O’Malley.

The California approach to justice got an endorsement from a non-panel member who spoke, Dionne Wilson of the California-based Alliance for Safety and Justice. Her husband, a police officer in San Leandro, Ca., was shot and killed in 2005 while responding to a disturbance call.

The assailant, who had been on probation for another offense, was convicted. Still, Wilson came to believe that the murderer was “on death row, but I had nothing to show for it.” She has since joined the forces for criminal justice reform, praising the approach of the state’s realignment of “putting the services [for ex-inmates] where they need to be.” She added that, “We aren’t going to incarcerate our way out” of the crime problem.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief The Crime Report.


TN Judge Quickly Rescinds Jail Birth Control Program

Sixty men and women volunteered when Judge Sam Benningfield offered 30 days off the sentence of White County jail inmates willing to undergo a vasectomy or birth control implant. The offer was rescinded when the world caught wind.

A Tennessee judge has pulled the plug on his controversial plan that encouraged female and male inmates with drug addiction problems to cut the length of their jail sentences through voluntarily undergoing birth control procedures, reports the Times Free Press of Chattanooga. Amid a growing legal uproar, White County Judge Sam Benningfield filed an order Wednesday reversing his May 15 order. He had hoped the program would help combat the number of babies born with drug addictions. “I wasn’t on a crusade,” Benningfield said. “I don’t have a ‘mission.’ I thought I could help a few folks, get them thinking and primarily help children.”

The plan had come under fire from some state lawmakers and the ACLU, whose Tennessee director said, “The Constitution protects people’s right to choose whether and when to procreate.” Benningfield’s plan offered 30 days off jail sentences for men who agreed to free vasectomies and women who agreed to receive free Nexplanon implants, which are intended to prevent pregnancies for up to four years. Thirty-two women and 38 men had signed up. Benningfield said the birth control idea for inmates came from the Tennessee Department of Health, which withdrew its support after it attracted national attention.