Are Pa. prisons’ drug screenings plagued by false positives?

October 3, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

J-Nae Kettoman doesn't care if she looks strange, scrubbing in like a surgeon with Dial soap brought from home, then snapping on latex gloves before lining up to enter the visiting room at State Correctional Institution Phoenix.

It's just part of the regimen that Kettoman, a Dauphin County resident who works for the commonwealth as a clerk-typist, has devised to avoid setting off the prison's ion mobility spectrometer — a device that analyzes swabs of every visitor's hands and pockets to detect trace levels of narcotics.

Some scour their photo IDs and car keys with soap and water in the bathroom off the prison lobby. Others keep a pristine set of clothing for prison visits in a Ziploc baggie. One woman skips her medication on days she goes to visit, because she's been told it could set off the ion scanner.

"We just were thinking: How can we get around touching anything else once we've washed our hands?" Kettoman, whose husband is serving 10 to 20 years, said of the ritual she and a friend developed after her second alarm earlier this year. A third strike would lead to a six-month suspension of her visiting privileges. "It's just nerve-racking."

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ACLU prepares to sue Pa. prisons over new mail policy

October 2, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ever since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a new, unprecedented policy for handling legal mail — part of a wide-ranging crackdown meant to stanch the flow of drugs into state prisons — criminal and civil lawyers who represent inmates have been in panic mode.

Many, including staff lawyers with the Pennsylvania ACLU, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and private firms, said they can no longer ethically send confidential documents to clients, given the potential for exposure in the DOC's new protocol. Before, staff opened legal mail in the presence of inmates, searched it for contraband and handed it over; now they photocopy it, still in the inmate's presence, pass on the copy, and preserve the original for 45 days.

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Concerned about new DOC policy, attorneys halt mail to PA inmates

September 19, 2018 | Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | WITF

(Harrisburg) -- A number of groups that provide legal assistance to inmates in Pennsylvania's state prisons have stopped mail correspondence with their clients.

They say they think the Department of Corrections' new protocols regarding legal mail could violate attorney-client privilege; if the policy isn't changed, they may sue.

In a letter to the department, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project argued that the new mail policy--aimed to keep drugs out of prisons--violates inmates' rights.

Under the old rules, legal mail was given to incarcerated people directly.

Now it's photocopied, the inmate gets the copy, and the prison retains the original for 15 days.

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A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets New Life In A Different State

August 21, 2018 | Victoria Law | The Appeal

Instead of changing its conditions and practices, The Bureau of Prisons is simply moving a problem-plagued federal prison unit in Pennsylvania to Illinois.

On Feb. 3, 2011, staff at Pennsylvania federal prison USP Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit told Sebastian Richardson to “cuff up” and accept a new cellmate. Richardson was terrified; the man with whom he was about to share the cell, known as “The Prophet,” had attacked over 20 cellmates. The Prophet had just been released from hard restraints, a combination of metal handcuffs, ankle shackles, and a chain that encircled his chest. He was also, according to Richardson, ”rocking back and forth in agitation as he waited outside” the cell door.

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Migrant Women Who Were Sexually Assaulted in ICE Detention Are Telling Their Stories

July 17, 2018 | Prachi Gupta | Jezebel

In 2014, after fleeing from a partner who raped and beat her in Honduras, a woman identified as “E.D.” was sent with her toddler to a family detention center in Pennsylvania where she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a guard

“I didn’t know how to refuse because he told me that I was going to be deported,” she told the New York Times. “I was at a jail and he was a migration officer. It’s like they order you to do something and you have to do it.”

The officer, Daniel Sharkey, later pled guilty to institutional sexual assault. What’s rare about E.D.’s story is not, unfortunately, that an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Officer abused a woman in detention. It’s rare that he was prosecuted for it.

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Sexual Assault Inside ICE Detention: 2 Survivors Tell Their Stories

July 17, 2018 | Emily Kassie | The New York Times

It was an early morning in May when Maria was released from the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Texas. She had been granted bond and was permitted to stay with her brother in Washington D.C. while her asylum case was pending.

After gathering her belongings, she was escorted to a loading area fenced with razor wire and placed into a cage inside a van. The driver was a male guard named Donald Dunn. Shortly after leaving Hutto, Dunn pulled off the road.

“He grabbed my breasts … He put his hands in my pants and he touched my private parts,” she said. “He touched me again inside the van, and my hands were tied. And he started masturbating.”

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Athletes Use Unique Position to Call for Criminal Justice Reform

June 22, 2018 | Angus Love | The Legal Intelligencer

An ancient Chinese philosopher once opined that he wished to live in interesting times, and we certainly have that opportunity. One would think a mature society would look to elder statesmen and women, the professional class, esteemed academicians and leaders of the business community for guidance and wisdom in serious matters impacting our society. Due to a moral vacuum of our leadership, it has been left to athletes to speak up about social unrest. Unfortunately we seem to be an entertainment-driven culture, with a reality television star with a dubious business background (five bankruptcies and numerous litigation failures) to be our leader.

Our 45th president, Donald J. Trump, has created such a moral vacuum. While he brags about molesting young women, paying off porn stars and Playboy Bunnies, fathers five children with three different wives, and is a compulsive liar; he seems to lack a true moral compass. Despair seems rampant as suicides are up 25 percent in recent years and opioid deaths were up 21 percent last year. Thus it is left to those in the entertainment sector to respond to the vacuum. Oddly enough athletes have stepped up to challenge—especially those concerning the criminal justice system. In the area of criminal justice, Trump’s own problems aside; he urges police to rough up suspects, brands immigrants as criminals as his Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls for a return to the failed drug war, marijuana prohibition and harsher prison sentences. All of these measures fall most heavily on people of color and the poor.

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