WHEN DOES PRISON WITH SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AMOUNT TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT?

The day after Thanksgiving your Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer received a call about prison conditions at the Coleman Federal Correctional Institution in Florida. The call came from a lady who believed her son was singled out for cruel and unusual punishment at the jail.

Here’s the gist of her questions to me:

Is solitary confinement cruel and unusual punishment in Florida Federal prisons?
Van Gogh, Prisoners, 1890

A few months ago another inmate threw a knife into my son’s cell. Since then my son has been punished for the knife by placement in the hole (solitary confinement), with only one phone call to me per month and many other losses of what little freedom he had….

My son did not co-operate in telling who threw the knife because he legitimately fears reprisals from inmates. Yet after all this time he has not been charged with any offenses from the knife incident. What can I do to get better conditions for my son?

The prison system of America holds a higher portion of the population than any prison system in the world. The over-crowded conditions in many American jails such as the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa Bay, Florida should be improved. For the most part the Bureau of Prisons has been held by Federal Judges to a much higher standard of care than most American state and local prisons.

Clearly all jails are allowed to punish and segregate prisoners who violate the law or violate prison rules by being found in possession or close proximity of weapons, drugs or other contraband. Even for rules violations long term solitary confinement should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, yet our Government confines up to 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.
So what can be done for your son?
First, without being accusatory, simply contact the jail in writing with a factual statement of the circumstances your son is facing including the length of time spent in solitary confinement with details of any other deprivations. This puts the prison on notice that someone outside the system is alert, watchful and that your son is not forgotten. 
Then you should contact the psychologists, doctors and clergy (or faith-based community organization members) who are daily allowed into the jail making direct contact with inmates with the facts of the conditions your son is facing and request that they meet with your son as soon as they can. 
Your objective is to have as many eyewitnesses as possible to view his conditions, note his circumstances and if necessary to complain about his conditions. Once you have their statements in writing you can go to the Bureau of Prisons with a complaint or if the Bureau of Prisons fails to take action to file a Federal Habeas Corpus Petition to get him better conditions or free him.
Especially during this Holiday Season let him know he’s not forgotten and that you’re doing your best to help him. And with help from Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorneys we’ll be doing our best to help other prisoners survive the most difficult time of their lives.


WHEN CAN ILLNESS RESULT IN COMPASSIONATE RELEASE FROM FEDERAL PRISON OR TAMPA & PINELLAS JAILS IN FLORIDA?

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is known for rarely if ever allowing early release for Federal prisoners for medical illness. As a general rule only FDA approved drugs with a proper Doctor’s prescription are allowed within Federal Prisons, even if your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer tries to hide some in a birthday cake with the nail file.

 An Experiment on a Bird. Prisons allow no Experimental Drugs but may release an inmate for compassionate release in Petersburg, Largo and Tampa Bay Florida, when a Clearwater Crime Lawyer files a Defense Motion
Joseph Wright, Experiment on Bird, 1768

It’s important for defense attorneys to understand the BOP regulations for drugs that can be administered in Federal Prison. I had a client who had committed in access of half a million dollars in fraud, scored a minimum of 96 months in jail on the Presentencing Report and had a pending Trafficking in Marijuana from New Orleans; he was also a very sick man with hepatitis C.
At sentencing I argued that the Defendant was bravely being a human guinea pig by taking experimental non-FDA approved drugs from Shands Hospital. And further at sentencing we established that he’d bravely been testing the new drugs which could kill him yet at the same time could be the only thing keeping him alive. Further, since the experimental drugs were not FDA approved, no Federal Prison could give the drugs to him and the kind Doctors at Shands wanted to continue their experiments on the Defendant. The Judge over the Government’s strong objections did not sentence the Defendant to any prison time at all.

But what if a Defendant is already in Jail. How do you establish that he is so gravely ill that he should be released? Here from defense attorney Amy Baron-Evans is a success in forcing BOP to release an inmate based on compassionate release:

BOP rarely files a motion for early release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) when an inmate has a terminal illness or for other extraordinary and compelling reasons under USSG 1B1.13.  In this case, the inmate, Phillip Smith, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in August 2011, but BOP twice refused to file the motion because, it said, his criminal history outweighed his medical needs (and imminent death). Phillip contacted his lawyer, Ruben Iniguez, and Ruben and Steve Sady filed a motion with the court, contending that BOP was putting itself in the position of the judge, not filing the motion unless it thought the motion should be granted. After a couple of weeks of litigation, BOP agreed to file the motion, and the judge immediately ordered Mr. Smith’s release on March 12, 2012, seven months after the motion should have been filed.  Mr. Smith gave a videotaped interview from home on April 2 and died April 9.  Hundreds of people die of natural causes in BOP custody every year but BOP filed only 55 motions from 2009 to 2011.  This was an unusual case in that the client called his lawyer and the lawyer took action that put pressure on BOP to file the motion. 

 The standards for Federal Prisons and State of Florida Prisons vary. For information on the process for releasing inmates early in Florida Prisons, Pinellas Jail or Hillsborough because of life threatening illness or for other reasons humane contact a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney.