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Joshua Dall-Leighton is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate in his charge at the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 2015 Press Herald fileJoshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 

A trial begins Monday for a former prison guard accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a woman who was incarcerated at a transitional corrections facility in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton, 34, faces five charges of gross sexual assault and one of unlawful sexual contact. All are felonies, and he has pleaded not guilty.

Dall-Leighton received widespread media attention in June 2015 for donating a kidney to a woman who advertised her need for a new organ in the back window of her car. That gift of his kidney to a virtual stranger may play a role in his trial.

Among the motions filed in the case is a request by the state to keep that information from the jury. The defense objected, saying it was evidence of his character. It was not clear Friday how the judge had ruled on that motion and others.

The indictment states the alleged crimes took place on multiple days between December 2015 and February 2016. During that time, Dall-Leighton worked at a pre-release center for female inmates in Alfred, where the woman was finishing a prison sentence.

An affidavit filed in York County Superior Court by a Maine Department of Corrections detective describes alleged sexual encounters between the guard and the woman in a prison transport van. Dall-Leighton drove the van to take the woman to her workplace in Sanford, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quoted a letter the woman wrote to a Bangor attorney describing the advances of an officer at the pre-release center. She said she eventually became intoxicated so she would be transferred from the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred back to the Maine Correctional Facility in Windham to get away from him.

“I avoided sexual intercourse with this officer for some time but because of his position of power, and the many things I stood to lose, I felt pressured to engage,” she wrote. “This officer transported me to work several times per week and we were often alone while driving. I requested a job change, but was repeatedly denied. I felt I was in a no-win situation.”

Dall-Leighton stopped working at the pre-release center when he was charged, his defense lawyer told the Portland Press Herald at the time.

More than two years have passed since a York County grand jury indicted Dall-Leighton in November 2016. Neither the defense attorney nor the District Attorney’s Office returned a call for comment Friday.

The woman was convicted in January 2012 in Rockland of elevated aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but six years suspended. Now 34 years old, she has been released and is on probation. The Portland Press Herald does not name the victims of alleged sex crimes without their consent.

She also filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Dall-Leighton, as well as the state and prison officials she said failed to protect her from the assaults. The former guard did not respond to the complaint, meaning he was in default. A federal judge then ordered him to pay $1.1 million to the former inmate, although it is not clear if he can or will pay that sum.

Ezra Willey, who represents the woman in the civil matter but does not have an active role in the criminal case, said he is pursuing options for his client to collect at least part of that award. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against the state and the corrections officials, a decision Willey has appealed.

Willey credited the woman for coming forward with her allegations against Dall-Leighton and referenced the #MeToo movement that has shed light on sexual misconduct.

“She’s a recovery coach now,” he said. “She’s been speaking at different events about addiction. She’s really gotten out there in the community and is not only trying to help herself, but she’s really trying to help other people. I really admire her for that.”

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HALLOWELL — One corrections officer spread a false rumor that the new female officer at the state prison in South Windham was a stripper.

Another one called her “Genitalia,” instead of her real name, which also began with a “G.”

She was asked by a colleague if he could measure her buttocks. When she said no, he did it anyway. She was asked about her favorite sexual positions and to describe her breasts.

When her complaints were not taken seriously, she quit her job and filed sexual harassment and retaliation complaints against the Department of Corrections with the Maine Human Rights Commission, detailing her claims in a sworn statement.

The state settled the case. Cost to taxpayers: $20,000.

A beginning state trooper – a male – was placed under the supervision of a male sergeant, who took him on assignments to secluded locations, rubbed the trooper’s inner thigh and talked about skinny-dipping. The sergeant gave the trooper a rug and told him how good it felt to lay naked on it, according to the trooper’s sworn statement.

The trooper got a transfer, but the sergeant called him regularly, making comments about penises and oral sex and suggested they take a naked sauna together.

The trooper filed a sexual harassment complaint and the state settled the case out of court. Cost to taxpayers: $50,000.

A corrections officer was threatened on a website run by anonymous corrections staff after she complained of sexual harassment. Cost to taxpayers: $137,500.

Retaliation in the Human Services department, disability discrimination in Public Safety, sex discrimination in Corrections and on and on for a total of 45 such cases settled by the state in the past 10 years.

• The cost to taxpayers for a range of alleged bad behavior by state employees towards their fellow workers in the past 10 years is almost $1.85 million.

• The state has spent about another $500,000 to defend itself in the cases.

• Forty-four percent of the cases came from two law enforcement departments – Corrections and Public Safety, home of the Maine State Police. Those 20 settlements cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

• The most common charges were sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation, the latter often in response to filing a previous charge.

• Of the 19 state employees who said they experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, two-thirds were women.

• In all of the settlements, the state admitted no liability.

No tracking by department

State law requires that all new employees receive sexual harassment training their first year in the job, according to Assistant Attorney General Susan Herman.

Herman said her office does not track the claims to find out where there might be a chronic problem.

Public records do not include any disciplinary action that may have been taken in the 45 cases.

Some details kept secret

The settlement agreements – legally binding documents signed by the state and the employee – are often written in a way that prevents full public disclosure.

For example, in 34 of the 45 cases, in return for the settlement, employees and the state agreed not to disclose the terms of the agreements.

The secrecy goes even further in the 21 cases that have non-disparagement clauses. Typically, they state, “Both parties agree that they will not disparage the other.”

In 82 percent of the cases, the process began with the employee filing a complaint with the commission. (The others filed civil lawsuits.) The commission, a state agency established in 1971, investigates complaints of discrimination from public and private employees.

Webbert, the employment attorney, said, “Based on representing many state employees … I have observed that the worst problems … are in the law enforcement areas. … These are the areas that most often have leadership that sends a message to the rest of the organization of hostility or indifference to civil rights requirements, especially equal treatment and respect for women and workers with same-sex sexual orientation.”

Payments from state budget

The settlement payments don’t come from traditional insurance; the state is self-insured for these cases. That means the cash comes directly from the state budget.

The Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s prisons, is currently assessed $101,000, 10 percent of the total self-insurance budget, while it only has 6.8 percent of the state’s 18,500 employees. The reason is the disproportionate number of settlements in Corrections.

The department’s employee discrimination settlements were one reason the Legislature asked its investigative agency to evaluate Corrections in 2009. The Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability report was called “Organizational Culture and Weaknesses in Reporting Avenues Are Likely Inhibiting Reporting and Action on Employee Concerns.”

The report said intimidation, retaliation and distrust within Corrections kept a lid on exposing internal problems. Combined, the practices “appear unethical” and “expose the State to unnecessary risks and liabilities.”

Recent progress

According to two long-time state Human Resources officials, in the past two years there has been a push in state government to deal more effectively with discrimination and harassment.

The change was at least partially a reaction to the costly settlements.

She also praised a new attitude in Public Safety, which she traced to a new head of the state police, Col. Robert Williams.

Joyce Oreskovich, human resources director for the state, said “(Williams) is much more interested in fairness and equity” than previous management.

The two women said there’s been a shift in Corrections, also, under Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who took the job in early 2011.

“Very early on, Commissioner Ponte began talking about changing the culture in Corrections,” Shippee said. “I am definitely seeing an interest in swift and firm discipline that they’re not wavering on. That is one of the best ways to get across that we’re taking this seriously, if people are held accountable for these behaviors.”

‘They use a lot of retaliation’

One of the incidents that let to the OPEGA study was the 2008 case of Pamela Sampson, a corrections officer at the state prison in Warren.

In her lawsuit against the state, she said she was sexually harassed by a sergeant who was later fired for sexually harassing another officer.

When she complained to management, she said they retaliated by investigating her on charges of sexually molesting inmates.

She was later cleared, but she ultimately left the state job because of the stress and concern for her safety.

The state denied she was sexually harassed and that the sergeant was dismissed for harassment, but admits the charges against her “were not substantiated.”

The state settled her claim in 2007 for $66,000. Only six of the 45 claims were settled for a higher amount.

Although Sampson’s settlement has a non-disclosure and non-disparagement clause, she was willing to be interviewed.

“If you speak about anything against these guys (in Corrections), it’s not good,” she said. “They use a lot of retaliation. That’s why everything was thrown out in my case: They tried to create a false investigation against me.”

Sampson now lives in Bangor and is looking for a job in security.

“I wanted to continue working at my job, and I miss it very much,” Sampson said. “It’s just really hard right now.”

From the case files

Examples of discrimination charges from court documents and complaints filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission:

Bets on her sex life

The corrections officer was hired in 2001, one of the few females in that job. (The employee is not being identified because of the salacious nature of the allegations.) Among the claims in her sexual harassment lawsuit:

• Some fellow officers “had a betting pool about whom and when (she) would sleep with first,” including inmates.

• Rumors circulated that she “was willing to perform fellatio for $20.”

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• She claimed her supervisor was trying to force her out because she had complained about the sexual harassment. One example she cited involved a report she said was designed to undermine her: that she witnessed a male officer demonstrate how he could touch his nose with his tongue.

According to the report, she said: “I can’t believe he can do that. I think I’m in love.”

In her court filing, she claimed she never made the remark. Instead, she said the officer was ordered by the supervisor to fabricate the comment. In the state’s response to that charge, it agreed that the officer admitted he did not hear the offensive comment, but denied that he was ordered to make up the claim.

The female officer eventually quit the department when she said behavior and comments by officers and a supervisor created “a hostile work environment.”

While the state contested some of her allegations, it eventually paid a lump sum cash settlement to her for $65,000.

The kissing supervisor

From 2007-2008, Trish Smith was a juvenile program worker at the Department of Corrections Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston. Her lawsuit against the department for creating a hostile work environment and retaliation details the case of a supervisor known for his advances towards female employees.

The suit, citing Smith’s allegations and also affidavits from other employees, is unusual in that the state admits some of the behavior.

Some examples of what the state admitted:

• The supervisor “made inappropriate comments and jokes of a sexual nature, inappropriately touched and hugged and attempted to kiss” Smith and demonstrated similar behavior with other employees.

• In March 2004, the supervisor “intentionally snapped” the bra of an employee.

The state denied some of the other claims by Smith, including that management failed to keep her supervisor away from her, as they had promised to do after she complained.

Smith’s suit said she felt forced to resign because of the unwanted contact with the supervisor.

The state settled for $69,500.

There is no public record of what happened to her supervisor.

— Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

Contact MCPIR at mainecenter@gmail.com or on the Web at pinetreewatchdog.org.

FEBRUARY 26, 2019

The former chief medical officer of New York City jails has just published a remarkable new book about the health risks of incarceration. The book is titled “Life and Death in Rikers Island.” Dr. Homer Venters offers unprecedented insight into what happens inside prison walls to create new health risks for incarcerated men and women, including neglect, blocked access to care, physical and sexual violence, and brutality by corrections officers. Venters further reveals that when prisoners become ill, are injured or even die in custody, the facts of the incident are often obscured. We speak to Dr. Venters and Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. His name is synonymous with all that’s wrong with the prison system: Kalief Browder. Kalief spent three years at Rikers Island jail in New York without charge. He was a 16-year-old high school sophomore when he was detained on suspicion of stealing a backpack. Browder never pleaded guilty, was never convicted. He maintained his innocence and requested a trial, but was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed. He was held at Rikers Island jail for three years, beaten by guards and prisoners alike. After enduring nearly 800 days in solitary confinement and abuses, Browder was only released when the case was dismissed. He committed suicide on June 6, 2015, at his home in the Bronx. He was 22 years old. Nearly four years later, the question remains: Why did Kalief have to die? Is there something inherently wrong with incarceration that makes it a health risk, sometimes with deadly consequences?

Well, a remarkable new book attempts to answer those questions as it shines a light on the health risks of imprisonment. The book is titled Life and Death in Rikers Island. Its author, Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer of New York City jails. He offers unprecedented insight into what happens inside prison walls to create new health risks for incarcerated men and women, including neglect, blocked access to care, physical and sexual violence, and brutality by corrections officers. Venters further reveals that when prisoners become ill or injured, or even die in custody, the facts of the incident are often obscured. He writes, quote, “[W]e work in settings that are designed and operated to keep the truth hidden. Detainees are beaten and threatened to prevent them from telling the truth about how they are injured, health staff are pressured to lie or omit details in their own documentation, and families experience systematic abuse and humiliation during the visitation process,” unquote. The risks of jail are disproportionately harmful for people with behavioral health problems and for people of color, Venters explains. He concludes Rikers Island must close, and suggests how that should be done.

Well, Dr. Homer Venters joins us now, physician and former chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services. Again, his book, Life and Death in Rikers Island. He’s currently senior health and justice fellow at Community Oriented Correctional Health Services and associate professor at New York University’s College of Global Public Health. Also with us, Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. Her most recent piece is a review of Dr. Venters’ book. It’s called Life and Death in Rikers Island. “Do Jails Kill People?” is the name of her article.

Welcome you both to Democracy Now! OK, Dr. Venters, start off talking about why you wrote this book and how Kalief Browder’s death relates to all of this.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, early on in my time overseeing the health system in the New York City jails, it became clear that our job was not just to take care of people who were injured or address the medical problems people had, but that this system was conferring new health risks to our patients. So, our patients were getting hurt because of the way the jails were set up and run. And so, it was clear to my team and I that part of our mission had to be to use our tools as public health and epidemiology folks, as well as doctors and nurses, to document just what these health risks were and to report those out. And one of the things that over the years became clear is that those health risks, as you just stated, aren’t meted out in a uniform fashion. People with behavioral health problems, people of color, our data show, were more likely to find themselves on the wrong end of these health risks.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why prisons are lethal. Talk about Rikers Island, for example.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, we can start with the first and most serious health risk, which is death. It’s clear that there are many preventable, or what we would call jail-attributable, deaths that happen. We worked hard to document those while I was leading the health service in the New York City jails, but there are many others. So, for instance, people that we know who are coming in with very serious health problems—diabetes or hepatitis C or needing dialysis—who then are denied those services, despite the fact that we have them available; people who are exposed to solitary confinement, not just the isolation, but the brutality and violence associated with it, who do take extreme measures to get away from the distress that that setting causes—those are things that were conferred to those people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us the story of Carlos Mercado and Angel Ramirez.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: So, those are two patients who, as have been publicly reported, entered into the jail system with clearly identified health problems, one with diabetes and one undergoing withdrawal. And as has been reported in the press, they both, despite having clearly communicated their problems and even having their problems elicited and understood by quite a few people in the jails, received a punishment response and a neglect response that led to their death, even though they were in a system that was able to provide them the healthcare they needed.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happens to a prisoner when they’re sick? You also talk about the tension between the doctors, the nurses—the health professionals—and the guards.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: In the best of circumstances, the correctional officers, who are with our patients all the time—you know, they see and interact with people much more than we do in the health service—they determine that somebody is ill and they need help, or somebody just reports, “I don’t feel well,” then they’re taken to medical care, and they get the appropriate level of medical care. They’re transferred to the hospital if they need something that the jails can’t provide.

In the worst circumstance—and there are some situations that actually hardwire in this less ideal response—people aren’t able to say that they’re sick or that they feel well, or when they do, they’re not believed, and so they’re kept in a chaotic intake pen, or they’re kept in a solitary confinement cell, even though they’re saying, clearly, “I need insulin,” or “I’m sick,” or “I’ve just swallowed something that could kill me,” and then they’re denied access to healthcare.

And then, finally, I would say that because of the pressure of dual loyalty, this really crushing and very omnipresent ethical problem, human rights problem, in correctional health, that even when they do make it to the health service, sometimes the doctor or nurse or social worker in front of them is acting more as an agent of the security service than as a healthcare provider.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your own experiences. You entered the jails in what? 2008?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: About a decade ago?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you find there? What shocked you most?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I believe that what—one of the things that shocked me the most was the high level of injury and injury associated with violence. Certainly, all physicians and healthcare people, we have experience taking care of injuries. But so many of our patients were coming to us with injuries, and so many of them were saying that these injuries were from things called slip and falls. So, you know, patients that come with a fracture to the jaw, a very—you know, very serious injury, or a fracture of the upper arm or the leg, and then saying that they had slipped and fallen—things that just did not—you know, we didn’t believe. But also, it was clear, when you interacted with these patients, that they were terrified and that they, actually, in that moment, were thinking very clearly about their survival and their preservation. And so, it makes a very difficult proposition for a doctor or nurse.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you set up an injury surveillance system?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: That’s right. Shortly before I arrived, Christopher Robinson, another young man who died in that same jail that Kalief Browder was held in, he had been beaten to death. And so, when I did arrive and started with the Correctional Health Service, we set about understanding how many other people were injured, especially adolescents. And we saw lots of jaw fractures and hand fractures. And so, at first we were dealing with paper records, but then we quickly implemented in the New York City jail system an electronic medical record. But we were able to modify that in really major ways, so that we could capture data not just about the type of injury people had, but about whether or not it was intentional. Did it happen during a use of force? Was there a blow to the head? Then we could use that data to report out to others, not just in the correctional service or the city, but outside parties that might be interested, what the rates of injury were, so that we had empirical data to show that brutality and injury was in fact a real crisis for our patients.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what would happen when you would send an email to the DOC, to the Department of Corrections, to upgrade an injury, to upgrade what you saw.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, the injury reporting system on the health side, as I mentioned, we built a pretty sophisticated electronic medical record system. On the security side, it required paper, pieces of paper, injury reports, to be updated and amended actually on an individual piece of paper. So, when I would find a patient, as I often would, who had an injury that was more serious than initially reported, or that the circumstances of the injury were different than was originally reported, unlike in healthcare, where we want all information to lead us to the quickest, best outcome for the patient, these paper forms then would be put back in my face, and people would say, “Listen, you have to find the original doctor or go to the original jail. Go find this piece of paper”—that nobody can find. “That’s the proper way to get this addressed, not simply to tell us that, just because you’re a doctor or a health administrator, you think something else happened.”

AMY GOODMAN: Why is there so little transparency? Talk about the silent complicity you describe.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: You know, these are paramilitary settings. And so, the health service, in most of these places, even when we have an independent health authority, we still rely on the correctional staff for our safety and security. And so, as such, because there isn’t a lot of mandated transparency about health outcomes, about the true characteristics of injuries, for instance, at the time we were doing this work, most of the system is designed to keep information on the inside, so that anybody who wants to change the original account, whether it’s a patient or a doctor or a nurse, faces a real gauntlet of challenges, that not only are bureaucratic and administrative, but actually could put their own personal safety at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and bring in Jennifer Gonnerman, who wrote the review of your piece for The New Yorker—the review of your book. Dr. Homer Venters’ book is called Life and Death in Rikers Island. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Blue Prelude” by Ethel Ennis, Baltimore’s “First Lady of Jazz.” She passed away February 17th at the age of 86. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

I want to turn to Kalief Browder in his own words. Kalief Browder, of course, is the—well, was 16 when he was arrested and sent to Rikers Island. He ended up being there for three years, much of that time in solitary confinement, without charge. He was arrested when he was a high school sophomore. Police believed—they said that he stole a backpack, but could never come up with the person who made the accusation, who they drove around a neighbor, and the person pointed out Kalief walking on the street. And then that person just disappeared. Kalief would not plead in prison, because he said he was taught not to lie, and he said he was innocent. Held for three years, much of that time in solitary confinement. He said that while he was in solitary confinement at Rikers, the guards often refused to give him his meals.

KALIEF BROWDER: If you say anything that could tick them off any type of way, some of them, which is a lot of them, what they do is they starve you. They won’t feed you. And it’s already hard in there, because if you get the three trays that you get every day, you’re still hungry, because I guess that’s part of the punishment. So, if they starve you one tray, that could really make an impact on you. And—

MARC LAMONT HILL: How much were you starved?

KALIEF BROWDER: I was starved a lot. I can’t even—I can’t even count.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Kalief Browder speaking on HuffPost Live, when it was around. He died within two years after this interview. He took his own life. He went on to say he was once starved four times in a row—no breakfast, lunch, dinner or breakfast again. After enduring nearly 800 days in solitary, Browder was only released when the case was dismissed. Browder took his own life June 6, 2015, at his home in the Bronx. He was 22 years old. He was a student at Bronx Community College.

Jennifer Gonnerman wrote a lot about his case for The New Yorker and exposed videos that were gotten from the inside of Rikers showing him being beaten by guards and prisoners alike.

Jennifer, you have covered the prison system a lot. And you were really taken with this book, Life and Death in Rikers Island, and wrote a review of it for The New Yorker.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Yeah, you know, I saw an early copy of this book in December. And a lot of books come in. You know, as a reporter, you get a lot of—often get a lot of books and people who want publicity. I started reading this book, and I really couldn’t put it down. I thought it was so important, crucially important. And I feel like it covers one of the most overlooked aspects of mass incarceration. I mean, mass incarceration has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. But what—the health risks that folks endure when they go inside is something that I feel needs much more attention. And I think, as a society, we’ve sort of grown numb to these headlines, like an individual died in prison or jail, and we don’t really follow up with the necessary questions. And what Dr. Venters’ book does is really pushes us to ask those harder questions, like: Did this death have to happen? Was it preventable? Did something happen in the jail that led to this individual’s death? And those are the kind of questions the public—and journalists, in particular—really need to be asking.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us the case of Ronald Spear.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Ronald Spear is one of the gentlemen in the book. He was in Rikers Island. He was in his fifties. He was a kidney dialysis patient. In 2012, one night, he felt very ill and tried to get the attention of the doctor. He was housed in the infirmary on Rikers Island. There was a medical office next door to his dorm. He snuck out of the dorm to get into the hall to get to the medical office, and the doctor told him—you know, a guard stopped him, and the doctor said, “You have to keep waiting.” He had been waiting for hours. The officer, the correction officer, and Mr. Spear got into an altercation, which ended with two other guards coming in and restraining him on the floor. And that would have been the end of the situation, but then the first officer, whose name is Brian Coll, came in and kicked Mr. Spear in the head repeatedly, and he died right there on the floor. This case was covered up, lied about for years, until, finally, federal prosecutors in the Southern District in Manhattan brought a prosecution against the officer. And he went on trial in 2016. So I sat through the trial. And obviously the focus was on what this officer did and didn’t do.

But one of the subtexts of that court case was what the medical staff was doing at the time. So, this crime took place in the hallway right outside the medical offices, and the nurse got on the stand and said, when she heard the altercation in the hallway, she opened her door, and then she shut her door, and that she had sort of been taught to do that. It’s almost like an unofficial rule on Rikers Island. And the doctor who was on duty and hears all of this commotion going on in the hallway, he was sitting in his office and never looked out the window, never opened the door, testified to all of this, and only opened his door after the whole thing was over, and somebody knocked on the door—I believe it was a captain—and said, “Can you come out here and, you know, help?” And at that point, Mr. Spear is on the floor, in handcuffs, face down and no pulse. And so, essentially, this homicide took place within feet of the medical staff. And that always stuck with me. And, you know, this idea of an unofficial rule of averting your eyes when there’s an altercation between correction officers and inmates is something that actually shows up in Dr. Venters’ book also.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that 112 people died in New York City jails between 2010 and 2016. That’s like almost what? Twenty a year.

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: More, probably, in some years, right? Yeah.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Some years, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is society’s responsibility here?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I think that there are really very large policy decisions that have been made to keep these deaths and injuries hidden. And so, to undo these problems is not simply a matter of a little bit of training for one group of staff or another. It is that we have to establish medical systems that work not only to care for the patients and their health problems, but also to collect the data we do in the rest of the country, and report it out. We also need independent oversight. We’re fortunate in New York City to have the Board of Correction, an incredibly vital institution that really doesn’t exist in most of the other 3,000 counties in the States. But they need to be supported and the independence to make sure that the health service and the correctional service adhere to rules.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Venters, you also say Rikers should be closed.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it happening fast enough?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Well, so, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, led by Liz Glazer, is doing an amazing amount of work to come up with the actual planning that can make it happen. But this is a political question. To close Rikers Island, one of the—

AMY GOODMAN: How many people does it imprison?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: The jail system today has about—has under 9,000. But we really need to get down to 5,000 or so, which means building at least another borough jail.

AMY GOODMAN: You write, the health risks that are faced, particularly by people with behavioral problems, in prison—talk about that.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yeah, I think that the most extreme example, that’s really an obscenity, is the notion that people who exhibit symptoms of mental health problems would be then put into solitary confinement, where we know that they’ll get worse and often die. And so, the idea that we had a solitary confinement unit for people with mental illness in the New York City jails until 2014 is horrific. It’s not—that’s not a lack of resources. That’s not a lack of thought. Thought went into it. And so, where Jason Echevarria and others died, you know, that was an affirmative decision. So, undoing those bad decisions, coming up with a more clinically appropriate, a therapeutic model, in most cases, means not having people in jail. It means having people in a community setting, that’s an actual healthcare setting. We built alternative models in the New York City jails, these units, the CAPS and PACEunits, these very therapeutic units, but they’re incredibly expensive—couple million dollars a year for 20 patients. And every aspect of those units would be more effective if they were not in the jails.

AMY GOODMAN: Mass incarceration in this country has been taken on by grassroots activists now for years. And it’s certainly reading, I think, a—reaching a tipping point, where you have people across the political spectrum saying we have the largest prison population in the world. How can this be changed?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: I think that one of—there’s an important voice that needs to be brought to this, which is healthcare systems, health insurance companies, because keep in mind that while most people don’t die in jail or prison, many people are coming home with physical and psychological damage from these settings. And the care they need—which they may have struggle to access, but the care they need is going to be provided by community hospitals. Just take the example of traumatic brain injury. We documented all of the hidden traumatic brain injury just in the New York City jail systems. That increases the risk of those people for dementia and CTEdown the road, that is incredibly costly to them and their families.

AMY GOODMAN: How do people on the outside get access to this information on the inside, particularly families of people who are in prison?

DR. HOMER VENTERS: So, I think that it is—these systems are designed to keep the truth from—certainly from families, who are, you know, lied to all the time. And from—but I think that it’s incredibly important to have aggressive journalism. But also, I think that some of the structures that exist in New York City should be replicated elsewhere, so having a board of correction or an oversight agency that demands data. Having investigative journalists that dig into individual deaths is incredibly important.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Coll just wrote a new piece in The New Yorker, “The Jail Health-Care Crisis,” talking about the opioid epidemic, among other things.

DR. HOMER VENTERS: Yeah, I think that that’s a—that is also a very good example, that most jails and prisons, people don’t have access to evidence-based addiction care. So, many people end up incarcerated because of an addiction problem. Then, because they’re denied access to buprenorphine and methadone, they leave, and, we know—we have documented, here in New York City—their risk of death when they leave is much higher. Now, in New York City, we have a methadone program and a buprenorphine program for people who are incarcerated, but very few jails around the country have that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Jennifer Gonnerman, what gives you the most hope as you continue to cover the prison-industrial complex?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Well, you know, as you were mentioning, there’s a lot of activists that have taken up this cause, which is fantastic, because, you know, back in the ’90s, the 2000s, you just didn’t see that level of interest or enthusiasm in activism for taking on these really challenging topics. That gives me hope. And also folks like Dr. Venters, people who have been on the inside, who have witnessed horrific things, and then have the wherewithal and the courage and take the time to really record them, so the rest of us can really, truly get a much better understanding of what’s going on behind bars.

AMY GOODMAN: And the access to information you, as a journalist, have, getting—for example, you leaked these videos of what was taking place with Kalief being beaten, the videos that are taken, the surveillance system within prison?

JENNIFER GONNERMAN: Right. You know, that was very unusual. You know, there is very little video footage that has come out of—from prisons around the country, despite there being a number of surveillance cameras. You know, like Dr. Venters said, the truth is hidden. It’s intentionally hidden. It’s very difficult—you know, reporting on what’s going on inside of jails and prisons is very difficult. But, obviously, the more journalists who are taking on the challenge, the more we’re going to get to the heart of what the truth is.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services. His new book, Life and Death in Rikers Island. And Jennifer Gonnerman, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. We’ll link to her piece, “Do Jails Kill People?”

 

Image result for Criminal Justice Academy in VassalboroVassalboro,  Maine — A sheriff in Maine says two corrections officers have been placed on paid leave after a fellow officer was shot in an apparent accident at a police training academy.

Matthew Morrison of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department was shot in the leg in a parking lot at the Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro on Monday. He was taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral in Augusta and then flown by the Lifeflight helicopter to Maine Medical, according to CBS affiliate WAGM-TV,  and is recovering.

Police say 24-year-old Cumberland County corrections officer Matthew Begner shot Morrison. Police say the shooting took place inside a pickup truck owned by by another Cumberland County officer, 25-year-old Cody Gillis, of Brunswick.

 

Police say the 9mm gun is owned by Gillis.

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The shooting took place as the three men were leaving the academy grounds for the evening around 8 p.m. The gun had been stored in the console of Gillis’ truck.

The director of the academy says he will also review the shooting and is awaiting the final investigative report from Maine State Police. WGME-TV reports ( http://bit.ly/2sy9dWR ) that the academy director says corrections officers aren’t supposed to have guns on campus.

The Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office will also receive a copy of that report, the station reports.

State police and the Cumberland County sheriff are both investigating.

 

  

AUGUSTA, Maine — Inmates in Maine’s state prisons are more likely to be sexually assaulted than those in most other correctional facilities around the U.S., a recent Department of Justice report suggests.

The Maine State Prison in Warren was one of eight facilities from among 463 visited by Department of Justice officials in which the rate of sexual assault was significantly higher than the national average. Those assaults, according to DOJ, are perpetrated by other inmates and prison staff.

State prison officials are working to change that poor record in response to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, of 2003, and to a report prompted by the law earlier this year that featured survey data of 81,566 inmates nationwide. Also, in May, the Obama administration began pushing a zero-tolerance approach for sexual assault in prisons.

Inmates at the Maine State Prison and the Maine Correctional Center in Windham were surveyed between 2007 and 2009 for the report.

In the 2007 survey at the Maine Correctional Center, 173 of an estimated 650 inmates were asked about sexual assaults and unwanted sexual advances, responding using a computer touch screen that maintained confidentiality. The overall rate of sexual assault — including inmate-on-inmate, staff-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff — was found to be 5.6 percent, compared with a national rate of 4.5 percent, according to Allen Beck, senior statistical advisor at the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“If the data are restricted to inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization,” Beck reported, “the Maine facility rate was 4.4 percent, compared with a national rate of 2.1 percent.”

The 2008-2009 survey of 143 of about 950 prisoners at the Maine State Prison found an overall rate of 9.9 percent sexual victimization rate. The corresponding national rate was 4.4 percent, Beck said. If limited to inmate-on-inmate assaults, the rate at the facility was 5.9 percent, compared to a national rate of 2.1 percent.

Beck said both surveys were found to have high rates of statistical accuracy. Comparing the sampling process to a presidential preference poll, Beck said, “This is actually better,” because larger numbers were sampled and because mathematical formulas and historical data confirmed the accuracy.

The survey included 10 questions each for men and women inmates about various sexual acts. Each question started with one of the following two phrases: “During the last 12 months, did another inmate use physical force to make you …?” or “Did another inmate, without using physical force, pressure you or make your feel that you had to …?”

The survey found that nationally, most sexual assaults occurred in the first 24 hours of a victim’s incarceration and occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who has been overseeing state prisons in Maine since 2011, said he had not been able to review the raw data that came from the inmate surveys conducted in Maine.

“I don’t know if it’s accurate,” he said of the DOJ report. “You just have to take the data for what it is.”

In Maine, any sexual contact between inmates and between staff and inmates is prohibited, and officials assume any such contact is not consensual. Maine also does not tabulate complaints from inmates of sexual assault at the hands of other prisoners or by staff, Ponte said, nor does it keep easily retrievable lists of criminal charges that followed such complaints.

“We’re just not collecting data in a sophisticated way,” he said, “but we probably should.”

The commissioner also noted that there is a range of complaints. Some fall into the petty category, he said, such as when an inmate claims a guard groped him during a pat-down search.

Better data will come as part of a $545,000 PREA grant to the state, Ponte said.

The grant is paying for a PREA coordinator at the Corrections Department, new information technology infrastructure and software, an outside consultant to review the culture at Maine State Prison to bring it into compliance with PREA, and a screening process which Ponte hopes will identify likely perpetrators and victims when they enter the facility, thereby allowing administrators to house them accordingly.

All states have until August to comply with PREA.

“Ten years ago, it was an untalked about topic,” Ponte said of rape in prison. Many prison officials viewed it as an inevitability, and incidents often were not reported. In those days, he said, “An assault was an assault,” and so a punch was not differentiated from a sexual attack.

That attitude changed with PREA, he said.

“It’s clearly an area that we’ve put a lot of attention and focus on,” he said, and improvements will come.

Stan Moody, who served as prison chaplain at Maine State Prison from 2008 to 2009, paints a different picture.

Though he gives Ponte high marks for making changes in the culture by moving staff and prisoners to different parts of the facility, Moody described a system he likened to “a mini Mafia.” Inmates were beholden to some staff members as their “kids,” and lower in the hierarchy, inmates were beholden to other inmates as their “kids.” Sexual favors and drugs were the currency in this power structure, he said.

Moody said prisons are “a hormone factory,” and that sex, both consensual and nonconsensual, “may not be tolerated officially, but it’s going to be a regular feature of prison.”

“The DOC has a zero-tolerance policy regarding sex, but that defies reality and really amounts to a zero-tolerance policy of dealing with sexual assault — the three-monkey defense of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” Moody said.

When pressed for specifics, the former chaplain said that during the time he was at the prison, no inmate filed an official complaint about a sexual assault. Moody said that was because assaulted inmates feared retribution from other inmates or guards. He stressed that he would warn inmates for their own protection that if they reported a sexual assault to him, he was obligated to report the incident and the name of the complainant.

“Virtually all of the reporting that I received had to do with physical and emotional harassment and guard complicity with harassment,” he said. “Sex could very well have been part of that harassment, but if so it was not mentioned. … What that tells me is that sexual assault is an accepted part of prison life and buried.”

Ponte declined to comment specifically on Moody’s claims because he was not commissioner during the years Moody worked at the prison, he said. But he cast some doubt on those claims based on his contact with inmates and their families.

“I think the place was much different when [Moody] was there,” Ponte said. “I take 10-15 calls a day and I get 10-15 emails a day from families,” and in his nearly two-year tenure, no one has reported a sexual assault.

“I talk to family members, I talk to inmates,” he said.

Now, any complaint of sexual violence from an inmate is required to be passed up the chain of command. “That goes right to the warden,” Ponte said, and an investigator is assigned to the case. The perpetrator is removed from the general population.

With the federal PREA grant, a special telephone number on a phone in the prison’s day rooms can be accessed by inmates to make complaints of sexual assaults. The calls will be monitored by the PREA coordinator hired through the grant, the commissioner said.

“We established a security team at Maine State Prison,” Ponte said, which identifies sexual predators and drug dealers. “We have a very good handle on who’s in those categories.”

Two important keys to changing the culture, the commissioner said, are training and hiring practices. Ponte wants to raise the employee screening process to that used by the Maine State Police, which employs polygraph tests and psychological profiles to ensure good hires.

Last month, the Corrections Department published a request for proposals to develop an inmate screening process. A $75,000 grant, created with federal funds, will go to the winning bidder, expected to be announced next month. The work must be completed within six months and the state must be in compliance with the federal law by Aug. 20, 2013.

Once developed, the screenings will be conducted at the Maine State Prison, the Maine Correctional Center, the Mountain View Youth Detention Center in Charleston and the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

In Maine, there are just over 2,000 adult prisoners in the state facilities and about 200 under 21 in state facilities.

The department is not limiting the bidders for the grant to any particular kind of organization, though psychiatric research centers and institutions of higher learning would be likely groups to respond, according to the Corrections Department’s Michelle Urbanek, who has been named the state’s PREA coordinator.

“Nobody has been able to form [an effective] screening tool yet. We’re hoping someone out there can help,” Urbanek said.

Judy Plummer, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said two or three states had developed their own screening process, but when they were applied to Maine prisoners, nearly everyone was identified as either a potential perpetrator or victim, rendering it useless.

If potential perpetrators and victims can be identified, Urbanek said, “It’s going to help us know where to house them. It will help us fit them appropriately.”

Urbanek said information generated by a screening tool also would help medical and mental health staff in prisons.

Not everyone sees the screening as innocuous, though.

Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition said her group wholeheartedly supports the goal of eliminating sexual assaults in prisons. But she worries that an incoming prisoner’s criminal history might unduly affect the screening, and that the process may be too subjective, resulting in curtailed civil liberties.

“Our concern is that the screening can cause problems that are not there,” Garvey said.

“It’s a problem in all prisons,” she said of sexual assault, the result of “putting together hundreds of people” without adequate outlets.

On TV and in movies, rape in prison is often a punchline to a joke, the DOJ report notes.

“But sexual abuse is never a laughing matter, nor is it punishment for a crime,” the report asserts. “Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own.

“Prison rape can have severe consequences for victims, for the security of correctional facilities, and for the safety and well-being of the communities to which nearly all incarcerated persons will eventually return,” the department concluded.

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Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

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