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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Betty Nelander

Under Fire, Long Beach Police Suspend Use of Self-Deleting Message App

by Betty Nelander

The TigerText app that permanently erases messages after a set time period has triggered controversy in Long Beach, California. There, the police department suspended use of it after its use was exposed by the media. What may have been sent using the self-erasing texting app remains unknown. Unlike many smartphone texts, these are not recoverable.

The confidential messaging system could be a way to conceal evidence, although the city has denied doing so or other “potentially incriminating information being disclosed to courts,” an Al Jazeera investigation revealed.

“Serving and former officers told Al Jazeera that police-issued phones had the software installed on them and that it was used to share details of police operations as well as sensitive personnel issues,” reported September 19, 2018. “Two officers said supervisors told them to use the app to have conversations that would not be discoverable.”

“Use of the application began when the Police Department transitioned to iPhones, which did not have a built-in secure communication feature sufficient for the needs of the Department,” according to a statement by the city on September 18, 2018. “The primary purpose of the Tiger Connect [TigerText] application was ...

Is Blue Privilege at Work in Texas Police Killings?

by Betty Nelander

Demonstrators who protested the police killings of black men in north Texas are crying blue privilege as the officers involved remained free in mid-September. In fact, nine of them who were exercising their First Amendment right to demonstrate outside AT&T Stadium were placed behind bars while officers involved in the deaths of O’Shae Terry and Botham Jean were not.

In the first case, Terry was fatally shot after being stopped for an expired registration tag September 1, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. Bodycam footage shows Terry and friend Terrance Harmon being pulled over. The officer, and a backup officer, smelled marijuana inside the SUV. When one of the men started to roll up the windows and Terry started the car, an officer was heard saying, “Stop.” The officer “stepped onto the SUV’s running board and grabbed the top of the partially-rolled up window as Terry began to drive away,” reports. “Once the vehicle appeared to be in motion, the officer pulled his gun and fired five shots into the SUV, striking Terry” before falling off the running board and being treated for minor injuries. The officer who killed Terry has not been identified and ...

Wrongful convictions: Tax relief deadline for exonerees looms

Exonerees can receive a special tax refund, thanks to a federal law that allows exonerees to recoup taxes paid on damages or restitution they received for their wrongful convictions. 

However, the deadline for filing a claim — December 17, 2018 — is looming.

Among those spreading the word is Jon Eldan, who leads the ...

Will Groundbreaking California Bail Reform Help or Hinder Defendants’ Likelihood of Pre-Trial Release?

by Betty Nelander

Gov. Jerry Brown hailed a sweeping cash bail elimination law in California as landmark, years-in-the-making legislation to fairly treat “rich and poor alike.” Whether it will keep more people out of jail remains to be seen.

The California Money Bail Reform Act makes California the first state to fully scrap cash bail. It was signed into law August 28 and will take effect on October 1, 2019. It eliminates cash bail at the state court level. The rationale for the reform is based on the argument that whether a suspect is placed in jail shouldn’t depend on his or her ability to pay but on the risk the individual poses and whether the person will show up in court.

In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 individuals remain in detention because they can’t afford to post bail, according to For those who do pay bail, it can be an excessive burden because the amounts defendants are often required to pay “rarely matches their circumstances.”

In practice, the biased cash bail system effectively favors the wealthy who can afford to pay for their freedom over the poor who are penalized. It has pressured “defendants ...

Federal Judge Extends Stay of Executions in Louisiana

by Betty Nelander

Louisiana’s 71 death-row prisoners are in limbo after a federal judge in that state ordered that a stay of executions be extended at least until July 18, 2019.

The order by U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was requested by the state. To continue with litigation challenging the state’s lethal injection protocol, said state’s attorney Jeffrey Cody, would be “a waste of resources and time” because “facts and issues involved in this proceeding continue to be in a fluid state.”

That protocol calls for a one-drug injection (pentobarbital) and a two-drug backup combo (the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam), but the drugs are not in the state inventory for executions. The state hasn’t been able to acquire the drugs because manufacturers don’t want to sell them for the procedure. And there is no legislation for alternative types of execution.

State Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, blames Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, for foot-dragging on the issue and points out that Texas carried out seven executions the first six months of the year. There were eight through July 17.

“Edwards countered that Landry is using the state’s difficulty with executions to score political points ...

Study Indicates Link Between Officer Fatigue and Public Complaints

by Betty Nelander

Nighttime police encounters tend to be more unsettling than those that occur during the day, a new study confirms.

Public complaints against cops rise when they work the night shift, a time when they are more likely to be fatigued. Eighty-six percent of public complaints against the officers were documented on a night shift and 58 percent “after an officer had worked a consecutive night shift the previous day,” the study found.

Blame it on lack of sleep, noted researchers from Washington State University and Central Queensland University at the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in June. Their conclusions were based on data from a U.S. Department of Justice-funded study in which four police departments reported on 32,712 shifts worked by 379 police officers.

The data revealed that officers tended to be more fatigued working nights. Complaints climbed when the officers worked back-to-back night shifts or worked court hours between night shifts. The daytime court hours were, in fact, times that night shift officers should have been sleeping or at least resting.

As fatigue increased, odds of a citizen complaint increased. Similarly, as predicted sleepiness levels increased, odds of a ...

Eight Death Row Prisoners Opt for Untested Nitrogen Gas Over Inhumane Lethal Injection

by Betty Nelander

A decision by Alabama lawmakers means that death row prisoners in the state could face execution by nitrogen hypoxia instead of barbaric lethal injection.

The decision renders moot a lawsuit by eight death row prisoners who also opted for this untested method over the injections. On July 10, 2018, the state attorney general, along with the prisoners and their lawyers, filed a joint motion to dismiss the litigation.

No state has used nitrogen gas inhalation as a means of execution, which would cut off oxygen in the blood stream and asphyxiate the prisoner. And there is no protocol in place for it, something that would likely face legal challenges.

“The plaintiffs in this case, and anyone else who elected the new method, cannot now be executed by lethal injection,” said John Palombi, an attorney with the Federal Defenders Program who is representing prisoners in the lawsuit, as quoted in the New York Post.

The eight prisoners, however, “did not waive their rights to eventually challenge the humaneness of execution by nitrogen and urged the state to make the protocol public when it is developed.”

And, so far, only Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have authorized nitrogen ...

Minneapolis Police Used EMS Staff to Drug Certain Suspects, Report Says

by Betty Nelander

A City of Minneapolis investigation has revealed that some people who were suspected of crimes were drugged by medical responders with a powerful anesthetic at the request of local police. The drugging requests took place over three years.

Ketamine, a date rape drug street-named Special K, was injected to subdue suspects who were reportedly severely agitated, combative, or a threat to themselves or others, although in some cases the individual was already restrained or did not fit the usage criteria, according to the draft report by the Office of Police Conduct Review, a division of the city’s Department of Civil Rights. The drug caused breathing or heart problems, the draft report said, requiring some people to be revived or intubated.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune obtained a copy of the draft report, which said the cases ranged from obstruction of justice to jaywalking.

The emergency medical workers from Hennepin Healthcare were asked to sedate a number of individuals. “Last year, ketamine sedations were used in .095 percent of the 81,500 EMS transports, or calls for service, that we did last year,” said Dr. William Heegaard, chief medical officer at Hennepin County Medical Center. The number of ...

NYPD’s Lack of Disciplinary Record Transparency Frustrates Prosecutors

by Betty Nelander

Disciplinary records of New York Police Department officers who arrest people have been closely shielded. Even the district attorneys, who sometimes must decide whether to charge arrestees with crimes based on an officer’s word, have often been out of the loop.

But now a news organization has revealed the secretive disciplinary records of NYPD officers from 2011 to 2015. And the public can see that hundreds of employees committed eye-opening offenses.

The internal records obtained by BuzzFeed through an anonymous source and verified by its investigation revealed officers were disciplined for offenses ranging “from lying to grand juries to physically attacking innocent people.”

“Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation,” said BuzzFeed. “Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone. Another, Roberson Tunis, sexually harassed and inappropriately touched a fellow officer. Some were guilty of lesser offenses, like mouthing off ...

State Attorney in Vermont Won’t Prosecute Misdemeanor Opioid Treatment Drug Cases

by Betty Nelander

One Vermont county is using the muscle of the law to help curb the deadly opioid epidemic.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George announced that her office will no longer prosecute “any citations or arrests for Misdemeanor Possession of Buprenorphine and related compounds such as Suboxone,” noting that “these drugs are intended to be life-saving.”

In her June 13, 2018, memo to the Chittenden County chiefs of police, George said the drugs “block the craving for heroin or other street opioids, minimize the chance of relapse, and help individuals reduce or abandon their use of heroin or other opioids, which in return, reduces crime, the likelihood of fatal overdoses and recidivism.”

Such therapy has earned the support of U.S. Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and many medical professionals in the federal health bureaucracy. But law enforcement draws a line at black market addiction-fighting drugs. points out that users who “possess, share, buy, and sell drugs proven to fight heroin and opioid addiction are breaking the law if they don’t have a prescription.”

Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services recently tried to restrict shipments of books to prisoners ...


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