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A Legal Look at Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 06/29/2015

Legislation The topic for June corrections.com looks at legal issues in corrections. Corrections and challenges to departmental policies and allegations against officers, often result in litigation and other legal challenges. We have an investment in our officers and staff and must ensure all are properly trained and current on any legal decisions. Those working in corrections have been sued by inmates for virtually anything. Some of these lawsuits have been frivolous and dismissed while others have merit at times. We must be aware of current issues and potential litigation.

Below are some key areas I selected from various research and data review:
  • First Amendment (Key issues not limited to visitation, mail, telephone, media, grievances, and religion)
  • Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)
  • Searches
  • Use of Force
  • Failure to Protect and Confinement Conditions
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI)
As you can see, we have some interesting legal topics to discuss this month. Before I discuss these topics, I want to mention some recent U.S. Supreme Court Justices (Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer) comments before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “Corrections is tne of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions we have in our entire government.” (Comments focused on costs, solitary confinement, long prison sentences, mandatory sentencing, and examples). I suggest you take some time to access the following site and take time to read the contents. (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/03/24/3637885/supreme-court-justices-implore-congress-reform-criminal-justice-system-not).

Due to the prison environment itself, the ‘nature of the beast’ exists.’ Inmates do not want to be there and some are going to do their best to obtain more rights and less restrictions. However, do not let this alarm you. Your corrections department has worked very hard to develop policies and procedures within the parameters of the law. If you work long enough in corrections you will be sued by an inmate(s). This is okay, following your policies and procedures, training received, and be able to document and show the courts your actions were within the legal requirements. The problem occurs when officers step outside the prescribed boundaries and limits. They violate the very same policies they are sworn to enforce.

The First Amendment focuses on a variety of issues and challenges we see in corrections. Training consists of identifying these potential areas for litigation, legal concerns, proper policy and procedures for dealing with each of these areas. The policies and procedures must be within the various court rulings and applied accordingly.

The next area I will discuss briefly may be new for some: Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. One particular case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in its fall term. (Scheduled for hearing October 7, 2014 and decided January 20, 2015). The case is Holt, AKA Muhammad v. Hobbs, Director, Arkansas Department of Corrections, Et AL. Muhammad is a Muslim inmate and wanted his beard to be one-half inch in length due to this religion. The Department of Corrections policy allows for one-quarter inch. The Eighth Circuit Court of appeals agreed with the Department of Corrections. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision and provided their rationale in the reference I provided.

The next area to discuss is searches within prisons; this can range from inmate searches, room searches, strip and pat searches, and property searches. The issue often becomes what type of search was performed and why. Also was policy and procedures followed and are there any privacy issues or concerns. The Fourth Amendment comes into play and any items confiscated must be inventoried and a chain of evidence started and completed. Quite often the smallest mistake by an officer can result in litigation. The action taken can be anywhere from small claims court to Title 42, Section 1983 litigation.

Our next area looks at use of force issues. There is ongoing training regarding use of force and deadly force. Staff are trained and receive certification in these areas, yet at times some staff will overstep these boundaries. Officers are allowed to use force and once the inmate is under control and secure, there is no longer a need for force. However, medical treatment is necessary and the offender must be checked by medical personnel. If chemical agents or other restraint devices are used, then medical protocol again comes into play. There are policy and step by step procedures to follow in use of force cases. This same policy applies for officers being checked by medical personnel. Also, the Eighth Amendment comes into play here; allegation of excessive force and failure to protect issues. Once an offender is restrained, they can no longer defend themselves. Also, we often see enemy alerts and for whatever reasons, the offender who identified another offender as an enemy at time will be out at the same time as the enemy and can result in physical assault. There are certainly more examples that you have witnessed on the job.

Confinement is another area I often question why, someone failed to provide the necessary safety and security for the offender. This also includes any items the offender is supposed to receive. We can also include any counseling and other treatment not being provided.

The issue of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex is another critical topic that requires additional training. This has a direct effect and consequences on juvenile and adult offenders. The issues range from bullying to sexual assault, medical concerns, and failure to protect.

The First Circuit Federal Court of Appeals reversed a landmark 2012 U.S. District Court ruling that “ordered the Massachusetts Department of Corrections provide a transgender inmate with medically necessary gender-affirming surgery.” The First Circuit of Appeals fin a 3-2 vote “found that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is not beholden to pay for the gender-confirming surgery.” (http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/12/16/federal-court-rules-dept-corrections-can).

As you can see, each one of these topics can be presented by itself. Hopefully, I have sparked an interest for you to further research these areas as well as other areas of interest. This continues to build upon your corrections knowledge base and areas of expertise.

Best regards,

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Kaplan University, School of Public Safety and has more than 20 years of experience in corrections and policing. He has served in various roles, including prison warden and parole administrator, for the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Terry may be reached at tcampbell@kaplan.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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