Pubdate: Mon, 03 Jul 2006
Source: El Paso Times (TX)
Copyright: 2006 El Paso Times
Author: Chris Roberts
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Inmates held at the various La Tuna federal prison facilities are 
convinced they have been denied visits, thrown in "the hole" for 
minor infractions and denied access to the prison law library because 
they went public with a lawsuit claiming the federal Bureau of 
Prisons isn't following its own procedures.

Requests for interviews with two of the inmates have been denied 
twice by La Tuna officials who said it was for the safety of the 
prisoners. By mail, those inmates have said they want to be 
interviewed. In that correspondence, they have claimed they are 
experiencing retaliation for their lawful actions.

"That's just simply not true," said La Tuna spokesman Israel Jacquez. 
"These guys went to the press. That's their right. ... If we believe 
a staff member is retaliating against an inmate, no matter how 
frivolous the allegation may be, it is referred to the office of 
internal affairs." Wayne D. Beaman, special agent in charge of the 
Dallas Office of the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector 
General,wouldn't comment on the specific allegations, but said, "La 
Tuna is a well-managed facility." The Dallas office oversees federal 
prisons in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, Beaman said.

The inmates' lawsuit claims that the Bureau of Prisons, or BoP, is 
ignoring its own policies when it houses prisoners in facilities with 
more severe security measures than are required by the inmates' 
classifications and when it houses inmates outside a 500-mile radius 
from the areas where they expect to be released.

However, a convict needs "rock-solid proof" to make a case against 
the BoP, said Jay Hurst, an attorney and chief of legislative affairs 
for FedCURE, an inmates' rights group. Hurst had a client in La Tuna 
- -- he recently was transferred to another facility -- who also says 
he suffered retaliation.

"The Constitution doesn't apply in the federal system any more than 
it does in the state systems," Hurst said. "It's hard to make a case 
because you can't get records and you are relying on the testimony of 
a bunch of 'cons.' .. It's a system-wide culture. As long as the good 
order and security is preserved, that's what they care about." Harassment

Lawrence J. Levine, convicted of possessing counterfeit securities 
and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, filed the lawsuit for 
himself and others in the system. He and others, including Robert 
Carter, convicted of mail and tax fraud, have said they are being 
targeted by guards and administrators because of their actions. 
Levine's lawsuit recently was dismissed by U.S. District Judge David 
Briones after it appeared Levine had failed to respond to a Bureau of 
Prisons motion to dismiss. However, Levine said he mailed the 
response and it was lost in the mail or intercepted. He has asked the 
judge to reopen the case.

Jacquez said the U.S. Attorneys Office is reviewing Levine's claim. 
Levine said prison officials also have been gradually limiting his 
access to the law library. Jacquez said everyone has to work their 
hours unless they can prove they have an impending court date. "There 
is no preferential treatment," he said.

Levine said his work assignment originally was in food service 
because of medical issues, including bulging disks and a heart 
problem, which require limitations on the amount of walking, standing 
and lifting. That job allowed time to use the law library, he said. 
He says he was switched to ground maintenance, which requires 
prolonged standing and walking on shifts that coincide with the law 
library's daytime hours. A week after stories about the lawsuit 
appeared in the media, Levine says, his education schedule was 
changed from daytime to evening hours, which limits his evening access.

Levine asked the judge to issue an order directing La Tuna staff to 
allow him unrestricted law library access, which he argues is 
required by BoP policies.

Carter says he was subjected to entrapment when he picked up a bag on 
the floor of the chapel -- which also serves as a visiting room -- 
containing two white T-shirts and a watch. Those items were labeled 
as "contraband" by BoP officials who apparently believed someone left 
it for him.

Carter said the bag wasn't his and said he was taken into custody by 
guards at the scene before he even had a chance to look inside. 
Carter said he was put in the special housing unit, or the SHU, which 
some inmates call "the hole" because of the limited human contact 
they are allowed there. Documents Carter provided show he lost visits 
from the outside for eight months, and commissary privileges for 90 
days. He said he was only allowed one 10-minute phone call each week. 
All this, he said, even though he had a clean record before the incident.

He is now at the La Tuna Federal Correctional Institute, which houses 
medium- and low-security inmates, requiring an even higher level of 
security than his previous La Tuna placement. "He was sanctioned for 
a violation and subjected to disciplinary action," Jacquez said. "It 
was the introduction of contraband. ... There's no way he could be 
trusted out at the (low- and minimum-security) Biggs facility."

Treated Like A Criminal

The original inmate complaint involved placements with appropriate 
security levels.

Some prisoners, including Levine and Carter, were housed at a federal 
prison camp -- which is the least restrictive type of facility -- 
near Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. That facility was closed for budget 
reasons and they were transferred to the La Tuna Federal Satellite 
Low, or FSL, prison on Biggs Army Airfield. The FSL houses both 
minimum- and low-security inmates, which require a higher level of security.

The inmates say the bureau is ignoring its own stated mission of 
confining offenders in safe, humane and appropriately secure 
facilities that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities 
"to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens."

They claim that transferring inmates to a higher security facility 
requires "a specific and compelling reason," which the BoP did 
notprovide. They say these transfer policies are contained in the 
bureau's own Program Statements.

"We try to place inmates in facilities where they're all equal in 
classification," Jacquez said. "It has to do with length of sentence, 
type of crime, history of violence."

Jacquez said part of the reason Carter originally could have been 
transferred from the minimum-security camp in Nevada to the 
low-security facility at Biggs is that his sentence is "pretty heavy 
duty. He was fairly fortunate to be classified as minimum security." 
Carter was sentenced to five years and 11 months and has a release 
date of June 19, 2010.

Budgets And Beds

Hurst said he believes there is a case that the BoP didn't follow its 
stated policies, but, in his experience, it won't be easy to get a 
judge to agree.

With federal budget cuts and efforts to make the system more 
efficient, particularly in the Western region, prison officials have 
said bed space is at a premium and the policies can't always be 
followed. Jacquez said another satellite camp opening in Tucson will 
help relieve some of those problems.

"We might be able to refer a little closer" to the inmates' homes, he said.

The Biggs facility "used to be just a prison camp, but the BoP needed 
more space for low-security," Jacquez said. "It's rare that you're 
going to have a stand-alone prison for one group of inmates." Every 
Biggs facility prisoner is subject to the security measures designed 
for low-security inmates, which are more strict than the minimum 
measures used at prison camps. The only way an inmate is rewarded is 
with time off for good behavior, Jacquez said. Otherwise it would be 
seen as preferential treatment, he said, which could single an inmate 
out for retribution from other inmates.

"You've got to treat all the inmates the same," Jacquez said. And to 
be placed at the Biggs facility, he said, they must have "very little 
history of disciplinary actions in prison."

Ostensibly, the purpose of those policies is to keep inmates 
connected with the more positive elements in society -- including 
family and friends -- and in the prison system so they don't leave 
prison more isolated, angry and educated in crime than when they entered.

Relatives, who often are traveling thousands of miles, have been 
turned away for triggering a drug screening device. Carter's wife, 
Ginny, who lives in Illinois, said she was turned away once and when 
she asked for documentation of the incident, the BoP responded that 
it had no records.

"It is disheartening and appalling to see how the prison staff use 
the ion spectrometer machine to deny visits to people who simply want 
to spend time with their loved ones," said Ginny Carter. "It appears 
that the machine is used both randomly and specifically when certain 
persons are targeted as I was."
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