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Legal Issues in Corrections
By Terry Campbell, Professor, Purdue University Global
Published: 01/27/2020


Hello and Happy New Year! Our first 2020 article topic is titled ‘Legal Issues in Corrections.’ This is a very broad topic and I will focus on some primary legal issues throughout corrections. The following are some legal issues to consider and certainly not conclusive:
  • Politics and the criminal justice system
  • Incarceration rates
  • Officers and non-uniform staff arrests
  • Officers discipline
  • Death Penalty
  • Understaffed
  • Safety and security concerns
  • Officer stress
  • Lack of resources
  • Overtime
  • U.S. Department of Justice involvement
  • Civil liability
  • Training
  • Use of force
  • Search and seizure
  • Access to the courts and counsel
  • Speech and religion concerns
  • Prison Litigation Reform Act
  • Prison Rape Elimination Act
  • Medical and Mental Health Issues
  • Other
As you can see, the legal areas I identified are only a starting point. Spend some time researching ‘legal issues’ and find what other issues are present. The first area I selected to discuss is ACLU Prisoners’ Rights. I provided the resource for your use. https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights

The article selected provides a thorough overview of prisoners’ rights and some statistics to consider. This was an informative article and is recommended for you to read.

I found over the years it was in my best interest to be prepared and understand the legal issues I would face daily. A question often asked of me was did my agency adequately train and prepare me for understanding the legal issues. My reply is, I was provided at that time what was preliminary information. As I built my career and, after being sued many times, I quickly learned always follow policies and procedures. This served several purposes and the main one to me was if I followed departmental policy and was sued, my agency was required to provide me counsel. Otherwise, I would be responsible and this would be costly.

I am not a fan of blogs, however the following is also highly recommended for you to periodically review: Sentencing Law and Policy: An Affiliate of the Law Professor Blogs Network. https://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/campaign-2020-and-sentencing-issues/

A review of this article was very interesting and covered many areas of concern related to politics and the criminal justice system. Regardless of what your politics are, you need to be informed of current issues. Some areas discussed were U.S. Incarceration Rates; Sentencing; and Legal Concerns.

The State of Alabama and other states are facing many challenges and the legislature, U.S. Department of Justice, Courts, and Legislators are trying to find solutions for the following areas: Understaffing and what this leads too; Safety and Security concerns; officer stress, overtime, lack of resources and adequate staff, and other. This is certainly linked to those areas we have discussed. The last thing an agency wants is for the Department of Justice to step in and force changes. Again, this may be necessary to ensure adequate funding is in place and specific areas of concerns are addressed. This often goes to court with the courts’ ruling and specific areas identified where changes are necessary. https://www.alreporter.com/2020/01/06/prisons-are-one-of-the-top-issues-to-watch-in-2020/

The State of Mississippi also faced five inmate deaths in December 2019 and January 2020 due to prison violence. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/five-inmates-killed-past-week-violence-plagued-mississippi-prisons-n1110116

I spent many years in my career working with death row inmates. There are always many legal issues and concerns related to this population. I located a resource to share with you if interested in this area. The site pertains to the Death Penalty Information Center and updated frequently, the last update I saw was 1/16/2020 with focus on upcoming executions by state, month and year, and current status. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions/upcoming-executions

Also located within this resource is an abundance of information to review and utilize, especially if working with death row inmates or to improve your knowledge. The following pertains to two recent cases involving officers’ misconduct with serious charges being filed against them and their agency.

On January 1, 2020, Rikers Island, 6 officers and 15 other people indicted for bribery and smuggling charges. This will also be an interesting case to watch. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/crime-courts/6-guards-15-others-charged-rikers-island-bribery-case-n1115381

Also, in December 2019, 25 corrections officers charged with ‘illegal and excessive force.’ This included over 200 counts involving these crimes as well as others. https://abcnews.go.com/US/25-baltimore-corrections-officers-charged-illegal-excessive-force/story?id=67489779

In November 2019, a corrections jail officer was reinstated with back pay. The collective bargaining agreement was violated. https://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article237661774.html

The State of Washington Corrections Union files statewide grievance for inadequate staffing levels at the department of corrections. https://www.teamsters117.org/department_of_corrections

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in January 2020, an inmate in jail was sentenced to 12 years for having a cell phone in jail. This was upheld. https://www.wdam.com/2020/01/11/miss-supreme-court-upholds-year-sentence-man-convicted-having-cellphone-jail/

The last area I want to discuss pertains to training available to you and also professional training through various law enforcement agencies. You should recognize the seriousness of legal issues and reinforces why you need to be prepared. Corrections personnel have enough stress as it is without having to worry about legal issues.

Corrections staff needs to be properly trained and supported by their agency. It’s imperative for corrections to ensure staff is properly trained and prepared to deal with the day to day job. We also need to ensure staff recognize the importance of legal issues and staff requirements. In addition, we need to make sure our staff is trained and understand Section 1983 litigation. Needless to say, this can be daunting for staff not familiar with this. I hope you found this information informative and recognize this is only a snapshot of corrections legal issues.

Thanks and stay safe out there.

Terry Campbell is a criminal justice professor at Purdue University Global 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@purdueglobal.edu.

Other articles by Campbell


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