Skip navigation

Articles about Wrongful Convictions

EXCLUSIVE: 'Survivors Guide to Prison': An Interview with the Film Producer

by Steve Horn

 A new film, “Survivors Guide to Prison,” has hit the small screens on-demand on Amazon, iTunes, Fandango, Hulu and other online streaming venues. It provides not only a step-by-step guide to how to survive if you’re walled up in a U.S. jail or prison system, but also walks viewers through the brutal and seldom-told realities of life inside these penal institutions. It does so by presenting the audience with startling statistics and jaw-dropping horror stories of people serving time in the “big house,” making a de facto case that the title of the film could just as easily have been “How Hard it is to Survive in Prison.”

The movie hits hard and fast, and at times can be difficult to watch.

But the story also is told through the lens of survivors and offers a ray of hope for those locked away in prisons, jails and other detention facilities, whose voices often are not heard. Prison Legal News conducted a phone interview with the film’s lead producer, Steve DeVore, to talk about the issues covered in the movie, the art of making a film on this topic and the production team’s plan for getting ...

Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

by Matt Clarke

In March 2017, a state court judge approved a $2.9 million settlement between Ohio and two men who each spent almost 17 years in prison after having been wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. ...

The Criminalization of the Mentally Ill in Maine

by Lance TapleyPine Tree Watch

In April, 2017, while incarcerated at the Maine State Prison’s Intensive Mental Health Unit in Warren, James Staples removed his own eyeball.

The 66-year-old prisoner, who has a lengthy history of both mental illness and assault and had previously been incarcerated at several of the state’s mental health institutions, tried unsuccessfully to remove his other eye with his fingernails. Nonetheless, he managed to render himself blind.

For Maine’s mentally ill, things were not supposed to be like this.

In 1989, after ten patients died from deficiencies in the care provided to them at the Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI), patient advocates sued the state and the following year achieved a sweeping legal settlement known as the “consent decree.” This 99-page document ordered what is now named the Department of Health and Human Services to create a decent, robust system to care for Maine’s seriously mentally ill citizens — and to do it within five years. The Department agreed.

But decades later, law enforcement officials, mental health experts and patient advocates agree that the state is still far from meeting the consent decree’s mandates. Despite the decree’s strict requirements, the shortcomings of the state’s mental ...

Tennessee Drug Court Judge Imprisons Participants for Smoking Cigarettes

by Monte McCoin

In November 2017, Hamilton County, Tennessee Judge Tom Greenholtz sent several drug court participants to jail for a night after their drug tests came back positive – for nicotine.

“We routinely test for nicotine as we do for other controlled substances,” Greenholtz told Chattanooga TV station News Channel 9. “It shows how serious we are about combatting this.”

Ignoring the fact that nicotine is not a controlled substance and smoking cigarettes is not a crime, the judge said he punished defendants for smoking because he thought it would give them a “better chance at life.”

Indeed, a Columbia University study, published in 2017, found that 11 percent of people who kept smoking while in recovery programs relapsed, compared with around 8 percent who stopped smoking during treatment.

PLN has previously reported on growing scrutiny regarding drug court programs. For 20 years, they have sought to reduce illegal drug use by mandating substance abuse treatment within an overburdened criminal justice system that is generally more punitive than treatment-oriented. However, rather than diverting defendants to drug courts who otherwise would have gone to prison, participants tend to be those who would have received non-prison sentences anyway. Also, drug courts ...

$111,000 Settlement for Wrongfully Incarcerated Ohio Prisoner

On June 12, 2017, the Ohio Controlling Board voted to settle a wrongful incarceration suit brought by a man whom prosecutors had called a “major supplier” of cocaine, after a judge ignored the reversal of his conviction by an appellate court and kept him in prison.

Frank C. Davis was ...

North Carolina Brothers Settle Lawsuit Over 31 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

by Matt Clarke

On April 11, 2017, two North Carolina brothers who had been wrongfully convicted and spent 31 years in prison before being exonerated of a rape-murder by DNA evidence moved to dismiss their lawsuit against the government agencies and law enforcement officers complicit in their wrongful convictions, following ...

Canada to Apologize, Pay $10.5 Million to Former Guantanamo Detainee

by Christopher Zoukis

The Canadian government has agreed to pay $10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an enemy combatant for over a decade. Canadian officials also agreed to apologize to Khadr for his mistreatment.

The ...

A NY Supreme Court Certifies for Persons Held on ICE Detainers Past Scheduled Release.

A New York Supreme Court certified a class in a lawsuit alleging the New York Department of Corrections (DOC) falsely imprisoned over 9,000 persons with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. The class consists of all persons who have been unlawfully detained in connection with said ICE detainers in New York City jails after all other conditions for their release had been satisfied.

Oscar Onadia was arrested in NYC on December 10, 2008 for unlicensed driving. He was sentenced to five days of incarceration on the prior charge, and bail was set at $100 on the December 10, 2008 charge. On December 12, 2008, after Onadia’s sentence was completed, he attempted to bail out on the most recent charge, but his bail was refused because ICE had filed an investigative detainer and requested that DOC hold Onadia for up to 48 hours on the detainer.

Onadia wasn’t released until January 23, 2009, 42 days after his scheduled release. He filed a civil lawsuit against DOC, in which he alleged that his extended detention based solely on an ICE investigative detainer constituted false imprisonment and unreasonable seizure. In his discovery he learned that more than 9,000 other detainees had also been ...

$315,00 to Louisiana Man Imprisoned, Deported

by Lonnie Burton

In 2015 the United States government agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a Mexican national who had been a U.S. citizen for six years before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials rounded him up, threw him in jail for 87 days, then deported him to Mexico where he had no family. The parties agreed to settle the case for $315,000, which does not include compensation for the three years the man was essentially "exiled" in Mexico.

Andres Robles Gonzalez -- identified in court documents as Robles -- became a U.S. citizen on June 13, 2002, when he was just 13 years old. Robles had-been living in the U.S nearly all of his life, since the age of six. In 2008, at age 19, Robles was "unlawfully arrested, detained, prosecuted, and deported" to Mexico by ICE agents, despite the "objectively verifiable fact" that Robles was a U.S. citizen, according to documents filed by Robles' attorneys. As part of the deportation process, Robles was held in jail for 87 days. No reason was given why ICE did not recognize that Robles was a U.S. citizen, and court records merely state that "ICE took no proactive steps ...

$320,000 Settlement in Wrongful Imprisonment Case

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest and imprisonment by the LAPD settled for $320,000 on January 16, 2007.

The case involved the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla, who was shot and killed outside her Sun Valley, California home. Puebla was murdered just 11 days after she testified against Jose Ledesma in a gang murder prosecution. Puebla did not testify against Mario Catalan, who was also charged for the gang murder.

The evidence obtained in Puebla's death investigation indicated that she was killed in retaliation for her testimony. The suspected shooter was described by an eyewitness as 5'8", dark skinned, chubby and dressed like a gang member. He was seen driving a black Chevy Malibu with tinted windows. An informant told police that the suspect was named Juan and drove a white Ford F150.

The eyewitness identified Juan Catalan as the shooter in a photo lineup. Catalan, brother of Mario Catalan, was arrested for Puebla's murder.

But the LAPD didn't investigate Catalan beyond the photo lineup. Had they done so, they would have discovered that he was not a gang member, and that he had a rock solid alibi. He was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game when the ...