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|December 27, 2005
Inmates say they don't belong at La Tuna Prison
By Chris Roberts / El Paso Times
|About a dozen inmates convicted of white-collar crimes who are being held at a La Tuna prison at Biggs Army Airfield are suing the
federal prison system for housing them with gang members and undocumented immigrants hundreds of miles from their friends
"I think the danger is great," said Ginny Carter, whose husband, Robert, was an insurance executive convicted of mail and tax fraud.
"Sometimes they (other inmates) tell him, 'Robert, just stay in your room tomorrow because you just need to stay in your room.' ... He
knows he's got to pay the penance, but this is above and beyond."
The inmates say their crimes and good behavior while incarcerated qualify them for a minimum-security facility under Federal
Bureau of Prisons rules. They say the bureau is violating its own policies, which include trying to place inmates within 500 miles of
the location where they are expected to be released.
El Paso is very, very far and very costly to get to," said Carter, who lives in Chicago. She said her husband is a former Evanston, Ill.,
city councilman who ran for state senator.
About 100 inmates at the Federal Prison Camp-Nellis in Las Vegas, Nev., were transferred to institutions in Mississippi, Alabama,
South Dakota and to the Federal Satellite Low-La Tuna facility in El Paso. The Nellis camp was closed by the bureau as a cost-cutting
measure, according to media reports. At the time, a bureau official was quoted as saying prison officials would try to locate the
inmates within the 500-mile radius.
Bureau officials, both locally and in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment.
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." They say these
transfer policies are contained in the bureau's own Program Statements.
As the government has no right to chain, shackle and/or torture a person just because he's an inmate, similarly, they can't move him
potentially thousands of miles from home, and put him in a far more restrictive and onerous institution on a whim," Lawrence Levine,
convicted of counterfeiting securities, wrote in a court filing. "Petitioners accordingly assert they've been treated in violation of the
BOP's own procedures and in a fashion that violates the 5th Amendment to the United States."
|Another of the inmates, Ethan Roberts, wrote that he witnessed several beatings of prisoners, which he said gang members call
"disciplining." He also said minimum security prisoners who work outside the perimeter are forced by gang members to bring drugs
into the secure portion of the prison.
Levine said he witnessed the start of a fight between two Hispanic gangs. One gang was angry because the other gang allegedly
tried to frame one of its members by putting contraband in his bed. The contraband was moved before a correctional officer
searched the bed. Shortly thereafter, the gang member who planted the contraband was severely beaten with broom and mop
handles, according to Levine.
Levine, the lead petitioner, and Mark Cohn, a La Tuna inmate who is a former attorney and is helping with the lawsuit, also are
claiming that they have been harassed since they filed the action. Levine and Cohn said in a filing that they were assigned duties
violating their medical work restrictions. Cohn also stated that the work duties are scheduled to prevent him from using the law
Levine and the others claim there is a vast difference between a minimum security facility and La Tuna, a low-security facility they
say is run at a medium- security level.
The differences include restrictions on movement, razor-wire fences, restrictions on visitation, restricted bathroom breaks, lack of
privacy, identification checks, strip searches when returning from work details and more.
At minimum security prisons, inmates can walk with visitors on grounds that often aren't fenced and they can work in the
community with little supervision. At La Tuna, because of restrictions on movement, getting a prescription filled and dropping off a
library book inside the prison can take more than half a day, they said. Inmates are given scheduled opportunities to go to the
bathroom, where they are watched by guards.
"The difference between the two types of prisons is harsh," Levine wrote.
So far, Carter said her husband has managed to avoid violence.
"He's been protected. He's befriended the right people," Carter said. "But to go to sleep at night wondering if something's going to
happen to him, that's hard on a family. He didn't kill anyone; he's a white collar criminal.
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