This is the PA Prison Report for Friday February 11th, brought to you by the Human Rights Coalition: Fighting for the Rights and Lives of Prisoners. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
SCI Coal Township: A prisoner in the solitary confinement unit at SCI Coal Township reports brutal retaliation by guards and prison adminstration after an argument with his Unit Manager in late January ended in physical violence.
State prisoner Reuben Henry reports that on January 20th, after an argument with his Unit Manager over his single-cell status ended with the Unit Manager stripping him of his single-cell status and sending him to solitary confinement, he lost his temper and struck the Unit Manager. Guards responded by handcuffing him and kicking him severely in the head, causing injuries to his head and jaw. He was then placed naked in a restraint chair where he was held for eight hours, during which he forced to urinate on himself. Guards then put him in a hard cell and told him he was going to die for hitting his Unit Manager. He did not receive a shower or medical attention for at least four days.
Mr. Henry writes in a second report (dated February 1st) that calls to the prison made by friends and supporters of the Human Rights Coalition resulted in threats to him from prison staff, who were angry that he'd contacted an organization outside of the prison. He reports further that Security Captain Stetler refused to allow him to press charges on the guards who beat and kicked him while handcuffed, stating that "the camera didn't see anything" and that he'd better "get used to Coal Township's grind-up". Grind-up is a term used inside prison to refer to the practice of targeting prisoners for verbal harassment and physical assault.
Reporting on general conditions within the Restricted Housing Unit at Coal Township, Mr. Henry writes, "..there are several inmates in SCI-Coal Township's RHU who have assaults on staff, allegedly. All of these so-called 'staff assaulters' started off with at least 365 days (solitary) time. But most of them now have over a thousand days, due to retaliation by the RHU guards! And most importantly, most of these so-called Assaultive Inmates have been spiritually destroyed, due to the merciless conduct of the RHU guards! ..only an animal could do the things that some of these officers do to their fellow human beings. And I say 'some' because I clearly realize that not all guards are bad.."
PA DOC Releases Annual Statistical Report: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) released its annual statistical report for 2009 earlier in February. The report details the continued expansion of the prison industry. The number of people admitted to prison each year has increased by more than 50% in the last ten years, as has the number returned to prison for parole violations.
Nearly 1 of every 3 persons sent to prison in 2009 were convicted on drug charges. One-third of the total prisoner population is serving time on drug charges or as a parole violator.
African Americans accounted for 49% of the total prisoner population, despite representing approximately 13% of the population of Pennsylvania. Hispanics account for 11% of the state prisoner population, and are estimated at approximately 5% of the total state population.
The number of incarcerated women grew at an increase of 5.5%. Approximately 1 in 4 incarcerated women are serving time on drug convictions.
The full report can be located on the PA DOC’s website.
SCI Muncy: Grievance documents obtained by the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) from one of PA's two prisons for women reveal that prison authorities permit male guards to view women in nude and semi-nude conditions.
In response to a grievance from the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Muncy, detailing three separate incidents where a guard entered a woman’s cell immediately after her shower and looked behind the privacy partition to stare at her, the Unit Manager responding to the grievance deemed it frivolous.
The grievance response stated: “It is the position of the PA DOC that in order to maintain institutional security, corrections officers may look into cells in order to maintain safety and security. The privacy panel you write about is merely a courtesy extended to residents of SCI Muncy and not sanctioned by the PA DOC. Officers are permitted to look into cells even if the panels are up at SCI Muncy if and when they believe there may be conduct that is in contrast to that of acceptable security practices.” The response did not address the fact that the conduct detailed in the grievance was about guards abusing their discretion, and that the guards' decision to watch a woman undress was unrelated to any security practice.
SCI Fayette: More grievance documents obtained from SCI Fayette show that Superintendent Brian Coleman refuses to issue sanctions to guards for the racial harassment of prisoners. On September 28, 2010, Isaac Sanchez filed a grievance after a guard in the solitary confinement unit replied to his attempt to obtain medical attention for a fellow prisoner by stating: “Mind your own business you spic. We ain’t got the time to save a piece of shit nigger.”
Mr. Sanchez’s grievance into this matter was rejected, and upon appeal Superintendent Coleman wrote that “you allege that the officers told you to 'mind your own business spic' and 'we ain’t got time to save a piece of shit nigger.' You, however, did not state how this specifically affected you.”
Official PA DOC grievance statistics obtained by HRC via a request under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law reveal that more than 98% of all prisoner grievances are rejected.
also at Fayette: HRC has received a prisoner report on general conditions at Fayette, including paperwork dating back to 2004 showing that the prison administration forces Sunni Muslims and members of the Nation of Islam to attend a shared religious service, despite long-standing antagonism between the two groups and despite the fact that they are two separate religions, as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. The paperwork includes an internal memo in which then-Superintendent Wilson informs staff, "We are only going to have one Muslim service. If we have to move them out of here, or lock them up, we will".
Among the conditions reported is a policy enforced by guards that "no inmates are allowed to walk on their own accord to the hole". When a prisoner has been given a sentence to a term in the solitary confinement unit, which can often be for non-violent infractions of prison rules, "..they are handcuffed, slammed on their faces, then made to duck-walk 200 yards to the hole. Their hands already handcuffed behind them, their arms are pushed upward, snapping out of socket. The favorite line of the guards is, 'STOP RESISTING!' They only say this because their rule book states that.. ..once an inmate has been placed in restraints, the guards are to cease their aggressive acts"
Placing guard-prisoner relations in a larger context, the author writes, "I've done time in various prisons, shoulder to shoulder beside some of the most notorious lawbreakers, but it wasn't until I was brought to Fayette did I come to know criminals of the highest degree. They are the ones hired to contain society's worst, but as you'll come to know, it is the guards and other officials needing of containment. SCI Fayette was opened in a rural section of Pennsylvania to give poor local whites employment. Many of them have never seen an Afro American outside of their television sets. Many are ex-military fresh off a tour of duty at Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan. They suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and look upon inmates as enemy combatants, instead of citizens who've broken the law."
SCI Somerset: A prisoner at SCI Somerset has begun a hunger strike in protest of his prolonged solitary confinement.
DeWayne Housely was placed in solitary at SCI Cresson in December of 2008 after a fight with another prisoner during which a guard was inadvertently struck. After he served 90 days in solitary for the fight he was transferred to SCI Coal Township, where he continued to be held in solitary despite his misconduct time having been served. Sometime in the Spring or Summer of 2009 he was placed on the Restricted Release List, which is a form of indefinite, potentially permanent, solitary confinement that can only be lifted by the Secretary of the DOC. Prisoners are not given an opportunity to challenge their placement on this list, and are often not told they are on the list until weeks or months afterwards. Prisoners on this list are not provided an opportunity to work their way back into general population through good behavior or completion of programs.
There are more than 80 prisoners currently held on the Restricted Release List. An investigation by HRC into the Restricted Release List found the following:
Human rights supporters are encouraged to call SCI Somerset at 814-443-8100 and voice your concern over the prolonged and unjustifiable treatment of DeWayne Housely. Tell the Superintendent that you expect Mr. Housely’s rights to be respected, his grievances addressed, and that his continued status on the Restricted Release List be subject to a review that provides him clear criteria for re-entering the general population.
Wednesdays: Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
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