In this edition: Danger to prisoners in SCI Cresson's solitary units intensifies as reports come in of guards encouraging a recent suicide and continuing to target the mentally ill for harassment, a whistleblower in one unit is suddenly transferred to another prison, the Angola 3 mark their 39th year in solitary confinment, and more..
Action Alert- SCI Cresson Suicide Cells
Mentally ill prisoner held as 'suicide risk' in punishment cell without counseling or therapy: HRC received reports last week that Tracey Pietrovito, a forty-three year old man in state prison in Cresson, PA, is being confined in a hard cell after he withheld his meal tray in protest of his food being served to him smelling of urine and chewing tobacco. He has been held in the cell under punishment conditions for over a week. Though the official reason for Pietrovito's confinement are prison staff's claims that he is suicidal, he currently has no meaningful access to mental health counseling and he has been deprived of a mattress, toilet paper, and access to his legal work. According to reports, staff at Cresson have previously subjected Pietrovito to similar conditions on multiple occasions for weeks at a time, in one instance confining him during the winter to a hard cell with an open window, with only a single blanket and smock to keep him warm.
HRC is calling upon supporters of human rights to take action: call SCI Cresson
and demand that the harassment of Pietrovito cease immediately and that he is given access to mental health therapy, hygiene supplies, and his legal property.
Pietrovito is housed in Cresson's Secure Special Needs Unit, a solitary confinement unit originally intended to provide prisoners who have significant mental health issues with a safe environment in which they can receive mental health therapy and counseling. According to multiple reports received by HRC over the past three years from prisoners housed in the unit, it has become little more than a warehousing facility used by DOC administration to isolate 'problem prisoners'. Discipline among staff members at the prison has deteriorated, with guards serving on the unit freely participating in a culture of bullying and abuse.
Prisoners assaulted and threatened as prison staff scrambles to cover-up circumstances of suicide: Damont Hagan, a prisoner who was recently confined in the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Cresson, became the fourth prisoner to report to HRC that prison staff ignored John McClellan’s attempts to seek mental health treatment and encouraged him to commit suicide shortly before he hung himself in his solitary confinement cell on the night of May 6. The other three prisoners to report these details remain anonymous out of fear for their safety.
Hagan reports that Sergeant (Sgt.) Bejmovicz, one of the two guards who encouraged McClellan’s suicide, had assaulted McClellan in April of this year, cutting his eye. Hagan reported this incident to security Captain (Cpt.) Pirozzola, also warning him that guards were encouraging McClellan to kill himself even though he showed obvious signs of psychiatric illness and was at risk to actually commit suicide. When Hagan was later asked to give a statement on the suicide, Cpt. Pirozzola threatened him not to include information about this prior warning. Soon after the suicide, Hagan himself was encouraged to commit suicide by Sgt. Bejmovicz and Lt. McCoullough. At this time he was confined in a psychiatric observation cell.
On Friday, May 13, Damont Hagan was suddenly transferred to SCI Huntingdon and immediately placed in the solitary confinement unit there. At Cresson, Hagan was supposed to be in a treatment unit.
These incidents were the culmination of months of human rights violations reported by Hagan. On April 18, Hagan reports being punched five times by Cpt. Pirozzola while Lt. Hoffman held the prisoner in the security office. The assault occurred after Hagan insisted on documentation regarding the confiscation of his personal and legal property. The assault left him with a swollen right eye and mouth. Investigator Kertes from the Department’s Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence (OSII) took a statement from Hagan about the assault, but failed to intervene when Cpt. Pirozzola told Hagan that he would not receive any of his property unless he withdrew the complaint. The Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence, formerly the Office of Professional Responsibility, has a reputation throughout the DOC as a cover-up agency that is more interested in shielding staff from liability than investigating abuse.
Hagan’s reports along with others from Cresson show a pattern of punishment in place of treatment for the mentally ill, “psychiatric observation cells” in reality being hard cells where guards encourage prisoners to take their own lives or continue to suffer the abuse and retaliation that is rampant in the solitary confinement unit.
- the targeting of Tracey Pietrovito for harassment and punishment be stopped immediately,
-he is given access to toiletries, cleaning supplies, and a mattress
-his legal property is returned to him
-he is given meaningful access to mental health therapy
-that Cresson staff reported as participants in human rights violations be investigated by outside law enforcement agencies and removed from all contact with prisoners.
DOC officials to call:
Unit Manager Michelle Houser
SCI Cresson Superintendent Kenneth Cameron
Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel
More News from Inside
Prisoners at SCI Frackville’s solitary unit report abuse by guards: HRC-Fed UP! has received numerous reports from SCI Frackville about abuses that have been occurring in the solitary unit. Prisoners have specifically identified prison guard Shaeffer and Sgt. Wilkersham as instrumental in the perpetration of human rights violations. Ismael Ortiz reports being the subject of several violations, including destruction of his personal and legal property, withholding mail, threats of physical harm and food tampering, being deprived meals, and being consistently denied medical care. In Ismael’s statement he explains he is constantly in fear for his life. He also describes his fear that, like so many other prisoners, he will be pushed towards ending his own life or he will be murdered and it will be covered up by the Department of Corrections.
Across the Nation
Angola 3 Mark 39 Years in Solitary Confinement: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have entered their 40th year in solitary confinement in the Louisiana prison system. A series of events in New Orleans last month marked the 39th “anniversary” of their placement in solitary, following the murder of Angola prison guard Brent Miller–a murder for which Wallace and Woodfox were later convicted on highly dubious evidence. The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, was convicted of a separate prison murder, and released after 29 years in solitary when his conviction was overturned.
The three men believe they were originally targeted because they were Black Panthers, organizing against conditions at Angola, and Wallace and Woodfox believe they remain in solitary for the same reason. In a 2008 deposition, Angola Warden Burl Cain said Woodfox “wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant…He is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.” (excerpted from Solitarywatch.com)
Groups urge Holder to clean house at Bureau of Prisons: A group of civil liberties and criminal justice reform groups is calling for a change in direction at the federal Bureau of Prisons, following the retirement of BOP head Harley Lappin, appointed during the Bush Administration. Under Lappin, the BOP continued to grow, adding new prisons and prisoners at a rate even higher than that of the states, according to analyses by the Sentencing Project and the Pew Center on the States. Since 1995 alone, the number of federal inmates has more than doubled, to over 211,000. More than half of these prisoners are serving time on drug charges, and another 10 percent are held on immigration violations. In all, more than 72 percent are nonviolent offenders with no history of violence, and 34 percent are first-time nonviolent offenders.
According to an announcement issued by the ACLU, NAACP, and Sentencing Project, “Two dozen more organizations have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to name a reformer to head the federal Bureau of Prisons. . . . The groups said that currently, the prison bureau “functions at nearly 140% capacity where prisoners are warehoused, rather than rehabilitated, and both staff and prisoners are routinely put at risk due to dangerous conditions. . . . The American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Human Rights Watch made similar points to Holder in recent letters.” (excerpted from Solitarywatch.com)
Philly area: Wednesdays are 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.
Write On! – letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh,email firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 412-654-9070
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