In this edition: Staff at SCI Forest escalate violence against solitary confinement prisoners, the PA Attorney General refuses to investigate crimes of torture at SCI Huntingdon, a new report details retaliation against transgender prisoners, and more..
The News from Inside
Campaign of racial abuse and harassment at SCI-Forest: Over the past two weeks, multiple prisoners in the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI-Forest have reported that staff there have drastically increased their racial abuse and harassment of prisoners on the unit in an attempt to provoke violence. While the mistreatment has been experienced generally throughout the unit, some men have been specifically targeted for retaliation and violence.
On May 26, prisoners heard a Sergeant calling David Harris “nigger” and challenging him to walk out of his cell door, which had been left open by guards, followed by a threat that guards would “skin your monkey ass”. One man reports that despite Harris being noncombative, he was forced to the ground by guards, where he was attacked by a second team of guards who appeared shortly thereafter. Only then was Harris handcuffed and placed in his cell. A half hour later, he was ordered to move cells; he complied and was placed in a strip cell without any property. At meal time following this incident, he was denied food and an officer was heard ordering “Harris doesn't eat.” When maintenance workers arrived to check Harris's cell door, they remarked that nothing was wrong with the mechanism, but were directed by another officer to falsely claim that the cell door needed adjustment and that it had accidentally opened up.
The reports include many other instances of racialized abuse. On May 29, prisoners overheard Sergeant Haggerty harass Muslim prisoner Carron Harmon about his Kufi headgear, saying "We killed Bin Laden, raghead, why you still wearing the rag on your head nigger?" During this exchange he slammed the door wicket on Harmon's hand. Another man, Hector Borrero, has been confined without property to his cell since his arrival at the prison nearly two weeks ago, after covering his window in protest of being refused supplies to clean the dirty cell he'd been moved to.
Throughout this period of escalated violence, Forest Superintendent Debra Sauers has remained indifferent to prisoners' reports of violence committed by guards, refusing to interview victims and giving tacit approval to crimes committed by her staff.
Prisoners suspect that Harris will be subjected to further punishment and is likely to be denied food, and have requested that SCI-Forest be called so that Mr. Harris is not further retaliated against. Superintendent Debra Sauers can be reached at: (814) 621-2110.
Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office refuses to prosecute crimes of torture at SCI Huntingdon: Pennsylvania Deputy Chief Attorney General of the Criminal Prosecutions Section, Frank G. Fina, recently sent a letter to the Human Rights Coalition stating that his office was refusing to investigate acts of torture and human rights violations at SCI Huntingdon documented in HRC’s recent report, Unity and Courage.
The letter stated: “The jurisdiction of the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute criminal activity is strictly limited by state law. The matters contained in your letter fall within the authority and jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania State Police. Inasmuch as the Pennsylvania State Police is an agency under the control of the Governor’s Office, we would not have authority to direct them to conduct an investigation into this matter.”
Contrary to Deputy Fina’s claims, PA state law unambiguously grants the Attorney General’s office the authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by state prison officials and staff. The PA Commonwealth Attorneys Act states that “The Attorney General shall have the power to investigate any criminal offense which he has the power to prosecute under section 205 . . .” The law also states that “[t]he Pennsylvania State Police shall cooperate with the Attorney General and furnish such services as the Attorney General shall request.” As far as the crimes that the Attorney General’s office can prosecute under section 205, the first type of offense listed is “Criminal charges against State officials or employees affecting the performance of their public duties or the maintenance of the public trust . . .”
The deliberate refusal by the state Attorney General's office to investigate crimes of torture at SCI Huntingdon is part of a general pattern in which law enforcement agencies ranging from local District Attorneys to the US Department of Justice and FBI have routinely and consistently refused to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by prison staff against the prisoners under their care. Deputy Frank Fina can be reached by calling the office of the PA Attorney General, Criminal Prosecutions section at (717) 787-3391.
Prisoner needs hip replacement, is being denied needed surgery: A prisoner at SCI Somerset, Louis Greenley, reports that he was diagnosed for a hip replacement surgery by two doctors in March of this year, and it has yet to occur. Greenley has been seeking medical attention for hip pain for 18 months, and has been given 7 different types of pain medication, none of which have offered relief. He writes that “the pain I’m experiencing is excruciating at times. . . . From what Dr. Benner explained to me is that the bone and socket in my hip have no cartilage left and the only recourse is a hip replacement.” Greenley summarized his current situation in these words: “I can’t even touch my toe. I sometimes can’t get out of bed. The pain is like I’ve been shot with a gun at times. I can’t lay on either side for more than an hour. These people keep running me around about the surgery. I need help. The pain is really bad.”
HRC has contacted the prison and the director of medical services for the Department of Corrections, neither of whom returned phone calls last week. An advocacy campaign is being organized to assist Mr. Greenley in getting the medical treatment that he is entitled to. To get involved email email@example.com.
Graterford Prison Captain must face civil trial for retaliation against prisoner: The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has partially reversed a Federal District Court ruling in a Graterford Prison case. Prisoner and plaintiff Chris Washington-El, sued former Graterford Warden Diglugielmo, Security Captain Dohman, and several other prison staff members, asserting a number of violations of his first and fourteenth amendment rights, including his rights to due process and access to the courts as well as his right to practice his religion while isolated in the prison's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU).
Captain Dohman asserted in court that he placed Washington-El in the RHU in February of 2006 because he received information that Washington-El may have been responsible for an altercation between two inmates in the institution. The appellate court noted that the prison staff had provided no further details regarding this information, including the nature, the source or the reliability. Additionally, the appellate court noted that Dohman gave at least two other reasons for keeping Washington-El in the RHU. These reasons were that he received information that Washington-El was planning an escape at Graterford, and to prevent him from trafficking drugs within the institution.
Washington-El has remained in solitary confinement till this day, more than five years later, without ever being informed of the reason why. He is on the DOC’s Restricted Release List, an indefinite and potentially permanent form of solitary confinement that can only be ended by the Secretary of the DOC. He has another lawsuit pending in the federal courts against former Secretary Jeffrey Beard regarding his indefinite and continuing placement in solitary.
New report shows systemic violence against transgender prisoners in PA : On May 30, the Philadelphia prisoner-support collective Hearts on a Wire released the results of a 2009 survey focusing on the experiences of transgender and gender variant people in Pennsylvania's prisons. The report, entitled This is a Prison, Glitter is Not Allowed, details a number of ways that transgender and gender variant people are specifically targeted for abuse, neglect, harassment and other human rights violations by prison staff and by other prisoners.
Among the forms of violence reported is the use of solitary confinement as retaliation against prisoners who are perceived as challenging gender norms. One transgender woman housed in a men's state prison reported being confined to isolation because the facility "didn't know where else to place her", while another reported that after she was raped, the warden and staff claimed that she had brought the violence on herself because of her sexuality. The experience of sexual violence was not uncommon among survey participants, with nearly half reporting sexual assault by either prison staff or other prisoners.
Also detailed in the report is the medical neglect associated with interruptions or total stoppages of trans prisoners' hormone regimens. The hormones, which are central to the physical and psychological health of trans and gender variant prisoners taking them, are not recognized in policy or practice by the majority of PA prisons. This means that prisoners' access to hormones is typically left to the discretion of prison medical staff, who often choose to deny the treatment. Of the thirty-seven survey participants who were on hormones prior to incarceration, only seven were able to continue their regimens consistently.
The report issues a number of recommendations for change, including increased organizing between prisoners and outside support, institutional accountability, and an end to the complacency of LGBT political organizations regarding prison issues. Hearts on a Wire can be contacted by writing them at PO Box 36831, Philadelphia, PA 19107, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Across the Nation
California Senate approves bill to end Life Without Parole for Juveniles: On Wednesday June 1, the California Senate approved Senator Leland Yee's SB9 on a 21-16 vote. If approved by the state Assembly, the bill could end the practice of sentencing children in California to life without parole (LWOP). An earlier attempt by Senator Lee (SB399) was approved by Senate, but died in Assembly last year.
The US is the only country in the world to have LWOP for juveniles. California leads the nation for racial disparity in handing out LWOP for juveniles, with African American and Latino youths serving sentences rates eighteen and five times higher than white youth.
Senator Yee, who is also a child psychologist, states that “The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed.. (the bill) is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults.” Under SB9, courts could review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after 15 years, potentially allowing some individuals to receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life in instances when offenders show remorse and are working towards rehabilitation. (this report excerpted from jlwop.com)
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 6-9 pm. 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.
If you'd like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Monday of each month, 6pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email email@example.com, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
Pittsburgh area: 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.
You've been listening to the Human Rights Coalition's PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.