News From The Inside
Prison staff in Huntingdon, PA hampering religious freedom and access to the courts:Omar Jackson reports from the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at SCI Smithfield that Muslim prisoners in that solitary confinement unit have been prevented from purchasing the prayer rugs and kufi headgear necessary for proper Ramadan worship. He writes that Muslims on the unit are further hampered in their attempts to observe the Ramadan holiday by guards who refuse to tell them what time of day it is.
Jackson also reports that on July 21, all prisoners in the RHU who required copies of their paperwork for legal filings were delayed at least a week when the prison’s law librarian refused to come to the unit to collect the papers. When prisoners who’d been denied copies expressed concern about their court deadlines, they were told by prison staff, “Here at Smithfield, we don’t give explanations!”
Multiple prisoners in solitary confinement at SCI Pittsburgh report the denial of basic necessities: In several letters from late July and early August, prisoners in Pittsburgh’s Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) and Secure Special Needs Unit (SSNU) report being deprived of soap, showers, grievance slips, toilet paper, yard time, Inmate Handbooks, and witnesses at misconduct hearings.
According to the reports from the RHU, prisoners are supposed to receive three showers a week as well as regular visits to their exercise cages, but staff on the unit are granting access to these necessities only once a week. The prisoners identify guards on the “2 to 10” shift as the ones chiefly responsible for the deprivations, as many of the chores of running the unit fall upon that shift. Writes one prisoner, “They claim they don’t have the staff to pass out clothes.. we don’t get toilet paper.. when you run out, you’re told to use towels and sheets.” This is echoed by others housed in the RHU, one of whom writes of hearing Sgt. Tempe tell one prisoner, “use your towel or rip your sheet in half and use that”. Another writes, “The 2 to 10 shift in the RHUrefuses to give us grievances, they keep them locked up.” Prisoners report that they have been denied clean clothing for up to six months, and that they have resorted to washing their clothes in their sinks, although they have no soap. According the reports, the situation is a source of amusement to guards and has been ignored by administrative officials at the prison.
Two prisoners assaulted, deprived of food and medical care at SCI Fayette: Two prisoners in the Restricted Housing Unit at Fayette state prison in southwestern Pennsylvania were badly beaten by guards during a cell extraction on August 27, according to a prisoner report. The men had been attempting to speak to staff on the unit about having been refused food for two consecutive meals.
Gregory Theobald and Gregory Howland, both twenty-two years old, had been deprived of their dinner on August 26 and Howland did not receive his breakfast the following morning. When the two attempted to speak to a ranking officer, guards began preparation for a cell extraction, a violent procedure in which prisoners are assaulted, subdued, and forcibly dragged from their cells by guards wearing riot gear and armed with pepper spray and electro-shock weapons. During the attack, the extraction team continually beat both men after they were already subdued, causing multiple injuries. Theobald had bruises covering his face and body, both of his eyes were swollen shut, and he had a cut inside of his lip because the guards “kept hitting him in the face, kicking him in the ribs” while telling him to “stop resisting” although he was not moving. Howland reportedly had both of his eyes swollen shut as well, and was in a similar condition. Since the attack, guards on the first and second shift have been depriving both men of food, causing other prisoners in the Restricted Housing Unit to share rations of their already limited food portions with them. At last report, the two men were in hard cells without property or clothing, wearing only smocks. An HRC advocate spoke with the prison staff upon receipt of the report and will be continuing to monitor the situation.
Across the Nation
Ohio sells state prison to private operator: The state of Ohio sold one of its prisons to a for-profit corporation last week, claiming that the privatization of the prison will save $13 million annually while adding 700 beds to house prisoners in an overcrowded system running at 132% of its capacity. Ohio has a state budget deficit of $8 billion. The state reorganized management at other prisons, placing them in private control without actually selling the facilities.
The Lake Erie prison is being sold for $72.7 million to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) of Tennessee, the country’s largest private-prison corporation. Ohio will pay CCA $44.25 per inmate per day plus $3.8 million for an annual ownership fee to cover wear and tear to the prison. CCAwill add 304 beds and operate the facility for 8 percent less, with projected savings to the state of $3 million annually.
The North Central Correctional Institution and the vacant Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility will become two separate adult facilities with additions of 400 beds, each privately run but not owned by the Management and Training Corporation of Utah (MTC). The state will pay MTC$41.20 per inmate per day, but no annual ownership fee. MTC will operate the facilities for 6 percent less, with projected savings to the state of $3 million annually. Finally, the North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility and the Grafton Correctional Institute will merge into one state run facility with projected annual savings of $7 million.
Christopher Mabe, president of the prison guards’ union, is concerned for the workers of the two county prisons that will now be privately run. He believes “inmates should be controlled by state-run systems with a focus on rehabilitation. A lot of the private-sector employees have lesser wages, lesser benefits. Private corrections companies don’t make cars. They don’t manufacture things. They save money off the backs of people.”
The sale is not yet final because of a lawsuit filed against the state by non-profit group Progress Ohio, claiming that selling prisons violates the state’s constitution because citzens had no opportunity to seek a referendum on the matter since authorization was included in the budget. Judge Sheeran declined to block the sale, though he did say the referendum argument “appears to have merit.” If the sale is approved during a hearing later this month, the changes will take effect on Dec. 31.
Negotiations fail, Pelican Bay prisoners to resume hunger strike: Prisoners held in solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison have announced plans to resume their indefinite hunger strike on September 26 due to prison authorities’ failure to implement meaningful change. The hunger strike was initially launched on July 1 and at its peak involved more than 6600 prisoners in at least 11 of California’s 33 state prisons. The strike was temporarily suspended on July 20 after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to offer minor concessions and promised that substantial change in the policies and practices governing SHU confinement was underway.
The demands of those on hunger strike included an end to group punishment and long-term solitary confinement, access to constructive programming, adequate and nutritious food, and abolition of the debriefing policy, which forces prisoners to become informants in order to be released from the SHU.
In an article published in the San Francisco Bay View, Mutope Duguma, one of the leaders of the hunger strike, stated that the decision to resume the peaceful protest was reached after an unsatisfactory meeting with CDCR under-secretary Scott Kernan on August 18. Mutope wrote: “We know they probably have manipulated some new attempt to deal with us, but what they fail to realize is that we were never playing. If these people think we are going to remain under this torturous treatment, then they will get the body count that they seek or a bunch of hospitals filled up throughout the state. This is the only way to expose to the world how racist prison guards and officials have utilized policy in order to torture us.”
Hurricane Raises Questions about Prison Evacuation Plans for Natural Disasters:
While hundreds of thousands of New York City residents evacuated low coastal areas subject to high flood water surges from Hurricane Irene, prisoners housed at Rikers Island stayed put. New York City Mayor Bloomberg stated in a press conference on August 26 that the island was not listed on the NYC evacuation zone map
because it is elevated above sea level and therefore entirely safe. Rikers Island sits in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, surrounded by river shore lines that were zoned for evacuation. The island infrastructure is built on top of a landfill and has served as a prison colony since the 1800’s. Today it holds 10 jails of approximately 14,000 prisoners who are controlled by approximately 7,000 prison staff members.
Questions about training staff for emergency situations and prison evacuation plans for natural disasters were raised by New York City activists and the Center for Constitutional Rights. A report published by the ACLU following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 described how prisoners left in New Orlean’s Orleans Parrish Prisons were stranded for days without food, water, or electricity, as guards abandoned their posts and water rose up through the buildings.
Third Circuit rules prolonged detention of immigrants unconstitutional: A three-judge panel sitting for the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Thursday that immigrants who are imprisoned while fighting deportation cannot be held indefinitely without a bail hearing, and that the government must justify the need for the prolonged detention. The ruling came in an appeal of a district court decision brought by Senegalese native Cheikh Diop who was detained for two years and 11 months pursuant to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. The court acknowledged that the statute does not provide for the possibility of release on bond and does not require the government to justify the detention, but ruled that because it is presumed that Congress does not intend to pass unconstitutional laws, “the statute implicitly authorizes detention for a reasonable amount of time, after which the authorities must make an individualized inquiry into whether detention is still necessary to fulfill the statute’s purposes.” The court also ruled that:
In this case, there can be no question that Diop’s detention for nearly three years without further inquiry into whether it was necessary to ensure his appearance at the removal proceedings or to prevent a risk of danger to the community, was unreasonable and, therefore, a violation of the Due Process Clause.
Diop was released in February after numerous court appearances.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
, 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@example.com
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.
Keep up the fight!