In this edition: Family fears false write-ups and retaliation by guards is keeping their son in prison, U.S. Justice Department concludes investigation of racial profiling of immigrants used by Arizona sheriff’s department, and more…
PA prison officials dismissed complaints about abuse: In an article published December 7, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Officials turned a blind eye to reports of abuse from the parents of one of the prisoners targeted for physical and sexual abuse by guards at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh. The parents tried to blow the whistle on the abuse, even enlisting a state legislator, and they are now concerned that their efforts may be the reason their son is still in prison.
Starting in June 2010, the Department of Corrections got a series of warnings of abuse by guards against an inmate known in court filings as John Doe, whose September 2011 lawsuit first detailed allegations of sexual abuse at SCI Pittsburgh. Efforts by state Rep. Dan Deasy to have the prisoner’s safety secured were dismissed by the department. “I have no reason to think there was an assault upon this inmate based on his family’s allegations,” then-Acting Secretary of Corrections Shirley Moore Smeal wrote to Mr. Deasy on Nov. 9, 2010. “Everything to this point and everything that has resulted in his current circumstances is his doing.”
Just 11 days after that letter was sent, guards at SCI Pittsburgh accused the prisoner of starting a trash can fire — an accusation he denied, but which appears to be partly responsible for his continued incarceration.
“He can’t take no more,” said the inmate’s father, a Pittsburgh area resident, in an interview last week. “He can’t even focus. … He’s, like, hopeless.”
John Doe was convicted in 2006 of robbery, receiving stolen property and fleeing an officer. He was later released, but returned to prison in March 2009 on a parole violation after he was caught with a few stamp bags of heroin.
Three months later the prisoner clashed with prison guard Harry Nicoletti, according to prison documents, when the prisoner allegedly refused the guard’s order to move to another cell. Nicoletti filed a misconduct report. Nicoletti and other guards are accused, in the inmate’s lawsuit, of filing misconducts and using solitary confinement as means of bending inmates to their will. Nicoletti was the ringleader of the abuse, and is facing more than 100 charges related to his raping and torturing prisoners.
Seven SCI Pittsburgh guards have been charged with abusing prisoners, or helping to enable abuse, following a grand jury investigation led by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. The federal Department of Justice announced a civil rights probe
into SCI Pittsburgh and SCI Cresson earlier this month.
During the last four years the Human Rights Coalition has reported hundreds of documented instances of human rights violations to PA DOC authorities, including Shirley Moore-Smeal, but they have all been ignored.
Across the Nation
U.S. Incarceration Falls for First Time Since 1972: Washington, D.C. The total number of people in prison has declined for the first time since 1972, according to a new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the Department of Justice. The report, “Prisoners in 2010,” shows the number of people in state and federal prisons fell by 9,228 between 2009 and 2010, a decline of 0.6%. The number of offenders under adult correctional supervision in the U.S. declined 1.3 percent in 2010, the second consecutive year of decline since BJS began reporting on this population in 1980. At yearend 2010, about 7.1 million people, or 1 in 33 adults, were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities in the U.S. This report also noted that “prison releases (708,677) exceeded prison admissions (703,798) for the first time since BJS began collecting jurisdictional data in 1977.”
Half of state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2010. California (down 6,213) and Georgia (down 4,207) reported the largest decreases, followed by New York (down 2,031) and Michigan (down 1,365). Illinois (up 3,257) reported the largest increase, followed by Texas (up 2,400) and Arkansas (up 996). Pennsylvania saw a 0.3% decline in its incarcerated population between 2009 and 2010, as the total number of persons incarcerated in state prisons dropped from 51,429 to 51,264.
Analysis of the new data by The Sentencing Project shows that despite the population decline, the United States still leads the world in its rate of incarceration. The 731 prisoners per 100,000 population is ahead of Rwanda (595) and the Russian Federation (547), and far higher than other industrialized nations such as Spain (154), Australia (133) Canada (117), Ireland (95), and Germany (87).
The decline in the prison population was largely driven by fewer people being sentenced to prison for either new crimes or parole violations. Of the admissions decline of 27,778, nearly 58% was accounted for by reductions in two states, California (39%) and Florida (19%).
Although there was a modest decline in the number of African Americans in state prison, the incarceration rate for black males overall remains at dramatic levels. One of every ten black males in his early 30s is incarcerated in prison or jail.
Arizona’s notorious sheriff called out on unconstitutional police practices by the Justice Department: The U.S. Department of Justice announced on December 16 that after a three-year investigation, it found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has engaged in a pattern and practice of racial profiling against Latino residents. MCSO is headed by the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has become a symbol of the trend toward apartheid-style laws and practices of racist discrimination against immigrants, in particular Latinas and Latinos. The Justice Department also found the office unlawfully retaliated against its critics, discriminated against Latinos held in its jails, and failed to provide policing services to the county’s Latino residents.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who lives in Maricopa County, according to Cecilia Wang
of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. For years, the MCSO has terrorized its own community with what the Justice Department’s expert called the most egregious case of racial profiling he has ever observed.
A press release
issued by the Justice Department stated that "[t]he investigation took longer than expected and, frankly, longer than it should have because MCSO failed to cooperate with our requests for information. We were forced to take the virtually unprecedented step of filing suit in 2010 to compel cooperation. As a result of this litigation, MCSO changed course and began to fulfill its legal obligation by providing us with all of the information we had been seeking. We were able to complete the investigation, and this has been an exhaustive investigation. We interviewed over 400 people, including Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, toured MCSO’s jails, and engaged leading experts in a number of areas.
“In the area of discriminatory policing, our investigation found that MCSO deputies engage in unlawful racial profiling of Latino drivers. We engaged one of the nation’s leading experts on racial profiling, who conducted a thorough statistical analysis of MCSO traffic stops. Our expert found that Latino drivers were four to nine times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers. This expert concluded that this case involved the most egregious racial profiling in the United States that he had ever personally observed in the course of his work, observed in litigation, or reviewed in professional literature.”
While the sheriff has been fixated on ferreting out “illegals” based on racial stereotypes, serious crimes have gone unaddressed in Maricopa County. The Justice Department noted that there were widespread reports that MCSO under Arpaio’s command has failed to investigate “a large number of sex crimes.” THe ACLU claims that “MCSO has failed to act on thousands of felony arrest warrants, and recent news stories have exposed MCSO’s utter failure to investigate incidents of rape and sexual assault.”
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./
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.
Keep up the fight!