In this edition: Mumia Abu-Jamal enters general population first time since 1981; Abuse, hunger strike at SCI Fayette; Medical Neglect at SCI Frackville causes prisoner’s kidneys to fail, and more…
News from the Inside
Mumia Abu-Jamal enters general population after mass public outcry: On January 27, 2012, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was officially transferred to general population at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Mahanoy after being held in solitary confinement at the prison for seven weeks. This is the first time Mumia has been in General Population since his arrest in 1981.
The transfer came within hours of the of delivery of over 5,500 signed petitions to Department of Corrections headquarters in Camp Hill, PA and a compliant filed with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. These actions came at the end of a public campaign to release Abu-Jamal from solitary confinement that included call-ins, letters of protest, the threat of legal action, and a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday, January 26.
Dr. Johanna Fernandez described the actions of January 26 as follows: “Following a press conference in Philadelphia on that day, supporters took the long trip to Camp Hill, headquarters of the DOC, to deliver over 5,500 petitions to it chief administrator Mr. John Wetzel. The day before the press conference and Camp Hill action, on Wed, Jan 25, supporters wrote to Mr. Wetzel to advise him of their visit and to request that he meet with a subgroup of the delegation. Although, Mr. Wetzel declined to meet with them, about 15 supporters travelled to Camp Hill to deliver the petitions anyway. They were an eclectic army, persistent, and defiant of the DOC’s obsession with antiseptic order and control. The delegation included: Theresa Shoats, dressed in an orange prisoner’s jumpsuit in protest of the over thirty years of solitary incarceration at SCI Greene of her own father, Russell Maroon Shoats; members of Move; an attorney; a professor; a psychologist; a Muslim sister, and concerned citizens from Philadelphia and New York. Mr. Wetzel refused a brief meeting with the delegates once again.
“Before retreating the group wrote a note informing Mr. Wetzel that the issue of Mumia’s solitary confinement was now being discussed in Geneva and that UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, was outraged about Mumia’s status and that of the 80,000 men and women tortured in special Restrictive Housing Units in PA and across the US and that, following a meeting with him the day before, he was now “officially” on the case. The action was strong; a colorful and a creative episode of the unrelenting grassroots campaign that won Mumia’s transfer to general population. The transfer ended up happening the following day without the supposed, requisite “paper work” from the courts, which even by the DOC’s account is but a formality; because after the DA threw in the towel, in his pursuit of a new death sentence, there was only one direction Mumia could have moved: into general population and on the road to release!”
Abu-Jamal released the following statement to supporters following his release into general population: “My dear friends, brothers and sisters — I want to thank you for your real hard work and support. I am no longer on death row, no longer in the hole, I’m in population. This is only part one and I thank you all for the work you’ve done. But the struggle is for freedom! From Mumia and Wadiya, Ona Move. Long Live John Africa!”
Abuse, hunger strike at SCI Fayette: On Tuesday January 17, the Human Rights Coalition received a report from prisoner Kenneth Leach that abuse at SCI Fayette is increasing. In his report he said that he and prisoner David L. Merritt have been confined to hard cells, which are cells where the prisoner has no mattress or personal items. He reported that cold air was rushing in. He reported that prisoner Merritt has been sexually threatened by Sergeant R. Luster, Officers Costello, Anderson, Yuager, Wyland, and Skrobraz. 6 prisoners at Fayette were on hunger strike at the time of Leach’s report.
Medical Neglect at SCI Frackville Causes a Prisoner’s Kidneys to Fail: When Alfred Mays first arrived at SCI Frackville in January 2009 he was perfectly healthy. A little over a month later he caught a small cold. In response he was treated with large amounts of antibiotics. In the middle of March, Mays began complaining about flu like symptoms and requesting sick call. His weight went from 250 pounds to 172 pounds. It wasn’t until August that he had any blood work done. After his blood work was done he was immediately sent to the infirmary at SCI Mahanoy, where he was told that his kidneys were failing and it was likely that they would never function normally again. When Mays asked what could have caused it, he was told it was the antibiotics he was previously placed on. Since then Mays has been taking a steroid to keep his kidneys functioning, and it is unlikely that he will be able to stop taking it any time soon. Mays has filed grievances against SCI Frackville’s medical department, and in response has received retaliation in the form of harassment and fabricated misconducts. He is currently in solitary confinement in the RHU.
Prisoner found dead at SCI-Coal Township: Fred Joseph Mebs, 55, a prisoner at SCI Coal Township, was pronounced dead at 3:40 a.m. on Sunday January 22, 2012 by Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley at the prison. The coroner said Mebs’ death showed no signs of foul play. Kelley attributed the manner of death to natural causes. An autopsy and toxicology testing will not be conducted, Kelley said.
Story from Newsitem
Prisoner at SCI-Greene reports abuse and torture in his “Truthful Slave Narratives”: Curtis Thomas reports that during his time at SCI Greene, he has been “the victim of theft, robbery, armed robbery, ethnic intimidation, railroading, and torture,” which are “the everyday happenings of life on a slave plantation, when the slave overseers wear Dept of Corrections badges on their shoulders…”
Thomas states that "on Nov. 23, 2011 when he was in his cage in H-block of the restricted housing unit, C.O.’s came to retaliate against him as he was in the process of having criminal charges brought against those officers for their crimes against himself and humanity. They approached his “cage” and said, “its time for you to die you crippled, diabetic nigger.” Thomas reports that officers shackled his crippled left hand behind his back and his feet together. This was after they had already sprayed him, point blank range in the face with mace, pepper spray and other toxic chemicals and locked him in his cage, unable to see or breathe. He further reports that officers Haywood, Harkleroad, Lewis, Bowlin, Loar, Chearney, Fleming, F. Ninez, S. Miller and more attacked him with stun guns, tasers, and cattle prods; then dragged his collapsed body out of the cell and into isolation where the other 23 inmates on the block would not be able to see. They then covered his head in a bag and proceeded to spray him with more chemicals, use more electric weapons on him and tear off his clothes using knives, razorblades, scissors and hands.
Thomas says, “They took their time and each attacked me, tortured me, sexually abused me, and murdered me. They did things to me that a man woman nor child would not speak about even to the creator of the heavens and the earth”. When they were done they dragged his naked, battered body back to his cage and left him there to die. He reports he was not given clothes until Dec. 23 exactly one month after the attack. Thomas is now suffering from injuries and pneumonia, and is still not being fed all of his meals and has received no medical attention.
Please sign Decarcerate PA petition to stop prison expansion sign here
Governor Corbett announces plan to reduce prison costs: The Harrisburg Patriot reports that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has formed a committee to strategize on ideas for reducing prison costs. “Education, corrections and welfare take up about 95 percent of the budget pie,” Corbett said, “so everything else we want to do comes out of that other 5 percent. If we want to be able to do more, we have two ways of doing it: either we raise taxes — which I’m not going to do because I don’t think the people of Pennsylvania can take that — or get more efficient at what we’re doing and reduce the need for the welfare side and reduce the need for the corrections side.”
An report by a research team led by Tony Fabelo, who helped craft justice reinvestment reforms in Texas, gathered the latest statistics from Pennsylvania and prepared a preliminary report that was offered to the group on Thursday. PA DOC Secretary Wetzel said that report was “one of the best I’ve seen.”
According to the article, the core idea of justice reinvestment is enacting programs that save money, and then reinvesting those savings in scientifically proven programs — often at the local community level — to reduce the number of people entering prison. It does not appear that the working group will consider community reinvestment in education, health care, local food production, or other urgently needed social programs as an alternative to the now-normalized mass incarceration of poor people and people of color. Instead, the working group seems more focused on reorganizing the criminal legal system to make it more cost-efficient.
Despite the talk of prison reform, noticeably absent from Corbett’s committee are prisoner support organizations, advocacy groups, civil and human rights groups, or any individuals or organizations from those communities most impacted by race and class-based mass incarceration. A full list of those involved in the working group can be found here.
Prior to being elected Governor, Corbett was the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. In that position he and his office routinely ignored hundreds of documented instances of torture and human rights violations in Pennsylvania prisons.
Ex-prison guard to pay $25 fine for assaulting prisoner: A former Schuylkill county prison guard, James W. Preneta, 28, of Shenandoah, will only pay $25 fine after pleaded guilty on Wednesday January 18, 2012 that he harassed an inmate last April. Judge John E. Domalakes accepted the plea and, pursuant to an agreement between prosecutors and the defendant, sentenced Preneta to pay costs and a $25 fine.
Prosecutors withdrew a more serious simple assault charge. Pottsville police originally charged Preneta with punching Brandon Moyer on April 7 during an altercation that also involved two other guards, Michael J. Galavage and John D. Yeager in Moyer’s prison cell. During Preneta’s preliminary hearing, Yeager testified on Sept. 23 that Preneta punched Moyer in the face. However, during the same hearing, Moyer testified that he did not know who punched him.
The county prison board fired Galavage, Preneta and Yeager on May 4 based on information from prison staff members, the police investigation and interviews with the trio.
Story from Republican Herald
House arrest program saves Northumberland county more than $492k: During his monthly report to the county prison board Wednesday, January 4, 2012 chief adult probation officer Dave Wondoloski said there were 528 prisoner in the house arrest/electronic monitoring program, which resulted in 12,303 prisoner days being saved and an overall savings of $492,120 last year for Northumberland County Probation/Parole Department.
Wondoloski, who noted the program expanded last year with the hiring of a second officer, said the self-funded, offender-paid program is working well where prisoners pay $450 per month. In December, Wondoloski said there were 50 participants, which resulted in 1,117 prisoner days being saved and $44,680 in savings to the county. Currently, there are 40 prisoners in the program.
Warden Roy Johnson said the current prison population is 214, including 181 males and 33 females with one male prisoner being housed outside the county. Johnson said Northumberland County Prison is currently housing four inmates from Union County, 11 from Montour County and one from Columbia County. He said the county generated approximately $100,000 in 2011 by housing inmates from other counties.
Story from Newsitem
Across the Nation
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New Report Examines Private Prisons in America: A report released by the Sentencing Project, “Too Good to Be True, Private Prisons in America” concludes that private prisons are not more cost effective or better at facilitating public and prisoner safety than publicly operated facilities and that states looking to cut corners on prison spending should not expect any significant savings by contracting to private companies over time.
Over the past ten years, the number of prisoners in the United States managed by private corporations grew 80%, while the overall prison population increased by 17%. The report tracks state by state infiltration of private companies into the prison sector, fueled by exponential increases in the number of incarcerated people and detainees because of “tough on crime” policy, the war on drugs, and the increased detention of immigrants and youth. The two corporations with the biggest hand in prison privatization, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group, began managing facilities in the 1980s and collectively grossed a profit of 2.9 billion dollars in 2010.
The Sentencing Project interjects that private prisons have not proven to be more cost effective than public prisons and that cost analyses and comparison studies have been flawed because of prison population types. Most private prisons hold minimum or medium security prisoners and are therefore cheaper to run than public facilities, which typically hold prisoners at a mix of status levels, including maximum security prisoners who are more expensive to house and staff. Claims that privatizing prisons or prison services reduce costs is an oversight of the range of people housed in prisons and only reflects that a prison holding minimum security prisons is cheaper to run than a prison that holds mixed status prisoners.
The report also argues that cost containment strategies of privatizing prisons that revolve around decreased programming and more temperamental staff, have a negative effect on public safety. Employees who are non-union, who work for lower wages and have less benefits, have a higher turnover rate and receive less training, are more likely to abuse prisoners. Decreased programming and denying prisoners access to education, skill building and job training leads to increased institutional violence and greater recidivism.
Because profits are generated by keeping the prison population high, corporations are invested in lobbying public officials to maintain pro-prison attitudes and policies. As members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission, CCA and Geo Group helped draft legislation that is used today-California’s three strikes law and mandatory minimum sentencing- and continue to employ lobbyists and give to election cycle politicians. The states that received the most money in political gifts from the corporations were the states that saw the most dramatic increase in prison privatization.
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.
Keep up the fight!