In this edition: Sexual harassment and abuse in Solitary Confinement at SCI-Rockview, Pittsburgh Ban the Box legislation on the move, Pennsylvania spends 400 billion dollars more than reported on corrections, and more….
News from the Inside
Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Solitary Confinement at SCI-Rockview: On January 25, 2012, Andre Jacobs, a prisoner held in solitary confinement at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview, informed Superintendent Marirosa Lamas while she was making her rounds about how dramatically conditions in the restricted housing unit (RHU) have changed since Lieutenant Hardy began working on the unit months prior. Since then, cell extractions, trips to psychiatric observation cells, and sexual assaults have all increased. Every day on Hardy’s watch the food, cells, and showers are extremely cold. Hardy destroyed a box of Jacobs’ law books, and regularly makes racist comments. According to Jacobs’ report, when he informed her of these conditions, Superintendent Lamas replied: “That’s the point, the RHU is a punitive housing area and is designed to be uncomfortable for you guys. Stop filing grievances and I’ll think about changing things.” Grievances have been filed and exhausted without any change.
Prisoner reports sent to HRC last week report that there is a system of routine sexual assault at SCI-Rockview in the RHU. Prisoners are being groped on their genitals under the pretext of a pat search every time they leave the cell. In a reply to a prisoner grievance on this issue, Major George Snedeker stated, “pat searches are supposed to encompass your whole body when they are done. This includes your penis and scrotum.” This policy has been upheld by superintendent Marirosa Lamas and has encouraged guards to “cop a feel” on inmates routinely. Lt. Hardy and Lt. Fox have enforced this policy through guards Weaver, Simcox, Smith, Lonfer, Baumgarder, and Archer, who have used it to sexually assault prisoners. This is accompanied by verbal threats of physical and sexual abuse. These pat searches are not conducted in lieu of strip searches, but after the inmates have already stripped naked in front of the guards. Prisoner James Freeman filed a grievance against prison guard Berfield for fondling his genitals twice during a search, and requested to never be searched by that guard again. The grievance was denied, and in his appeal to the denial he states, “Regardless of the fact that I’m a prisoner and some of my rights have been relinquished, I still maintain my rights to be free from another person touching me in a sexual manner, especially an employee of the D.O.C.”
Another RHU prisoner, John Carter, is being held in indefinite solitary confinement in Rockview’s RHU after he was arbitrarily placed on the restricted release list, an indefinite form of solitary confinement that provides no path to return to general population. Carter has witnessed prison officials force unsuspecting prisoners into doubling up in a RHU cell with other prisoners who display aggressive behavior, sexual predators, and mental health patients. This subjects prisoners to physical harm, sexual assaults, and psychological torture. Carter reports that this practice is unnecessary and promotes prisoner on prisoner violence, mental deterioration, and the spread of communicable diseases. Despite the fact that DOC policy only permits officials to confine prisoners in the RHU when the alleged misconduct is of a serious nature, prison officials are overcrowding the RHU with prisoners sanctioned for non-serious rule infractions. The physical and mental oppression imposed on prisoners is greatly intensified under solitary confinement when a human being is forced to share an 8-foot square room with another person. When prisoners request a single cell in RHU, they are retaliated against with additional RHU time.
Prisoners in SCI Rockview’s RHU are requesting that supporters contact DOC officials and demand an investigation into abusive conditions, including sexual assault, retaliation, double-celling, and excessive use of solitary confinement:
Call SCI Rockview Superintendent Marirosa Lamas: 814-355-4874
PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-975-4918
Prisoner threatened with rape and lynching at Somerset: Elizah McDonald, a prisoner housed in the Restricted Housing Unit at SCI Somerset has been the victim of continued sexual harassment and verbal abuse over the past few months. On November 20 at 2:35 PM, while McDonald was using the bathroom, prison guard Levadnuk stood at his cell door and made multiple threats towards him, saying that he was going to “rape him and make McDonald his little jailhouse homosexual.” About 40 minutes later, Levadnuk came back to McDonald’s cell, made more sexual comments and ordered McDonald to masturbate. In response, McDonald kicked his door, which caused Levadnuk to leave. McDonald stated in his letter that he is not the only prisoner targeted by Levadnuk, but that others have been intimidated, and are scared to come forward. McDonald filed a grievance about these and similar events involving Levadnuk, but nothing has been done.
McDonald also reports racially charged threats and abuse. On January 7, when McDonald asked for a grievance form, prison guard Bowman responded, “Hell no, I don’t take orders from monkey faced niggers. I have a swastika tattooed on my back. White power.” When McDonald told him to stop harassing him, Bowman refused. “All niggers bow down to the white man and suck the white man dick,” stated Bowman. “The Klan is coming for you…if I ever see you, I’m going to make you suck my dick then I’m going to lynch and hang your nigger ass.”
McDonald states that he is suffering from nightmares, hallucinations, and panic attacks and solitary confinement is making all of these “unbearable.” McDonald had an appointment with a psychologist in December and explained what was happening to him, but was told that if he wasn’t
suicidal, there was nothing that they could do for him and ended the appointment.
Local Ban the Box Legislation Reintroduced: Legislation to remove the question about past criminal convictions from initial job applications has been reintroduced in Pittsburgh City Council. Similar legislation has been passed in other cities including Philadelphia and Detroit. A petition in support of the legislation explains “this ‘box’ is discriminatory and prevents people with past criminal records from acquiring equal employment opportunities to provide for their families and become self-sufficient, taxpaying citizens of our communities, city and nation.” When first introduced in April of last year the legislation limited itself to only City of Pittsburgh jobs and was sponsored by Councilman Ricky Burgess. This time around advocates of the bill hope to expand the language to include private employers.
The purpose of the bill is “prohibiting blanket discrimination as opposed to exacting affirmative action on employers,” says Dean Williams director of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project and organizer of the local ban the box campaign. Because the bill simply looks to abolish discrimination in employment, the American Civil Liberties Union, who has worked with the campaign, has publicly stated that it is constitutional for the city to pass a version of the bill including private employers.
A public hearing will be held regarding the bill sometime in the coming months.
Pennsylvania Exceeds Already Overblown Prison Budget:
Amid sweeping cuts to social service programs across the board, studies
found that Pennsylvania spends at least $463.8 million more than its already massive $1.6 billion prison budget. According to a new Vera Institute of Justice and Pew Center on the States report, Pennsylvania had one of the largest discrepancies of the 40 states surveyed: 22.6 percent of prison costs are outside the corrections budget, totaling $2.1 billion.
The prison costs reported included a conservative estimate of $400 million spent on the construction of two new prisons at the SCI-Graterford site in Montgomery County. “These figures… provide more proof of the need for Pennsylvania to rethink its criminal justice policies, starting with an end to new prison construction,” says Dan Berger, an activist with Decarcerate PA
and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel told the Inquirer last July “the fact that our budget is $1.86 billion has a lot of people rethinking some of the assumptions we’ve made in the past.” The prison population in Pennsylvania grew by 2,122 people (4.3 percent) in 2009, and continued to grow in 2010, reaching 51,312. Decarcerate PA supports a proposal from Republican State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf that would boost support for programs to help ex-offenders reenter the community. The proposal, Senate Bill 100, would also offer non-prison alternatives for non-violent offenders.
Lawsuit Challenges Placement on Restricted Release List: Dennis McKeithan, currently housed at SCI Mahanoy, has filed a civil complaint against Deputy Superintendent Brenda Tritt, Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel, and several members of the Program Review Committee at Mahanoy for violations of his fourteenth amendment right to due process, his first amendment right, and his eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
On October 7, 2009, while being housed at SCI Coal Township, McKeithan was issued a misconduct for assault and sent to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) after hitting a guard who called him a “nigger.” On October 13, 2009, McKeithan was sanctioned 360 days in the RHU. He was sanctioned in absentia, as the guards on duty refused to take him to his own hearing. He was not allowed to appeal this decision. Then on November 2, 2009 McKeithan was transferred from the RHU at SCI Coal Township to the RHU at SCI Mahanoy. At this time McKeithan wrote a letter to then-Secretary of the PA Department of Corrections, Jeffrey Beard, concerned that he would be placed on the Restricted Release List following this incident. On November 19, 2009, McKeithan received a letter from Jay Whitesell, Assistant to Secretary of the Department of Corrections, stating that since he had been transferred to SCI Mahanoy, that the Program Review Committee (PRC) at Mahanoy would decide the appropriate actions to take based on several factors including his reaction to the sanction and his behavior in the RHU. However on April 1, 2010, McKeithan was informed that he had been placed on the Restricted Release List by Coal Township in violation if his due process rights. Being placed on the Restricted Release List (RRL) by the PA Department of Corrections prevents prisoners in solitary confinement from being released into general population. Prisoners can only be removed from this list by approval from Secretary of Corrections. Placement on the RRL could lead to permanent placement in solitary confinement.
On August 22, 2010, McKeithan filed an appeal of his placement on the RRL stating that Coal Township had no authority to place him on the RRL since he had been transferred. He tried to appeal several times and was denied without reason. Furthermore, on March 27, 2011, after filing a grievance against Deputy Superintendent Tritt and several members of the PRC for being denied his right to be seen every 90 days, McKeithan was brought before the PRC and issued a false misconduct by Tritt, who stated that McKeithan was acting “belligerent”. The misconduct resulted in loss of radio and typewriter privileges. Tritt admitted that this action was in retaliation for the grievances McKeithan had filed. McKeithan then wrote John Wetzel, Secretary of Corrections, about this unfair treatment. He sent copies of previous PRC reviews, which had all been positive. Wetzel refused to take any action regarding these retaliatory actions.
All prisoners on the RRL are held in solitary confinement indefinitely. Conditions in solitary are cruel and torturous with lights left on 24 hours a day, causing sleep deprivation. Social interaction and environmental stimulation are severely limited. These tactics are known to cause mental stress and lead to other psychiatric problems. McKeithan suffers from short-term memory loss, eye disease, angina, high blood pressure and other illnesses. He is not receiving adequate health care inside of the RHU at Mahanoy.
Across the Nation
(click RCPP for more national news)
Family of Russell Shoats Honored at Dinner Tribute in NYC: The Malcolm X Commemoration Committee held their 16th annual dinner tribute to the families of political prisoners and prisoners of war on January 28th, 2012 in mid Manhattan. “One Struggle, Many Fronts” was a fundraiser for the commissary funds of political prisoners and a place to acknowledge, grieve and strategize among family members who are committed to organized and principled resistance for justice and human rights in the United States in conjunction with their incarcerated loved ones. Co-founder of the Human Rights Coalition FedUp! Chapter and prisoner of war Russell Maroon Shoats was represented by his daughters Theresa and Sharon Shoats.
Watch videos from the event:
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/
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: email@example.com
or call 412-654-9070.
You’ve been reading 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!