In this edition: Judge clears prisoner of riot charges, Prisoner testifies on abuse at SCI Pittsburgh, Hunger strike resumes in California prison, and more…
News from the Inside
Victory for one of the Dallas Six: On December 30, 2011, a Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judge granted the habeas corpus petition in the case of one of prisoners known as the Dallas Six, Derrick Stanley. The judge dismissed the riot charge against Stanley, declaring that to bring such a charge would lead to “absurd” charges of riot in the future.
Derrick Stanley’s victory comes almost two years after the men who would become known as the Dallas Six staged a peaceful protest against the ongoing racism, brutality, and injustice faced by prisoners at State Correctional Institute Dallas only to be violently cell extracted and beaten in retaliation. The April 2010 attack was the culmination of a series of retaliatory acts by SCI Dallas prison guards against prisoners speaking out against the ongoing abuses within the prison.
Soon after the attack in April of 2010, a criminal complaint was sent to the District Attorney for Luzerne County, Jackie Musto Carroll, about the guards actions in extracting the prisoners. Carroll’s office rejected the complaint, claiming a state police investigation yielded no evidence of prosecutorial merit when there were, and still are, no indications a state police investigation was ever launched. In June of 2010, one of the Dallas Six, Carrington Keys, filed a lawsuit against SCI Dallas officials and guards, along with Carroll for her inaction, and in August 2010 the Human Rights Coalition published a report on the incident. It was only after these actions that Carroll’s office charged the Dallas Six with rioting, despite the fact the DOC never issued riot misconducts to any of them after the April 2010 cell extractions. Stanley is the first of the group to have his charges dismissed.
The State has appealed from the order dismissing the charges against Stanley, and as of the writing of this report has not yet filed their official response. The response will be heard before Judge Lesa Gelb, a newly elected judge who ran on a platform decrying the corruption and cronyism long present in Luzerne County. Despite the prospect of a reinstatement of charges or new charges being brought against him, Derrick Stanley is currently enjoying his recent release from the custody of the PA DOC last week.
Prisoner Dennis McKeithan transferred to SCI Frackville: In a follow up to last week’s story on a prisoner challenging his solitary confinement in the courts, Dennis McKeithan has been transferred from SCI Mahanoy to SCI Frackville and subjected to retaliation for speaking out against human rights violations.
On October 18, 2011 Dennis McKeithan served Lt. Shoemaker with a civil action suit. The next day, two guards were sent to search his cell, allegedly to see if he had another prisoner’s legal materials, which he did not. The guards wrote him a misconduct anyway, wrongly classifying his own witness affidavits as another prisoner’s property. On November 17, 2011, McKeithan sent a packet of information to the Governor of PA, Secretery of Corrections, and the Human Rights Coalition in Philadelphia. Less than a week later, November 23, he was packed up on emergency transfer to SCI Frackville. Furthermore, contrary to DOC policy, McKeithan has been denied A.C. (Administrative Custody) status at Frackville, and they have continued to withhold basic priveliges by keeping him on D.C. (Disciplinary Custody) status. He has not been receiving any phone calls, or receiving commissary; and guards at Frackville have clearly stated that he is being punished in retaliation for his complaints against members of the prison staff.
The packets that McKeithan sent out on November 17 contained dates of incidents, names of prisoners who were abused, and the staff members who abused them. Some of the complaints were regarding guards hanging nooses as racial intimidation; guards paying prisoners to urinate on inmates they dislike, as well as sexual harassment perpetuated by a smaller group of extremely racist guards on the 6 am to 2 pm shift, a group led by prison guards Chapman, Davis, Hauslyak, Williams, Rustin, Sgt. Johnson, and several others who violate prisoners’ rights by issuing false misconducts.
McKeithan reports that since arriving at SCI Frackville, his food has been tampered with, he has been denied showers and exercise, has been placed in an ice cold cell, and given ice cold showers. He also reports that in spite of his heart condition, he was moved from the front cell to the last cell, and heard one of the guards tell a nurse," if he (McKeithan) has a heart attack, they can’t hear him." And they were laughing while they said it.
Report Focuses on Effects of Incarcerated Parents on Children:
A committee appointed by the Joint State Government Commission of Pennsylvania in response to a House and Senate Resolution in 2009 recently released a report
on their findings of the effects of parental incarceration on children. The committee included staff of the Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole, human services government employees, judges, teachers, attorneys, and community and faith based support service organizations. The report advocated for three specific changes to existing Pennsylvania law, addressing protocols for arresting parents in the presence of children and changing policy on the termination of parental rights because of prolonged incarceration.
The report concluded that children with incarcerated parents face unique obstacles that are largely invisible and hard to address, due to lack of data collection on many organizational levels, and inability to single out children of incarcerated parents as a special grouping under the law. Additionally, the effects of parental incarceration on the emotional well being of the child is hard to study and pinpoint conclusive results. While it was acknowledged that many children had adverse behavioral effects from parental separation that manifested as antisocial behavior it was concurrently acknowledged that many children of incarcerated parents function extremely well in society and that a child having a hard time, could be related to a number of other factors.
The two overall recommendations imparted by the committee members were to reduce the number of parents sent to prison and address the economic and emotional pain of children. The report focused solely on the second recommendation-outlining existing services and the need to better coordinate and distribute services to assist children who face economical and emotional hardship. The report highlighted government programs and existing programs outside of government agencies that had experienced short term success, but lacked a larger analysis of who is in prison and why.
Statistics reported from the U.S. Bureau of Justice showed that African American kids were 7.5 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than White children, and Latinos were 2.5 percent more likely. The report assessed different challenges faced by children whose mothers and fathers were incarcerated, ranging from loss of economic support to loss of primary caregiver, citing approximately 1.3 million children with a mother under state control. Subsidized guardianship programs and kinship care programs, which allow for non parental but familial caregivers to receive financial assistance for taking care of children, were cited as positive developments in other states, but lacking in Pennsylvania.
Members of the committee urged a change in legislation to say that parental rights cannot be terminated based solely on the cause of incarceration or by reasons beyond the parents control. Current law mandates that the state file termination of parental rights after 15 months of incarceration even if the parent is doing well at staying connected and involved in the child’s life.
The arrests and judicial subcommittee identified concerns about children experiencing traumatic
arrests often involving police weapons, with 2/3 of officers surveyed indicating they would not change their behavior if children were present. After describing incidences of child neglect after parents were taken away, the committee advocated for the introduction of a mandatory training program including trauma sensitivity training for all police officers with new funding and assessments for the initiative.
Additional topics of exploration were: diversion programs such as drug treatment and alternatives to sentencing parents in prions; barriers to connection caused by high costs of prison phone calls and parents held in rural prisons hundreds of miles away; barriers to reentry and family reunification including employment and housing discrimination; finding family needs and developing plans at the time of sentencing by conducting thorough intake assessments; and the effectiveness of existing Department of Corrections programming including parenting classes. The report suggested Pennsylvania’s overall lack of data about children of incarcerated parents and their specific needs, but discussed a wide range of improvement points and a small range of possibilities for making them happen.
Second prisoner claims being raped, abused and alleges collusion between guards: An Erie County man, only identified as “John R.S. Doe”, claims in a federal lawsuit filed February 9, 2012 that the suspended SCI-Pittsburgh guard Harry Nicoletti, 60, facing 117 criminal charges of rape, assault and official oppression had free access to inmates that other guards and top supervisors had to be aware of.
The lawsuit also alleges that Nicoletti was allowed freely into cellblocks where he was not assigned, and this access required other guards to either let him in or ignore his use of a keycard he was not supposed to have. The guards also had to have either watched or walked away while he was assaulting the inmates, the lawsuit said.
Doe’s claims mirror those of another “John Doe” inmate’s lawsuit against Nicoletti of Coraopolis and prison officials; both say Nicoletti would give them a choice of how they would be raped and physically assaulted them if they resisted.
In addition to Nicoletti, the man is suing a correctional officer and a captain identified only by their last names as well as four former top officials at the prison.
PA state prison guards oppose Governor’s proposal to reduce prison population by five percent: Governor Corbett’s proposal to reduce prison population is being opposed by state prison guards.
Reduction of more than 2,500 inmates will come from increased efficiency in the parole process, which can take up a prisoner up to 100 days to be release after being granted parole, said Secretary of Corrections, John Wetzel. Clogs such as the delay of several months in confirming two parole board members saw prisoner population to grow from 51,356 in July to a record 51,638 in December costing state more than $750,000 a month.
But Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, says the projected reductions are not going to happen. “The only way it can be done is they are going to have to cut people loose that should not be cut loose,” he said. Michael Potteiger, chairman of the state parole board, which is independent from the corrections department countered, “getting people who’ve already been paroled out the door sooner is not a safety risk.”
Wetzel says fixing the system would eventually reduce the population enough to allow closure of housing units. Pinto, however, says the system is “overcrowded in every institution and there is absolutely no way he’s going to close housing units,” he said. In order to save money, he said, officials have to get overtime under control or trim fat in what he called a “top-heavy” department.
“We are already at bare-minimum staffing,” he said.
Wetzel said with every decrease of 200 to 250 inmates, he could close one of the system’s modular housing units, allowing guards to be sent to other units, which would help reduce the overtime cited by Pinto, and save prison budget more than $60 million a year. “If we’re going to fundamentally change how we’re spending money in corrections, this is what we’ve got to do,” said Wetzel.
Across the Nation
(click RCPP for more national news)
Urgent Action Alert for Indiana SHU Prisoners
: This is an URGENT ACTION ALERT asking for a solidarity call-in to demand an investigation into abuses in the Secure Housing Unit of Wabash Valley Correctional Facility and to protest the recent torture of our comrade Shaka Shakur. For details follow link
Prisoners at Corcoran state prison in Cali back on strike with new demands: On Februrary 10, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity issued a press release stating that prisoners at Corcoran State Prison in California were on hunger strike in the Administrative segregation unit (ASU) there. The report details that this strike has been going on for over a month now and “representatives of the strikers listed 11 demands that include access to educational and rehabilitative programming, adequate and timely medical care, and timely hearings on their cases and petitions. As of February 9, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), disclosed that 30 men were still striking and a representative in the office said that prisoners had been intermittently striking for the last month.” There has been one unconfirmed report of a death of a striking prisoner from the inside.
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity was formed by the supporters of the hunger strikes that occurred this past summer and fall. The strikes were initiated at Pelican Bay State prison, and at one point included 12,000 prisoners at 13 state prisons. After the strikes last year, the California Department of Corrections promised to make changes to its gang validation procedure, which is a practice that places prisoners in solitary confinement units or Security Housing Units often on baseless allegations of gang affiliation. The changes were supposed to be in draft form by January, but have not yet been released. “The prisoners are making very reasonable and legitimate demands regarding basic human rights,” says Carol Strickman, a lawyer working on behalf of some hunger strikers in California. “For those of us on the outside, the slow pace of reform is frustrating. For those people enduring barbarous conditions, the lack of meaningful improvement is unbearable.”
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 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!