PA Prison Report - Mar 19, 2012

In this edition: Hunger Strike at Frackville; Suicide of prisoner at SCI Cresson; North Carolina prisoners thrown in hole for peaceful protest and more…
Petition to End the 20+ years of Solitary Confinement Torture of Russell Maroon Shoats reached 659 signatures. That's only 18 signatures since last week's report! Does this mean there are only ~660 people willing to sign to stop torture in PA prisons in a country of 313 Million? Please sign here if you have not signed the petition yet and share widely. Thank You!

News from the Inside

Hunger Strike at Frackville: On Saturday March 10, 2012, several prisoners at State Correctional Institution Frackville began a hunger strike. Prisoners McKeithan, Mayo, Morales and two others were on hunger strike due to repeated incidents of food tampering, harassment, threats of violence and retaliation against themselves and other prisoners in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). Sergeant Wickersham and prison guard Shaffer have been repeatedly identified as the primary ringleaders, instigators, and perpetrators of the abuse, as HRC has reported several times in the past. (see PA Prison Reports from May 23, 2011; June 27, 2011; October 10, 2011) The hunger strikers were demanding that Wickersham and Shaffer be removed from their posts due to these two guards reported tampering with prisoners’ food, verbal harassment, threats of violence, destruction of personal and legal property, and denying prisoners medical care, meals, showers, and yard. They have had numerous grievances filed against them from many prisoners at SCI Frackville.
As of Monday, prison officials assert that all prisoners on hunger strike have resumed eating, and that Wickersham and Shaffer continue to work in the RHU.
To support the prisoners at SCI Frackville call Superintendent Collins and Central Office and inform them that you are concerned about this abuse, and demand that Shaffer and Wickersham be removed from the RHU; that they be investigated and held accountable for any acts found to have violated prisoners’ human rights.
(570) 874-4516- Frackville – ask to be connected to the Superintendent’s office, request to speak with Superintendent Collins or the Superintendent’s Assistant, Peter Damiter
717-975-4859- Central Office – ask to speak with Secretary John Wetzel, Deputy Secretary John Murray, or somebody from their office.
Continuing Medical Neglect and Retaliation at SCI Frackville: A prisoner at SCI Frackville, Alfred Mayo, continues to suffer medical neglect and his health continues to deteriorate. Mayo recently ended a hunger strike (see above story) that he and four others had initiated in protest against the abusive acts of Sgt. Wickersham and prison guard Shaffer.
When Mayo 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, Mayo 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 Mayo asked what could have caused it, he was told it was the antibiotics he was previously placed on. Mayo is force to take a daily steroid to keep his kidneys from failing.
After finding out about his failing kidneys, Mayo filed grievances against the medical staff. Since filing those grievances Mayo has been issued fabricated misconducts and has been placed in solitary confinement. He is constantly retaliated against by Sgt. Wickersham and Officer Shaffer. Mayo has reported being harassed and deprived of meals. In addition to the constant retaliation, Mayo’s health is getting worse, and he is not receiving the proper treatment. He is continuing to loose weight and the daily steroid he is on is impacting his mood. He is not being provided with regular blood tests to track his progress and he is not being provided with the diet necessary to improve his kidney function.
Prison Health Services, the private company who provides medical care in Pennsylvania State
prisons, has a history of cutting corners when it comes to medical care in order to save money. Mayo’s mother and girlfriend have repeatedly called SCI Frackville and the Department of Correction’s Central Office to report the retaliation and medical neglect, and to request that he be transferred to a facility with an infirmary. Despite their efforts nothing has been done. When Mayo’s girlfriend spoke with staff at SCI Frackville she was told she needed evidence of the retaliation. Mayo’s family has expressed that every day they see his health deteriorate, they fear more and more for his life.
Suicide of prisoner at SCI Cresson raises more questions about neglect of mental health care: The State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cresson reported that a prisoner in their custody, twenty-four-year-old James Willett, committed suicide on March 11. The suicide is the second at SCI Cresson in less than a year. A report sent to HRC claims that Willett had a history of mental illness, including hearing voices, and that he was not being provided meaningful mental health treatment. SCI Cresson is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to provide mental health care to persons in its solitary confinement units.
Although a press release alleged that the state police will investigate this latest suicide, PA State Police have a policy of not investigating allegations of criminal conduct by prison personnel unless prison administrators request an investigation, leaving the prison tasked with investigating itself. The problem this poses is evident in the fact that the findings of the prison’s investigation into the suicide of John McClellan last May in SCI Cresson’s Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) appears to have been suppressed. HRC received numerous reports of guard abuse of McClellan, including encouragement of suicide, and refusal to provide mental health care, and several prisoners reported the abuse and neglect to the Department of Corrections’ Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence (OSII). Despite numerous and consistent reports, the results of the investigation have never been publicized, nor has anybody ever been held accountable.

Across the Nation
(click RealCostofPrisonsProject for more national news)


North Carolina prisoners thrown in hole for peaceful protest: Eight men are currently being held in solitary confinement for a peaceful protest held on December 16 of last year at Central Prison in Raleigh North Carolina. The men, known as the “Strong 8” were workers in the prison’s kitchen “who sat down on the job in protest of hours, lack of gain time and working conditions” according to a press release from an ad hoc group of supporters. After refusing to return to work, the eight men were charged with “disobeying an order”, placed in a solitary confinement unit, and recently moved to a higher security solitary confinement unit, called “Intensive Control” or I-Con. The disciplinary hearing that sent the men to I-Con left little to no room for argument before receiving sentences on a unit that holds prisoners often for more than six months at a time. Supporters on the outside have since begun a campaign for the release of the “Strong 8” from solitary confinement. The previous warden of Central Prison was forced to resign in November of last year following a report was released detailing the wretched conditions and practice of torture in the mental health units of the prison.
In December 2010, prisoners in the Georgia prison system staged the nation’s largest prisoner work strike in U.S. history. The prisoners in Georgia coordinated a 10-prison work strike that was largely ignored by mainstream media to demand, among other things, recognition and fair wages for the work they carried out while imprisoned. Their strike attempted to change a situation similar to that of North Carolina and other states around the nation where prison labor has become big industry. The prisoners in North Carolina had been forced to work ten hour work days for little or no pay. Both strikes sought to focus attention to the larger issue of uncompensated prison labor itself, which is exempted from the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on slavery.
Legislation began making it easier for private corporations to exploit the readily available labor of the imprisoned population when the Prison Industries Act was first passed in Texas in 1993. The PIA opened up the prisoner labor market to profit seeking companies and created a whole new incentive for feeding the trend of mass incarceration, and has since been passed in 29 other states thanks to the American Legislative Exchange council, which writes copycat legislation that benefits their many corporate sponsors. North Carolina had not passed a version of the Prison Industries Act as of 2010, and the labor the “strong 8” was not for privatized profit. Instead, their protest challenged government exploitation of labor through unreasonable work days and extraordinarily meager prevailing wages.
For updates on the situation of the Strong 8 visit
Class action lawsuit challenges solitary confinement in Arizona: The ACLU, Prison Law Office, and co-counsel law firms have filed a class action lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections over the horrendous conditions inmates face. According to the lawsuit, prisoners in Arizona receive grossly inadequate medical, mental, and dental care. They are exposed to greater levels of preventable injuries, disease, amputations, and death. Thousands of prisoners are routinely held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time with extreme sensory deprivation and social isolation, kept in small, windowless cells for months or even years, leading to serious physical and mental degradation. “Courts have consistently ruled that solitary confinement of people with mental illness is unconstitutional because it aggravates their illness and prevents them from getting proper treatment,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Even for those with no prior history of mental illness, solitary confinement can inflict extraordinary suffering and lead to catastrophic psychiatric deterioration."
Critically ill inmates beg prison officials for treatment only to be told "it’s in your head or “pray to be cured.” Donald Specter, executive director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Prison Law Office said, “The prison conditions in Arizona are among the worst I’ve ever seen. Prisoners have a constitutional right to receive adequate health care, and it is unconscionable for them to be left to suffer and die in the face of neglect and deliberate indifference.” Last year a prisoner at the state prison complex in Tuscon, Ferdinand Dix, died due to gross medical neglect. He had lung cancer that was left untreated and spread to his lymph nodes, liver, and other major organs before he was ever sent to a hospital, and that was only after his abdomen was distended to the size of a full term pregnant woman. His liver was riddled with tumors and pressed on his other internal organs, affecting his ability to eat. He filed numerous health needs requests and showed several symptoms associated with lung cancer. Medical staff responded by telling him to drink energy shakes. He died in February 2011, shortly after his first visit to a hospital. Jennifer Alewelt, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, said, “Faced with such gross indifference on the part of prison officials to the suffering of the prisoners in their care, it was essential we get involved. Prisoners with mental illness can be particularly vulnerable, and we must do everything we can to ensure their medical needs are met while incarcerated.”
“Arizona has used the absence of transparency to callously ignore the basic needs of persons entrusted to its care, at times with deadly results,” said Daniel Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Absent court intervention the health and well-being of thousands of prisoners will continue to be sacrificed to economic expediency.” Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona against the director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Charles Ryan, and the department’s interim director of the division of health services, Richard Pratt. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, it asks that constitutionally protected, adequate health care be made available to prisoners, that medications be distributed to patients in a timely manner, and that prisoners not be held in isolation in conditions of social isolation and sensory deprivation that put them at risk of harm.


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:, or visit our website at
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: 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!