HRC Action Alert - Abusive guards in the solitary unit at Frackville
Please take a moment on Monday to make phone calls, write letters, and speak out for the human rights of those struggling against abuse and terror in PA solitary units.
For the last year, the Human Rights Coalition has received more than a dozen reports from prisoners in State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville's Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) that Sergeant Wickersham and prison guard Schaeffer are being allowed to perpetrate routine human rights violations against prisoners with the knowledge of top officials at the prison. Multiple reports from prisoners, some of them summarized in our abuse logs, indicate that these two guards regularly deprive prisoners of food, showers, yard, and state-issue items; issue falsified misconducts against those who speak out or file grievances in order to sentence them to more time in solitary confinement; target prisoners of color; and threaten further retaliation and even physical abuse.
A few weeks ago, five prisoners in the RHU staged a hunger strike for several days, demanding that Wickersham and Schaeffer be removed from the unit. Despite multiple grievances being filed against them, calls from outside support people, and the non-violent hunger strike, Superintendent Collins remains unwilling to acknowledge--let alone remedy--the problems created by these guards.
This pattern of abuse, harassment, and deprivation is not uncommon in PA solitary units or others around the country. The dehumanizing psychological impact on prison staff has been noted by leading researchers on the subject, with one concluding that staff "become accustomed to and numb to the behavior of isolated inmates," causing the development of a "callous and cynical" attitude amongst staff that creates an atmosphere where abuse is rampant. HRC has documented several hundred reports of torture, abuse, terror, starvation, deprivation, racism and dehumanization in the solitary units of PA, all enabled by this culture of callousness. The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating unconstitutional practices in the solitary units at SCI Cresson in the PA DOC.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has recently called for “an absolute prohibition on solitary confinement exceeding 15 consecutive days” due to the severe harm inflicted by such drastic social isolation and sensory deprivation.
Join the Human Rights Coalition and supporters on Monday, April 16--all day--and call SCI Frackville and demand that Wickersham and Schaeffer be removed from the RHU immediately.
SCI Frackville: 570-874-4516; ask for Superintendent Collins, or Deputy Supts. Kovalchik or Lorady.
Secretary Wetzel: 717-975-4918
Ask them 1) how many complaints they have received about Wickersham and Schaeffer? 2) Why do they continue to keep these guards in the RHU with all of the complaints? 3) Do they support deprivation of food and showers as a disciplinary tactic?
Demand that 1) These two guards be removed immediately; 2) all misconduct reports authored by them be reviewed and dismissed if no evidence exists to support them, and that prisoners have their RHU time reduced; 3) Central Office must conduct an external investigation and publicize the results.
Human Rights Coalition 5125 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15224
April 12, 2012
Human Rights Coalition
5125 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Secretary John Wetzel
2520 Lisburn Road
Camp Hill, PA 17001
I write to you today to request transfer of two prison employees out of the RHU at SCI Frackville based on a pattern and practice of racism, deprivations of shower, yard, food, and property, and issuance of false and retaliatory misconducts against inmates. Specifically, I write on behalf of prisoners who have by name singled out Sergeant Wickersham and prison guard Schaeffer as perpetrating the above-mentioned constitutional violations without any meaningful oversight or intervention by officials at Frackville. These actions have caused considerable harm to prisoners in the RHU, exacerbating and worsening serious medical conditions due to neglect and deprivation, extending the duration of time spent in psychologically devastating solitary confinement, and fostering a culture of racism and dehumanization that degrades prison staff and prisoner alike.
Please note that I raised this precise issue with you before by letter dated March 2, 2012. At that time, I advised you of allegations by Dennis McKeithan about these two individuals. Since this letter was sent to your office along with Superintendent Collins at Frackville, the patterns of abuse intensified to the point that five prisoners engaged in a non-violent hunger strike to draw attention to and seek redress from the hostile, unprofessional, and unconstitutional acts of Sgt. Wickersham and prison guard Schaeffer. The hunger strike lasted a week and demonstrate the intense gravity of the situation.
Rather than address the underlying grievances, Superintendent Collins, his assistant Peter Damiter, and others at the prison insist that only Dennis McKeithan is filing grievances. Contrary to their assertions, however, the Human Rights Coalition has been made aware of a substantial number of grievances filed by several prisoners regarding Wickersham and Schaeffer. Indeed, I can attest that the HRC has received complaints about these exact two individuals for more than one year from twelve different prisoners. The allegations are consistent and speak to a pattern of abuse that inevitably consists of depriving prisoners of shower, yard, and state-issue items; impeding prisoners’ access to the courts by depriving them use of the law library; targeting black and Muslim prisoners for ill-treatment; issuance of falsified misconducts in order to retaliate against those who speak out and/or file grievances, and other reported acts of abuse and harassment.
There is no reason why such individuals should be working within the PA DOC, let alone in the high-pressure environment of a control unit, which has been known to generate a callous and abusive attitude on the part of prison personnel. Wickersham and Schaeffer have been operating in this unit without adherence to the dictates of DOC policy or the U.S. Constitution, and we are requesting that you initiate an external investigation into their actions along with the actions and inactions by their superiors that have enabled this situation to persist. Conditions that compel a person to go without food for days on end are nothing to take lightly.
In closing, I want to reiterate that you have now been put on notice twice in the last six weeks regarding patterns and practices of unprofessional and unconstitutional acts within the RHU at SCI Frackville.
Human Rights Coalition
Aaron Zisser, esq.
Colin Starger, esq.
Members of the Press