In this edition: Homicide reported at SCI Rockview; Corbett administration unveils analysis of mass incarceration in Pennsylvania; Ohio Supermax prisoners enter second week of hunger strike and more...
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News from the Inside
Homicide reported at SCI Rockview: prisoner in solitary confinement unit dies after cell extraction: The Human Rights Coalition has received reports from multiple prisoners in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview in central Pennsylvania that John Carter, a 32-year-old state prisoner from Pittsburgh, was killed by prison staff during a cell extraction on April 26, 2012. A cell extraction is a procedure where six guards suit up in riot gear armed with pepper spray, a stun shield and taser, and enter a prisoner’s solitary confinement cell and forcibly subdue, handcuff and shackle him.
According to witness accounts, prison guards filled Carter’s solitary confinement cell with an extraordinary quantity of pepper spray prior to opening his cell door, tasering and assaulting him. One report stated that the incident began after Carter protested being deprived of food.
Another prisoner reported that during the cell extraction he could hear Carter say, “Alright, alright, I’m coming out. Let me cuff up.” The same report stated that he then heard a guard say, “No, you should’ve come out when we asked you the first time,” and that the guards continued to spray Carter, “turning his cell into a gas chamber.”
On Friday, April 27, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) issued a press release announcing the death Carter. In contrast to reports received from four witnesses, the PA DOC omitted any mention of a cell extraction, pepper spray, or use of force by guards. Instead, the press release stated that Carter “was found unresponsive in his cell.” Since the press release was issued, SCI Rockview’s public relations officer, Jeffrey Rackovan, confirmed that a cell extraction occurred, although he declined to comment on whether pepper spray was used. All cell extractions in PA DOC are filmed by a hand-held video camera. Rackovan also confirmed that Carter was being held in a cell that had a camera inside of it at the time of his death.
Carter was convicted of second-degree homicide for participating in a robbery that resulted in the killing of one person. He was sixteen at the time and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which is the mandatory sentence for second-degree homicide in Pennsylvania.
This was the second cell extraction Carter had been subjected to in eight days, having been assaulted with pepper-spray and a taser during an extraction on April 19 as well. Other prisoners in the solitary unit at Rockview have recently reported to the Human Rights Coalition that guards have been subjecting prisoners to physical abuse, including placing some in the restraint chair, a device in which a person’s arms and legs are strapped to a chair and he is left there for an extended period, sometimes for hours. Reports also indicate that guards have been depriving prisoners of food, issuing fabricated misconducts, and intensifying abusive behavior.
John Carter had been in several solitary confinement units in PA DOC prisons over the years, and in 2008 he was placed on the Restricted Release List (RRL), an indefinite form of solitary confinement that can only be ended with approval by the DOC secretary. When questioned about Carter’s placement on the RRL, Rackovan acknowledged that this meant that he could have “spent the rest of his life in solitary confinement.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence told an HRC advocate that the Pennsylvania State Police investigate all prisoner deaths that are not the result of natural causes, but multiple letters from prisoners in the RHU at SCI Rockview state that nobody who was celled near John Carter had been approached by an investigator as long as six days after the fatal cell extraction.
In an interview with Rustbelt Radio
, Carter’s sister, Michelle Williams, stated that “It’s sad that it had to be him. . . . It happened for a reason, to show that this is what is going on in these prisons. They are committing murder. You expect a criminal to do something like that...There’s still prisoners in there today being abused, that are still going through what he went through. Someone else will lose their son and I don’t want another mother to have to go through what my mother is going through. I don’t want another sister to have to go through what I am going through. I just want light to be put on the situation.”
Consultant to Corbett administration unveils analysis of mass incarceration in Pennsylvania without discussing racism or the drug war: In a further indication of the inherent problems with Pennsylvania Governor Corbett’s efforts to render the prison system more efficient, a consultant who specializes “in reducing prison costs without reducing prison sentences” has released an analysis to the so-called “Justice Reinvestment Working Group.” The consultant, who is touted in the press as a “national expert,” claims that the draconian rise in prison costs in Pennsylvania is related to harsher penalties for driving under the influence enacted in 2003, reduced funding for local police and probation departments, and inefficiencies in state bureaucracy. The consultant never cites the affirmative policies of race and class-based mass incarceration that target poor communities in general and communities of color in particular for long-term lockdown as having any factor in rising prison costs. The consultant, Tony Fabelo, does believe that the best way to reduce prison costs is to prevent nonviolent addicts of alcohol and drugs from going to prison, either by improving treatment at the county level or by reducing the likelihood that inmates reoffend after being released. It is unclear why Governor Corbett needed to hire a consultant to realize that sending less people to prison—in particular people who are not harming others—would reduce prison costs.
Over the last decade, Pennsylvania’s crime rate has dropped by 15 percent, but the prison population has increased 40 percent. Prison costs have gone up 77 percent — to $1.86 billion this year.
Across the Nation
Mother’s Day Radio Call In:
Thousand Kites, Media Literacy Project and Strong Families are organizing “Calls from Home: Mama’s Day Special” to connect incarcerated mothers to family, friends and community this weekend. You can send a message, song, or prayer to a mama on the inside by calling 877-410-4863 and leaving a message. The show will air at the discretion of radio station participation. To get a copy of the broadcast or sign on as a station, email Thousand Kites
. The group hosted a similar broadcast in December, and uses radio to push back against telephone corporations who charge exorbitant costs to connect family members of incarcerated people with their loved ones inside. Visit Thousand Kites’s website to participate in their prison phone justice campaign
Sundiata Acoli wins parole hearing: Sundiata Acoli, an organizer for the Black Panther Party and long held political prisoner, recently won an appeal allowing him a new parole hearing. The appeal went against a NJ Parole Board decision a few years back, that mandated Acoli’s next parole hearing would be in ten years. The appeal reduced that time to three years making him eligible this year.
is now 75 years old, and looking to honor his role as grandfather on the outside. He has not had a disciplinary infraction in 16 years. Those wishing to write a letter of support to the parole board of New Jersey can do so here
Ohio Supermax prisoners enter second week of hunger strike: Prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) continued the hunger strike they started on Monday April 30, in solidarity with May Day. The number of prisoners refusing food has fluctuated from 24 to 48 over the last week. Communication with the prisoners has been limited since the beginning of the strike, but a clear list of grievances and demands has emerged from at least two sources.
The two primary demands are:
1) Improved commissary practices and increased state pay. The prison commissary can set prices at up to 35% mark-up on basic necessities like shampoo, food, and soap. These prices fluctuate unexpectedly, and are often prohibitive to prisoners without outside support, as state pay is only $9 a month.
2) A transparent and accountable security level classification process. OSP houses level 4 and 5 prisoners, the highest security level in Ohio. Once prisoners are classified at these levels and transferred to OSP, there is no clear process for how they can reduce their level and get transferred out of the facility. Prisoners can spend years in OSP without any negative conduct reports and still have no hope of their level being reduced.
Other grievances include:
1. Food portions and quality have been reduced due to austerity measures.
2. Inadequate medical care. Also due to austerity cuts, prison officials have stopped sending prisoners to outside treatment centers for MRIs and EEGs unless their conditions are considered life threatening. They also often ignore doctor recommendations for pain medications.
3. Lack of enrichment programming. There are strict bans on many books and movies, and the institutional television channel has little variety. One prisoner said they run the same programs on a loop every six months.
The two sources for these demands are an open letter written to the local Youngstown paper, by prisoner Marcus Harris, and phone conversations with a trusted anonymous source inside the prison. This source also stated that at least one hunger striker has been punished for his participation, sprayed with mace in his cell and sent to disciplinary isolation. This report has not yet been confirmed.
Warden David Bobby met with hunger strike representatives for 3 hours on Wednesday May 2nd. He says he will “continue to communicate with the inmates and listen to their concerns”. Thus far, the Warden has called a committee to review commissary practices, comparing them with other Ohio Institutions.
One prisoner also said that consequences for petty conduct reports, like refusing to cuff up or return a food tray, have recently increased, “someone who used to be sent to the hole for 16 days, now might be dropped a level from 4 to 5”. He considers these changes an attempt to keep OSP full of prisoners as “job security” for the Warden and Officers.
The Warden said OSP currently has the most prisoners it has since it opened in 1996. He also said the current hunger strike is the biggest hunger strike since he became warden four years ago. It is also the second hunger strike this year. In February, twenty-five prisoners went on hunger strike for three days. Two major demands from that hunger strike were: increased recreation time, to the court required minimum of five hours a week, and improved commissary practices. The recreation time demand was met, but the prisoners say the current hunger strike “follows directly” from the neglected commissary demand from February.
Prisoner Mark Harris’s letter ends: “in short, we are sensory deprived, underfed, isolated with little to no movement, unable to hug our children, family and friends, and we are stuck for an overly extended period of time, with limited programming”. He requests that people use “whatever resources they
have to help spread the word of our cause, to call and check up on us and our health and also to look into these matters”.
Warden David Bobby 330-743-0700
ODRC Director Gary Mohr 614-752-1164
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 7-9 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 Wednesday of each month, 5-7pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email: email@example.com
, 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: 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!