In this edition: SB100 reaches Governor’s desk, Prisoner at Camp Hill stuck in solitary, Georgia prisoners on third week of hunger strike, and more…
News from the Inside
Prisoner Seeking General Population Denied: Tierre Davis reports being stalled on level 4 of administrative custody in the Special Management Unit at SCI Camp Hill for 5 months without cause or process. Davis is on the Special Management Unit block in solitary at SCI Camp Hill, a program where people who have been accused of assault or have a history of misconducts are held in administrative custody to be managed and transitioned back into general population. Davis has been in the SMU 21 months and reports having ups and downs when he first got in. The program has a level promotion system that begins at level 5. He is now on phase 4 status and has a hearing every 90 days in order to get to phase three, then phase two, and so on into population. Davis reports being misconduct free for 15 months and not having an assault on a prisoner or guard for years. He has been incarcerated for 15 years and has spent the last 9 in solitary confinement. He reports having 200 misconducts in 14 years which he believes is a lot. However, in his current situation, being misconduct free for 15 months, coinciding with the loss of two important family members, Davis reports he is doing alright, getting along and should be moving through the program.
Davis was denied his phase 3 transfer by PRC Unit Manager Chambers despite conferring with guards on his block each individually and being told that they had all given him favorable reviews. Davis believes he is being discriminated against by the Unit Manager who informed him he is too loud and disruptive, when Davis reports sitting in his cell, reading and being in a numb bubble. Davis indicated that the program isn't about who is loud but about curbing violent and assaultive behavior, which he has done. He indicated 99.9% of the program is about staying misconduct free, which he has done. He asked the Human Rights Coalition to call central office and find out why he is being denied advancement when so many others are moving forward. Davis indicated the program is supposed to move people back to population, not be used as physical, mental, and psychological torture holding that causes people to snap out and lose what they have worked for. He wrote letters to DOC officials John Wetzel, Shirley Moore Smeal and Michael Klopotoski as part of the inquiry, followed by letters from HRC to Secretary Wetzel and Superintendent Southers asking for clarification on why he wasn't moving when he was getting positive reviews, and that he not be retaliated against for making the inquiry.
Prison Reform Bill on Corbett’s Desk: Senate Bill 100
, which has already been approved in the house, reached Governor Corbett’s Desk this past Monday after a 49-0 vote in the Senate. The bill works to reduce the state prison population by changing who is eligible for certain treatment programs and diverting lower level offenders and parole violators into County or Community Correction Facilities. It allocates more money to reentry and community corrections services with a focus on getting people out by their minimums and sets up an annual system of reporting on how the legislation affects recidivism rates.
A review done by the Council of State Government’s Justice Center found that for prisoners sentenced in 2010, taxpayers spent 49 million dollars holding prisoners beyond their minimum release dates for minor felonies and misdemeanors, because prisoners didn’t have access to completing rehabilitation and treatment programs that they needed to get out.
One positive aspect of the legislation is a wide spread acknowledgment that the prison population is out of control and that tough on crime policies are not smart on crime policies. One of the sponsors of the bill, Senator Greenleaf, indicated that increasing lengths of sentences was a failed criminal justice policy that he previously supported that did nothing to reduce crime.
The bill agrees with recommendations
of the Justice Reinvestment working group, who’s most recent publication advocates for improving parole system inefficiencies, reducing bed population in state prison, and increasing reliance on Community Correction Centers to house low level offenders. At the same time SB100 is working to save money by reducing the numbers of prison beds, the state continues with its four year mass expansion plan to create more
Supreme rules on Arizona anti-immigrant law:
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated three provisions in Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, known as SB 1070, but held that a section requiring police to determine the immigration status of any person they stop could go into effect for now. The state of Arizona will now be able to enforce section 2(B), popularly known as the “show me your papers” section, although the Supreme Court held that that section may be subject to a constitutional challenge if applied in a racially discriminatory manner. (click here to read Arizona v. United States
The stated purpose of SB 1070 is to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States,” a policy known as “attrition through enforcement.” Immigrant rights’ activists and human rights defenders have characterized the law as an official policy of racial apartheid, designed to terrorize Latino/as into leaving the state. The law has also been criticized
for the role that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate supremacist lobbying organization, played in drafting the bill. The Corrections Corporation of America, who already reaps considerable profits from immigrant detention, is a member of ALEC.
The three sections ruled unconstitutional were section 3, which would have made it a crime to be in Arizona without valid immigration papers;section 5©, which would have made it a crime to apply for or hold a job without proper immigration papers; and section 6, which would have allowed a police officer to arrest someone, without a warrant, if the officer believes that he has committed – at some point in time – a crime that could cause him to be deported. The Supreme Court held that the enforcement of immigration law and policy was the domain of the federal government, preempting the power of states to legislate in this area.
Not at issue in the case was the question of racial profiling, since the federal government only challenged Arizona on the grounds that the state had infringed on federal power. The ruling was greeted with mixed reviews
from the immigrant rights movement despite being a near-complete legal victory due to the impact the “show me your papers” law will have on Latino/a, indigenous, and other communities of color in Arizona or states where similar laws have been passed or are being considered.
Federal judge in NY holds that prolonged solitary for non-violent offense may be cruel and unusual: A federal judge in the southern district of New York [ruled that a lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement for non-violent offenses may move forward. “Leroy Peoples was housed in segregation for over two years, even though there was never any finding that he posed a threat to the safety of others or the security of the prison,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote. “His placement in the SHU for such a time period was grossly disproportionate to the non-violent violation that he was found to have committed.”
The 17-page opinion
opens with criticisms that the practice faces from most mainstream justice organizations in the United States: “As the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recently found, ‘[t]he over reliance on and inappropriate use of segregation hurts individual prisoners and officers. But the consequences are broader than that: The misuse of segregation works against the process of rehabilitating people and threatens public safety,’” Scheindlin wrote. "In 2010, the American Bar Association approved its Criminal Justice Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners, which recommend that “[s]egregated housing should be for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable and consistent with the rationale for placement and with the progress achieved by the prisoner.”
Federal judges uphold 10-year sentence of civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart: On June 28, a panel of federal judges (including the first cousin of former US president George W. Bush) upheld the 10-year prison sentence of attorney Lynne Stewart, who was convicted in 2005 of issuing a press release for her imprisoned client. The client, Dr. Omar Abdel-Rahman, was at the time under unusual government sanctions intended to prevent all communication with the outside world. He was convicted in 1995 of having ties to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. As Stewart wrote in a statement after her re-sentencing, Dr. Abdel-Rahman was a leader in the anti-Mubarak, free Egypt movement for twenty years, and the press release was intended to publicly express his views on the current situation in Egypt. In a speech given five days ago, the newly-elected president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, called for Dr. Rahman’s return to Egypt on humanitarian grounds.
Stewart, who initially received a sentence in 2005 of 28 months, was re-sentenced in 2010 on the orders of judges from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, who were apparently angered by the determination and lack of remorse shown by Stewart after her initial sentencing. This court is nearly the most powerful in the country, just under the U.S. Supreme Court, and their order to re-sentence to a higher sentence is almost unprecedented.
Stewart, who will turn seventy-three in October, is a famed civil rights attorney well known for her decades of work on behalf of the poor. She said in court in 2010 that she was motivated by compassion for her client, and that she wished she’d challenged the U.S. government’s communication sanctions on him from the beginning. She is a cancer survivor still on chemotherapy and the 10-year sentence may well mean her death in prison. On July 2, Stewart announced that she will take the fight for her release to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(sources: NY Times, Center for Constitutional Rights, Democracy Now)
Across the Nation
Illinois governor withdraws funding for Tamms Supermax prison & tries to sell it to the federal BOP: Last week, Ilinois governor Pat Quinn asked the federal government to purchase the state’s notorious Tamms Supermax prison. In a June 29 letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons director Charles Samuels, Quinn attempted to portray the high-security isolation prison in a favorable light, calling it a “valuable addition to the (BOP).” Quinn announced earlier this year that he intends to close the prison in August due to a state budget crunch.
Tamms, built in 1998, has long been criticized for its record of human rights violations and inhumane conditions. According to the grassroots human rights group Tamms Year Ten, the prison was intended as a short-term measure, to give prisoners a one-year “shock treatment” that would act as behavior modification. The program failed, and ten years later, over a third of the prisoners first sent to Tamms remained there, in 23+ hour solitary confinement. The yearly cost to hold a prisoner in Tamms is nearly $65,000, the highest in Illinois.
The closure is opposed by the union representing the prison guards, AFSCME Council 31, and downstate Illinois Democratic lawmakers who are allied with the union.
Georgia prisoners on hunger strike as prison officials continue torturing human rights defenders:
On June 11 a group of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, GA began a hunger strike
. The prison administration has cut off all striking prisoners from any contact with people on the outside, attempting to snuff the now 21 day long strike with lack of exposure. It is known that the striking prisoners have not been receiving adequate medical care and that their conditions are most likely worsening. Supporters and organizers on the outside in Georgia have also confirmed that the prisoners on strike are some of the same prisoners that have been punished for the past year and a half as organizers of the peaceful December 2010 prisoner work strike
in Georgia. Thirty seven men have been held in solitary in Jackson with extremely limited access and privileges since the strike.
The strike in December of 2010 was the largest prisoner work strike that the U.S. had ever seen and has been attributed with starting the movement of prisoner strikes around the nation, with massive actions occurring since in California, Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere. The demands in 2010 included wages for work, speedier and more transparent status reviews, decent food, real medical care, a more sane visitation policy and the availability of educational and vocational programs behind the walls. The striking prisoners in Georgia today are still holding the same demands.
On Monday, July 2, religious and community leaders joined in a solidarity day-long fast in order to raise awareness. A petition
has also been drafted in support of the prisoners. Bruce A. Dixon, the Black Agenda Report
managing editor and Georgia Green Pary chairman, whom has been involved with the striking prisoners since the 2010 strike plainly told HRC that people on the outside had “dropped the ball”
and that only so much can be accomplished from the inside to end mass incarceration. HRC will publish any further information about the strike as it is received.
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: 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 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!