News from the Inside¶
Another suicide in SCI Cresson’s solitary confinement unit: Last week the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cresson announced that 23-year-old Brandon Palakovic died after he was found “unresponsive” in his cell. Although the prison has not released a cause of death or the location of Palakovic’s cell, it has been reported to the Human Rights Coalition that Palakovic committed suicide while being held in solitary confinement in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). Palakovic reportedly had a history of serious mental health needs. He was serving a sentence of sixteen months to four years for “burglarizing an occupied structure.”
In this edition:Suicide in solitary at SCI Cresson, Whistleblower files suit against juvenile detention center, Family calls for end to 12 years in solitary for Paul Rogers, and more...
This is the third suicide at SCI
Cresson in the last fourteen months. Two of these occurred in the solitary confinement units. Last December, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation
Cresson’s warehousing of mentally ill people in solitary confinement and depriving them of mental health care. The investigation is ongoing. More information on this latest death will be reported as it becomes available.
State prisoner seeks an end to twelve years of solitary confinement: Pennsylvania state prisoner Paul Rogers and his family and supporters are calling upon the Program Review Committee at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Smithfield to end his twelve years of solitary confinement by approving his release into the prison’s general population this week. Rogers has not committed a serious or violent infraction during his twelve years in isolation. On July 26, he has an administrative review of his placement on the Restricted Release List (RRL), an indefinite form of solitary confinement that can only be ended with the authorization of the Secretary of the PA DOC.
In the late ’90s, Rogers was placed in solitary for three and a half years. The psychological effects of prolonged solitary confinement made it difficult for him to adjust to general population in the prison, leading to him assaulting a prison guard in the year 2000. He was subsequently put on the RRL, on which a person can be kept in solitary confinement indefinitely without any justification or evidence required other than a claim that he or she poses a threat to the security of the institution.
Despite his positive adjustment while in solitary, Rogers believes he has been continually kept on the RRL due to legal challenges that he has participated in-he had been recommended for removal from RRL until he issued a statement in another prisoner’s litigation against the previous secretary of the DOC. Placing prisoners in solitary confinement in order to suppress criticisms and retaliate against those who file grievances and lawsuits is a normative feature of solitary confinement units in Pennsylvania.
According to Rogers: “I have complied to a work plan, have no misconducts, and still wasn’t recommended for release off the RRL. I have been arbitrarily denied release off the RRL without being given a written reason or opportunity to defend myself. The DOC’s Code of Ethics state[s]: ‘Each employee in the correctional system is expected to subscribe to the principle that something positive can be done for each inmate.’ SCI-Smithfield’s administration is not subscribing to this principle concerning my continued confinement in the RHU and on the RRL. They have condemned me to solitary confinement in spite of all my efforts to conform to DOC standards.”
The Human Rights Coalition is asking supporters to call and write SCI Smithfield and PA DOC Secretary Wetzel to request that Paul Rogers be released into general population:
SCI Smithfield – Superintendent Fisher, 814-643-6520, 1120 Pike Street, P.O. Box 999, Huntingdon, PA 16652
PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel, 717-728-4109, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Whistleblower from Shuman files suit:
A lawsuit filed by a former employee at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and a petition signed by 70 other employees leads Allegheny County officials to promise an investigation. The Post Gazette
reported that Christine Dillard began working at Shuman in 2009 in the admissions area. After she informed her supervisor that two coworkers were smoking weed on the job, her schedule was changed in retaliation and she was forced to working in the most aggressive unit. At one point, a fellow worker pulled her aside and told her that the supervisor was planning to have her attacked by one of the residents. Dillard feared for her safety at work, and recently filed a lawsuit with union support. Brett Douthett, another former employee who faced similar retaliation was is also preparing to take legal action against Shuman administrators. 70 other employees at the facility came together to sign a petition leading Allegheny County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald, to promise an investigation into working conditions at the facility.
UN Special Rapporteur inquires into 21-year solitary confinement of Russell Maroon Shoats: Leading human rights organizations and the family of Russell Maroon Shoats received word last month that the United Nations’ leading expert on torture, Juan Mendez, will submit an inquiry into Shoats’ ongoing solitary confinement at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Greene in western Pennsylvania. Mendez, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, sent a letter to a U.S. State Department representative in Geneva, Switzerland at the end of last month regarding the case of Shoats, a 68-year-old Pennsylvania state prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement for 21 consecutive years.
The Special Rapporteur’s inquiry was prompted by a complaint submitted by Shoats’ children
on behalf of the International Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoats, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, and the Human Rights Coalition–Fed Up! Chapter. The complaint requested that the Special Rapporteur “immediately initiate a prompt and comprehensive investigation into the facts surrounding Shoats’ two decade stay in the solitary units administered by the the PA Department of Corrections (PA-DOC
Other co-signers to the complaint represented the War Resisters League, the International Peace Research Association, National Jericho Movement, Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, Big Red Media, and Scientific Soul Sessions.
“We will continue to push for this urgent human rights crisis into the public spotlight,” said Theresa Shoats. “As family members of a survivor of this torture, we know that its time for this hateful practice to end.”
Supporters are being asked to contact SCI
Greene’s warden, Louis Folino, and PA DOC
Secretary Wetzel and request that Russell Shoats be placed in general population. They are also asking that people sign an online petition in support of the campaign: petition link here
Jordan Miles’ Civil Trial Against Police Officers who Brutally Attacked Him Begins: On January 12, 2010, seventeen year old Jordan Miles was brutally beaten by three plain clothes Pittsburgh police officers, who failed to identify themselves. The officers jumped out of an unmarked vehicle, one of them yelling “Where’s your money? Where’s the drugs? Where’s the gun?” Miles ran, fearing that he was being robbed. The three officers, each over six feet tall and over two hundred pounds, attacked Jordan, who at the time weighed 150 pounds. They repeatedly punched him in the face, rendering him unrecognizable by his own mother, ripped multiple dread locks out of his head, and caused him to have permanent cognitive injuries, as well as post traumatic stress disorder. The officers tried to justify the beating by saying that Jordan had a Mountain Dew bottle in his pocket, that they thought was a gun. Miles denies that he had any such soda bottle in his pocket. The officers were never criminally prosecuted, and the only professional consequences they have faced are a few weeks of paid suspension.
Currently, two years later, the trial for Jordan Miles’s civil complaint against officers Richard Ewing, Michael Saldutte and David Sisak began on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012. Miles has asserted claims of excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. In opening statements, Miles’s attorney J. Karrington Lewis described the brutal attack in great detail and discussed Miles’s injuries that will continue to impact his cognitive abilities including his memory and ability to do math, for the rest of his life. He also emphasized that two of the officers were trained in martial arts and one of them formerly served in the United States Marines. The defense attorneys representing the officers asserted that Miles acted aggressively that night and that his injuries were caused by him slipping and falling on the ice during his struggle to evade the police. The defense asserts that Miles was able to knock over two of the officers and “donkey kicked” one of the officers during the encounter. Defense attorney James Wymard, who represents Officer David Sisak, warned the jury not be fooled by Miles’s size, and referred to Miles as “150 pounds of dynamite.”
So far Miles’s counsel has offered testimony from his grandmother, mother, his former girlfriend whom he was talking on the phone with right before he was attacked, his former principal at CAPA high school, Miles’s neurologist, and Miles himself. Miles’s counsel showed video testimony of Dr. Fenton, the UPMCShadyside EMT who treated Miles a day after the assault. Miles took the stand on Thursday, July 19th 2012. During direct examination he discussed his assault and the impact it has had on his academic performance, as well as his emotional state. His testimony remained consistent with what he has said all along about the officer’s failure to identify themselves and the extent of physical force they used against him. The defense asserted that Miles knew the entire time that the men were police officers and that prior to the assault the officers were questioning him. They further implied that Miles ran from the police and fought them because he did not want to be arrested, despite the fact that he was not committing any crimes. This was one of many attempts by the defense to paint Miles as an aggressive or violent person. The trial has been estimated to take about two and a half weeks, and it is estimated that the Plaintiffs will have rested their case by Wednesday July 23, 2012.
Across the Nation¶
Hunger strike in North Carolina solitary units: On Monday July 16th, prisoners began hunger strikes at Bertie CI in Windsor, Scotland CI in Laurinburg, and Central Prison in Raleigh. Targeting a wide range of conditions related but not exclusive to solitary confinement, the prisoners have vowed not to eat until their demands are met.
Prisoners have encouraged supporters to call or fax the administrations
of these different facilities as well as Director Robert Lewis (see information below), to “march or protest in front of Central Prison and others,” “boycott all products being sold in these prisons,” and to “contact media outlets and let them know what we are doing.”
The prisoners have listed the following demands (click here
), though they are also encouraging others to include any other grievances specific to their conditions. It is still unclear how many prisoners are currently participating, but correspondence with those on the inside has made it clear that the strike has spread to at least three different facilities.
Constant attention and pressure on administrations can help make this strike a success, and protect those who are putting their lives on the line. Prisoners have asked folks on the outside to call everyday to check on fasting prisoners and pressure administration. read more...
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 withHRC
/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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!