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PA Prison Report - August 20, 2012

In this edition: Prisoner assaulted in solitary units, Mumia sentenced to life without hearing, Proposed gun law will put more in prison, and more...

Announcement

Visit prison radio to listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal's commentary on the killing of John Carter at SCI Rockview: The Real John Carter

News from the Inside

Prisoner beaten by multiple guards in Albion’s solitary confinement unit: On August 1, Mark Johnson, a prisoner at SCI Albion, was assaulted by multiple prison guards, according to reports received by HRC. The details of the assault have been pieced together from these reports.
 
After showering on the morning of August 1, Johnson got into a verbal argument with a guard, telling him that he wasn’t coming out of the shower until another guard took his place to escort him back to his cell in the RHU. Prison guards Wilcox and Diramo were assigned to take this guard’s place, and escort him back. “Wilcox and Diraimo both were man-handling inmate Johnson by his handcuffs,” writes one witness. “He told them twice to calm down with the rough tactics, which they both ignored.”
 
When they reached the RHU, Johnson was shoved into his cell. As Wilcox was taking off his handcuffs, some words were exchanged and then Johnson “snatched his hands away.” At this, Wilcox yelled to prison guards Beck and Mulligan in the control bubble to open Johnson’s cell, so he could “fuck him up.” Beck opened his cell, and Wilcox, along with DiRaimo, prison guard D’Hap and Mitchell, and and a few other unknown guards charged into Johnson’s cell. The witnesses say Johnson was punched numerous times in the face, and that his forehead was banged into the wall. During the assault, Johnson was heard yelling “get off me” as other inmates in the RHU started to bang on their walls. After several minutes, the guards exited the cell and according to one witness, Wilcox was heard saying that he hoped Johnson “was dead.”
 
After about 15 minutes, Deputy Hall, Capt. Heibner, Major Sutter, and a few others came to the pod, looked into Johnson’s cell, talked amongst themselves, and then left. Finally, medical was called. After another 15 minutes or so, a stretcher was brought in. “They brought Inmate Mark Johnson out on the stretcher, hands behind his back (cuffed), blood running all down his face and chest from what looked like a head wound,” reported one witness. At least two witnesses fear that Johnson was beaten to death, as it did not look as if he was breathing while on the stretcher.
 
These events occurred between 10:15AM and 11:00AM. The PA DOC prisoner tracking system lists Johnson as still being held at SCI Albion, so it appears Johnson survived the beating.
 

Across Pennsylvania

Mumia Abu-Jamal illegally sentenced to life imprisonment without parole: On August 13, 2012, without any notice and in violation of his constitutional rights and state law, Mumia Abu-Jamal was formally sentenced by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe to life imprisonment without parole. The impact of this illegal sentencing is to prevent a possible challenge to the slow death of life imprisonment. All sentences, including “mandatory” sentences, require a formal proceeding allowing the person being sentenced the right to be heard and to challenge his sentence.
 
Mumia confirmed to his son Jamal and to attorney Rachel Wolkenstein during a visit with him on Sunday, August 19, 2012, that he had no prior knowledge of the re-sentencing. The record of this re-sentencing is contained in the official Court of Common Pleas Docket Sheet. In attempting to find out more details, Wolkenstein searched for the court file on August 20. There is no file containing a record of this sentencing with the Criminal Division Court of Common Pleas Clerk. The information released by Elaine Rattliff, Deputy Clerk of Courts is that the sentencing followed a call from the Department of Corrections and further explanation awaits a call back from Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe.
 
Notably, Judge Dembe is the judge who refused in 2001 to consider a legal challenge to “hanging judge” Albert Sabo’s self-confessed racism and bias against Mumia during his trial and post-conviction appeals from 1995-1998. Court reporter Terri Mauer-Carter heard Sabo declare before the start of the trial, “I’m going to help them fry the n——-.”
 
For thirty years Mumia was kept in solitary confinement on death row under a death sentence that was illegally and unconstitutionally imposed. Federal district court Judge William Yohn ruled in December 2001 that Judge Albert Sabo incorrectly and unconstitutionally instructed the jury in deciding on life or death. Despite this decision, Mumia was kept on death row, in solitary confinement for the next ten years, while the prosecution pursued two appeals in the Federal Court of Appeals and two attempts at U.S. Supreme Court rulings to uphold the death sentence. All that time, Mumia sat in solitary confinement. According to Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, solitary confinement for longer than 15 days is a form of torture.
 
This latest legal outrage comes nine months after the state conceded defeat in obtaining its desired “legal lynching” of Mumia. On December 8, 2011, Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams—with the support of Maureen Faulkner, the Fraternal Order of Police and former District Attorney, Philadelphia Mayor and PA governor, Ed Rendell—announced that they were no longer seeking a death sentence for Mumia. This was their recognition that it was neither legally possible nor politically advantageous to hold a new sentencing hearing.
 
Mumia’s 1982 trial contained violations of every single element of due process and a fair trial and it began with framing an innocent man for a crime he did not commit. His crime in the eyes of the state is that he was and continues to be “the voice of the voiceless,” a former spokesman for the Black Panther Party and continuing supporter of the MOVE organization.
 
In his first phone call from general population on January 28, 2012, Mumia relayed the following message to his wife, Wadiya Jamal: “My dear friends, brothers and sisters – I want to thank you for your real hard work and support. I am no longer on death row, no longer in the hole, I’m in population. This is only Part One and I thank you for the work you’ve done. But the struggle is for freedom!”
 
Pennsylvania House Bill would create 5-year mandatory minimum for gun possession: On Thursday August 17, a hearing was held in Montgomery county to discuss House Bill 2331, which would increase the mandatory minimum sentence for a formerly incarcerated person caught with a gun, or any person with a non-registered gun. Those testifying at the hearing were mainly representatives from law enforcement, who stressed that the bill would serve as a deterrent for gun-violence in the state. Currently, if a formerly incarcerated person is armed and commits a crime, they will automatically receive five years in prison under existing mandatory sentencing laws. If the new bill passes, a person will not have to commit a crime in order to receive that same punishment.
 
This legislation comes as the nation moves towards repealing harsh mandatory sentencing laws that have contributed to a massive increase in prison populations across the country. The 5 year sentences would be imposed on people who have not committed a new crime, and would increase the prison population, moving in the opposite direction.
 
Though mandatory minimum sentences are in theory meant to equalize the length of sentences based on the offense, other states with similar laws to HB-2331 have shown that sentencing continues to be uneven. Prosecutors become the deciders of sentencing in states with these mandatory sentences rather than judges. For example, Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother of two was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot when being threatened with death by her husband, a judge claiming she could not invoke the state’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation. This could be compared to the case of George Zimmerman, who murdered 16-year-old Trayvon Martin, but was not charged with violating the state’s gun laws, and was allowed to invoke “Stand Your Ground” legislation as an argument.
 
HB-2331 awaits Senate approval.
 

Across the Nation

Continued Growth of For-Profit Detention Centers: Dollars and Detainees, a report issued by the Sentencing Project this July, outlines the decade long expansion of for-profit detention centers in the U.S. that house mostly non violent immigrants at a cost of hundreds of dollars per day per person. The report traces the use of anti-immigration policy and policing strategies after 9/11 that changed laws and enforcement tactics, increasing the number of people detained, criminalized, and funneled into for-profit prisons. People apprehended by U.S. border patrol were formerly issued administrative charges and sent to immigration court. Operation Streamline, a federal immigration policy adopted in 2005 and used by most law enforcement agencies, allows any border crosser to be subjected to criminal charges, face longer periods of detention,and therefore boost the need to expand private run for-profit facilities that contract with enforcement agencies.
 
ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, became the powerful, new, investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, operating in addition to the existing United States Marshals Service, whom is charged with housing all federal detainees awaiting trial.
 
The Math of Immigration Report published on the National Immigration Forum indicates ICE is budgeted 5 million dollars a day, a price ICE agencies claim is necessary to house violent offenders. The number of detainees booked for violent crimes is 2%. The federal money budgeted towards the expansion of private detention facilities totals 2.7 billion and growing in 2012, largely because for profit prison corporations, such as CCA and GEO Group, use their capacity to lobby in congress to change legislation affecting immigration policy and policing. Over the last ten years the top five richest private prison corporations that contract with ICE have spent 20 million dollars in lobbying costs. 30 co-sponsors of the Arizona anti-immigration bill S.B. 1070 received campaign contributions from private prison companies.
 
The report indicates that as of 2010 1 in every 13 people in prison are held by a for-profit company, and that while federal prison populations in the public sector remain steady, the private sector housing of detainees continues to grow. These privately owned detention centers are problematic on many fronts, including the problems the Sentencing Project outlined in a previous report: unsubstantiated claims of cost savings; high staff turnover leading to poorly trained and ill equipped staff members; cutting corners leading to medical neglect; and lack of oversight and transparency into conditions at facilities. When compiling the Dollars and Detainees report, the Sentencing Project petitioned ICE and the US Marshals Service for lists of facilities that they contract with that house or provide staff to incarcerate immigration detainees. The USMS was able to compile a list of 2000 facilities in 2 days. It took months of run around and administrative withholding to even get a partial list from ICE officials, and private companies, who previously lobbied to be exempt from Freedom of Information Acts.
 
Resistance to private detention facilities was acknowledged in Dollars and Detainees, with Illinois state senators voting to prohibit for-profit companies from operating in their state in June 2012.
 

Announcements

Philly area:  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, 6-8pm), or call us at 267-293-9169, email: info@hrcoalition.org, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
 
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: hrcfedup@gmail.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!