PA Prison Report - October 22, 2012

In this edition: Last chance action alert on Juvenile Life Sentence Amendment, scheduled PA execution stayed, solitary confinement in U.S. Detention Centers studied, and more…

Across Pennsylvania: Action Alert!

Governor Corbett will decide this week to sign or stall SB850, that includes an amendment establishing sentencing guidelines for juveniles sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court ruled in June that sentencing youth to life without parole as a mandatory sentence for first and second degree homicide violates the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment. To come into compliance with this ruling, PA legislators recently moved to establish a new sentencing guideline that still allows juveniles to be sentenced to die in prison and minimally creates an option of parole after 35 years. The PA Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth has led the charge against this amendment. Please support their work by calling Governor Corbett and asking him reject the JLWOP amendment on SB 850. His number is (717) 787-2500. He can also be emailed at governor@pa.gov.
 
Together, we have made our voices heard, telling legislators that the life-without-parole provisions of SB 850 don’t create the type of reform we need in Pennsylvania. We have also voiced our outrage that legislators have skirted the public engagement process by bypassing consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee and approving the most significant reform to Pennsylvania sentencing policies in nearly a century. For more information visit the 2012 fact sheet.

Courtroom Beat

Terry Williams Death Sentence Reversed Days before his Scheduled Execution: On Friday, September 29, less than a week before his scheduled execution, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge stayed the execution and reversed Terry Williams’ death sentence. Williams had been sentenced to death for his 1986 conviction of first degree murder in the killing of Amos Norwood. Judge M. Teresa Sarmina found that prosecutor Andrea Foulkes had suppressed evidence that Terry Williams had been sexually abused by Amos Norwood, and evidence that Norwood had sexually abused other boys. Foulkes also withheld information from the defense regarding the extent of the prosecution’s deals with Marc Draper, Williams’ accomplice who testified for the prosecution.
 
District Attorney Seth Williams denounced the ruling and his office immediately appealed, seeking reinstatement of the death sentence in time for the scheduled October 3 execution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to rule on the case in such a brief time period. The prosecution’s appeal will be considered after time for briefing and possibly oral arguments as well.
 
“It is deeply disconcerting that the district attorney has filed an appeal,” said Shawn Nolan, a member of the defense team from the Federal Defender’s death-penalty unit. “It is legally and ethically unconscionable that Seth Williams and his assistants continue to advocate for the execution of Terry Williams after hiding significant evidence for 28 years from defense counsel, jurors, the courts, the Board of Pardons, and the citizens of Pennsylvania.”
In a 45-minute opinion delivered before a packed courtroom, Sarmina criticized the trial prosecutor for “gamesmanship” and withholding mitigating evidence the defense attorney could have used in arguing against a death sentence. Finding that “Ms. Foulkes’ handwritten notes demonstrates that evidence has plainly been suppressed,” the court chastised the prosecutor for having “no problem disregarding her ethical obligations[.]”
 
At his 1986 trial, Williams’ defense counsel presented no mitigating evidence to try to dissuade the jury from sentencing him to death. In Williams’ plea for clemency, defense lawyers presented statements from five trial jurors saying they would have sentenced Williams to life had they known about evidence of Norwood’s sexual proclivities and abuse of Williams.
 
Judge Sarmina said Foulkes gave Williams’ 1986 defense lawyer statements from Norwood’s widow and minister that portrayed him as a kindly, religious man with a reputation for helping poor youths.
 
Sarmina said the prosecution omitted from Mamie Norwood’s statement details on her husband’s purported abduction by teenage boys he picked up in his car one night. Norwood’s widow said her husband paid the boys $20 in cash and the family stereo system as ransom, and told her not to call police. The judge said a statement from the Rev. Charles Poindexter, Norwood’s pastor at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, omitted a complaint Poindexter received several years earlier that Norwood had touched the genitals of a 17-year-old acolyte.
“They were sanitized statements,” Sarmina said, adding that Williams’ attorney could have used the information to portray Norwood as an “unsympathetic victim.”
 
Former Allegheny County Jail Guard’s Prisoner Abuse Trial Scheduled for March: On Wednesday October 10th, a federal judge scheduled the criminal prosecution of former Allegheny County Jail Guard, Ari Metz, for the beating of prisoner David Kipp. On October 12th 2010, Kipp was arrested in Allegheny County Jail. After being placed in jail, Kipp repeatedly pressed the call button to ask for his medication. In response, Metz told him that if he continued to press the call button he would hit him in the face. Metz than proceeded to enter Kipp’s cell and strike him repeatedly. Then guards Timothy Miller and Marcia Williams came to the cell. Miller joined the beating, stomping on Kipp’s bare feet. Through the beating Williams watched, and took no steps to intervene. During the abuse, the guards called Kipp a “fairy”, and referenced the dispute Kipp had with his boyfriend which was the reason for Kipp’s arrest. After the beating, the three guards left Kipp face down in his cell bleeding. Kipp was too scared to press the call button and request medical assistance, and it was not until his arraignment that his injuries were photographed and documented.
 
After Kipp’s arraignment he was returned to the jail, and offered ice for his injuries despite their severity. He was finally seen by Dr. Aiken, who recommended Kipp get outside medical attention. Kipp was not taken to get outside medical treatment for several days after the beating. When he got treatment it was determined that he had numerous broken bones, a perforated eardrum, as well as other injuries. Kipp has filed a lawsuit against all three guards, as well as Allegheny County, Allegheny County Bureau of Corrections, Allegheny Correctional Health Services Inc., Warden Ramon Rustin, and the president of Allegheny Health Correctional Services, Dana Phillips.
 
Prior to, and since Kipp’s assault, there have been numerous incidents of assault, abuse, and medical negligence at Allegheny County Jail. Former Allegheny County guard James M. Donis is accused of violating the civil rights of prisoner Gary Barbour on April 6th 2010. After Barbour attempted to escape from the jail and was apprehended, without resisting, Donis proceeded to beat Barbour while he was handcuffed. Other guards joined in the beating. On October 15th, Donis plead guilty to falsifying records about the assault during an FBI investigation. He admitted to lying to the FBI when he said that Barbour was resisting and was combative. Donis is facing twelve to eighteen months in prison for the offense.
 
There is also evidence that the medical care in Allegheny County Jail is substandard. On January 13, 2012, a twenty-seven year old pregnant woman named Amy Gillespie died of pneumonia in Allegheny County Jail. Gillespie was placed in Allegheny County Jail in December of 2011 for violating her work release by becoming pregnant. By the end of that month Gillespie was having trouble breathing. Gillespie was denied any diagnostic testing and treated for viral influenza. It was only when her condition worsened that she was sent to a hospital on January 1st, where she died thirteen days later. This is one example of the extreme medical negligence that continually occurs at Allegheny County Jail.
 

Across the Nation

Justice Department Reports Violent and Property Crimes Increased in 2011: The US Department of Justice announced Wednesday that both violent crime and property crime rates increased from 2010 to 2011. This is the first time the DOJ has reported an increase in crime rates since 1993. Overall violent crime, which the DOJ defines as rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, increased by 17 percent. Property crime, which the DOJ defines as burglary, theft, and motor vehicle theft, increased by 11 percent. The DOJ attributed the increase in violent crime to an increase in reported assaults, emphasizing that rates for the other areas stayed steady or dropped. In the press release, the DOJ explained that overall violent crime is still trending downward:
 
While the percentage change in violent crime from 2010 to 2011 is relatively large, the actual difference between the rates for those years (3.3 victimizations per 1,000) is below the average annual change in violent crime (4.3 victimizations per 1,000) over the past two decades. The low rates make the percentage change large, but crime still remains at historically low levels. Since 1993, the rate of violent victimization declined 72 percent.

The full report was released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and is based on estimates of data from the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Report Details Solitary Confinement in U.S. Detention Centers: A report released by the National Immigrant Justice Center and Physicians for Human Rights, Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigrant Detention, documents the use of solitary confinement in U.S. detention centers and makes recommendations for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Congress to abolish it. Considering the psychological and other health effects of solitary confinement, the lack of judicial oversight and avenues of legal redress for detainees, and the fact that immigrant detention is not synonymous with punishment, the report finds the current system, maintained by ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fundamentally flawed.
 
Case studies of detention centers and jails and interviews with individuals who had experienced isolation showed arbitrary use of solitary, abuse, lack of medical and mental health treatment for chronic conditions and trauma, and discrimination based on gender, race, and language. The report was created from the testimony of former detainees and from data collected from ICE by freedom of information requests. Researches asked for statistics on the number of people held in solitary, and for detailed information on how long they were detained and what policies and decision making was governing their placement. ICE adopted a best practices document in 2011 to set up standards and policies for housing immigrant detainees. However, as of 2012, they have not moved any of their facilities or contracts into compliance and are not required to report on their actions.
 
There are approximately 34,000 people in U.S. detention centers on any given night. Therefore, what we have is a continuously growing number of people moving through a system that is extremely costly and highly unregulated.
 
The report concluded one main problem with immigrant detention in the U.S. is that all of the standards put forth by ICE are based on the American Correctional Association model, essentially rendering detention the same as jail. Detainees are often mixed in with people who have been convicted of a crime, and are often put into solitary confinement for not following rules, despite not having been convicted of a crime, or having papers to be processed through the judicial system. In addition, detainees often lack legal representation or avenues to challenge their placement in solitary. Faced with a choice of going to the hole, some people reported abandoning their immigration or asylum seeking process because they feared further dehumanization in isolation.
 
Housing people as detainees is much more expensive than alternatives to detention both psychologically and financially. The effects of solitary confinement have been studied on general prison populations in the U.S. In 2011, the US Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, concluded that isolation over 15 days is “prolonged” and could have lasting psychological effects. He concluded the use of solitary confinement should be avoided as much as possible, should not be used to house mentally ill prisoners, and should be overseen by an independent review body that could have daily access to those being isolated. These standards are hardly enforced in U.S. prisons, and even less regulated in the detention system. And though the cost of housing a large number of people in immigrant detention centers significantly outweighs the cost of more constructive methods of alternatives to detention, congress has continued to pump money into the system.
 
A report by the Vera Institute of Justice found that community release programs work well for detainees and the vast majority of people show up for their scheduled hearings. However, for 2013, The U.S. House appropriated over 2 billion dollars for housing immigrants, considerably more than the 111 million for alternatives to detention. Reducing the number of people in detention centers would decrease the number of people who could be traumatized by solitary confinement.
 
The authors recommend several detailed steps for ICE and Congress to take to abolish the use of solitary within detention centers or jails holding detainees.The summary of these include: conducting a comprehensive review of segregation and solitary use nationwide, using alternatives to detention for vulnerable populations, not using jails or jail like facilities, developing legally enforceable regulations based on civil and human rights standards rather than correctional standards, and withdrawing monies from facilities who do not comply with all standards. Much like the Human Rights Coalition’s campaign against abuse and solitary confinement, the authors recommend segregation and isolation of detainees as a last resort, and independent monitoring by an outside organization with reports that are publicly available.
 

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!