PA Prison Report - October 29, 2012

In this edition: Hunger Strike continues for Dwayne Hill, Released prisoner gets prison riot charge, Lawsuit challenges School-to-Prison Pipeline, and more...
 

News from the Inside

 
Dwayne Hill enters 6th week on Hunger Strike in Protest of Indefinite Solitary Confinement: A state prisoner in the solitary confinement unit at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Houtzdale has been on hunger strike for more than six weeks in protest of his placement on the Restricted Release List, an indefinite and possibly permanent form of solitary confinement. Dwayne Hill began his hunger strike on September 12, 2012, and has vowed to quit eating until he dies in protest of his placement on the RRL. SCI Houtzdale officials had not sought a court order to force-feed him at any point during the first five weeks, and it is unclear whether they have done so yet or not.
 
Prison officials have refused to discuss Dwayne’s condition with family or advocates from the Human Rights Coalition. A counselor informed his wife that next of kin would be notified if his condition becomes critical or if he dies. His wife, Donna Hill, has been unable to visit Dwayne during this period as her visitation rights have been terminated by the prison. Donna has filed a lawsuit in response to her being banned from seeing her husband.
 
In July, 2010 Dwayne reported to the sexual abuse hotline that prison guard Stoker had sexually fondled him. After a purported investigation found in favor of the guard, Dwayne reported being denied greviance forms and being made the brunt of sexual jokes and harassment, was taken off of psych meds, abruptly removed from psychotherapy and then lost his Z-code (single cell) status. Dwayne was placed in solitary confinement after he set his mattress on fire when prison staff attempted to cell him with a reputedly violent prisoner who was six inches taller than him.
 
On April 5, 2012, Dwayne was placed in population and the prison tried to double cell him again. Before locking him up for the night, he got into an altercation with a guard that led to him being criminally charged. The very next day, April 6, his wife, Donna Hill, was placed under investigation, eventually leading to her being placed on indefinite suspension with no reason given.
 
People are encouraged to call both SCI Houtzdale (814-378-1000) and PA DOC Secretary Wetzel (717-728-4109) and insist that Dwayne Hill be provided immediate medical attention, transferred from SCI Houtzdale, and that Donna Hill’s visiting status be reinstated.
 
Fayette, Greene, and Secretary Wetzel Refuse Prisoner Mental Health Care: In an update on a story that the PA Prison Report has been following, state prisoner Louis Zawacki has been transferred from the solitary confinement unit at SCI Fayette, where he was being deprived of mental health treatment, to the solitary unit at SCI Greene, where he continues to be denied care. Prison staff have reportedly told his mother that they intend to warehouse him in isolation until his sentence ends in 2013.
 
According to an evaluation conducted by a licensed psychologist who has worked in the PA DOC, Louis Zawacki was diagnosed as “disabled” by the Social Security Administration back in 1994 when he was only ten years old. Persistent emotional and psychological troubles have characterized Louis’ life until the present day, including a one-month stint in the U.S. Army in 2004 before he was discharged due to an inability to abide by protocol. The evaluation observed that "Given the fact that Louis Zawacki ’ . . . has been disabled since November 24, 1994,’ has been diagnosed with ‘severe mental disorders’ such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Bipolar Disorder, treated with a variety of psychotropic medications, involved with the criminal justice system, spending a significant amount of time in Restricted Housing Units (RHUs) due to numerous infractions. It has been documented that inmates with serious mental illness spend statistically signficantly more time “in the hole” than non-psychiatric inmates."
 
Louis’ situation is not uncommon, as the U.S. penal system has become the nation’s largest provider of mental health services. Empirical data suggests that more than half of the 2.3 million men, women, and children incarcerated in jails and prisons in the U.S. suffer some type of mental illness. This fact reflects the impact of two intersecting, long-term policy trends: race and class-based mass incarceration and the de-institutionalization of the U.S. mental health care system. While there were 559,000 people in state-run mental health hospitals in 1955, in 2006 there were only 49,000.
 
Despite the relentless advocacy of his mother, Louisa, the PA DOC refuses to provide Louis meaningful diagnostic and treatment care. A letter sent by Secretary Wetzel to Louisa this past summer inferred that Louis was to blame for not receiving treatment, and insisted that he would not be placed in a treatment program despite repeated periods in SCI Fayette’s torturous solitary confinement unit. During one of these periods in solitary Louis was assaulted so viciously by another prisoner he had been celled with that he had to be life-flighted to a hospital in Pittsburgh. Since that assault Louis has been experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
 
Louis’ mother fears for her son’s future: “At Fayette he was put in what he called a”deprivation chamber" (“a special room in the RHU’) in June 2012. He said his anxiety was through the roof and he had blinding headaches. He is now saying he wants to stay in the RHU. I don’t think he knows how to interact with others and all of a sudden any noise makes him anxious. I can not imagine going from total isolation to the outside world. I am afraid for him and for the world. I feel he is much more psychologically disturbed then when he was incarcerated.”
“I wish I had something comforting to say,” Louisa added. “It is a horrible experience for the inmates and it is scary for their loved ones. All I can say is keep writing to them. Get family members to write. Tell them over and over that you love them. If they feel the love then whatever the DOC does to them they will hopefully stay strong.”
 
Luzerne County seeks to Lock Up one of the Dallas 6: The Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Derrick Stanley several weeks ago based on his being accused of participating in a riot at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Dallas in April 2010. Stanley, along with five other prisoners who are collectively known as the Dallas 6, covered the windows to their solitary confinement cells in a non-violent protest against physical abuse, psychological torture, food deprivation, and racist behavior by guards and officials at the state prison.
 
Stanley was released earlier this year after maxing out on his sentence. In response to a habeas corpus petition filed by Stanley, the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the riot charge soon after he was released based on the impossibility of the six men congregating for purposes of a riot since they were isolated in individual cells. The Pennsylvania Superior Court, however, reversed the lower court and held that the prosecution could go forward. Stanley has appealed this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and is awaiting a decision.
 
The recent arrest warrant was issued for Stanley supposedly missing a hearing in April of this year. Stanley turned himself in and was held in a New Jersey jail until being transferred to Luzerne County jail. He was immediately placed in solitary confinement upon arrival. After two hearings where the district attorney’s office attempted to confine Stanley on $50,000 bail, the judge permitted Stanley to be released until an October 29 hearing to determine if Luzerne County had jurisdiction to order him held while the case was being petitioned to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
 

Across the Nation

 
Justice Department files Lawsuit in Mississippi challenging School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Department of Justice has filed suit against Meridian, Mississippi, and other defendants for operating a school-to-prison pipeline in which students are “routinely and systematically arrest[ed]…including for minor school rule infractions, without even the most basic procedural safeguards, and in violation of these children’s constitutional rights.” Such infractions include minor dress code violations such as wearing the wrong color undershirt or having a shirt untucked, flatulence in class, using vulgar language, and leaving class to go to the bathroom without permission. Children are regularly and repeatedly handcuffed and arrested in school and incarcerated for days at a time without a probable cause hearing, regardless of the severity of the alleged offense or probation violation.
 
Between 2006 and 2010, all of the students referred to law enforcement by the District were black, all of the students expelled were black, and 96 percent of the students suspended were black. In a school district that has an enrollment that is approximately 86% black and in which 13% of students are eligible for an Individualized Education Program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the lawsuit overtly states that the district’s “system of severe and arbitrary discipline…disproportionately impacts black children and children with disabilities.”
 
As stated in the lawsuit, Defendants’ actions have severe and long-lasting consequences for children in the juvenile justice system. For example, some children are ultimately incarcerated in the State juvenile prison. There, children do not receive adequate educational opportunities and as a result, they are likely to fall further behind in school, which, in tum, can exacerbate any preexisting behavioral difficulties. Research also suggests that arrest, detention, and juvenile court appearances have profound negative short-term and long-term consequences for children’s mental and physical health and future employment opportunities.
 
The federal action came more than two months after the Department of Justice warned local and state officials that they had 60 days to cooperate or face a federal lawsuit.
 

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 withHRC/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!