In this edition: Philadelphia sued for second time over overcrowding in prisons; New York Civil Liberties Union challenges the state's use of solitary confinement; S. Muhammad Hyland on personal experiences in solitary, and more...
News from the Inside
Family Member Seeks Transfer for Prisoner out of Solitary:
During a recent call to HRC FedUp!, a family member of Brandon McGuire reported that Mcguire was being housed in solitary confinement on administrative custody at SCI Rockview for an unknown amount of time, after someone tried to stab him 1 1/2 months ago in general population. After speaking with multiple guards, Mcguire’s family was advised that he would not be placed back into general population at SCI Rockview among the person or people who tried to harm him, but that they did not know when he would be transferred out of solitary. Mcguire told his family member that he was due to be transferred soon because he needed to complete a program that was not offered at the prison he is currently at. However, because Macguire encountered numerous human rights violations at a previous time
, when he spent a year in the hole after being jumped by another prisoner, family members are asking friends and supporters to advocate for his transfer out of solitary sooner than later. They feared that if the DOC dragged their feet on his transfer, that he would spend the next year in isolation before his release date of 2013.
At previous events and speak outs on solitary confinement in Pennsylvania, a number of people have cited problems with spending a long time in solitary prior to release
; coming out into the community directly from isolation reduces a person's chances to successfully reintegrate into society, can exacerbate psychological harms from being kept in solitary, and can lead to increased violence in communities as a result. The Human Rights Coalition encourages people to call Secretary Wetzel’s office and demand that Brandon Mcguire be transferred out of solitary and into general population at another prison where he can complete the program he needs for his release in 2013.
Call or write Secretary Wetzel:
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Excerpts from Control Unit Role-Reversal by S. Muhammad Hyland: “Security Housing Units,” “Restricted Housing Units,” “Special Management Units.” There’s a dozen different names for what I, and other prisoners know as the “hole.” I guess a name is just a name. But when you think of the atrocities that take place on a daily basis throughout “holes” across the nation, “hole” is the perfect title for such units of misery and inhumanity.
With 270 people, SCI Greene is the largest hole in the state. There are 9 prisons with over 100 people currently in the hole. I’ve spent almost eight years of my life inside of various “holes” throughout Pennsylvania, with the majority of those years right here at SCI Greene-Pennsylvania’s top, and most restrictive hole. SCI Greene was built for exactly one purpose: Control! But while some prisons use different methods to gain control of their population, Greene employs every available technique in order to gain and maintain control of its captives, including fear, intimidation, terror, oppression, trickery, sexual assault, and countless other mind-manipulation techniques that penologists have worked to perfect during their sordid campaign of terror and human experimentation.
When I landed in Greene’s hole in 2005, I had no idea of what I was up against. I was 24 years old , and had just been transferred from SCI Huntingdon’s hole. The report labeled me as “rebellious” and called me an “instigator”. Incidentally, all of my “rebellious” or “instigating” acts, were directed towards racist guards who used the hole as their own personal torture chamber. I’ve been cell extracted, pepper sprayed, placed on suicide watch and forced to sleep in freezing cells, without blankets, sheets, or clothes. But because this was normal for me, it became my mentality, and as a result, I thought it was normal. I believed that being dragged out of my cell-handcuffed and shackled was normal. I believed that sleeping on cold hard concrete for weeks at a time was normal.
I arrived at Greene as a “special transfer.” The first thing I noticed was how quiet and clean it was in the “hole.” Only days would go by before I learned how Greene controlled it’s population. While Hungtingdon’s terror was only physical, Greene’s was physical and psychological. The guards wouldn’t talk to me, allow me to go to the yard, or even feed me for the first three days. When I tried to file grievances, they’d be thrown in the trash. They wouldn’t give me my mail- or they’d give it to other prisoners, on purpose. I had no human contact at all. No visits. No phone calls. Nothing. I couldn’t handle it, and I felt myself slipping. Fast.
Philadelphia is sued as prison population jumps back up: The city of Philadelphia has been sued for the second time since 2008 for operating over-crowded jails in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Civil rights attorney David Rudovsky filed a class-action lawsuit against the city in 2008 for the same reason, but suspended it last year, after the population dropped below 7,700 inmates.
“As soon as the court withdraws its authority, what we’ve seen is the city and the court system fail to keep the pressure on,” says Rudovsky. “The number of inmates rises and we’re back in court.”
On December 3, U.S. District Judge Richard Barclay Surrick approved Rudovsky’s request to reopen his 2008 lawsuit.
More than 9,400 prisoners were in Philadelphia’s prisons on December 4, according to a spokeswoman. The prisons were built for only 6,500. About 1,800 of those prisoners were living in “triple cells” – cells meant for only one or two people. Costs are rising along with the jail population. Last fiscal year, the city spent $231 million on prisons, $4 million more than budgeted.
City officials say the population is rising partly because of two reforms. First, Mayor Nutter has asked the courts to impose higher bail on suspects found with illegal guns. Second, the First Judicial District formed a bench warrant court to deal with large numbers of people skipping trial.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald says the city is reviewing the lawsuit, but declined to comment further.
New York Civil Liberties Union files challenge to solitary confinement in New York state prisons:
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed an amended complaint
in the case of Leroy Peoples, a New York state prisoner who spent more than two years in solitary confinement for a non-violent offense. The lawsuit
challenges, on 8th Amendment and 14th Amendment grounds, the “system-wide policies and practices governing solitary confinement that are responsible for the arbitrary and unjustified use of extreme isolation on thousands of individuals incarcerated in New York’s prisons every year,” according to a press release from the NYCLU.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiff, Leroy Peoples, spent 780 days locked in tiny, barren cell the size of an elevator with another prisoner for 24 hours a day as punishment for misbehavior that involved no violence and no threat to the safety or security of others…
The lawsuit maintains that Mr. Peoples’ grossly disproportionate punishment was caused by unconstitutional policies that similarly affect thousands of individuals incarcerated in New York prisons. It alleges that the frequency with which New York prisons use isolation as punishment is a direct result of official policies that permit staff to impose extraordinarily long isolation sentences regardless of whether the individual’s behavior demonstrated any danger to the safety and security of prison staff or other prisoners, with few guidelines or restraints, and with inadequate consideration of the physical and psychological risk that isolation may pose to a particular individual.
From 2007 to 2011, New York issued over 68,000 sentences to extreme isolation as punishment for violating prison rules. On any given day, approximately 4,500 people – about 8 percent of the entire New York State prison population – are locked down for 23 hours a day in isolation cells.
For example, from 2007 to 2011, prison officials imposed:
· 302 isolation sentences for “smoking in an undesignated area”
· 135 isolation sentences for “wasting food”
· 114 isolation sentences for “littering”
· 234 isolation sentences for “untidy cell or person”
We will continue to cover this case challenging the disproportionate imposition of severe conditions of solitary confinement.
Across the Nation
Pelican Bay prisoners reject reform proposals, may restart hunger strike: The Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay State Prison in California published a letter on Monday, December 17 denouncing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) proposed changes to the policies governing long-term solitary confinement in the Security Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay and other California state prisons. The communication also raised the possibility of another hunger strike if meaningful reforms and an end to the systematic torture of prisoners in California were not accomplished soon. Excerpts from the letter are below:
“Last year we made it clear to CDCR, and the world, that we were drawing the line and would no longer silently accept the torture upon ourselves and our loved ones outside! We let it be known that our plan was to use non-violent, peaceful protest activity in the form of an indefinite hunger strike – to the death if necessary – in order to achieve our goal of forcing an end to CDCR’s illegal policies and practices at issue, via our own sacrifice, and related mainstream expense and solid outside support! We’ve had some success regarding worldwide exposure, and we have solid outside support standing with us in solidarity… And – we have patiently pursued all available avenues to try and get CDCR to honor our reasonable demands; and presently, our final avenue is an open letter to governor Brown, asking him to order Secretary Cate to get right! If this is not successful, we will have no other option than to return to non-violent, peaceful protest actions in the form of indefinite hunger strike and no work!!
“We cannot accept the garbage proposal from CDCR! We cannot allow the four prisoner deaths in support of our cause to be forgetting and many of us are fully committed to making the same sacrifice if need be to force meaningful changes to this corrupt system… and we will be serving CDCR with our notice of intent to resume our peaceful/non-violent protest actions in the near future, and if CDCR continues to refuse to act right on our five core demands, as spelled out above!!!
“In memory of: Johnny Owen Vick, Hozel Alonzo Blanchard, Christian Gomez, and Alex Machado, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our cause (PBHRM)… make no mistake, none of us wants to die, but, we are prepared to, if that’s what it takes to force a real reform!!!
Onward in struggle, with solidarity and respect,
PBSP Short Corridor Main Representatives
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: 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 listening to 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!