In this Edition: PA DOC announces closing of two state prisons, Four guards on trial for abusing prisoners at SCI Pittsburgh, Carrington Keys stands up in court, and more...
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PA DOC to close State Correctional Institutions Greensburg and Cresson: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a press release on January 9, 2012 announcing that it would be closing two state prisons by the end of June 2013. State Correctional Institution SCI Greensburg along with SCI Cresson will be shut down with the prisoners currently held there transferred throughout the prison system.
There is no indication whether the investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice DOJ into SCI Cresson had any impact on the decision to shut down the facility. The DOJ announced an investigation into SCI Cresson in December 2011 for warehousing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement and depriving them of mental health care. Conditions in solitary units around the state have prompted the Human Rights Coalition to launch a three point platform and campaign against solitary confinement as a threat to public health; a form of torture that needs to be abolished. It is unclear what impact the decision to close the prison will or will not have on the DOJ investigation, which also includes a probe into the rape and abuse scandal at SCI Pittsburgh.
The PA DOC stated that many of the prisoners at Greensburg and Cresson will be sent to SCI Benner Township, a brand new prison recently constructed in Centre County. The DOC claims that it will seek to “surplus or sell the facilities after closure.” This is not the first time that the state has shut down an older prison in recent years. In 2005 SCI Pittsburgh was shut down due to its dilapidated condition, but was reopened two years later.
Guards accused of Prisoner Abuse at SCI Pittsburgh Face Trials: Former PA DOC guards Jerome Lynch, Harry Nicoletti, and Bruce Lowther await upcoming trials on criminal charges filed at SCI Pittsburgh in November of 2010, in the abuse scandal that led to seven guards fired and criminally charged, one suspended, and multiple DOC employees at different levels filing lawsuits for wrongful termination and backpay.
An Internal Investigation Officer for the DOC testified at the December trial of guard Tory Kelly, that no videotape footage exists of any of the incidents, but that hundreds of interviews were conducted with prisoners formally housed on F Block. Guards on the block were accused of targeting and abusing prisoners they perceived had committed sex crimes against childrenwith the help of prison block workers whom they enlisted to assault other prisoners.
Prison guard Kelly was found guilty on December 22, 2012 of 4 counts of assault, intimidation and official suppression based on witness testimony of prisoner Randy Jones, Internal Investigation Officer Hiler, and former coworker Curtis Hoffman. In addition to being sentenced in March for this verdict, Kelly will be tried for threatening former coworker Hoffman at his house, after Hoffman turned whistle blower and began reporting to the DOC about the guards’ initiation tactics on F block.
Three other accused guards, Kevin Freiss, Brian Olinger, and Sean Storey had their criminal charges dropped at preliminary hearings. Guard Kevin Johnson was suspended but later returned to work with a demotion. Guard John Michaels was fired, but never criminally charged, and recently won an arbitration order to have his job reinstated with back pay. All eight guards have filed lawsuits against higher up DOC officials that their termination was against policy and that they are entitled to back pay for loss of health benefits; five in November and three in January. The Commonwealth courts previously ruled that guards’ complaints were filed past deadlines for arbitration, but guards filed new complaints in federal court. Legislation is being composed to protect guards who come up against suspension in the future, despite guard suspension often being linked to official misconduct or suspected abuse.
In addition to the guards filing lawsuits, DOC higher ups at SCI Pittsburgh tried suing state officials after they were terminated, alleging Governor Corbett ordered their firing as a favor to the guards’ union. Their case is currently before the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The jury trial for guard Harry Nicoletti on eight-nine counts of abuse began on January 8, 2013 and is ongoing. Guard Bruce Lowther’s trial is scheduled for January 28 on two counts of official oppression and conspiracy. Jerome Lynch’s trial is scheduled for February 5, and he is charged with 7 counts of simple assault, official oppression, conspiracy and criminal solicitation.
Mistrial in PA Prisoner Excessive Force Lawsuit On January 7, 2012 prisoner Carrington Keys represented himself in a civil rights lawsuit against prison guards Pudlosky and McCoy for violation of his constitutional rights. Keys argued on an 8th amendment claim of excessive force, a retaliation claim, and a 14th amendment claim for assault that occurred in 2009, while he was housed in solitary at SCI Dallas. The assault occurred during a strip search while Keys was handcuffed. At the civil hearing, Keys argued that the strip search and assault were in retaliation for reporting ongoing abuse at SCI Dallas to the Human Rights Coalition, and for filing grievances against Pudlosky and McCoy’s superior officers. In order to cover up the abuse, the guards filed false misconducts against Keys. The case ended in a mistrial and another trial will be scheduled for Keys to litigate his claims.
The assault against Keys was one of many assaults reported from SCI Dallas at that time. In addition to physical assaults, prisoners reported incidents of food deprivation, repeated use of racial slurs, and fabricated misconducts that kept people buried in solitary confinement. In response, six prisoners including Keys, protested by covering up their cell windows and demanding to speak to higher officials about their treatment. The prison responded by assembling cell extraction teams of guards in riot gear, who went in and attacked the men with pepper spray and tazers, stripped them of their clothing and left several naked and shackled for hours on end. Most of their actions taken are standard DOC procedure. The Human Rights Coalition filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Keys and the five other prisoners with District Attorney Carroll at the time of the incident. Not only was this complaint rejected without an investigation, but a copy of the complaint was sent back to the prison administrators, which prompted more violent retaliation. Keys in turn sued District Attorney Carroll for turning a blind eye to what was happening at SCI Dallas, and just weeks after filing the civil suit, Carroll charged Keys and the other men with rioting. A few of Keys’ codefendants were witnesses who testified in his recent trial for excessive force.
Across the Nation¶
Former PA DOC Secretary Jeffrey Beard to head California prison system: On December 24, 2012, California Governor Edmund Brown announced that former Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) Secretary Jeffrey Beard had been selected as the new Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Beard had retired from the position of PA DOC Secretary in 2010, concluding nearly 40 years as an apparatchik of the prison state. During his tenure as Secretary between 2001-2010 he oversaw massive prison expansion that saw the state system’s population climb from approximately 36,000 to more than 51,000 by the time he left.
While in office Beard shunned any voices outside of the establishment and only appeared in public to demand that the legislature provide more money to the DOC. Given his doctorate in psychology and his ability to put a professional guise on a system of ritual dehumanization, he was well positioned to facilitate the massive expansion and normalization of race and class based mass incarceration and the rise of solitary confinement as a first, last, and often exclusive means for controlling the incarcerated population through terror and psychological warfare.
Some prisoners, their families, and advocates in Pennsylvania are appalled at the news of Beard’s new appointment. While in Pennsylvania, Beard was employed and profited off of serial, institutionalized human rights violations and crimes against humanity. In California, he can be expected to implement policies serviceable to the class who own the government and who have little to no need for poor people, communities of color, and lack of interest in restorative justice, decarceration, or human rights.
For documentation of acts and conditions of torture during Beard’s tenure as chief overseer of the plantations of punishment and misery known as the PA DOC visit this link. Some of this documentation extends into the recent Secretary’s tenure, but it matters little as the system grinds on.
Further reports that overlap with his period in charge can be located on our website, and include Institutionalized Cruelty, Resistance and Retaliation, and Unity and Courage.
Beard also oversaw an utterly meaningless system of periodic reviews for those in solitary confinement, including the black hole of the Restricted Release List, a form of indefinite, quasi-secret solitary confinement that can only be lifted by the Secretary’s authorization. For those fighting for their lives and rights in the solitary confinement units in California, it should be remembered that Beard has been advisingCDCR since the hunger strike, and has likely played a role in drafting the smoke-and-mirrors fake reforms that the Short Corridor Collective of Pelican Bay have slammed as meaningless.
The PA DOC also operated a rigidly enforced policy of rejecting virtually all prisoner grievances while Beard was in charge, effectively enabling and condoning widespread acts of physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement torture, retaliation, food deprivation, and other human rights violations. This unwritten policy persists to this day in Pennsylvania, where official PA DOC statistics confirm that more than 98% of all prisoner complaints are rejected on one ground or another by the internal grievance coordinator. Beard received complaints from prisoners, their families, and the rare advocacy groups who had the courage to speak out against state criminality, but again…the system grinds on.
Tamms Supermax in Illinois closes: The notorious torture camp known as Tamms Supermax prison in the state of Illinois officially closed its doors at the beginning of the new year. The closure brings an end to a facility dedicated to inflicting misery and trauma upon people held there, all of whom were subjected to 22-24 hour lockdown in solitary confinement.
Prior to its closure an estimated 25% of the “supermax” prisoners had been in continuous solitary confinement for over ten years. The move is expected to save the state of Illinois millions of dollars per year. As Amy Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, wrote: “Research from around the country tells the same story as in Illinois: solitary confinement is the most expensive form of incarceration and it neither deters violent behavior in prisons nor prevents recidivism.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.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: email@example.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.