PA Prison Report - January 30, 2012

In this edition: Fair phone rates action alert, Prisoner kept 12 years in solitary confinement on verge of release, Study on crimininalization of pregnancy, and more...


ACTION ALERT: The “Campaign for Prison Phone Justice” is challenging prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. Prison Telephone Industry


The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comments from the public on important questions related to the cost of interstate, long distance prison telephone calls.

Click this link to take action

News from the Inside

Paul Rogers on the verge of release from 12-years of solitary confinement: Paul Rogers has spent more than 4,300 consecutive days – over 12 years – locked behind a solid steel door in the bowels of a Pennsylvania prison. He spends twenty-four hours a day in isolation, occasionally punctuated by an hour in another cage for “recreation” purposes, or a trip to the shower. Inside a concrete and steel tomb that is his bathroom, bedroom, and workspace, Rogers eats, sleeps, dreams, defecates, reads, writes, and contemplates the prospect of spending the remainder of his life sentence in solitary confinement. According to Rogers, “It’s like mental torture and you slowly lose your mind.”

Rogers has once again been approved for release into the general population by the Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Smithfield. For most prisoners in the hole this would be sufficient for securing their release, but Paul is on the Restricted Release List (RRL), an indefinite, secretive and potentially permanent form of solitary confinement that can only be authorized with the approval of PA DOC Central Office. The final decision on Paul’s stauts rests with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PA DOC) Secretary John Wetzel.

Contrary to the claim that solitary is reserved for the “worst of the worst,” Rogers has had an exemplary disciplinary record these twelve years, not once receiving a misconduct for a serious infraction. Despite making his best effort “to conform to DOC standards,” he was again rejected for release from the RRL during his February 2012 review, although he was provided “no specific reason” as to why he had to remain in solitary. “I have complied to a work plan, have no misconducts, and still wasn’t recommended for release off the RRL. I have been arbitrarily denied release off the RRL without being given a written reason or opportunity to defend myself.”

Echoing the symptoms reported by others subjected to the infamous “no-touch” torture of isolation, Rogers has experienced depression, heightened anxiety, difficulty concentrating, deterioration of social skills, and a an all too real fear of losing his sanity. As is customary in the PA DOC, mental health care is utterly lacking for those languishing in the Restricted Housing Units (RHUs). In correspondence to the Human Rights Coalition, Rogers wrote:

I don’t think my mental health is a concern of the DOC, and I have been trying self-help remedies to maintain my mental care. The health department visit me every 90 days at my cell door for less than a few minutes, and from past experience they don’t offer any assistance other than medication, which seems to make prisoners worse and psychotic. . . . [W]hen I try to get help for my problems, I was told being the RHU prevents them from offering remedies besides medication.

Now 43, Rogers is serving a life sentence for a murder committed when he was 19 years old. In the late 1990s, he was placed in solitary for three-and-one-half years. Rogers has said that the psychological effects of this prolonged solitary confinement without access to any rehabilitative programs made it difficult for him to adjust to general population in the prison, and led to a physical altercation with a prison guard in the year 2000. He was placed in solitary following that assault, and has not been released to this day.

Twice during his time on the RRL Rogers was approved for release from solitary confinement by the Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Smithfield, only to be overruled by then-Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), Jeffrey Beard.

In an essay entitled Still in Illegal Limbo, available on the Real Cost of Prisons Project website, Rogers described the devastating effects of more than a decade in solitary:

“It’s obvious that prisoners on the RRL pose no threat of mass murder and destruction. How is it deem[ed] constitutional to treat us as such, condemning us to indefinite isolation, sensory deprivation, and mental torture. The prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement has serious psychological and emotional effects, hinders rehabilitation and family ties. While I have access to the phone, mail, and no-contact visitation, these are no replacement for natural physical contact, being embraced by the loving arms of family and loved ones.”

Family and supporters of Paul Rogers are asking those with loved ones in prison and other concerned members of the public to write letters and make calls to Secretary Wetzel in support of Rogers’ release from solitary confinement into general population. See the Human Rights Coalition action alert in support of Rogers.

Click here to listen to an interview on Paul Rogers with advocate Lois Ahrens and sister Kharla Rogers.

Courtroom Beat

Jury still deliberating in Pittsburgh in case of guard accused of raping and abusing prisoners: Jurors will continue deliberating on Thursday toward a verdict in the criminal case against former State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh guard Harry F. Nicoletti Jr. after asking the judge a question and having testimony read to them on Wednesday.

Testimony ended Thursday in the 80-count case against Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis. A former guard at SCI Pittsburgh, he is accused of crimes ranging from official oppression to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by around 20 inmates who were housed on that prison’s F Block.

Story taken from an article by Rich Lord in the Post-Gazette. HRC will report further about this case in a future edition of the prison report.

Across the nation

Study finds widespread criminalization of pregnancy throughout the US: A new report published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law found hundreds of women across 44 states have been arrested, convicted, jailed, detained in mental institutions, or court ordered to undergo medical procedures against their will. Researchers from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAWP) and Fordham University have identified 413 cases from 1973-2005, since Roe v. Wade, in which a woman’s pregnancy led to attempted or actual deprivation of her physical liberty by the courts. NAWP says they are aware of 250 more cases since 2005. Women are being denied basic human rights to life, liberty, and due process based solely on their pregnancy status.

Women have been arrested and detained not only for expressing a wish to end a pregnancy to keep them from having an abortion, but even for suffering through unwanted miscarriages. One critically ill woman in Washington, D.C. was court ordered to have a caesarian section against her will. Neither she nor the baby survived. A woman in Indiana was charged with attempted murder of her fetus after a failed suicide attempt. Another woman in Oregon was locked up in a psychiatric ward after refusing recommended additional testing for gestational diabetes. The criminal legal system relies on state level foeticide statutes that grant separate legal rights to the fetus, on third party violence laws to claiming to protect pregnant women, and on state abortion laws granting full legal rights to the fetus.

Lynn Paltrow, executive director of NAPW and lead author of the study said: “Our analysis of the legal claims used to justify the arrests found they relied on post-Roe measures such as foeticide laws and the same arguments made in support of so-called ‘personhood measures’ – namely that state actors would be empowered to treat fertilized eggs, embryos and foetuses as completely legally separate from the pregnant women.”

“It is not just the criminalization of pregnant woman, that almost minimizes the scope of what we are talking about. They are using civil statutes to keep women committed. Right we’re ordering the foetus to be committed and you have to come too.” Paltrow warned that if personhood measures pass, it would create a “Jane Crow system of law in which pregnant women have a second-class status.” Jeanne Flavin, Fordham University professor of sociology and co-author of the report, said: “The public debate about personhood and other anti-abortion measures tends to focus narrowly on abortion. Our study makes clear that all pregnant woman are threatened by such measures.”

The study concludes: “As personhood measures continue to be promoted in state legislatures and in Congress, and as we observe the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, this study broadens the conversation from just one abortion to one about health policy and the legal status of pregnant women.”

Link to the study:


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:, or visit our website at

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: 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.

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