Pennsylvania Prisoners Charged with Rioting After Protesting Conditions in Solitary

From SolitaryWatch:
October 15, 2011
by Sal Rodriguez

A group of inmates held in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison have been charged with various felony offenses, including rioting and aggravated harassment, stemming from their participation in an April 2010 protest against prison abuses. The group, which has come to be known as the Dallas 6, covered the windows of their cell doors with bedding in protest of alleged harassment by correctional officers at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Dallas. Their protest was met with violent “cell extractions” against all six inmates. Officially, the covering of the cell windows constituted an act which coerced correctional officials to perform cell extractions, therefore making their actions rioting.

According to Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! investigator Bret Grote, there will be a hearing before Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Nina Gartley on October 21st regarding a defense motion to consolidate the cases of four of the Dallas 6′s cases into a single case. The hearing involves Andre Jacobs, Carrington Keys, Derrick Stanley, and Duane Peters-El, four of the five members of the Dallas 6 who have yet to have their cases resolved. (Anthony Kelly accepted a plea bargain last year, and Anthony Locke will be tried separately). The four are currently held at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. Carrington Keys was set to go to trial on October 17th, but the trial has been postponed to a later, undetermined date.

The alleged abuses against inmates that inspired the protest are, according to some, reflective of a widespread problem in the Pennsylvania prison system. The most dramatic allegations surfaced last month, when a suspended prison guard from SCI Pittsburgh was arrested on charges that he sexually or physically assaulted more than 20 inmates. Earlier reports suggest less extreme, but nonetheless serious abuses at other prisons.

As of August 31, 2011 there were 51,393 inmates under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, in a system with a designed capacity of 44,190. Among them are over 1,500 inmates in isolation units—referred to as Restricted Housing Units. Restricted Housing Units are solitary confinement units where inmates are kept in their cells 23 hours a day during the week and 24 hours on the weekends.

For ten months between 2009 and 2010, the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! worked on a report documenting abuses across Pennsylvania prisons, but most specifically at SCI Dallas. A medium security prison in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, SCI Dallas houses over 2,100 inmates, including over a hundred inmates in Disciplinary and Administrative Restricted Housing Units.

According to the 2010 report by the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up! “Institutionalized Cruelty: Torture at SCI Dallas and in Prisons Throughout Pennsylvania”, written with extensive cooperation of inmates, SCI Dallas was particularly rife with abuses. Among them, the “frequent usage of racist slurs, threats of violence, verbal and physical abuse by guards,” “ retaliation against prisoners exercising their constitutional rights to file grievances,” and “failure to provide adequate or at times any, physical or mental health care.”

One prisoner who corresponded with the HRC described his experience in the RHU at SCI Dallas:

“The conditions were very inhumane…hot, no working vents at all… stuffy and humid… My first cell bugs were biting me all over my body, when I said something about it they (medical staff) played like I was crazy then finally after constant complaining they gave me benadryl then moved me and still didn’t clean the cell. They had a light on all day that felt like a rotisserie lamp. It was hard to sleep because of the hot humid cells and constant bugs biting me all day and night… We had no cups to drink the brown colored water that came out of the sinks and toilets. There was constant screaming yelling kicking and banging…”

Read the rest here.