From solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, Jesse Perez sues his guards for retaliation, wins $25,000

This is good news, published in the SF Bay View on Nov. 30th, 2015

Written by Claude Marks, Freedom Archives

On Friday, a federal jury in San Francisco awarded $25,000 in damages to Jesse Perez, who sued guards for trashing his cell in retaliation for his lawsuit against the prison and for his stand against solitary confinement.

Jesse Perez’s legal team – Randall Lee, lead attorney, Jesse Perez, Katie Moran and Matthew Benedetto – enjoys the victory in federal court in San Francisco Nov. 24, 2015. – Photo: Katie Moran

Jesse Perez, 35, is from Colton in San Bernardino County and has been imprisoned since age 15. He was sent to the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay in December 2003 and was held there for 10 years. He took part in all three hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, protesting prolonged isolation and demanding human rights for prisoners.

Perez’s lawyer, Randall Lee, said the verdict sends “a resounding message that the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment are sacrosanct for all of us – even a prisoner in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay.”

The case is based on Jesse Perez challenging the legitimacy of a CDCr gang validation pro se in 2005. He was assigned counsel after he defeated a state dismissal motion and won a settlement in 2012. Perez received a monetary award as well as the right to have his gang affiliation reevaluated.

Similarly, CDCr settled the Ashker case prior to trial, as the state of California wants to avoid having to be held publically accountable and to be subjected to scrutiny and interrogation in court.

In his current civil suit, Perez argued that guards retaliated against him for exercising his right to file a lawsuit and in response to his successful litigating for his human rights and to overturn his baseless gang validation.

Rather than re-reviewing Jesse’s gang validation as was mandated by his court settlement, and just days after the settlement, four officers forced him to strip, removed all of his legal paperwork and trashed his cell. In the process, one officer stated, “You might have been able to win some money from us, but we will make sure that you stay [in solitary] where you belong.”

Jesse did not get all of his property back – especially some of his legal work. He was later charged with a serious rules violation for “willfully obstructing the officers” during that search, for which he was ultimately found not guilty.

Jesse Perez states, “As prisoner activists seeking to make positive contributions to the interests and human dignity of prisoners, we understand that the trappings of power enjoyed by guards represent the biggest obstacle to significant and lasting progress.” By filing the lawsuit, Perez wrote that he sought the “opportunity to shine a public light at trial and rein in what prisoner activists often endure in exercising their constitutional rights: the retaliatory abuse of the department’s disciplinary process by prison guards.”

In his testimony, Jesse stated that he filed this case to defend what minimal human rights he retains as a prisoner. He also said that the officers he sued represent a backlash that prisoners commonly experience when they speak out to access their constitutional rights, since the CDCr will not investigate and reform itself.

Predictably, attorneys for the CDCr tried to discredit Perez’ testimony as well as that of other prisoners who testified in support of his argument. The jury found Jesse Perez and his witnesses credible.

In Jesse’s concluding testimony he made it clear: “Our system of law requires prisoners like me and many others to surrender our freedom, but our laws do not require us, and we refuse to, surrender our human dignity or the minimal constitutional rights that we retain even after crossing the prison gates.

“So for me, we’re here because prison officials decided to punish me for exercising my constitutional right to file a lawsuit against their colleagues. They threatened (my cellmate) Rudy and me. They unnecessarily confiscated important legal documents that I had. They trashed my cell. And then they wrote a false disciplinary report in order to keep me in solitary confinement.

“This is not just about a messy cell or some sort of inconvenience in having to defend against a trumped up RVR. This cell was my whole world for the multiple years that I was in there. It’s the only space where I was able to experience the little bit of life that exists in solitary.

“They didn’t just take my stuff. They took the only possessions that I had. It’s all I had. So to me it was a huge deal.

“I think the officers’ actions also represent the sort of backlash that prisoners often have to hazard when speaking out or exercising their constitutional rights. So to me, we’re also here so that we can both inform and empower the public to deal with this continued corrupt course of conduct. Because in our reality, the CDCR seems incapable or unwilling to do so. So that’s why we’re here.”

Perez’s case is not the only recent instance of guards’ retaliation against prisoners for their basic expression of civil rights and political activism. Since August, inmates in the Pelican Bay SHU say they have been awakened every half-hour by prison guards in a practice that amounts to sleep deprivation.

The policy is known as security and welfare checks, during which prison guards “check on inmates” in segregated housing, including solitary confinement cells, every 30 minutes – 48 times every day – to make sure they are “not injuring themselves or trying to kill themselves.”

Not coincidentally, these checks started just days after prisoners claimed victory in the landmark settlement of Ashker v. Brown, which significantly reduced California’s ability to keep people in solitary confinement – and overturned a system of gang validation used to justify decades of isolation for hundreds of prisoners, often because of their organizing resistance to conditions and their general political beliefs.

Claude Marks, director of Freedom Archives, 522 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110


Jesse Perez prevails in his federal lawsuit claiming retaliation by Pelican Bay officers

by Kim Rohrbach

On Nov. 24, 2015, an eight-person jury unanimously found in favor of plaintiff Jesse Perez in his retaliation case brought against several officers at Pelican Bay State Prison under the Civil Rights Act, Title 42 USC Section 1983.

The jurors agreed that four officers, all of whom were employed as assistant internal gang investigators at the time of the incidents prompting Mr. Perez’s lawsuit, each unlawfully engaged in retaliatory conduct in response to an earlier and eventually successful lawsuit brought by Mr. Perez about a decade ago.

The latter lawsuit contested Mr. Perez’s unlawful confinement at Pelican Bay’s SHU (Security Housing Unit). Settlement negotiations were underway at the time that the retaliatory conduct raised in Perez’s second lawsuit occurred, but the case had not yet settled.

The officers found guilty on Nov. 24 in regard to Mr. Perez’s first cause of action for First Amendment retaliation are Anthony Gates, Daniel Gongora, Eric Healy and Guillermo Pimentel. A fifth officer, Sean Burris, was found not guilty. A sixth officer, J. Prelip, was dropped from the case prior to trial.

Mr. Perez’s summary of his retaliation lawsuit can be read in the Bay View. The docket number for this case is 3:13-cv-05359-VC (N.D. Cal.).

At trial, Perez likened his decade-plus-long efforts at negotiating his way through the legal system to putting together a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle in the dark. He testified that his education, prior to his incarceration as a teenager, ended with the seventh grade.

Yet, despite this handicap, he filed both his retaliation case as well as in his preceding case without the benefit of legal representation. Moreover, he was able to go a great distance in terms of prosecuting each case on his own before he did finally obtain pro bono representation.

After the state challenged Mr. Perez’s first lawsuit protesting his confinement in solitary, Mr. Perez brought an appeal and cross-appeal, and on his own motion was appointed counsel by the 9th Circuit. Katie Moran and Randall Lee from Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr, LLP, were assigned to the appellate case. Attorneys Moran, Lee and others from their firm later joined in as Perez’s counsel on his second lawsuit alleging retaliation, and filed a first amended complaint in July 2014.

Mr. Perez had filed his initial handwritten complaint in the retaliation case in November 2013, after exhausting his options for relief through the administrative grievance process available through the CDCR. The CDCR’s administrative grievance process involves no external review by any staff independent of the CDCR, or by any judge, as many readers of this publication may be aware.

The trial on Mr. Perez’s retaliation case, which began Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, wrapped up for the most part on Friday, Nov. 20, at which time jurors began their deliberations. The jurors delivered their verdict late in the day on Tuesday, Nov. 24, returning to court the following morning to hear testimony concerning damages and to decide upon the amount of damages. Mr. Perez was awarded $25,000, which significantly included punitive damages.

Mr. Perez donated the proceeds of his settlement from his earlier case to his mother to help her pay off the mortgage for her home and to an organization located in South Central Los Angeles that works to support youths seeking to attend college.

The jurors in Mr. Perez’s latest matter returned a hung verdict as to a second cause of action for conspiracy levied against defendants Burris, Gates, Gongora, Healy and Pimentel. The jurors, during deliberations, indicated in writing to Judge Vincent Chhabria that they were “hopelessly deadlocked” on this claim in regard to two of the five defendants.

Although the jurors found defendants Burris, Gongola and Pimentel not guilty of conspiracy, they could arrive at no decision as to defendants Gates and Healy. Judge Chhabria declared a mistrial as to the claim of conspiracy against Gates and Healy.

During defendants’ closing arguments on Nov. 20, Jennifer Nygaard, co-counsel for the state Attorney General’s Office, emphasized the fact that Eric Healy, Anthony Gates and Dan Gongola – who, again, were all found guilty with respect to Mr. Perez’s First Amendment retaliation claim – had each been promoted following the incidents leading up to Perez’s retaliation case. As was one of the state’s witnesses in the matter, David Barneburg, or so it had earlier come out during testimony.

Barneburg led Pelican Bay’s Internal Gang Investigation Unit as a lieutenant, starting in 2009. After the events precipitating Mr. Perez’s retaliation lawsuit, Barneburg was made an associate warden at Pelican Bay.

Critical for readers to understand, relative to Mr. Perez’s legal ordeals, is that the CDCR currently defines a “gang” or “security threat group,” in relevant part, as follows:

“[A]ny … organization, association or group of three or more persons which has a common name or identifying sign or symbol whose members and/or associates … engage or have engaged, on behalf of that organization, association or group, in two or more acts which include, planning, organizing, threatening, financing, soliciting or committing unlawful acts, or act of misconduct.” See California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3000 (2015), which contains no definition of the word “misconduct.”

One reason that this is critical is that, until quite recently, those incarcerated within the CDCR’s prisons could be lawfully held in indefinite solitary confinement for alleged “gang” and/or “security threat group” members or associates by CDCR officials, without having committed any violent or criminal act to warrant such designation. Mr. Perez, until his release into the general population at Pelican Bay in 2013, was one of innumerable people in California’s prisons who endured this torture, under regulations that have been successfully challenged under thefederal class-action Ashker v. Brown.

In addition, if Anthony Gates, Sean Healy, plus any third defendant-officer named in Mr. Perez’s most recent lawsuit had been found guilty of the second cause of action for conspiracy, then the question would beg to be asked: How would those defendant-officers not themselves qualify as “gang” members, if one were to apply the relevant language codified in the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, cited above?

The type of abuse raised by Mr. Perez in his retaliation case – e.g., the trashing of his cell and the confiscation of his legal and other papers and the meritless Rules Violation Report issued against him – is unfortunately, in this writer’s experience, by no means unusual. What is unusual is that Mr. Perez has brought the abuse that he suffered to the light of day in court, against formidable obstacles, and has prevailed on his main cause of action for First Amendment retaliation.

Kim Rohrbach volunteers with California Prison Focus (CPF) and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) and is an advocate for tenants and a paralegal. She and many allies from CPF and PHSS were present in the courtroom during Jesse Perez’s recent trial, taking shifts to maintain a nearly continuous presence there.

 

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Imprisoned People Facing Medical Neglect and Violence, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out

Press release received per email:
For Immediate Release – Monday, November 23, 2015
 
Imprisoned People Facing Medical Neglect and Violence, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out
 
Press Contact: Dolores Canales, Family Unity Network, (714)290-9077 dol1canales@gmail.com  or Hannah McFaull, Justice Now, (415) 813.7715 hannah@justicenow.org
 
Sacramento – On November 11th, an imprisoned person at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), faced extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. Stacy Rojas and three others were detained, physically abused, sexually harassed, strip searched in the presence of male guards, and were kept without water, food or restrooms for eleven hours. The group was illegally kept in administrative segregation without a lock up order and have been denied health care support for the injuries caused by these officers. Requests to speak with members of the prison’s Investigative Services Unit have so far been ignored.
 
“I just want to let them know that we have been physically abused, sexually harassed,” said Stacy Rojas, “and that this was just wrong. They used excessive force, totally used excessive force against us and we need help.”
 
The public acknowledgment of excessive use of force and deadly use of force by police has increased throughout the nation. Video recordings of interactions between the police and the public have increased significantly in recent years as technology has improved and the number of distribution channels has expanded. This is not an option open to people experiencing violence from guards behind prison walls and any attempt to speak out is often met with retaliation and increased force.
 
“Our communities in and out of lock up have lived experiences with biased policing — ranging from racial profiling, to excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force”, stated Patrisse Cullors co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. “We hear about it more and more in the communities we live in, but rarely hear about the traumatic ways that it manifests in the California prison system. Stories like Stacy’s are happening everyday inside of California prisons and jails with little to no measures taken by authorities to keep people safe and hold law enforcement, such as prison guards accountable.”
 
Advocacy organizations working with people in women’s prisons are familiar with reports of abuse and violence, like that experienced at CCWF last week. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, the Family Unity Network, the TGI Justice Project and others regularly provide legal and medical advocacy support following incidents of violence perpetrated by correctional officers at women’s prisons.
 
This group of organizations and Stacy’s family members are requesting an independent investigation of the violence and excessive use of force used. They are requesting medical care and safe housing for Stacy and all those involved. The group also demands an end to the violence imposed on women, transgender people, gender nonconforming people, and communities of color within the California prison system.
 
“My sister is at the end of a fourteen year sentence and it seems as though some would wish to take that away. This has never happened [to Stacy] before. We have never had fear for my sister’s life”, said Adriana Rojas. “My sister Stacy Rojas’ constitutional rights have been violated by being stripped searched by male guards, assaulted by means of kicking and stomping, taken outdoors in near 40 degree weather, threatened with rape, humiliated, placed in holding cages for nearly 12 hours, and deprived of food and water.” Albert Jacob Rojas added, “They were denied medical attention and denied the right to speak to internal affairs. We ask that anybody who cares about human rights and women’s rights please join us in demanding justice for all.”
 
Family members and advocates are calling for:
  • An immediate independent investigation into the violence and excessive force used by guards in this incident.
  • Suspension of guards involved pending investigation.
  • Comprehensive medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident.
  • No retaliation for speaking out against this abuse.
 
###

CA: governor signs SB261 for an earlier parole date for youth between 18-22 years who were sentenced to life

From a press reease by the Youth Justice Coalition:

This afternoon – (Saturday, October 3, 2015) – Governor Brown signed SB261.

Thank you to everyone who helped to push SB261 forward: To the families of people who received extreme sentenes as youth people 18-22, to people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, to the bill’s co-sponsors (Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Human Rights Watch and the Youth Justice Coalition), to Senator Loni Hancock and her staff, and to everyone and every organization who made calls to and/or met with legislators and the Governor, sent letters to the State Capitol, and attended legislative hearings.

Across California, over the past 4 decades, tens of thousands of youth have received sentences so long that they will die in prison. SB261 offers youth ages of 18 – 22, who face many of the same developmental and economic challenges as their slightly younger peers, an opportunity for an earlier parole hearing. Together, we are moving California toward a future where all people deserve the opportunity to return home.

Senate Bill 261 understands that currently as many as 16,000 people in California prisons were still teens and young adults at the time of their arrest. More than half have life sentences. SB 261 would give these young people access to both programming and hope – two things denied youth with extreme sentences in California – providing young people the motivation and opportunity needed to focus on healing, treatment, education and job training.

Furthermore, this bill would contribute greatly to decreases in violence and recidivism within the state’s prison system. When people have a meaningful opportunity for release, hope increases, disciplinary problems are alleviated, access to programming allows for greater vocational, educational and life skills development, and violent altercations both with staff and other people incarcerated within facilities dramatically drop.

In addition, SB 261 recognizes that California spends millions of dollars to incarcerate each person sentenced to Life and other extreme sentences. California is number one nationwide in prison spending, #47 in K-12 spending and last in spending for higher education. It costs a minimum of $50,000 per year to incarcerate each person in a California Prison – and tens of thousands more for anyone in solitary confinement, where many youth facing extreme sentences are held. SB 261 would save California’s limited funds. It is a bill that is smart on crime and fiscally wise for our state.
Like us on Facebook! http://www.facebook.com/YouthJusticeCoalition

Youth Justice Coalition
@ Chuco’s Justice Center
On the border between South Central L.A. and Inglewood
One light west of Florence and Crenshaw
1137 E. Redondo Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90302
323-235-4243 * Fax: 323-846-9472
info@youth4justice.org

http://www.youth4justice.org

Action needed: “Suicide Watch” amounts to Sleep Deprivation Torture at Pelican Bay State Prison

This was sent to us per email:

Immediate Action is needed.  Below is what was just sent to the PHSS Emergency Response Network.

PLEASE write an email, send a letter, and or make a phone call- or all three- about this sleep deprivation torture. It is very serious and has been going on since the night of August 2nd!

The sample letter can be changed, added to, etc.  Feel free to call (510) 426-5322 or phssreachingout@gmail.com with any questions, info, or ideas.

~ Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Dear Emergency Response Network members,

Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU report the ill effects of  “welfare” or “suicide” checks occurring every thirty minutes, forty-eight times a day.  The checks are being aggressively conducted and prevent people from sleeping for over thirty minutes at a time.  Loud stomping, the slamming of doors, the striking of electronic wands against buttons installed by cell doors, and the shining of lights into prisoners’ faces are routine.  Noise reverberates throughout the concrete-and-steel pod and is basically non-stop.

As a result of the Coleman lawsuit, the CDCR was ordered by the court to conduct checks (which have been occurring at all SHUs for the better part of two years; not just Pelican Bay). However, it was left to the Department how to conduct them.

Attorneys involved in Coleman are aware of distress resulting from the checks, and have taken the problem up with the CDCR. In the meantime, we’re asking you to immediately contact Pelican Bay’s warden, Clark E. Ducart, to demand that the noise stops. Below is a sample letter/script, along with Warden Ducat’s contact information.

NOTE: If you e-mail Warden Ducart, please bcc phssreachingout@gmail.com.
This will enable us to inform the Coleman attorneys how many e-mails were sent.  Or, if you call, please send a one-line e-mail to phssreachingout@gmail.com stating, “I called Ducart.”

Contact information
Warden Clark E. Ducart
Pelican Bay State Prison 
P.O. Box 7000
Crescent City, CA 95531-7000

(707) 756–1000 ext. 9040

CDucart@cdcr.ca.gov
clark.ducart@cdcr.ca.gov
(Send email to both addresses)

Sample letter/script:

Warden Ducart:

Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU report the ill effects of  “welfare” or “suicide” checks occurring every thirty minutes, forty-eight times a day.  The checks are being conducted in an aggressive way and prevent people from sleeping for over thirty minutes at a time.  Loud stomping, the slamming of doors, the striking of electronic wands against buttons installed by cell doors, and the shining of lights into prisoners’ faces are routine.  Noise reverberates throughout pod and is basically non-stop.

The checks are court-ordeded, but the noise and disruption is not. Please make sure that the noise and disruption stops now.

Sleep deprivation and relentless exposure to loud noise are known methods of torture that can cause mental impairment. As John R. Martinez wrote in a letter to the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: “Deprivation of sleep is a common form of torture and has no place in a civilized society. Sleep is a basic human need and a fundamental constitutional right and I shouldn’t have to be starving myself so I and my fellow prisoners can get some sleep.”

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]


Prisoners report on San Quentin health crisis: Legionella outbreak prompts water shutdown

From the SF Bay View:

September 9, 2015

by Kevin D. Sawyer 

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, government officials and first responders continue to lack the ability to plan for emergency situations.

San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest prison, is still on a virtual lockdown – or “modified program” – as normal programs for all inmates have ceased since Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, after “one confirmed case of Legionnaires’ disease” was discovered, Warden Ron Davis’ Aug. 27 bulletin said.

“They (San Quentin and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) knew this was coming,” said Charles Reece (D-06522). “The first of the month they said they were going to shut down the water to clean the pipes.”

In the afternoon of Aug. 27, prison officials placed yellow “Caution” tape and signs on drinking fountains on the prison’s Lower Yard. “Don’t Drink the Water,” the signs said.

Later that afternoon the prison administration ordered a mandatory institutional recall of all inmates directing them to return to their cells inside of their re­spective housing units.

Inmates said prison officials and medical staff had prior knowledge of the spread of Legionella symptoms, suspecting there is a health emergency brewing.

“If this has been going on since Monday (Aug. 24) how come all of a sudden Thursday it’s coming out?” queried Elliott Beverly (K-42353).

On Friday, Aug. 28, the prison would not allow inmates to shower due to the Legionella outbreak.

Because of the drought emergency declared by Gov. Brown earlier this year, inmates at San Quentin have already been limited to three showers a week.

“I think it’s a Machiavellian trick on the CDCR’s part to curb water use,” said Steven Haden (P-32966). “I can’t do my normal body functions to live. I’m a human being. I can’t shut down like a machine.”

“They shut the water off at 8:00 p.m. last night (Aug. 27) and said they were going to bring us bottled water,” said Reace.

“Effective immediately, all water at the facility is non-potable pending testing of our water sources,” the warden’s bulletin said.

On Thursday evening in West Block, officers announced over the public address system that they would do hourly cell unlocks for inmates who need to use the bathroom.

“The process they’re using now is totally barbaric,” said Terry Slaughter (C-89387). “The prison (officials) failed to have a proper back-up system for this prison.”

According to the California Code of Regulations (Title 15, Division 3, § 3301, Emergency Operations Plan), “Each warden must have in effect at all times an Emergency Operations Plan, approved by the Emergency Planning and Management Unit, to assist in the preparations for response to and recovery from ‘All Hazards’ incidents.”

Qadree Birch (J-53333) works in the prison kitchen. He said he was not allowed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, “Nor did they supply us any water, but they want us to go to work.” He said he was in his cell for 16 hours with the water turned off and the flushing mechanism disabled on the toilet, “without warning.”

“For inside the institution, all water will be shut off to the housing units,” the warden’s bulletin said. “For staff and inmates, bottled water and secondary water resources will be deployed throughout the institution for consumption.”

Inmates in West Block have been receiving secondary water that is trucked in and stored inside of a temporary water tank on the Lower Yard. Twenty-four hours after the warden’s bulletin was issued, no inmate had received bottled water. As of Monday, Aug. 31, West Block inmates still have not received bottled water.

Read the rest here.

CA Prisoners Win Historic Gains with Settlement Against Solitary Confinement

Posted on September 1, 2015 by prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

Agreement reached in Ashker v. Brown ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in CA, among other gains for prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 1, 2015
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland – Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.

“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.

Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.

“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.”

The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.

Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.

“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”

“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”

Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at http://livestre.am/5bsWO.

The settlement can be read on CCR’s website, along with a summary. CCR has also put up downloadable clips of the plaintiffs’ depositions here.

Black Prisoners’ Lives Matter: The Dallas 6 Blow the Whistle on the Inside

Monday, 24 August 2015 00:00By Shandre Delaney, Truthout | Op-Ed

There is a common thread that connects human rights struggles today. Take a look around the world and what do you see? You see militarized police officers committing violence against the poor and oppressed, being given a pat on the back by the court system. Under tyranny, it is all too common that whenever an officer of the law commits unwarranted acts of violence against civilians, it seems the justice system covers up the officer’s criminal acts and even justifies those acts. In the streets of America, people who protest government corruption and police brutality are met with violence by pepper spray, baton beatings or false charges of riot and disorderly conduct. Behind the walls of prison cells, we are subject to the same network of tyranny, that whenever prisoners come together to protest official abuse, we are also met with the same violence and false charges by court officials. If you have the audacity to speak out against brutality, tyrants will do anything to silence you.  – Carrington Keys (Dallas 6)

On April 29, 2010, six prisoners in solitary confinement at SCI Dallas in Dallas, Pennsylvania, decided that enough was enough. Collectively, they are known as theDallas 6. One of them is my son.

The Dallas 6 are jailhouse lawyers who fight injustice within prison walls and share information with the outside. They came to be seen as political prisoners through their actions as jailhouse lawyers, activists and whistleblowers. This caused them to be held in solitary indefinitely, where they were starved, beaten and outright tortured. Between the six, they served from 10 to 20 years in solitary, and one of them is still in solitary.

After being subjected to starvation, brutal beatings, food tampering, witnessing beatings, the guard-assisted suicide of one prisoner and the torture of another, they covered their solitary cell windows and politely requested outside intervention. They wanted access to public officials and media. They wanted the public to know that human rights were being violated on a critical level. They wanted the public to know that their lives were in danger for being whistleblowers. I started advocating on behalf of my son but became more involved as I found that his abuse was not isolated. So many other prisoners in solitary were being abused.

These men submitted affidavits detailing abuses in the report “Institutionalized Cruelty” by the Human Rights Coalition and were featured in “Resistance and Retaliation.” When guards discovered the report, they carried out a weeklong rampage of brutality and promised the Dallas 6 they were next. Immediately after the incident, the men were separated and transferred. My son, Carrington Keys, filed a lawsuit in Luzerne County court against then-District Attorney Jackie Musto Carrol for ignoring the abuses happening at SCI Dallas. He had written her about them, and she neither responded nor investigated. The state police also were aware of complaints; they neither responded nor investigated.

Months later, in an effort to cover up officers’ crimes and in retaliation, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Jackie Musto Carrol and the state police worked together to file riot charges against the Dallas 6. These charges were clearly bogus because it is impossible for men in solitary confinement to riot, given the legal definition of riot:

A person is guilty of riot, a felony of the third degree, if he participates with two or more others in a course of disorderly conduct:

(1) with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of a felony or misdemeanor;

(2) with intent to prevent or coerce official action; or

(3) when the actor or any other participant to the knowledge of the actor uses or plans to use a firearm or other deadly weapon.

The Dallas 6 are being charged with riot under subcategory 2 of the definition above. The charges were filed following a news article detailing the lawsuit against the district attorney.

It confuses many how peaceful men, in individual cells – unable to substantially interact with each other – can be charged with riot. There was no disorderly conduct, there was no violence and there was no assembling. Disorderly actions and violence were carried out by guards assembled in riot gear, who entered the cells of the six unarmed men one by one. They were brutally attacked with shock shields, batons, teargas and pepper spray. The case was pushed through the courts on the basis that covering up your cell windows coerces official action. Therefore, even though the guards were the perpetrators of violence, the state charges that the Dallas 6 brought about this official action of brutality themselves.

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