When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons

This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:

A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamouslegendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

Read the rest of this story here.

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Asthmatic Prisoner Doused with Pepper Spray, Refused Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System

Reblogged from: RashidMod, Nov 8th 2013
Outside support activists have learned of another Texas prisoner dead, due to a combination of guard brutality and medical neglect.
For three consecutive nights medical staff were summoned to the cell of Christopher Woolverton, at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, because he was lying on the floor barely responsive. Finally, on the afternoon of October 22, a nurse came in and, seeing he was still not moving, summoned sergeant Andrew Gratz and Lieutenant Matthew Seymour, informing them that Woolverton was scheduled to see a doctor.
At this point, normally, things should have improved for Woolverton. After a criminally long delay of three days, during which time he was in clear distress, he should have finally received medical attention. But that’s not what happened.
A letter from Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) being held at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, lays out the tragic sequence of events. Remember, when reading this, that Woolverton had been unresponsive, lying on the ground seemingly unable to move, for days at this point. Rashid recounts how,
“Gratz, a notoriously abusive guard, told Woolverton to get up and come to the door and submit to handcuffs or he’d be OC-gassed and forcibly removed by an extraction team of riot armored guards. Woolverton was not responsive. The nurse told him they were going to gas him and to ‘remember how they gassed you the last time and you couldn’t breathe?’ She implored him to get up and come to the door, which he failed to do – in obvious medical distress.
“The nurse and others left and the warden and several other people in street clothes came in, looked in at Woolverton, laughed and left.
“Moments later, Gratz, Seymour and the nurse returned with a team or riot armored guards with gas masks and OC gas. Gratz proceeded, as the nurse watched, to spray Woolverton several times directly in the head (drenching his face and head) with OC gas. After about 10 minutes the team rushed in to restrain him by force. He was then bodily lifted and put on a gurney and rolled out of the pod.
“He was several minutes later brought back in and made to stand by Gratz and the team (directly in front of my cell) with his body and legs trembling like a newborn colt. He distinctly stated, ‘I can’t breathe.’ They also had a cup mask (like construction workers wear) over his nose and mouth. He couldn’t walk, so they bodily picked him up by ankles and arms and carried him into a cell where they left him lying completely naked with no property and without his asthma inhalers. He was not decontaminated of gas. This all transpired at around 2:30 pm.
“Several guards came into the unit and went to his cell and made jokes about his lying nude on the floor. He didn’t move.”
Woolverton was left like this, lying on the floor of his cell, unable to breathe, for almost 24 hours. In this condition, he died. Rashid:
“At 1:30 on October 23, 2013, with his having still not moved – several nurses along with a lieutenant William Williamson and others rushed into Woolverton’s cell to find him dead on the floor in the same spot. They tried CPR to no avail. As they picked his body up and placed it onto a gurney his lower extremities clearly appeared stiff and unbending – rigor mortis having apparently set in. He was obviously several hours dead despite guards supposedly making routing rounds in the unit.”
The case of Christopher Woolverton is not unique. Gas is frequently used against prisoners in the Clements Unit, and throughout the entire Texas prison system cell extractions routinely provide an excuse for violent abuse. Woolverton’s is not the first such case that, combined with medical neglect, has led to a fatal outcome.
Take the case of Larry Louis Cox: in 2007, Cox died from injuries sustained after a confrontation with guards during a cell extraction at the Estelle Unit. Although his hands were cuffed behind his back at the time, he was thrown to the ground, his head hitting his metal bunk and fracturing his spine. Due to the severity of this injury he was unable to stand to his feet – as a result, prison medical staff reported him as “refusing” treatment. On January 26 – after lying on the ground in agony for two days – Cox was finally transferred to an outside hospital, where he died ten days later. A medical examiner would find that Cox’s death constituted homicide by “medical neglect complicating blunt force trauma,” and yet despite recommendations to the contrary from the Office of the Inspector General, no charges were laid.1
The impunity with which guards and medical staff were treated in Cox’s case simply guaranteed that such a tragedy would happen again. As it now has, to Christopher Woolverton.
Rashid explains that,
“In every prison/prison system I’ve been, there is a strict rule against using OC gas on prisoners with asthma and similar respiratory conditions, because it is known to be a fatal mix. Not only did they gas a known asthmatic, but they put a mask on his nose and mouth to ensure he breathed nothing but the gas fumes that saturated his face. His head was so wet from gas that his hair was wet and plastered to his forehead and scalp. He was then left without his asthma pumps, naked in a bare cell on the floor where he died, without decontamination.”
The horrific nature of such abuse notwithstanding, unless there is outside mobilization around this case, it is unlikely that anything will be done to prevent future similar deaths. Already, it is clear that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) is not worried with even having to go through the motions of pretending to investigate why Woolverton ended up dead. Rashid explains that despite the fact that many prisoners in the pod are willing to testify as to what happened, “None of us many witnesses to Woolverton’s death have been questioned or interviewed about this blatant medical murder/wrongful death.”
Rashid, who has himself been subjected to violence numerous times since his arrival in Texas earlier this year, ends by noting that, “If this situation isn’t enough to energize folks to protest the foul TDCJ conditions, I don’t expect anything will.”
  1. Roma Khanna, “Injured Inmate Spent Two Days on Cell Floor,” Houston Chronicle Jan. 23, 2008. []

Prison black market a steal: Correctional officers get drawn into contraband smuggling

From: Denver Post
Posted: 12/18/2011
By John Ingold
Matthew Amos has wide, boxcar shoulders and steam-engine arms. On Friday he stood before a federal judge in Denver pleading for his life.

If he went to prison, Amos told the judge, he would have to pay fellow inmates for protection. Or he would be “whored out.” Or worse.

It’s what happens to former prison guards who end up behind bars.

“There’s no way I would be able to stay out on that yard without providing some kind of service,” Amos said, voice unsteady. “To be asked to go into that system will be asking me to be something I don’t want to be.”

This is where $17,200 in easy money landed him.

Amos’ conviction for smuggling tobacco into a federal prison in Florence provides a revealing glimpse into the jailhouse black market — where a single bag of tobacco can go for $1,000 and the key players in funneling contraband to inmates are often the very people hired to watch over them.

Between 2001 and 2010, the annual number of federal correctional officers arrested nearly doubled, according to a Justice Department report released in September. During that period, 272 officers were arrested, with many of those cases involving contraband-smuggling.

Tobacco, which was banned in nearly all federal prisons in 2004, has fueled a lucrative, illicit prison economy that proves irresistible to some prison workers. But employees have also been involved in smuggling cellphones, drugs and other items into inmates.

“Some officers can make more than they’re making from their actual paycheck just by smuggling in tobacco,” said Robert Worley, a professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University — Central Texas, who has studied inappropriate guard-inmate relationships.

Read more: Prison black market a steal: Correctional officers get drawn into contraband smuggling – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19571608#ixzz1gsok059o

Read The Denver Post’s Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse

Mumia’s column about the raping officers in PA

RAPE BLOCKS
(col. writ. 9/29/11 © ‘11 Mumla Abu-Jamal)
Listen to this here on PrisonRadio.

Several months ago. I reported on the firing of a trio of high-ranking prison officials in connection with a series of sexual assaults in a Southwestern Pennsylvania prison.

Few news agencies took up the story. especially national ones. This was astounding. given the nature of the charges: prison guards both raping men and forcing others to assault them, on their very whim. Prison administrators turning a collective blind eye.

Is this not news?

Since that initial report, one prison guard (who spent months on suspension), Harry Nicciletti, has been arrested and faces over 9O-90!–charges stemming from the events.

According to the local DA, 11 other guards will soon be arrested on related charges.

When news first broke of the scandal, it forced some prison observers to recall ex-President George W. Bush, who, after the rise of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. pointed to Saddam Hussein’s usage of the prison, and particularly made note of his “rape rooms.”

Well–once again, Americans have gone one better–from rape rooms to rape blocks!

In the prison known as State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh, those convicted of sex crimes were targeted for beatings, rapes–or both. Sometimes by prisoners, sometimes by guards- -sometimes by both.

Boy–talk about ‘corrections!’

Some men filed institutional grievances (or prison internal complaints) which were invariably dismissed or simply ignored. Other tried to file time-consuming actions in court, where most fell into black holes.

It is worthy to note that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the notorious and vicious slaughter at Attica–a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Attica was supposed to be the bellwether of change to American corrections. But, if anything, it shows the limits of liberal reforms, which can be washed away in another season.

Limits were promised by liberal politicians. Years later, neo-liberals would push more restrictive laws that shuttered courtrooms from prisoners, and made civil suits an obstacle course.

They joined with conservatives to build the prison-industrial-complex into the monster that it is today (boy–talk about bipartisanship!).

In many ways, they made the scandals which we see today–and the rape blocks–possible.

©’11maJ

Guard charged with abusing 20 inmates at SCI Pittsburgh

From: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Paula Ward
Sept 27, 2011

A corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh was arrested this morning on charges that he assaulted — both sexually and physically — more than 20 inmates at the prison.

Harry Nicoletti, 60, of Coraopolis, is charged with 92 counts of institutional sexual assault, official oppression, terroristic threats and simple assault.

The investigation has been ongoing for several months by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. More arrests are expected, according to the DA’s office.

The charges were filed based on testimony of inmates and prison staff before the county investigating grand jury.

On Thursday, a federal lawsuit was filed against eight corrections officers and the DOC, alleging a “common plan and conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse and mentally abuse inmates who were homosexual,” along with those who were transgender or convicted of sex crimes.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11270/1177957-100.stm#ixzz1ZBVPbxeb

Seven prison guards arrested on charges of beating inmate

By Rhonda Cook
February 21, 2011

Seven Georgia prison guards were arrested Monday on charges of beating an inmate, inflicting injuries so severe that the prisoner was in the hospital for “an extended period of time,” according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead said the seven — Christopher Hall, Ronald Lach, Derrick, Wimbush, Willie Redden, Darren Douglass Griffin, Kerry Bolden and Delton Rushin — were arrested Monday morning when they reported to work at Macon State Prison. The facility is located in Oglethorpe, about 50 miles southwest of Macon.

All are charged with aggravated battery and violating their oaths of office.

At the request of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate allegations of incidents at Macon State Prison and Smith State Prisons on January 5, 2011.

“I appreciate the GBI’s swift response in investigating these allegations and assisting with the Department’s non-negotiable mission of protecting the public,” Owens said. “We have an obligation to protect the public and that includes staff and inmates.”

The GBI investigation began amid reports that guards attacked inmates at two state institutions – Macon State Prison and Smith State Prison near Savannah. The alleged assaults came at the end of a six-day protest and work stoppage at nearly a dozen facilities.

According to a newly formed advocacy group — the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights — inmates Terrance Dean and Miguel Jackson were “brutally beaten by guards” because they joined the protest. It was not clear which inmate was hospitalized but Dean is at the Augusta State Medical Prison, according to the Department of Corrections website.

Both men are serving 20-year sentences. Dean, born in 1981, was convicted in Bibb County for armed robberies in 2003 and 2004. Jackson, born in 1975, is at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson for several convictions, including armed robbery and aggravated assault.

Bankhead said  the  investigation was continuing.

“It’s not closed. We’re still investigating,” Bankhead said.

He did not know if more arrests were expected.

Inmates at 11 prisons began refusing to report to work details in early December. Four prisons responded with lock downs, which meant inmates could not make calls from the phones in the cell blocks, nor could they receive mail.

Please read the rest here.


–Staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this report.

Mistrial declared in ‘Nevada 9’ case

From: LVRJ
Posted by John L. Smith
Wednesday, Apr. 07, 2010 at 12:36 PM

A mistrial in U.S. District Court has been declared in the civil rights case in which former state corrections officers accuse Nevada prison officials of harassment and creating a hostile workplace.

Federal Judge Philip Pro on Wednesday sent both sides back to work and scolded them for attempting to introduce exhibits into evidence at the last moment. Pro told them to prepare to return to his court fully prepared for trial in a few weeks. The judge reminded both parties in the clearest terms that “trial by ambush” is frowned upon by the court.

A hearing in the matter is set for 9 a.m. May 5.

The plaintiffs allege prison officials began a campaign of harassment after the employees promoted their union ideals on the job.

Read more here: LVRJ

http://www.lvrj.com/blogs/smith/Mistrial_declared_in_Nevada_9_case.html