Court Must Intervene to End Torture of Solitary Confinement, Attorneys Argue

A court hearing took place on March 14th in Oakland on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners. 
Here is the press release by the Center for Constitutional Rights:

press@ccrjustice.org

March 14, 2013, Oakland – Today, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal judge to reject California’s attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons.  The case was filed on behalf of prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement and who staged two widely publicized hunger strikes in 2011.  It alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review of SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process.  CCR lawyers argued today that nominal, temporary reforms by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which the defendants cited as grounds for dismissing the case, have had little to no effect on the conditions challenged in the lawsuit and, thus, the case must proceed.

“The CDCR’s reforms are nothing more than window dressing.  They are riddled with the same constitutional problems challenged in this lawsuit, they have had no effect on any of the plaintiffs and, in any event, they are set to expire in two years,” said Center for Constitutional Rights President Jules Lobel, who argued today.  “The most important similarity, however, is that this pilot program is the third time the CDCR has promised meaningful reforms and failed to deliver.  At this point it is clear that a court must intervene.”
SHU prisoners spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell.  They are denied telephone calls, any physical contact with visitors, and vocational, recreational and educational programming.  As of 2011, more than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years; more than 200 have been there for over 15 years; and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years.  Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage and is analyzed as torture under international law.  The pilot program implemented by the CDCR still allows for prisoners to be confined in extreme isolation for decades.
Said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Luis Esquivel, “I have joined this lawsuit as a named plaintiff because I am interested in the welfare and human dignity of all people in the SHU, not just my own situation. All SHU prisoners are in this struggle together. We all want to be treated like human beings, but are not.”
Additionally, CCR attorneys argued today that the pilot program does not ameliorate the due process violations alleged in the complaint, as it still does not provide any meaningful review of prisoners’ SHU placement, rendering their isolation effectively permanent.  Prisoners can still be placed and held in the SHU absent any gang activity, violent conduct, or serious rule infraction; they may still be labeled gang “affiliates” and confined in isolation for activities such as reading about Black history, creating or possessing cultural artwork, or writing in Swahili; and they still must wait years between each opportunity for review.  Moreover, even since the pilot program was implemented, some of the plaintiffs have been denied release from the SHU explicitly under the old policy.
Said attorney Charles Carbone, “The pilot program is already in a tail spin. The prisoners have rejected it and it does nothing to stop long term isolation or torture. The only real fix here is to end indefinite solitary confinement in California.”
SHU assignments disproportionately affect Latino prisoners.  The percentage of Latinos in the Pelican Bay SHU was 85% in 2011, far higher than their representation in the general prison population, which was 41%. 
“I’ve been in solitary confinement for 16 years,” said plaintiff and Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Gabriel Reyes.  “I have learned here to hope for the best, expect the worst. I hope common sense and justice rule the day, so my family and loved ones can touch and hug each other and be a family again someday. My pillow keeps getting smaller and smaller from squeezing it so much.”
                                                        
On March 12, 2013, CCR submitted written testimony on solitary confinement in the United States to an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) thematic hearing on the use of solitary in the Americas.  The testimony is available here.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone are co-counsel on the case.
The case is Ruiz v. Brown, and it amends an earlier pro se lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay SHU prisoners Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell.  The case is before Judge Claudia Wilken in The United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Write a letter:

Synopsis

Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) prisoners have organized to combat cruel conditions of confinement, and have launched two hunger strikes to raise attention to their demands. (Learn more about this here)

Tell the California Governor Jerry Brown to honor the demands on the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU.
Description

In mid October 2012, members of the Pelican Bay hunger strike movement issued an open letter to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf, demanding substantive policy changes to their conditions of confinement, and citing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s failure to meaningfully commit to agreements made following the hunger strike. We ask you to take action in solidarity with these prisoners and please write to Governor Jerry Brown asking for his support and intervention on their behalf.
Take Action Now: Tell Governor Brown to intervene on behalf of Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners.

Sacramento hearing exposes CDCR’s hidden agenda

From: SF Bay View, March 5th 2013

by Denise Mewbourne
Almost two years later, the ripple effect of the 2011 hunger strike organized by the Short Corridor Collective in Pelican Bay prison continues to reverberate throughout California. In protest of solitary confinement torture in California’s Security Housing Units (SHUs), 12,000 people in prisons throughout the state participated in the hunger strike.

Assembly hearing on SHUs Daletha Hayden speaks at rally 022513 by Denise Mewbourne, web
At the rally outside the Capitol in Sacramento before the Assembly Public Safety Committee’s hearing on solitary confinement Feb. 25, Daletha Hayden, one of many prisoners’ loved ones who came, spoke passionately about her son in the Tehachapi SHU. He has not been able to see or touch his 15-year-old son since he was 3. “This is painful, and it tears families apart,” she said. “We have to fight so our loved ones can be treated as well as animals! My son needs medical treatment, and SHU officials refuse for him to have it.” – Photo: Denise Mewbourne

California currently holds 12,000 people in some form of isolation and around 4,000 in long-term solitary confinement. Around 100 people have spent 20 years or more in these hellholes, including many who are activists against prison abuses, political thinkers and jailhouse lawyers. People imprisoned in the SHU have described it as “soul-crushing,” “hellish,” a “constant challenge to keep yourself from being broken” and “a concrete tomb.”

As a result of the strike, the first legislative hearing in Sacramento occurred in August 2011, and at the grassroots level family members of those inside formed California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement (CFASC) to continue the work they had done during the strike. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) began strategizing how best to provide support well in advance of the hunger strike and continues its mission of amplifying the voices of people in the SHUs.

The strikers’ five core demands around abolishing group punishment, eliminating debriefing, ending long term solitary confinement, adequate and nutritious food, and constructive programming are still far from being met, although the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims to be implementing new policies on how people are sentenced to the SHU as well as how they can exit.

The hearing in Sacramento on Feb. 25, 2013, provided an opportunity for legislators in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee to hear representatives of CDCR present their new policies and weigh the truth of their claims. The occasion also featured a report back from the Office of the Inspector General about onsite inspections conducted at Pelican Bay, as well as a panel of advocates.

Chaired by Tom Ammiano, the committee had a chance to question the panelists, and at the end there was a scant 20 minutes for public input. Attendance of grassroots activists, including family members and formerly incarcerated people, was organized by California United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). The CURB coalition focuses on reducing the number of people in prison as well as the number of prisons throughout California.

The rally

Beginning with a rally held on the capitol steps, it was an emotional day for many, especially for family members of those suffering in the SHUs and prison survivors. The voices of those in the SHU were powerfully present, both in stories told by family members as well as statements they had sent for the occasion.

Assembly hearing on SHUs rally crowd 022513 by Urszula Wislanka
Prisoners’ families and advocates turned out for a rally followed by the Assembly hearing Feb. 25. The next opportunity to persuade state lawmakers to “stop the torture” is bound to draw far more of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners’ rights supporters from around California. – Photo: Urszula Wislanka

The opening of the letter Gilbert Pacheco read from his brother Daniel in Corcoran Prison summed up the solidarity of the day: “Allow me to expend my utmost respects along with my utmost gratitude and appreciation to all of you who are out here supporting this struggle and allowing mine along with thousands of other voices to be heard! Gracias/Thank you.”

Family members from all over California spoke about loved ones who were being unjustly held for 10, 15, even 25 years or more in solitary confinement, how they were entrapped into solitary and the conditions they face. Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None, an organization working for human rights of formerly incarcerated people, read a statement from Hugo Pinell, surviving and resisting solitary confinement for 42 years.

Daletha Hayden from Victorville, Calif., spoke about her son who has been in SHU in Tehachapi for four years. He has missed 12 years of his 15-year-old son’s life, having not been able to see or touch him since he was 3. She said, “This is painful, and it tears families apart. We have to fight so our loved ones can be treated as well as animals! My son needs medical treatment, and SHU officials refuse for him to have it.”
Karen Mejia’s fiancé has been in SHU for six years. She stated that to her knowledge, the CDCR never got input from anyone imprisoned in the SHUs regarding their new policies. She went on to say that “if they followed their own policies, the SHU would be half empty, and they don’t want that because of their salaries and budget.”

Recently, they subjected her fiancé to particularly humiliating treatment. After she visited him, they punished him for being “sexually disorderly” with her. She said, “They painted his cell yellow and forced him to wear a yellow suit, which they do for sex offenders. In general population, he could have been killed for that.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs rally Sundiata Tate, Marilyn Austin-Smith reading letter from Hugo Pinell, Bato Talamantez 022513 by Azadeh Zohrabi
Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None, flanked by Sundiata Tate and Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin 6, read from a letter by Hugo Pinell, recognized internationally as a political prisoner and the only member of the San Quentin 6 still in prison – now for over 42 years in solitary confinement, most of it in the dreaded Pelican Bay SHU. His name was raised repeatedly in public testimony at the hearing. – Photo: Azadeh Zohrabi

Looking at the hypocrisy in the U.S. around torture and human rights, Dolores Canales from CFASC angrily noted that in a recent case, “All it took was a federal order to stop chimpanzees from being held in solitary confinement. It has been determined it’s detrimental to their mental and physical health, because they are social animals and have a need to see, hear and touch each other. Aren’t humans also social beings?!”

Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6, said, “Sending your love to the people inside and helping them to stay connected and spiritually alive is the most important thing you can do with your life right now.”

The rally ended on a positive note with Luis “Bato” Talamantez, one of the San Quentin 6, saying, “Sending your love to the people inside and helping them to stay connected and spiritually alive is the most important thing you can do with your life right now.”

The crowd then filed into the hearing room, which filled up quickly, so around 40 people viewed it in an overflow area. For the next three hours, a few of the legislators, the human rights-focused panelists and the public in attendance did their best to sort through the obfuscations, omissions, misrepresentations and outright lies told by the CDCR and colleagues.

The lies from CDCR

One mistaken idea the hearing quickly cleared up was that any real oversight might come from the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (CROB) in the Office of the Inspector General.

Speaking from CROB was Renee Hansen, who became executive director of the board in 2011, after 20 years of working for CDCR. Perhaps that explains the board’s less than thorough attempt at a real investigation of conditions in the SHUs and the glowing report she gave. When asked by Ammiano if they had conducted any surprise visits, she replied they had not.

Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on SHUs 022513 by Sheila Pinkel, web
Every seat was filled for the California Assembly Public Safety Committee’s historic hearing on SHUs Feb. 25, and dozens more watched on TV in an overflow area. Besides the legislators in the hearing room, many more watched in their offices and said they were aghast at what they heard. – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

One of the myths the CDCR uses to justify SHUs is that they house the “worst of the worst,” and this hearing was no exception. Michael Stainer, CDCR deputy director of facility operations, testified: “The offenders in the SHU are 3 percent of the entire population. They have an inability to be integrated because of violence, and are affiliates of dangerous prison gangs. It’s necessary to isolate them to protect the other 97 percent.”

But Canales said: “My son is in there, and he has certificates in paralegal studies and civil litigation. At Corcoran he was Men’s Advisory Council representative, when one person from each ethnic group gets voted in by their peers, and others go to them for help with prison issues.” And it’s not just her son who doesn’t fit the “ultra-violent” profile. “A lot of the guys in there have all kinds of education and are helping others with legal work. Many of them have been using their time to educate themselves.”

Hansen testified they found no evidence of retaliation for the hunger strike. Yet Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on the panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger strike can get you in the SHU.”

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell asked, “How can participation in an act of peaceful civil disobedience like a hunger strike be construed as gang activity?” Ominously, Kelly Harrington, associate director of high security transitional programming (STP) for CDCR, said, “Hunger strikes can be viewed as violating institutional security.”

Marilyn McMahon with California Prison Focus reports letters from people in SHUs about food quality going down and portion sizes shrinking, especially after the administration heard of the potential resumption this summer of the hunger strike. “I suspect,” she said, “they may be trying to get them very hungry before the strike, so they will have less desire to do it.”

Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing on SHUs panel, legislators 022513 by Sheila Pinkel, web
Assembly Public Safety Committee members Nancy Skinner, Holly Mitchell and Reggie Jones-Sawyer listen to Charles Carbone, Laura Magnani and Irene Huerta (Marie Levin, also on the panel, is out of view) on the prisoners’ advocates panel. Assemblywoman Mitchell’s understanding of the prisoners’ situation and tough questions for CDCR were a highlight of the hearing. – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

In another bold mockery, CDCR claimed their new policies include substantial changes in the process of “gang validations,” the categorizing of people as “gang members or associates,” resulting in SHU placement for indeterminate sentences. In the past, the validation process has been based on points given for tattoos, possession of books or articles the CDCR deems gang-related, having your name on a roster, and/or the confidential evidence of a “debriefer,” another desperate soul who has identified you as a gang member to get out of the SHU himself. Three points is enough to send you to the SHU. According to many reports from SHUs around the state, it often happens that people get sent to there for things that are purely associational and in complete lack of any actual criminal behavior.

In point of fact, items given points toward validated gang status are often related to cultural identity and/or political beliefs. Some examples are books by George Jackson or Malcolm X, Black Panther Party books or articles, materials about Black August commemorations, the Mexican flag, the eagle of the United Farm Workers, articles on Black liberation, political cartoons critical of the prisons, Kwanzaa cards and Puerto Rican flags, just to name a few.

The CDCR gave a list of their own officials when asked who was doing the gang classifications, and Ammiano noted they were all internal to CDCR, with no independent verification. Family members at the rally spoke of many unfair instances of gang validation points given to their family members. Irene Huerta’s husband was validated for a “gang memo” that was never found!

Carbone confirmed in his testimony that there was no real change in the source items given points, that still only one of your point items even needs to be recent and the other two can be 20 years old, and that “the new program actually expands rather than restricts who can be validated, by the addition of two categories. Initially we just had gang ‘members’ and ‘associates,’ but now we also have ‘suspects’ and ‘to be monitored.’” He went on to say “only the CDCR could call expansion reform.”

Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights lawyer who testified on the panel, said, “Make no mistake about it: Participating in a hunger strike can get you in the SHU.”

As Pacheco says from Corcoran Prison: “This validation process is not about evidence gathering that contains facts. It’s hearsay, corruption and punishment to the point of execution. It’s close to impossible to beat these false accusations on appeal. They know how to block every avenue. In other words, there is no pretense that rights are respected. Shackled and chained we remain.”

The centerpiece of the CDCRs deceptive “reform” is the “Step Down Program,” in theory a phased program for people to get out of the SHU. The program would take four years to complete, although they said it could potentially be done in three. It involves journaling, self-reflection and, in years three and four, small group therapies.

In a statement issued for the event by the NARN (New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation) Collective Think Tank or NCTT at Corcoran SHU, the writers roundly condemned the program, saying that CDCR “has, in true Orwellian fashion, introduced a mandatory behavior modification and brainwashing process in the proposed step down program.”

Abdul Shakur, who is at Pelican Bay and has been in solitary confinement for 30 years, calls it the “equivalent to scripting the demise of our humanity” in his article “Sensory Deprivation: An Unnatural Death.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs Marie Levin, Irene Huerta 022513 by Becky Padi-Garcia, web
The passionate testimony of Marie Levin and Irene Huerta will help bring an end to the torturous entombment of their loved ones in the Pelican Bay SHU. – Photo: Becky Padi-Garcia

At the hearing, Laura Magnani from the Friends Service Committee strongly agreed. Magnani pointed out that only in the third and fourth year does very limited social interaction start to happen, that having contact with one’s family continuing to be seen as a privilege instead of a right is fundamentally wrong and that the curricula itself is “blame and shame” based, an approach proven to be damaging. To add insult to injury, she said that what you write in the notebooks can be used against you.

Marie Levin with the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition spoke about her brother Sitawa N. Jamaa at Pelican Bay, a New Afrikan Short Corridor Collective representative and a political thinker. He told her his concerns about the step down program: “The workbooks are demeaning and inappropriate. No one with a gang label will be reviewed for two years of the program, and no phone calls for two more years is far too long.” He’s concerned about CDCR evaluative power over journals, fearing they won’t allow progression if they don’t like the answers, or that they will accuse people of insincerity.

Sundiata Tate, one of the San Quentin 6 and a member of All of Us or None, said: “In terms of CDC, it seems like they’re trying to put a cover on what they’re actually doing. If you take someone who’s been in the SHU for years or even decades and say they have to go into a step down program that will take four years, that’s really just adding cruelty to cruelty. It’s actually more torture.”

In an attempt to deflect blame from the destructiveness of their own policies, Kelly Harrington, associate director for high security transitional programming, admitted that some people did not want to participate in the step down program. When asked why, he said, “We have intelligence that people are being instructed not to participate in the program by leaders.”

Canales noted that CDCR is trying to cast blame on the leaders, when in reality the program itself forces people to sign a contract agreeing to become an informant.

Assembly hearing on SHUs overflow 'room' in hallway 022513 by Dolores Canales
About 40 people who couldn’t be seated in the hearing room watched in the hallway, the closest thing the capitol could come to an “overflow” room. The activists agreed that prisoners’ families should have first priority for the hearing room. – Photo: Dolores Canales

The contract is arguably the most insidious part of the step down program. In order to complete the program, people would be forced to sign it in Step 5. It includes the stipulation that the signer become an informant on gang – or, in the new language, “security threat group” (STG) – activities, making it in effect no different at all from debriefing and putting the informant in danger of retaliation.

In the CDCR’s defense, there’s one lie they didn’t tell – that they care about people in the SHUs being able to have a supportive relationship with their family members. It’s very clear they don’t. One of the more frightening elements in this expansion disguised as reform for families with loved ones in the SHU is that the new STG classification is no longer for just inside the prisons.

Family members are wondering if they will at some point be “validated” as gang members on the streets. If that happened, they could be barred from visiting or writing to their loved ones in the SHU, even more completely isolating people in solitary confinement and cutting them off from an important source of support in case of hunger strike.

Of watching the CDCR representatives speak at the hearing, Manuel La Fontaine of All of Us or None said it was “so infuriating and very hard to watch. Honestly, it was re-traumatizing for me. Although comparisons can be dangerous, I began to imagine the feelings of a survivor of the holocaust watching the Nazi regime justify their actions.”

Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much showed who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are calling for peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the guys (at CDCR) have complete disregard for human suffering.”

Jerry Elster, also of All of Us or None, said: “They pretty much showed who the worst of the worst really are. The guys inside are calling for peace and an end to hostilities between races, and the guys (at CDCR) have complete disregard for human suffering.”

The most powerful moment of the public comment portion of the hearing came when Cynthia Machado spoke of her late brother Alex. Formerly a bright and articulate man who helped others with legal work, he was driven to suicide after years of paranoia, degrading conditions and mental deterioration. She said: “We received letters from him indicating he was afraid. He reported seeing demons. Although they knew he was allergic to peanuts, they gave him peanut butter to eat.

“He wrote the family a suicide letter in February 2011 and attempted it in June. On Oct. 24, after screaming for 24 hours, he was found hanging in his cell.” Looking at the legislators, she demanded to know, “Where is the rehabilitation in that? Where is it?”

The missing framework of torture

Sundiata Tate said after the hearing that “some of the assembly members asked good questions and the CDC tried to say they were changing. But they aren’t even addressing the question of torture! That really stood out for me. They aren’t recognizing it as such. The only way they will is if their hands are forced, by the courts or the legislature or the people. I really think the CDC should be forced to release all those people and pay them damages.”

Assembly hearing on SHUs 'Stop the Torture' poster 022513 by Bami Iroko
“Stop the torture” was the topic around the Capitol during the hearing on Feb. 25 and Lobby Day on Feb. 26. – Photo: Bami Iroko

People imprisoned in the SHUs and those who advocate for them have a deep understanding that solitary confinement is a horrific form of torture with long-lasting and highly detrimental emotional and physical effects and as such needs to be abolished. Their family members also have a bone-deep knowledge of this, feeling keenly as they do the pain that comes when loved ones are suffering unjustly.

In addition, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be extremely limited if used at all. The U.N. Special Rapporteur has state 15 days should be the maximum.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International, among others, all recognize solitary confinement as a form of torture whose use should be extremely limited if used at all.

So the question many are left with after the hearing in Sacramento is what will it take for the California legislature to catch up with this knowledge? And, more than that, what will it take for them to act to create some genuine accountability for the CDCR officials who are perpetuating the torture? And to act eventually to abolish the practice?

Lobby Day

The following day around 40 people remained to lobby the legislators in teams, speaking to them about solitary confinement as well as upcoming legislation relevant to organizations within CURB. All of Us or None in particular was supporting AB 218, another version of the Ban the Box bill that would take the “Have you ever committed a felony” checkbox off initial job applications, and AB 149, mandating when people are released from incarceration they be informed of their voting rights and given a voter registration card. Senate bills supported included SB 61, limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, and SB 283, restoring CalWORKS and CalFresh to those released after serving time for drug-related felonies.

Lobby Day after Assembly SHU hearing 022613 by Emily Harris, web
Activists from all over California who attended the Feb. 25 hearing on solitary confinement joined with women from the Center for Young Women’s Development who came for lobbying day. Back row: Dolores Canales, Margaret Laffan, Milton Rudge, Marilyn Austin-Smith, Denise Mewbourne, Sundiata Tate, Andrés Abarra, Jerry Elster, Acacia Ainsworth, Elizabeth Evans, Daletha Hayden. Middle row: Sheila Pinkel, Penny Schoner, Margaret Ramos, Kenya Taylor, Paula Robles, Nicole Powell, Keithia Martin, Brittany Jones. Front: Emily Harris, Elvira Zayas, Marlene Sanchez, Diana Zuniga

One of the highlights of the day was the attendance of a group of young women from the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco, an organization working “to empower young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or underground street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities.” They got their first experience that day of talking to legislators.

At the end of the day many of the teams reported lots of talk around the capital about the hearing the previous day and that many of the legislative aides they had spoken to said they honestly had not known what kind of abuses were happening with solitary confinement in California.

Where do we go from here?

Ammiano has promised there will be more hearings, and Mitchell added she would like to see the next one delve more deeply into conditions inside the SHU. Attorney Carol Strickman from Legal Services for Prisoners with Children informed those at the rally that the class action lawsuit on behalf of those in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years at Pelican Bay – over 500 people – will have a hearing on March 14, 2 p.m., at the Federal Building in Oakland, 1301 Clay St. A rally will begin at 12, and the hearing is at 1:30.

“We need to let the world know that California is torturing their prisoners.”

CDCR will be arguing for a dismissal, and trial dates will be set. She encouraged people to attend if possible, to let them know the interest level of the public

Lobby Day after Assembly SHU hearing 022613 by Sheila Pinkel, web
The day after the hearing was Lobby Day. Dolores Canales of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement reports: “CFASC had a very productive day lobbying with CURB and bringing up the hearing and the issue of solitary confinement. It was surprising to hear how many legislators were in their offices watching the hearing. Sen. Ron Calderon said they have ‘never seen a hearing like the one yesterday’ and ‘it was the talk of the offices; everyone was talking about it.’ ‘A lot of light was shed.’” – Photo: Sheila Pinkel

Many are calling for an independent review of the gang validation process, used as a rationale to place people in solitary confinement as well as to hold them there indefinitely. La Fontaine said: “This review needs to be placed in more objective hands. Dr. James Austin, for example, is a renowned corrections expert with a more impartial analysis – he would be a better consultant on this.”

To underscore the impossibility of an independent review internal to the CDCR, he said: “The prisons and the military have a lot of shared best practices. There are lots of CDCR goon squads, including the Institutional Gang Investigation guys, who are truly scary people. They’ve been hired into the system because they have military experience working against international so-called terrorists.”

Regarding further organizing, Marilyn Austin-Smith of All of Us or None said: “I do wish more people were there. It would be great to fill the whole lawn and take over the capitol for one day, so we can make them understand how many people care about this. We need to do community outreach to those most affected and encourage people to come out and support their loved ones. And we need to let the world know that California is torturing their prisoners.”

“What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone, all ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in there have agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best to come together out here? As long as we can stay together, we can have victory. It’s especially important for Black and Brown communities to work together more closely around this and realize we do play a part in our own oppression.”

And if the prisoners’ five core demands remain unmet, people still suffering and continuing their resistance inside the SHUs will begin another hunger strike this coming July.

As the NCTT Corcoran SHU writers say in their statement for the event: “Will you allow them to erect this new bureaucracy and extort an ever greater portion of your tax dollars to enrich themselves and expand their influence in your daily lives? If freedom, justice, equality and human rights are truly values you hold dear, let it be reflected in the actions of your legislators. Each of your voices, when raised together, can tumble walls of stone. Remember Jericho. Thank you for your time, and our prayers and solidarity are with you all.”

“What was most inspiring to me was the unity, the way everyone, all ethnicities, came together,” said Canales. “If the men in there have agreed to end hostilities, how can we not do our best to come together out here? As long as we can stay together, we can have victory. It’s especially important for Black and Brown communities to work together more closely around this and realize we do play a part in our own oppression.”

Denise Mewbourne is a proud member of All of Us or None and Occupy 4 Prisoners (O4P) and is currently launching a Human Rights Pen Pal group for O4P, based on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee’s model. She feels blessed to be part of a passionately dedicated Bay Area community working for racial justice and an end to mass incarceration with all its myriad evils. Denise can be reached at deniselynn777@gmail.com.

Survey questionnaire from the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement First Amendment Campaign

From: SF Bay View, Nov 6th 2012

This  Survey questionnaire is being presented to the community for the purpose of making a qualitative assessment of the CDCR’s mail policies and practices in relation to prisoners and our families’ First Amendment constitutional right to send and receive mail and our 14th Amendment constitutional right to be provided with adequate notice of the reasons for our mail being stopped or disallowed, so that we can have
the opportunity to be meaningfully heard as to why our mail is being stopped or disallowed.

The data gathered from this survey will be utilized as material evidence in an ongoing case aimed at obtaining a permanent injunction in court. The injunction would enjoin CDCR’s Prison Intelligence Unit (PIU) and Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) from arbitrarily accusing prisoners, our families and law abiding citizens of the free community of promoting gang activity via the mail that prisoners are sending to and receiving from our families and members of the free community. A permanent injunction will only be granted upon a showing of irreparable harm and when the constitutional violation is proven to be of a systemic nature.

Therefore, it would be greatly appreciated if the community could take a few minutes to answer the following questions:

Questions for prisoners:

  1. What prison are you in?
  2. How long have you been in this prison?
  3. Have you ever had your incoming mail or outgoing mail stopped or disallowed on the grounds of allegedly promoting gang activity? If yes, did you receive a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice”?
  4. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, did the reasons listed on the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” provide you with a specific explanation as to how you were allegedly promoting gang activity? Or was the explanation vague?
  5. Since the year 2006, how many “Stopped Mail Notices” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notices” have you received as a prisoner?
  6. If you have ever had your mail stopped or disallowed, were you ever issued a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” that stated: “You were promoting BGF related activity” because your mail made a reference to any of the following:
    • George Jackson
    • Black August
    • New Afrikan
    • New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN)
    • Black Panther Party
    • George Jackson University
    • New Afrikan Institute of Criminology 101
    • New Afrikan Collective Think Tank
  7. Have the allegations of gang activity in the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” ever been used against you in your Inactive Gang Status Reviews? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.
  8. Have the allegations of gang activity in the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” ever been used against you to deny you parole at your parole suitability hearing? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.
  9. Have you ever been placed on mail restrictions in relation to receiving a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” for alleged gang activity where you were told that you could not write to a specific member of the free community? If yes, how long were the mail restrictions?
  10. Have you ever received a CDC 115 Rules Violation Report for allegedly promoting gang activity via your outgoing or incoming mail? If yes, please list the months and years that this happened.

Questions for family and community members:

  1. Do you have a friend or family member in prison? If yes, what prison are they in?
  2. Do you regularly write to your friend or family member in prison? If yes, how often?
  3. Have you ever received a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” stating that your mail is being stopped or disallowed because you are promoting gang activity? If yes, please list the months and years.
  4. When the prison sent you the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice,” did the notice inform you that you have a right to file a 602 appeal and/or a citizen’s complaint pursuant to CCR Title 15 Sections 3291(b), 3391(d), and Penal Code Section 832.5?
  5. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, did the reasons listed on the “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” provide you with a specific explanation as to how you were allegedly promoting gang activity? Or was the explanation vague?
  6. Since the year 2006, how many “Stopped Mail Notices” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notices” have you received as a family or community member?
  7. If you have had your mail stopped or disallowed, were you ever issued a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” that stated: “You were promoting BGF related activity” because your mail made a reference to any of the following:
    • George Jackson
    • Black August
    • New Afrikan
    • New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN)
    • Black Panther Party
    • George Jackson University
    • New Afrikan Institute of Criminology 101
    • New Afrikan Collective Think Tank
  8. Have you ever been placed on mail restrictions in relation to receiving a “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or a “Mail Disallowal Notice” for alleged gang activity where you were told that you could not write to a specific prisoner? If yes, how long were the mail restrictions?
  9. Were you ever subjected to any criminal prosecution as a result of CDCR’s Prison Intelligence Unit (PIU) or Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) accusing you of promoting gang activity per any “Stopped Mail Notice” and/or “Mail Disallowal Notice” that you were issued by the prison?

I would like to thank the community in light of everybody taking a minute to answer the questions within this survey questionnaire. This is a time sensitive request. At your earliest convenience, please mail all survey questionnaires to:

Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, c/o Attorney Carol Strickman,
Re: First Amendment Campaign,
1540 Market St., Suite 490,
San Francisco, CA 94102.
Members of the public can email responses to Azadeh@prisonerswithchildren.org.

All Power to the People!

Freedom, Justice and Human Rights Coordinator

No More Shackles: AB 2530 is SIGNED!

From: an email from Eveline Shen, Strong Families, confirming this:

Sept 28th 2012

Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB2530, which means that pregnant women can no longer be shackled in California’s jails and prisons. For more information about what this means and what’s ahead, please see this blog post by Karen Shain of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

This is an enormous victory–fought hard by many of our partners and allies.  We are so excited for that this step means, for women and families in California and beyond.

We are still waiting anxiously for the Governor to take action on other critical bills–especially AB889, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and AB2015, Calls for Kids.

We will write more next week about the important gains of this legislative session, but we wanted to share this great news with you right away.

Thanks so much for all you did to help make this a reality.  The thousands of emails that Governor Brown received let him know we were watching.

Thank you.

From Karen Shain (on the site of: Strong Families Movement):

By Karen Shain, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Finally! After three years and countless petitions, letters, phone calls, votes, revotes, and two vetoes, Governor Brown has signed AB 2530, a bill that bans the most egregious forms of shackling of pregnant women in California’s state prisons, juvenile detention facilities and county jails.

At last! We have an answer for the pregnant women who write to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) about having to wear chains around their bellies while going to court, about being shackled around their ankles while waiting to see a doctor, about standing in countless lines waiting to get on countless buses while handcuffed behind their backs: you are right. This is illegal. You should not be restrained in these ways if you are incarcerated in California.

I can’t wait to visit pregnant women at California Institution for Women (CIW) or one of our 58 county jails. We can rejoice together that this long, long battle has been won!

The coalition conference calls are going to change. No longer will we be talking about designing the next petition or support letter or legislative alert. No more legislative visits, searching for an author, co-author, supporter. No more tracking down potential opposition to make sure they are still neutral or (hopefully) in support of our bill.

This is clearly a time for celebration! And because the work took so long, there are so many of us who get to celebrate. The thousands of letter writers, hundreds of organizational supporters, dozens of organizational sponsors—we did it! Assembly Members Nancy Skinner, Toni Atkins, Holly Mitchell—you stepped up at the right time and we will always remember you.
And then, after all the celebrating, after all the thank you notes, after the tears of joy and slaps on our collective backs…then we have to get to work.

Because I have learned one really important lesson over the past decade that I have been doing legislative policy work—a good bill is only as good as its implementation. It took over five years for California’s counties to begin writing policies to conform to state law banning shackling of women during labor, delivery and recovery (see LSPC’s report, Stop Shackling). We must not allow county sheriffs, juvenile probation officers or state prison officials to wait five more years before shackling becomes only a memory in our state.

As of January 1, 2013, this is what the new law will be: NO PREGNANT WOMAN in California’s prisons, youth authority, county jails or juvenile detention facilities can be shackled around the belly, around the ankles or handcuffed behind the back DURING THEIR ENTIRE PREGNANCY.  And once a woman is in labor, delivery or recovery…OR IF A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL ORDERS IT…they cannot be restrained at all, provided that there is not a pressing security issue.

At our office, we are starting right now to find out what pregnant women who are jailed in California are facing. Come January, when the new law goes into effect, we will begin the work of implementation. And we need the help of every incarcerated pregnant woman in our state as well as every family member…you are the ones who know what is happening.  We ask everyone who is released from a woman’s prison or jail to let us know if you witness violations of the new law.

It took a lot of people to get this legislation passed. It will take at least as many to get it implemented. Let us not lose a minute.   It’s now in all our hands to STOP SHACKLING PREGNANT WOMEN!

Please email me at karen@prisonerswithchildren.org if you hear of or see any violations to the new law.

CALI prisoner rights’ activists under investigation.


PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE SOLIDARITY

This post below is ominous. It comes from CaliforniaWatch, founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Both of the agencies in question are pretty prominent and well established in the area of fighting for prisoner rights – they’re also serious antagonists of the system out there. They would be the ones to go after if the state wanted to intimidate everyone else into backing off the Pelican Bay prisoners – they’ve been a resource for other activists all across the country over the years.

So, defy the state of California – or whatever state you’re fighting prison systems in: Support the California prisoners on hunger strike demanding to be treated like human beings. Don’t just sign a petition: tune in and follow along, look for local solidarity actions, help local prisoners get their stories told – just take it one step further than you have before. What’s been happening at Pelican Bay is a whole lot bigger than California…so is this investigation.
By the way, the strike is now 12,000 prisoners big and growing…

– in Solidarity from Arizona Prison Watch

SUPPORT OUR COMRADES: Follow their sites!


—————-CaliforniaWatch—————

State prison officials investigate 2 advocates

Just days after thousands of California inmates renewed a hunger strike, two Bay Area attorneys closely involved in mediation efforts got a surprise: They were under investigation by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for allegations of misconduct and unspecified security threats.

The attorneys – Marilyn McMahon, executive director of California Prison Focus, and Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children – have been banned from state institutions until the investigation is resolved, according to temporary exclusion orders signed by Corrections Undersecretary Scott Kernan on Sept. 29.

The investigation will determine whether the attorneys “violated the laws and policies governing the safe operations of institutions within the CDCR,” the order states.

The document does not provide details about the allegations. It cites a section from California Code of Regulations that reads:

“Committing an act that jeopardizes the life of a person, violates the security of the facility, constitutes a misdemeanor or a felony, or is a reoccurrence of previous violations shall result in a one-year to lifetime exclusion depending on the severity of the offense in question.”

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton confirmed the department had banned “some specific attorneys” from one facility for alleged misconduct. She declined further comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The move is another indication that the corrections department intends to handle the current protest differently from an earlier hunger strike, which ended July 20 after officials agreed to some concessions, including a review of policies governing the state’s controversial Security Housing Units, where some inmates have spent decades housed alone in windowless cells.

Since then, strike leaders have accused corrections officials of failing to carry out their promises.

“CDCR has responded with more propaganda, lies and vague double-talk of promises of change in time,” reads a statement from the leaders posted on an advocacy website. The inmates vowed to continue the protest indefinitely, “until actual changes are implemented.”

But corrections officials say they’ve kept their commitments and claim the protests are the work of dangerous gang leaders.

“Unlike in the first instance where we certainly evaluated their concerns and thought there was some merit to it, this instance appears to be more manipulative, and it certainly has the possibility of being a real disruption to the Department of Corrections and the security of its staff and inmates,” Kernan said.

A memo signed by Kernan and distributed to inmates Sept. 29 warned the department was treating the new hunger strike as a “mass disturbance” and said any prisoner who joined the protest would be subject to disciplinary action.

General-population inmates identified as strike leaders will be locked in special segregation units normally used as punishment for major rules violations, according to the memo.

Strickman and McMahon have been involved in extensive discussions with corrections officials, including Kernan, and leaders of the strike, who are housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit.

Neither attorney was available for comment.

Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, condemned the sanctions against the attorneys and said he expected the department would place similar restrictions on other advocates in order to further isolate leaders of the hunger strike.

“They’re trying to move us out of the way,” he said.

Nearly 3,400 inmates at six prisons have refused state-issued meals for three consecutive days, according to the most recent data from the corrections department.