Red Onion Prisoners Unite in a Hunger Strike Protesting Abuse

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Red Onion Prisoners Unite in a Hunger Strike Protesting Abuse

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—MAY 21, 2012

Press Contacts: Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers

John Tuzcu /216.533.9925 / vasolidarity@gmail.com
Adwoa Masozi / 973.494.4266 / vasolidarity@gmail.com

What: Press Conference
When: 11 AM
Where: VA Department of Corrections, 6900 Atmore Dr. Richmond VA (at the DOC sign on the corner of Atmore and Wyck St.)

RICHMOND – On Tuesday May 22 as many as 45 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, comprising at least 2 segregation pods, will enter the first day of a hunger strike protesting deplorable conditions in the prison and ongoing abuses by prison staff. For the men participating in the strike this is their only recourse to get Red Onion warden Randy Mathena to officially recognize their grievances and make immediate changes to food, sanitation and basic living conditions at the prison.

Supporters from DC and Virginia along with prisoner family members will hold a press conference at 11 AM in front of the VA Department of Corrections, in Richmond at 6900 Atmore Dr., to urge Warden Mathena, the Virginia Department of Corrections under Harold Clarke, Governor Bob McDonell, state Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb and other state and congressional legislators to act on behalf of justice and human rights. ­­

A statement released by one of the hunger strike representatives said, “We’re tired of being treated like animals. There are only two classes at this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together. We are rival gang members but now are united as revolutionaries.”

Some of the prisoner’s demands include the right to have fully cooked meals, the right to clean cells, the right to be notified of the purpose and duration of their detention in segregation, and a call for the end to indefinite segregation. Red Onion has been repeatedly criticized since it opened in 1998. A 1999 Human Rights Watch report on Red Onion concluded that the “Virginia Department of Corrections has failed to embrace basic tenets of sound correctional practice and laws protecting inmates from abusive, degrading or cruel treatment.”

After exhausting legal and administrative channels, prisoners are holding this hunger strike to bring these abusive prison conditions to light. This action comes at a time when many are speaking out against the expanding prison system in the United States in an effort to uphold their human dignity and basic human rights.

Letters signed by residents in Congressional District 9 will be delivered to the Senators office later in the week and concerned citizens from across Virginia and the nation will be pressuring the Virginia DOC to meet the prisoner’s demands.

Ten Demands of ROSP Hunger Strikers

We (Prisoners at Red Onion State Prison) demand the right to an adequate standard of living while in the custody of the state!

1. We demand fully cooked food, and access to a better quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, we demand increased portions on our trays, which allows us to meet our basic nutritional needs as defined by VDOC regulations.

2. We demand that every prisoner at ROSP have unrestricted access to complaint and grievance forms and other paperwork we may request.

3. We demand better communication between prisoners and higher- ranking guards. Presently higher-ranking guards invariably take the lower-ranking guards’ side in disputes between guards and prisoners, forcing the prisoner to act out in order to be heard. We demand that higher- ranking guards take prisoner complaints and grievances into consideration without prejudice.

4. We demand an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation through the implementation of a fair and transparent process whereby prisoners can earn the right to be released from segregation. We demand that prison officials completely adhere to the security point system, insuring that prisoners are transferred to institutions that correspond with their particular security level.

5. We demand the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to quality materials that we may use to clean our own cells. Presently, we are forced to clean our entire cell, including the inside of our toilets, with a single sponge and our bare hands. This is unsanitary and promotes the spread of disease-carrying bacteria.

6. We demand the right to have 3rd party neutral observers visit and document the condition of the prisons to ensure an end to the corruption amongst prison officials and widespread human rights abuses of prisoners. Internal Affairs and Prison Administrator’s monitoring of prison conditions have not alleviated the dangerous circumstances we are living under while in custody of the state which include, but are not limited to: the threat of undue physical aggression by guards, sexual abuse and retaliatory measures, which violate prison policies and our human rights.

7. We demand to be informed of any and all changes to VDOC/IOP policies as soon as these changes are made.

8. We demand the right to adequate medical care. Our right to medical care is guaranteed under the eight amendment of the constitution, and thus the deliberate indifference of prison officials to our medical needs constitutes a violation of our constitutional rights. In particular, the toothpaste we are forced to purchase in the prison is a danger to our dental health and causes widespread gum disease and associated illnesses.

9. We demand our right as enumerated through VDOC policy, to a monthly haircut. Presently, we have been denied haircuts for nearly three months. We also demand to have our razors changed out on a weekly basis. The current practice of changing out the razors every three weeks leaves prisoners exposed to the risk of dangerous infections and injury.

10. We demand that there be no reprisals for any of the participants in the Hunger Strike. We are simply organizing in the interest of more humane living conditions.

When prison illness becomes a death sentence

From The Guardian, on Feb. 16th 2012, this gruelling story about a private prison from CCA in Colorado, Bent County CF. May people outside wake up to the fact that people in prisons are Human Beings! Stop the privatising of prisons. Health care for everyone, INCLUDING people in prisons.

Two in every five inmates in US prisons have a chronic medical condition. Terrell Griswold, due for release last year, was one.

On 28 October 2010, Lagalia Afola received a phone call from the Bent County Correctional Facility, a private prison operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), informing her that her 26-year-old son, Terrell Griswold, was dead. Terrell was serving a three-year sentence for burglary and was due to be released in early 2011. Sadly for him, and for his grieving family, he never made it home.

The autopsy report stated that Terrell died as a result of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease” and that he had a clinical history of hypertension, for which he refused to take medication. His mother found this conclusion hard to accept and, after months of persistent enquiry, was finally
provided with at least some of her son’s medical records. Upon reviewing the records, she discovered that her son had been suffering from a blockage in his prostate that prevented him from urinating properly, causing chronic kidney damage, and which, she believes, ultimately
contributed to his abrupt demise.

This blockage in Terrell’s prostate was discovered on 3 December 2009 by Dr David Oba, an attending physician at the CCA prison. The doctor noted at the time that inmate Griswold reported having had problems passing urine for the past two months:

“He has the urge to void but sometimes is unable to void at all, other times he has a very weak stream but is able to void.”

The doctor also noted that he had discussed with the patient that “he may have a chronic sub-acute prostatitis”, which he planned to treat with a 30-day cycle of ciprofloxacin (Cipro). If there was no improvement he wrote that “he may need an eval [sic] with cystoscope with urology.”

According to the records seen (pdf), Terrell was never treated by an urologist during his entire stay at the CCA facility, and it appears he did not receive the Cipro for almost six months. On 27 January 2010, Terrell had a follow-up visit with a nurse. The nurse’s report of the visit reads as follows:

“I/M (inmate) to medical to discuss non-compliance re: HCTZ & Lisinopril. (Both drugs were to treat hypertension and high blood pressure). Per I/M he has the meds in cell but states he forgets to take meds. I/M agrees to take meds as ordered.”

She goes on to write:

“I/M also reports he never received Cipro for his urinary problem.” She reviews his charts and confirms that the Cipro was never ordered. Following this visit, there are several “Refusal of Treatment Medical Release Forms” dated 5, 13 and 24 February, 10 and 15 March, which appear to have been completed on Inmate Griswold’s behalf but which he “refused to sign”.

There appears to be no record of any visits with the medical team regarding his urinary complaint for several months. His next visit with a nurse (other than to deal with an issue regarding a swollen knee), according to the records I reviewed (pdf), was on 16 August 2010. The nurse notes again that “I/M non-compliant re: medication regimen. Last pick up 5/14/10.” This note is somewhat at odds with Terrell’s monthly medication records, which list all the medications he is taking each month. In May, June and July, the listed medications include HCTZ, Lisinopril and Cipro. If what the nurse stated on 16 August 2010 was true, that Griswold had not picked up his medications since 14 May 2010, then why did the records list all these medications (including Cipro) for the intervening months?

Whatever the explanation, it is clear from what followed is that Terrell Griswold’s urinary complaint never went away.

Close to midnight on 22 October 2010, Terrell declared a medical self-emergency (pdf) and was taken from his cell to the prison clinic. He complained of “diarrhea, dizziness, tingling in his fingers and feet, has an odd smell in nose like bleach or ammonia, feels like his throat is closing up, has acid reflux when awake and pain in epigrastic area.” He did not see a doctor because the doctor was not there; but the doctor did prescribe Bactrim, an antibiotic used to treat infections, over the phone. The nurse noted on her report that inmate Griswold was instructed to take his meds as ordered, told to follow up in 24-48 hours if no better, and was sent back to his cell. She ticked the box that said “no acute distress”.

On 24 October 2010, Griswold got to see the doctor. But according to the records, the doctor performed no tests, did not take a blood pressure reading, and simply wrote the words “UTI” (urinary tract infection) in the assessment section. During this period, Terrell’s cellmate later reported that he was making frequent attempts to urinate.

Three days later, on 27 October 2010, Griswold began vomiting in his cell and was sent to the nurse at 7.30pm. The nurse informed her patient that his antibiotic was making him sick. She ordered him to return to his cell and wrote: “He did not show any outward signs of distress that would have warranted he needed emergency treatment.”

Eleven hours later, at 6.30am, Terrell Griswold was found slumped over his toilet bowl, lifeless. His condition finally warranted emergency treatment (pdf) and the full capacity of the CCA’s medical team kicked in; CPR was administered, the patient was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7.24am. It was noted on his death certificate that his bladder was full of urine.

When a prisoner is deprived of their liberty by the state, they cannot provide themselves with food, water or medical care. For this reason, the state has to assume the responsibility for meeting those basic needs. A private prison that is run for profit has the same obligation to meet these basic needs; otherwise, the prisoner would be deprived of life, a violation of their most basic constitutional rights.

I asked Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for the CCA, if he felt that Terrell Griswold had been provided with adequate medical care.
He would not comment on Griswold’s specific case, citing privacy reasons, but he sent a fact sheet (pdf), which, he said, “summarizes both the scope and commitment to quality inmate healthcare services that our company provide and to which our government partners hold us
accountable.”

The fact sheet claims, among other things, that every CCA facility is equipped with a fully-staffed, state-of-the-art medical clinic, which is available for inmate access 24/7; that all care-related decisions are made solely on a medical basis, entirely independent of impact on CCA profits. It also states that CCA facilities utilize an innovative computer program that automates medical records, pill call and pharmacy services, which reduces paperwork and wait times.

Lagalia Afola wrote to Dr Leon Kelly, the coroner who performed her son’s autopsy, detailing her objection to his initial conclusion that her son had died of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease”. When he reviewed the new information, the coroner issued a revised autopsy (pdf), listing obstructive uropathy as one of the causes of death. Dr Kelly told me that he believed the successive urinary episodes led to kidney failure, which “certainly contributed to [Terrell’s] sudden cardiac death”.

At this point, however, the cause of death is of less concern to Mrs Afola than the fact of it. “My son was sentenced to three years for burglary,” she said. “It was not supposed to be a death sentence.”

According to bureau of justice statistics (pdf), around 4,000 inmates died in prison and jails (both public and private) in 2009; and over half of those deaths were illness-related. A comprehensive nationwide survey on the health and healthcare of US prisoners carried out by Harvard Medical School researchers (pdf) found that over 40% of US inmates were suffering from a chronic medical condition, a far higher rate than other Americans of similar age. Of these sick inmates, over 20% in state prisons, 68% in jails and 13.9% in federal prisons had not seen a doctor or nurse since incarceration.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Andrew Wilper, told me they did not include private prisons in their study because, to the best of his knowledge,there was no data available. In his view, he added, “the private prisons like it that way.”

Interested parties can write to:

Sadhbh Walshe
PO box 1466
New York, NY 10150
Or send an email to: sadhbh@ymail.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/16/when-prison-illness-becomes-death-sentence

Nev. Board OKs $450K Settlement in Inmate Death

Nevada board OKs $450K settlement in lawsuit over ex-Coasters manager’s death in prison

Shelved prison project irks NV lawmakers


From: Las Vegas Sun

The Associated Press
Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 | 10:27 a.m.

Nevada lawmakers are frustrated that $500,000 was been spent to design a prison project that won’t be built.

The 2009 Legislature approved $7.8 million to convert space at the High Desert State Prison in Clark County into a medical unit. It was described as a high priority by Corrections Director Howard Skolnik.

But the Las Vegas Sun reports Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told a legislative subcommittee Thursday that given the state’s budget crisis, there will be no money to staff it.

He also says the inmate population has held steady, eliminating the need for the medical unit.

The subcommittee agreed to abandon the project than spend $7 million for construction.

ACLU Agrees To Settle Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Medical Care At Ely State Prison


ACLUNV

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Nevada late yesterday filed in federal court a proposed agreement between a class of over 1,000 prisoners at Ely State Prison and top state prison and governmental officials that would settle a 2008 lawsuit charging that a pervasive pattern of grossly inadequate medical care at the prison created a substantial risk of serious medical harm for every prisoner in the facility.

The agreement, if approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, would result in an independent medical expert being appointed to monitor the prison’s health care system and submit regular reports evaluating prison officials’ compliance with specified medical requirements in the agreement. As part of the agreement, prison officials have agreed to build a better system of ensuring that necessary medications are provided to prisoners in a timely manner, develop health care treatment plans for any prisoners suffering from a chronic illness requiring ongoing medical care and provide prisoners with access to qualified medical staff seven days a week for any routine or emergency medical ailments.

“Nevada officials deserve credit for being willing to address medical care at Ely proactively,” said Amy Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Rather than spend years and years in costly litigation, both parties decided to sit down to collaborate on a solution. The result is vastly improved medical conditions for the prisoners at Ely.”

Additionally, prison officials have agreed to institute daily rounds by a nurse to pick up any medical request forms – ensuring that all prisoners have a confidential means of requesting medical care – and provide access to a registered nurse or higher level practitioner within 48 hours of a prisoner requesting medical attention.
“The reforms that prison officials have agreed to will go a long way toward fixing a very broken system,” said Lee Rowland, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “We brought this lawsuit in response to widespread evidence of unconstitutional medical conditions for Ely prisoners, and we are pleased that working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Corrections has led to the resolution of some of the most pressing issues at Ely.”

The lawsuit contains three named plaintiffs, including 38-year-old David Riker, who alleged at the time the lawsuit was filed that despite his rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, he had never received prescribed medications and X-rays ordered by an outside physician and was told by Ely medical staff that treating chronic pain is against the policy of the prison.

Lawyers on the case include Fettig, Rowland, Maggie McLetchie of the ACLU of Nevada and Steve Hanlon of Holland & Knight, LLC.

Information about the ACLU’s efforts to improve medical conditions at the Ely State Prison, including a copy of today’s settlement agreement, is available online at: www.aclu.org/ely


The settlement can be opened here (PDF).

LA Times: Court settlement would upgrade Nevada prison’s medical care

The ACLU negotiates a deal that includes better staffing and monitoring of treatment that one doctor called ‘shocking and callous.’

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2010
Reporting from Las Vegas —

A Nevada prison’s medical care — once described as displaying a “shocking and callous disregard for human life” — would be upgraded and monitored under a proposed court settlement filed Thursday.

An independent monitor would ensure that the remote maximum-security prison, which houses Nevada’s death row inmates, was dispensing medication and treatment in a timely manner, creating treatment plans for chronically ill inmates and had qualified medical staff available at all times, according to the proposal.

The monitor would inspect the 1,100-inmate Ely State Prison at least four times over two years. Should medical care fall short, the duration of his oversight could be extended, the proposal said.

The agreement, which still requires the approval of federal Judge Larry R. Hicks, was crafted by the ACLU, which represented Ely inmates, and state officials.

The ACLU cited a 2007 report by an Idaho doctor who, after reviewing the medical records of 35 inmates, said the Ely prison’s healthcare system amounted to “the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering that I have ever encountered.”

At the time, the men’s prison had no staff doctor; the previous one had been a gynecologist. A nurse was fired after complaining about shoddy treatment, which she said led to one inmate dying of gangrene.

Under the proposed agreement, cash-strapped Nevada would also pay $325,000 in attorney fees and any costs of improving the prison’s healthcare.

Lee Rowland of the ACLU said the plan resulted from “extensive cooperation” with the state. Partly based on National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards, it could help patch what she described as a “very broken system.” State officials declined to comment.

… read more:
The Los Angeles Times

Nevada houses 10 times more people with mental illness in jails than in psychiatric facilities

New Report: Jail More Likely Than Treatment For Americans With Psychiatric Disorders

From: Disability Scoop
By Michelle Diament
May 13, 2010

Americans with severe mental illness are three times more likely to go to prison than to a psychiatric hospital, new research indicates.

While the likelihood varies by state, there is no state where individuals experiencing diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to be in a psychiatric hospital than a jail, the findings from a new report conducted by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association indicate.

The best case scenario appears to be in North Dakota where the odds are one to one that a person with mental illness will be in prison or a psychiatric hospital. In contrast, Arizona and Nevada each host 10 times more people with mental illness in their jails than in psychiatric facilities.

Read more here

Report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (PDF).