Illinois prisoners in Menard High Security Unit plan to begin hunger strike Jan. 15

Reblogged from: SF Bay View
by Staughton Lynd 
Jan. 14, 2014

The following information is based on numerous letters from prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center in Illinois written in December 2013. These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.
Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

The IDOC website says, “Menard Correctional Center was established on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1878. … Menard is the state’s largest maximum security adult male facility.”

After the Tamms Correctional Center was closed in January 2013, several High Security Units have been opened in other prisons throughout Illinois. The High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center is one of several such units housing prisoners in administrative detention who were in Tamms or who have filed grievances or complaints and others who would not have met the criteria for transfer to Tamms.


The men were transferred to Menard and continue to be kept in the High Security Unit without any notice, reasons or hearing. Prisoners who were transferred without so much as a ticket are being forced to complete a nine month three phase program – originally Tamms’ stepdown program – to earn back privileges they did nothing to lose.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has been unable to locate any records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request for any administrative directives that deal with the “phase program.” The Menard rule book says that administrative detention is a non-disciplinary form of segregation from the general population that is reviewed every 90 days by the warden. However, the phase program is nine months. Therefore, no one is being considered for release until at least nine months after entering the system.
The 90-day review is supposed to be a review where release is considered. Instead, it is only a hearing where the prisoner is not present, and its only purpose is to determine if he should move from one phase to the next. To date, nobody has been released after the nine months. No notices are being given after any of these alleged hearings, and no basis for decision of continued placement is given either.

These prisoners expect to go on hunger strike on Jan. 15, 2014, due to their placement and retention in severe isolation, under inhumane living conditions, without notice, reasons or hearing. This will be a peaceful protest.

Prisoners have been filing grievances asking for uniform written policies that provide for constitutionally adequate notice of why an inmate is being placed in administrative detention and periodic review in the form of informal hearings that allow the prisoner to refute the alleged reasons for placement and retention in administrative detention.
Prisoners say that their conditions of confinement are deplorable. According to prisoners, conditions in the High Security Unit include
  • severe isolation without any mental health evaluation or treatment;
  • uncleanliness, rodent infestation and lack of any cleaning supplies to clean cells – no disinfectants, no toilet brushes;
  • no written policies requiring the daily sweeping and mopping of the wings;
  • lack of heat in the cells and only one small, thin blanket;
  • showers are moldy and often cold;
  • no hot water in the cells to wash up or clean eating utensils;
  • unauthorized deviation from the statewide menu, low calorie intake has prisoners losing weight;
  • not issued individual coats, have to share smelly coats with numerous men;
  • access to their legal materials limited to approximately once a month, delays in receiving legal mail;
  • no educational opportunities even though non-disciplinary prisoners should have the same access to education as the general population.
Many prisoners in the Menard High Security Unit are planning to turn in emergency grievances as well as begin a hunger strike on the morning of Jan. 15, 2014. They expect retaliation, possibly including beatings of inmates who are regarded as troublemakers.

Retaliation can be expected. These men ask for our support and action. And they ask us to spread the word.

How you can help

Prisoners in the High Security Unit at Menard Correctional Center ask you to make phone calls to the warden, the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the governor on Jan. 15, 16 and 17, 2014, to check on their conditions, demands, and welfare. Please call:
Staughton Lynd, attorney, professor, historian, author, playwright, and civil rights and peace activist, can be reached at salynd@aol.com.

UN rights expert: California jails: “Solitary confinement can amount to cruel punishment, even torture”


GENEVA (23 August 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today urged the United States Government to abolish the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. There are approximately 80,000 prisoners in the United States of America who are subjected to solitary confinement, nearly 12,000 are in isolation in the state of California.

“Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture,” Mr. Méndez stressed as nearly 200 inmates in Californian detention centres approach their fifth consecutive week on hunger strike against cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions.

“I urge the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances,” he said, “including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

The independent investigator on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment urged the US authorities to ensure that “solitary confinement is only imposed, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and with established safeguards in place.” In Mr. Méndez’s view, “its application must be subject to independent review, and inmates must undergo strict medical supervision.”

Since 8 July 2013, thousands of prisoners detained in nine separate prisons across the state of California have gone on hunger strike to peacefully protest the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions. The inmates are demanding a change in the state’s excessive use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure, and the subjugation of prisoners to solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time by prison authorities under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In California’s maximum security prison in Pelican Bay more than 400 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over a decade, and the average time a prisoner spends in solitary confinement is 7.5 years. “I am extremely worried about those numbers and in particular about the approximately 4,000 prisoners in California who are held in Security Housing Units for indefinite periods or periods of many years, often decades,” Mr. Méndez said.

In many cases inmates are isolated in 8-foot-by-12 foot (2.5 x 3.5 m. Approx.) cells and lack minimum ventilation and natural light. The prisoners are forced to remain in their cells for 22 to 23 hours per day, and they are allowed only one hour of exercise alone in a cement lot where they do not necessarily have any contact with other inmates.

In the context of reported reprisals against inmates on hunger strike and a District Judge’s approval of Californian authorities’ request to engage to force-feed prisoners under certain circumstances, the UN Special Rapporteur also reminded the authorities that “it is not acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike.”

Mr. Méndez addressed the issue of solitary confinement in the US, including prison regimes in California, in his 2011 report* to the UN General Assembly and in numerous communications to the Government. He has also repeatedly requested an invitation to carry out a visit to the country, including State prisons in California, but so far has not received a positive answer.

“My request coincides with some prominent voices in the United States, including the first-ever congressional hearing chaired by Senator Durbin on 19 June 2012; the decision to close Tamms Maximum Security Correctional Center by the State of Illinois on 4 January 2013 and numerous editorials by prominent columnists in major papers addressing the excessive use of solitary confinement across the country,” Mr. Méndez said.

“It is about time to provide the opportunity for an in situ assessment of the conditions in US prisons and detention facilities,” the UN Special Rapporteur underscored.

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity.
Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association.
Mr. Méndez has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010.

Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

(*) Check the 2011 report on solitary confinement: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/445/70/PDF/N1144570.pdf?OpenElement orhttp://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=103

UN Human Rights Country Page – United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Sonia Cronin (+41 22 917 91 60 / scronin@ohchr.org) or Ms. Stephanie Selg (+1 202 274 4378 / ssleg@ohchr.org) or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)
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NPW´s comments on the Vera Progress Report of September 2010

Here are NPW´s comments to some of the points made in the report of the:

VERA Institute of Justice
Action plan for the Nevada Department of Corrections
The Corrections Support and Accountability Project
September 2010
http://www.doc.nv.gov/Vera_Action_Plan_for_NDOC_September_2010.pdf

The Vera words are in italics, our comments are following each section.

Recommendation 3. Improve tracking system for inmate grievances and generate regular reports.
In Progress.

When problems were identified, such as a gap in recording some responses to grievances, staff worked to resolve the issue.

Our comments:

We wonder why there had been a gap in the first place?

Aside from this, we know of a class action lawsuit being prepared to make the courts force the NDOC to respond to grievances and to listen. So clearly not only the tracking system, but also the whole procedure should be reviewed and renewed. And not slowed down, as is now being reported by prisoners.

It is also strange that sometimes a grievance, like an Emergency grievance, is replied to by the person the grievance was written about or against. This creates partiality and the prisoner will almost certainly not be fairly treated then. (NPW)

NDOC should also create regular reports on trends in inmate grievances, both by facility and system-wide.

Our comment:

So will this help the prisoners with their complaints about needs of medical care, or violence being used on a prisoner? Who checks the trends? What action will be taken on these? (NPW)

Recommendation 4. Resolve more inmate grievances at the facility level.

In Progress.

NDOC made strides in some divisions to ensure that certain inmate grievances are resolved at the facility level. Primarily, when the Inspector General’s office receives a grievance alleging staff misconduct, they now ask facility wardens to conduct initial investigations into the claims. This process allows the facts to be verified in a timelier manner and relieves some of the backlog for investigations into these claims.

The full investigation into staff misconduct claims are ultimately handled by the Inspector General’s office, as they are serious in nature, but allowing the facility managers to take on a preliminary investigatory role will help staff resolve grievances more quickly.

Our comment:

This to us sounds like it will become EASIER to “resolve” an issue of staff misconduct by staff themselves. There are several instances in the past, where even the inspector general was sided by the warden and told what to say in his report. For instance has there ever been a formal independent investigation into the violent death of Timothy Redman (who died in November 2009, after being gassed for hours on end)?

If there ever was a proper, INDEPENDENT investigation, where is the report? Where is the press release? (NPW)

Recommendation 5. Consider creating a citizens review board for the inmate grievance process.

Under Consideration.

… Vera can also work with NDOC staff to identify those in the community that may be valuable and productive members of the citizens review board. NDOC will need to identify who in the department is most able to handle the responsibilities of overseeing the board and coordinating its efforts.

Our comment:

This sounds a bit dodgy: how will the public know if those that “represent” them are fair, and will this review board ever side with the victim or accused, how impartial are they? What is just, and how does the review board member investigate? How will the prisoners know? How much will the review board be influenced by the NDOC, the facility, the warden, etc? If NDOC chooses the citizen review board, how impartial will it be? What about human rights abuses? What about disproportionate sentences that the prisons themselves give out to a prisoner, without any outside judge involved, without any advocate/lawyer on behalf of a prisoner?

There are many rules to break in a prison, but we are most concerned by the staff misconduct and violence aimed at prisoners, the lack of medical care, the lack of healthy food, of programs, education, spiritual care. If these human rights are attacked by staff, and a prisoner is being wrongfully accused or not treated, or denied his or her rights, how will this citizen review board have any influence at all?

Incidents are documented where a prisoner was attacked by staff and hurt, and yet he was sent the bill to pay for his injuries caused by staff members. How will a citizens review board deal with these issues? (NPW)

Recommendation 7. Provide pro bono attorneys for inmates in the Inmate
Early Mediation Program.

Under Consideration.

In conversations between Vera and the magistrate judge who oversees the Inmate Early Mediation Program, it is clear that the courts believe it would be beneficial for the inmates to have legal representation at their mediations. However, NDOC administrators have some concerns about adopting this regulation. While the department is in favor of any process that enhances the likelihood of resolving complaints before they reach the courts, the department is wary of settling alleged frivolous claims and setting precedents that may expose the department to additional liability.

To assist in accomplishing this recommendation, Vera will initiate a dialogue with the courts and magistrate judge to discuss the realities of these concerns and how and whether to begin moving forward on this recommendation. NDOC will be involved with these conversations as much as possible. Vera will also work with the courts to identify opportunities to recruit additional pro bono attorneys to sustain the program.

Our comment:

This is precisely why a prisoner should need access to an attorney: the courts have often dismissed cases, because prisoners could not make their case heard without the help of an attorney who is good and capable of voicing his or her client´s need for justice done. (NPW)

Recommendation 8. Keep more investigations at the facility level.

In Progress.

As noted in Vera’s status report, NDOC has worked to move more investigations to the facility level. Specifically, NDOC revised Administrative Regulation 340 to reflect its commitment to ensuring investigations of lower-level offenses are handled at the facility level.

Our comment:

We just got note that the grievance process is slowed down for the prisoners: the time limits to respond to grievances are now 45 days in the informal level, 45 days to the first level and 60 days at the second level. What used to be done in 75 days now can take 5 months to try and resolve. Prisoners think this is set up to slow the process down so that men will not desire to push the issue, because it takes so long to be resolved or just be denied anyway. Is this fair? (NPW, we just had a response from someone in a facility down south about this)

Recommendation 10. Train select staff to run reports in NOTIS.

In Progress.

Our comment:
some records of prisoners are so old and outdated, they have not been touched in years it seems. Are these records really used by staff, to check the level of the prisoners´ custody? Because there ARE mistakes right now in this, that can have influence on the security level a prisoner is kept on. (NPW)

Recommendation 13. Clarify the role of the Board.

Under Consideration.

NDOC administrators believe the fact that the Board follows up on few, if any, issues raised by citizens at public meetings is rather clear to all attendees. However, there does seem to be some frustration among advocates with the way the Board handles their concerns.

To begin implementation of this recommendation, NDOC administrators can work with the Board members to develop language to explicitly state, prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, that it is outside the Board’s capacity to investigate or follow up on any concerns raised by the public. If other recommendations are implemented (see Recommendation 14, below) the Board can refer concerned citizens to other channels to lodge their complaints.

Our comment:
So it is official now: all our (the Public´s) comments are useless. Public has to go to other channels. Maybe to the weblog of Nevada Prison Watch? (NPW)

Recommendation 14. Develop system for following up on concerns received at public meetings.

In Progress.

At the national meeting for the Corrections Support and Accountability Project, NDOC staff met an inmate advocate who has developed a robust, collaborative relationship with the corrections director in another of Vera’s partner jurisdictions.

NDOC staff admired this relationship, and, following that meeting, Director Skolnik
reached out to particular inmate advocates in Nevada in an effort to develop a more
formal and positive relationship between NDOC and the advocate community.

The director has met with several advocates to begin discussing the possibility of formalizing their relationship and develop another channel through which the public and inmates can express their concerns to the department.

These individuals worked with the advocate from Vera’s partner jurisdiction in preparation for a meeting with NDOC. At the first formal meeting, which took place on August 31, 2010, the group identified several areas where the department can begin improvements immediately, including making some changes to the department’s website. The advocates also indicated they will be working to reestablish a CURE chapter in Nevada, hopefully by January 2011.

To complete this recommendation, NDOC should continue its efforts in establishing
relationships with the inmate advocates in Nevada. It also needs to determine the best individual to be the liaison between the department and individuals at public meetings.

Because of the developing relationship between the department and the advocate community, it may be beneficial to request one of the advocates take on this role. The department should arrange for this individual to attend all meetings where public
comment is received and make the public aware of his or her presence and purpose.

NDOC must also work to develop an internal process for handling the concerns and
complaints received by the liaison. Vera will provide assistance as necessary.

Our comment:

Although it is good to hear that NDOC wants to work with “some” inmate advocacy people, we wonder if they will actually listen?

And will Cure be our only tie, our representative to be heard by NDOC? Who else of advocates has heard about this “developing relationship between the department and the advocate community”?

There are many people outside Nevada involved with prisoners in Nevada, family members, friends, concerned people from outside. How do they contact these certain inmate advocates? How do they keep up to date with what is going on?We are free to organize our own advocacy, but will NDOC NOT listen to the others? (as far as we here at NPW know, Cure has yet to find us) (NPW)

Recommendation 15. Create an ombudsman to handle complaints by inmates, staff and the public.

Under Consideration.

The director and his staff have been receptive to creating other avenues through which the department can build bridges with inmates, staff and the public. One example of this is the current effort to develop more solid relationships with inmate advocates in the state (see above, Recommendation 15). However, at this time there are concerns about whether creating an additional state employee position is financially feasible.

If NDOC decides to pursue this recommendation, either now or in the future, the department will need to decide whether this new function should be housed internal to the department or whether it will be housed in another government agency. This may involve consulting with internal staff, external stakeholders and government officials to determine what is best, considering, for example, the degree of independence desired and how that will affect the public’s view of the office’s legitimacy.

If it should be housed externally, the department needs to identify the appropriate state agency to house the ombudsman and will need to gain support from the key staff in that agency. Another consideration for the department and stakeholders is the extent of the ombudsman’s jurisdiction and whether it will focus only on the department or will extend to other state government functions, such as parole and probation. A final issue will be identifying funding for the new ombudsman’s office. NDOC can work with Vera to identify potential grant opportunities or try to find funding from the state. NDOC may also consider the possibility of a volunteer ombudsman, but that should only be a temporary solution while the state is under such stringent budget constraints.

Our comment:

We highly recommend an Ombudsman. But we wonder: does the NDOC really want an Ombudsman, who is independent? Why does not the State of Nevada pay for this person then, instead of NDOC? If they are paid by NDOC, how independent will they be?

The fact that there is a need for this person says a lot about how the rights of prisoners have been abused and trampled under for so many years. If there are less lawsuits in court, maybe the money saved on that will pay for this much needed person. (NPW)

Recommendation 17. Develop a publicly available data dashboard.

Under Consideration.

As mentioned above, NDOC does a commendable job of posting thorough information regarding its population on its website on a consistent basis. These reports provide data on population by facility, projected populations, admissions and releases, and inmate days by facility. While this information is helpful, a great deal of the other data the department collects may be of interest to the public. As discussed in other sections of this report, NDOC is working with Syscon to gain greater control over the functioning of its data system, specifically gaining access to source codes. This will help in the development of the dashboard.

Our comment:

As far as we can see, these data are in not very accessible spreadsheets, and there are practically no data on deaths in prison. I know that one of the public has had to go through many loops to get the figures about the inmate deaths in custody. (NPW)

Recommendation 18. Create a dedicated Public Information Officer position.

Under Consideration.

NDOC administrators have identified a need for someone to handle, full time, the responsibilities of communicating with the public and media.

Our comment:

Well that would help us, the public and the people directly involved with prisoners. Right now there is a total lack of communication to the public when an inmate death or a riot or so occurs. (NPW)

Our conclusions:

It is very surprising that this whole report has had to be written. It must have been (and was, no doubt) a big mess inside NDOC, that the administration has had to be taken by the hand and shown how things have to be. Shame on the NDOC admin to keep covering things up and to keep their interests above any human rights abuses. Money and self-interest is to NDOC clearly more important than rights, than ethical reasons and to apply justice. So we hope there will come an INDEPENDENT Ombudsman.

We hope the grievance system will be much improved, but we firmly believe that grievances have to be resolved more independently and not by the staff against whom the grievance is filed.

We hope there will be no more cover ups by the NDOC, but clarity. We hope there will be no more violence by staff, and in case there is violence done by staff, that the perpetrators will be prosecuted, and the victims NOT be charged and NOT made to pay their own hospital bills.

We hope this Vera report does help, but we remain skeptical until we see positive changes for the prisoner population. (NPW)

The Jumpsuit Riot


This happened in 2007, it was published earlier this year in:

Prison Action News (Boston Anarchist Black Cross)

Nevada
Ely State Prison Dec 8, 2008

I am in a maximum security lock up in Ely, Nevada. The event I want to
write you about was a group event, but I would like to mostly write about
my personal action and not others’ involvement.

On March 15th, 2007, in the maximum lock up unit we (inmates) were
notified that we would have to now go by a new rule which was
implemented due to just a couple of inmates actions. The new rule was
that we would have to put on our orange jumpsuits before correctional
officers would open our food slots to serve us our meals, but that we
would have to take our jumpsuits off again before being placed in
handcuffs. This rule was implemented due to a few inmates
masturbating in front of female guards when they would look into cells.
Which most of us do not do or agree with being done, and I personally
would not ever do. The point of what I’m saying is they were trying to
punish us and have us acting like their puppets just for a few inmates’
actions.

On March 15th, 2007, I began to refuse my food trays. But, what I would
do is refuse to put on m jumpsuit so they would refuse to open my slot to
give me food. I would tell them I wasn’t refusing my meal but just
refusing to put on my jumpsuit. Then I would file an emergency
grievance for being denied food. I did this for the 3 meals on the 15th.
On March 16th, 2007 I continued this form of food strike. Also, on the
morning of the 16th I pushed a lot of paper out under the door and lit it
on fire, in turn lighting my door on fire. On March 16th at 6:30 pm
count I was sure to cover my window for count (and had my cell set up
so I could fight correctional officers if they came to do a cell extraction.)
A correctional officer opened my slot to look in for count, but could not
see me due to a sheet hanging across the cell. I happened to have a 4
inch piece of sharpened metal in my hand, at which time I rushed around
the sheet and tried to stab the correctional officer in the face, but he had
heard me a second earlier and jumped back as my hand came out of
the slot. The c/o ran to tell the senior, at which time I threw baby oil all
over the tier outside my door – so when the cell extradition team arrived
it would get on the bottom of their boots and I’d have a better chance at a
fight. And yes, I had a weapon, but they also came with eight officers,
chemical agents, tasers, taser shields – so you have to be cunning to
outwit them for a good fight. Well, the cell extraction team came and
with chemical agents (strong pressurized pepper spray) so I got to the
back of the cell up on the bunk, hunched low, with a wet towel over my
nose and mouth, and my shank in the other hand. So, they gave me
commands to cuff and I didn’t say anything so they sprayed an issue of
chemical agents. After ten minutes they opened my slot again and
commanded me to cuff up. I didn’t say anything, so they sprayed more
chemical agents into my cell. But they refused to come into my cell
because I had a weapon, and they didn’t want anything close to a fair
fight. So they posted a CO outside my door on a bucket so my weapon
can’t get out of the cell, and alert the other COs not to open my slot. All
night COs were coming on my intercom speaker talking shit to keep me
awake, and after 6:00 am on March 17th, they started hitting my door to
try to keep me awake. (March 17th 6:00 am I must say changed their
minds and took away and vanquished the new rule). So everybody got
breakfast except me and at this point I had not eaten for 2 1/2 days. But I
still refused to give up my weapon because I wanted a fight. At about
10:00 am the corrections response team was conducting cell searches on
every cell.

Well at this point I’d had it and took down the window covering and told
the c/o’s to come in, and they said they would not as long as I had a
weapon, so I gave them the weapon and told them to come in. They
requested me to take down the sheet covering half of my cell and
uncover and turn on the light. So I did all of this, and they still refused to
perform a cell extraction. The cowards didn’t have the heart to come in
on one unarmed man with any number of them and their gadgets. They
needed to search my cell, but all they would do is keep spraying me with
chemical agents and not come in. Well I figured our fight was won- due
to them taking the rule away and I personally made them show and show
all their cowardly ways in front of everyone. I stripped out, cuffed and
went to shower to wash chemical agents from my body. I wanted to
write about this because it involved many people to stand up on a
combined effort to let them know we wouldn’t stand for something.

And it was a rarity because they actually changed something we wanted
changed. I was just one of many in this fight.

Robert McGuire #83383
Ely State Prison
Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301