HANDOUT MATERIALS for Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Reblogged on Californiaprisonwatch.org

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

If you need copies sent to you of any of these materials for use in your actions, please contact phssreachingout@gmail.com or call (510) 426-5322.

In California, we have changed the date to the 24th of every month.  We no longer do this action on the 23rd of every month.

_______________________________________________ The above links allow you to download and print the materials made specifically for anyone participating in Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (24th of each month). Below are several download links for recommended materials to hand out during such actions.  Good educational materials. Coming soon: a handout of Frequently Asked Questions and the Answers, and all handouts in Spanish & English.

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Beginning March 23rd: Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

STOP THE TORTURE!

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) to start Monday, March 23, 2015.

Actions will happen on the 23rd of each month.

This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement.

PHSS Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoner-Hunger-Strike-Solidarity/117053298383319

Statewide Coordinated Actions every month respond to the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers’ Proposals (November, 2013). They stated:

We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing…

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An End to Solitary is Long Overdue

California’s Savage System of Confinement

Less than two weeks ago the United Nations Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the U.S. record on a number of issues, among them the extensive use of solitary confinement. While the U.S. uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, California uses it more than any other state. It’s one of the few places in the world where someone can be held indefinitely in solitary. This practice is designed to break the human spirit and is condemned as a form of torture under international law.

Despite these repeated condemnations by the U.N., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is harshening rather than easing its policies, currently with three new sets of regulations. The administration’s iron-fisted strategy is emerging: project the appearance of a reforming system while extending its reach, and restrict the ability of prisoners and their loved ones to organize for their rights.

First, the CDCR has instituted a “Step Down Program” ostensibly to create a pathway out of indefinite solitary. However, the program actually widens the net of who can be considered a threat and therefore eligible for placement in solitary. Recently adopted regulations replace the old language of “gang” with “Security Threat Group” (STG) and the previous list of a dozen identified gangs is now replaced with a dizzying list of over 1500 STGs. Under these new regulations, even family members and others outside the prisons can be designated as part of an STG. Given the fact that indefinite solitary is used disproportionately against people of color – in Pelican Bay, 85% of those in isolation are Latino – the language used to justify placement in solitary eerily mirrors the rhetoric of the federal government and its permanent state of war against its declared enemies, all of whom are people of color.

The CDCR promulgated a second set of rule changes last summer with sweeping new “obscenity” regulations governing mail going both in and out of prisons. The original proposal was to explicitly ban any “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society,” yet after coming under heavy criticism, CDCR decided to mask its Orwellian motives by hiding behind the above mentioned language of STGs. This ominous language violates First Amendment rights, and reveals a broader agenda: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

A third element of CDCR’s strategy of containment is the implementation of highly intimidating visiting procedures designed to keep family members away from their loved ones. Draconian new visiting regulations authorize the use of dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search visitors for contraband, even though both methods are notoriously unreliable. These procedures effectively criminalize family members and deter them from visiting, especially in a period of a growing family-led movement against solitary.

The three new policies are also intended to extend CDCR’s reach beyond the prison walls. As an organizer and family member of a prisoner, I’m censored when sending letters to my brother, Sitawa N. Jamaa, subjected to gratuitous and intimidating searches during visits, and susceptible to being labeled an STG associate. These are all ways that CDCR is trying to keep me from knowing how my brother and others are doing, and to repress my organizing.

Taken individually, these regulations may seem to address unrelated issues. But given they are all coming down simultaneously – just a year after the last of a series of historic hunger strikes by people in California prisons has given rise to the highest level of self-organization and empowerment among imprisoned people since the 1970s – these regulations are nothing less than a systematic attempt to silence and retaliate against prisoners’ growing resistance. Over 30,000 prisoners participated in 2013’s strike, some for 60 days, risking their health and lives for an end to indefinite solitary. Prisoners’ family members and loved ones also took up leadership roles in political organizing in unprecedented ways. The movement to abolish solitary continues to gain momentum around the country.

The hunger strikes were a significant part of an ongoing national sea change regarding the use of solitary, as states are waking up to its dangers. Illinois, Maine and Mississippi have closed or drastically downsized their solitary units without any loss of institutional safety. New York and Arizona were recently forced to reduce their use of isolation, with Colorado and New Jersey following suit.

Yet California steadfastly remains an outlier seemingly impervious to change, led by an administration that relies on tired rhetoric about “the worst of the worst” to justify torture. People locked up in California have a decades-long history of fighting for the rights and dignity of prisoners, affirming their humanity in the face of inhumane conditions and demanding change. The U.N. report calls on this government to “ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities.” It’s time for California to listen.

Marie Levin is the sister of Sitawa N. Jamaa, a prisoner in solitary confinement at Tehachapi. She is a member of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS).

Mohamed Shehk is the Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance, and also contributed to this piece.

Message from Maroon – Action Alert

From the Human Rights Coalition – Action Alert:


“This was the third strike – now we either go hard, or go home.”
Greetings! A very happy new year to all my supporters and loved ones!
By now you are aware that I am being housed in an underground cell at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford, in a part of the Restricted Housing Unit known as J Block, which is used to house the criminally insane.
My rapid response team has also got word to you about the conditions in this dungeon: a few days after my arrival I cleaned the human feces off the walls of my cell with my own hands; when it rains, water leaks through a hole in the roof and floods my cell – with heavy rains expected, I am sure this problem will only get worse.
The screaming and banging coming from the surrounding cells of mentally challenged inmates, plus the 24-hour fluorescent lights, make it impossible to concentrate, let alone sleep.
Those of you who have been closely following my situation know that I am being subjected to these conditions DESPITE successfully completing the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC)’s 60-day “step-down” program at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville, which was conducted with the express purpose of releasing me from the hole into the general prison population.
My current circumstances make two things very clear:
  • First, that the Department of Corrections CANNOT be trusted to play by their own rules;
  • Second, that my isolation in the hole has NOTHING to do with administrative or disciplinary concerns but is instead a punishment for my political beliefs, and the prison administration’s fear that these beliefs will reach other prisoners.  They fear that I will awaken the dead . . .
For years, the PA DOC has tried to crush my fighting spirit by keeping me locked up in the hole. This move to SCI Graterford – my third transfer in six months – is just the latest in a series of attempts to test my resolve; it is also, in my opinion, the third strike.
I am here to tell you all that my will is holding strong. I am a political prisoner: imprisoned because I stood up against oppression, and I continue to support all those who stand up against repression everywhere.
My perspective is one thousand years of struggle. My commitment has been – and will always be – the liberation of black people. In that spirit let me say that 2014 is not going to be a year of taking abuse and torture lying down: it is a year in which we either go HARD, or go HOME!
I am calling on you, my supporters, loved ones and friends, to answer that call. This year I am asking you all to do whatever it takes to end the torture of 23-hour isolation and bring an end to this miscarriage of justice.
STRAIGHT AHEAD!           
Russell MAROON Shoatz
# AF-3855, 
P.O. Box 244, 
Graterford, PA 19426-0246
***
ACTION ALERT & UPDATE: CONTINUE THE PRESSURE!
Thank you to all supporters for answering the call to action!  Your phone calls and letters are WORKING.  Maroon received a blanket, clothes, his personal belongings, and his medication. 
Maroon appreciates all your support and diligent action on his behalf. 
However, he is not OUT of this torturous situation.  SCI Graterford authorities still have him buried in solitary confinement – the same Restricted Housing Unit for the criminally insane.  It is an underground dungeon that floods and where the lights are on 24 hours a day.  It is also where Maroon has to endure continuous banging and cries for help from mentally ill prisoners suffering in the same unit.
The time is now to RAMP UP the pressure on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) Secretary John Wetzel and SCI Superintendent Wenerowicz and Graterford authorities demanding that they immediately remove Maroon from this present condition and release him into general population.    
PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel and PA DOC administrators continue to double cross Maroon by not fulfilling their verbal and written promises to release him into general population even after successfully completing a 60 day Step Down Program at SCI Frackville last fall 2013.
As Maroon stated, “the Dept. of Corrections cannot be trusted to play by their own rules.”
We are asking supporters to INTENSIFY the calls, faxes, and letters to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel, Superintendent Wenerocwicz, and Graterford authorities.   Remember, Maroon has made the call to “go HARD or go home!”
CALL, FAX, & SEND SEPARATE LETTERS TO:
SCI Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz
 and 
SCI Graterford RHU J Block Manager Mr. Terra,
P.O. Box 246, 
Graterford, PA 19426-0246 
Phone: 610-489-4151 
FAX: 484-961-7907 
to let them know:
·  We are concerned members of the community who are monitoring the situations involving inmate Russell Shoatz and the conditions he is being held under,
·  We are expecting that SCI Graterford will be accepting the information regarding Shoatz’ successful completion of the step-down program at SCI Frackville, and their recommendation that he be released from Restricted Housing into General Population,
·  We hold PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel and PA DOC administrators responsible for failing to fulfill their promises to release Russell Shoatz into General Population,
·  We request that you immediately remove Russell Shoatz out of the J Block cell for the criminally insane because he doesn’t belong nor deserve to be there, the conditions are torturous, and he is not under Disciplinary Custody, AND
·  We also request that SCI Graterford transfer Russell Shoatz into General Population as promised by Secretary Wetzel and PA DOC authorities.
For letters and faxes, please use the same talking points (letters: return receipt requested).
CALL, FAX, & SEND LETTERS OF CONCERN, PA DOC SUPERINTENDENT JOHN WETZEL, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050, Phone: 717-728-4109, FAX 717-728-4178 to let him know:
·  We are frustrated and angry at the continued delays, and unfulfilled promises, and unwarranted treatment of inmate Russell Shoatz with his most recent transfer into a feces infested cell where the criminally insane are housed in the J Block unit at SCI Graterford.
·  His consistent good faith efforts to abide by all State Correctional procedures for transfer to general population have successfully earned him the support of prison official and administrators at SCI Mahanoy and Frackville.
·  In light of recent US Department of Justice findings that Pennsylvania State Prisons have used solitary confinement in direct violation of inmates’ constitutional rights, and United Nations guidelines regarding the illegality of using restrictive housing for punitive, long-term purposes, we write with concern that Shoatz’ continued placement in restricted housing constitutes an act of torture: cruel and unusual punishment.

·  As voters and community members, we demand Shoatz’ immediate release into general population, and will continue to closely monitor this situation until Shoatz’ conditions are safe and legal.

Man left in solitary confinement for 2 years gets $15.5 million settlement

A man who spent 22 long months in solitary confinement in a New Mexico jail, neglected to the point where he was forced to pull out his own tooth because he said he wasn’t allowed to see a dentist, will receive $15.5 million for the ordeal.

The settlement with Dona Ana County, N.M., falls short of the $22 million that Stephen Slevin, 59, and his attorney had asked for, but is still one of the largest prisoner civil rights payouts in U.S. history.

“His mental health has been severely compromised from the time he was in that facility. That continues to be the same. No amount of money will bring back what they took away from him,” Matt Coyte, Slevin’s Albuquerque-based attorney, said on Wednesday. “But it’s nice to be able to get him some money so he can improve where he is in life and move on.”

Slevin’s story of inhumane treatment in the Dona Ana County Jail, where he was incarcerated from 2005 to 2007 — which he said included his toenails growing so long that they curled around his foot, and fungus festering on his skin because he was deprived of showers — first received publicity last January, when he was awarded the $22 million.

Dona Ana County had been appealing the verdict ever since, refusing to pay Slevin.
But the legal battle ended Tuesday with the $15.5 million settlement, a number decided on in court mediation, according to Jess Williams, Dona Ana County’s public information director.

An initial payment of $6 million is expected to be wired to Slevin by the end of this week; he will receive the rest in installments in the following days.

For Slevin — who has lung cancer and has beaten doctors’ odds for how long he would survive — the case was not about how much money he could make, his attorney said, but about getting recognition of how poorly he was treated and the scars he still has.

“He’s had lots of difficulties over the years. I don’t think he will stop having difficulties,” Coyte said. “The courage he had in the trial was magnificent.”

Slevin’s mistreatment by Dona Ana County started the moment he was arrested back in August of 2005, his attorney told NBC News.

“He was driving through New Mexico and arrested for a DWI, and he allegedly was in a stolen vehicle. Well, it was a car he had borrowed from a friend; a friend had given him a car to drive across the country,” Coyte said in an interview last January.

Slevin was depressed at the time, Coyte explained, and wanted to get out of New Mexico. Instead, he found himself in jail.

“When he gets put in the jail, they think he’s suicidal, and they put him in a padded cell for three days, but never give him any treatment.”

Nor did they give him a trial, Coyte said. Slevin said he never saw a judge during his time in confinement.
After three days in the padded cell, jail guards transferred Slevin into solitary confinement with no explanation.

“Their policy is to then just put them in solitary” if they appear to have mental health issues, Coyte told NBC News.

While in solitary confinement, a prisoner is entitled to one hour per day out of the cell, but often times, Slevin wasn’t even granted that, Coyte said.

Read the rest here.

3 California hunger strikers commit suicide.

The following press release was posted yesterday at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity: go to the site and show them some support.

Condolences to these men’s loved ones.

Three Prisoners Die in Hunger Strike Related Incidents: CDCR Withholds Information from Family Members, Fails to Report Deaths
November 17, 2011
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros

Oakland – In the month since the second phase of a massive prisoner hunger strike in California ended on September 22nd, three prisoners who had been on strike have committed suicide. Johnny Owens Vick and another prisoner were both confined in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard was confined in the Calipatria Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).

According to reports from prisoners who were housed in surrounding cells and who witnessed the deaths, guards did not come to the assistance of one of the prisoners at Pelican Bay or to Blanchard, and in the case of the Pelican Bay prisoner (whose name is being withheld for the moment) apparently guards deliberately ignored his cries for help for several hours before finally going to his cell, at which point he was already dead. “It is completely despicable that prison officials would willfully allow someone to take their own life,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, “These guys were calling for help, their fellow prisoners were calling for help, and guards literally stood by and watched it happen.”

Family members of the deceased as well as advocates are having difficult time getting information about the three men and the circumstances of their deaths. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is required to do an autopsy is the cases of suspicious deaths and according to the Plata case, is required to do an annual report on every death in the system. Family members have said that their loved ones, as well as many other prisoners who participated in the hunger strike, were being severely retaliated against with disciplinary actions and threats. Blanchard’s family has said that he felt that his life was threatened and had two emergency appeals pending with the California Supreme Court at the time of his death.

“It is a testament to the dire conditions under which prisoners live in solitary confinement that three people would commit suicide in the last month,” said Laura Magnani, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee, “It also points to the severe toll that the hunger strike has taken on these men, despite some apparent victories.” Prisoners in California’s SHUs and other forms of solitary confinement have a much higher rate of suicide than those in general population.

The hunger strike, which at one time involved the participation of at least 12,000 prisoners in 13 state prisons was organized around five core demands relating to ending the practices of group punishment, long-term solitarily confinement, and gang validation and debriefing. The CDCR has promised changes to the gang validation as soon as early next year and were due to have a draft of the new for review this November, although it’s not known whether that process is on schedule. “If the public and legislators don’t continue to push CDCR, they could easily sweep all of this under the rug,” said Emily Harris, statewide coordinator Californians United for a Responsible Budget, “These deaths are evidence that the idea of accountability is completely lost on California’s prison officials.”

Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture

DemocracyNow.org interviewed Dr Atul Gawande on january 5th 2011 about health care, but also about Solitary Confinement. Here is the rush transcript:

The physical and psychological effects experienced by people held for extended periods in solitary confinement is a topic Dr. Atul Gawande has written extensively about. Yesterday, four prisoners in the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary launched a hunger strike to protest being held for more than 17 years years in solitary confinement. The alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, has also been held in solitary confinement for much of the past seven months. “People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture,” says Dr. Gawande.

Guest:

Dr. Atul Gawande, associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and is a practicing surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He’s also a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of three books; the most recent is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to switch gears for a moment. You wrote a remarkable piece about the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, on people who have been held in isolation for a long time. On this issue, I just want to turn to the case of the four prisoners in a supermax prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary. This week they launched a hunger strike to protest what they call their harsh mistreatment under solitary confinement. The prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb and Namir Abdul Mateen—were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio. For over 17 years, they’ve been held in 23-hours-a-day solitary lockdown. On Monday, the four began refusing to eat meals until they are moved out of solitary confinement and onto death row, where they say they’ll get better treatment. Yesterday I spoke—Amy spoke with the longtime peace activist, historian and lawyer, Staughton Lynd. He wrote the definitive history of the 1993 Ohio prison uprising at Lucasville. He described the prisoners’ conditions. Let’s take a listen.

STAUGHTON LYND: They are held in more restrictive confinement than the more than 100 other death sentence prisoners in the same prison. Now, why is this? It’s precisely because the system thinks of them as leaders. So, it will let them watch television. They even let Bomani Shakur use a typewriter. But what they don’t let any of the four men do is to be in the same space as another human being other than a guard at the same time. And this means that while other death sentence prisoners can wander about the pod, can have collective meals outside their cells, and especially can have semi-contact visits with their friends and families, the four are always obliged to encounter the world either through a solid cell door or, when they go out on a visit, through a solid pane of glass. So that, again, Bomani has a niece and nephew aged eight and three that he loves and would wish to touch. If he were on death row, he could do that. But he’s been told by the prison authorities he will never be on death row, because they’re going to keep him in social isolation until they kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace activist, lawyer, talking about these four men who have now gone on a hunger strike at the Ohio State Penitentiary, demanding to be put on death row, where they say that they will be treated better.

And then we’ve got the case of the alleged WikiLeaks Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in solitary confinement. Twenty-two years old, U.S. Army private, arrested in May, has been in detention ever since. For the past five months, he’s been held at the U.S. Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, before that, held for two months in a military jail in Kuwait. Last month, we spoke to Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. Glenn reported that Manning is being held under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment, and even torture. This is what Glenn Greenwald said.

GLENN GREENWALD: He’s been held for seven months without being convicted of any crime. And the conditions that I recently discovered he’s being held in are really quite disturbing. And this has been true for the entire seven-month duration of his detention. He is in solitary confinement, and he’s not only in solitary confinement, which means that he’s in a cell alone, but he’s there for 23 out of 24 hours every day. He is released for one hour a day only. So, 23 out of the 24 hours a day he sits alone. He is barred from even doing things like exercising inside of his cell. He’s constantly supervised and monitored, and if he does that, he’s told immediately to stop. There are very strict rules about what he’s even allowed to do inside the cell. Beyond that, he’s being denied just the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, such as a pillow and sheets, and has been denied that without explanation for the entire duration of his visit, as well. And there is a lot of literature and a lot of psychological studies, and even studies done by the U.S. military, that show that prolonged solitary confinement, which is something that the United States does almost more than any other country in the Western world, of the type to which Manning is subjected, can have a very long-term psychological damage, including driving people to insanity and the like. It clearly is cruel and unusual; it’s arguably a form of torture. And given that Manning has never been convicted of anything, unlike the convicts at supermaxes to whom this treatment is normally applied, it’s particularly egregious.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. In his piece that he wrote about Manning, he actually cited your article “Hellhole,” which you document what happens to people held in isolation. Explain why this is thought of as a form of torture in many places.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Well, I was interested in whether it really was torture, and I was interested because this has become, I think, a generationally defining question for us. In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, solitary confinement was very unusual. Today, we have over 50,000 people in long-term solitary confinement in our American prisons now. You know, in states like New York— it’s across every—red and blue states. We have—New York has over eight percent of its prison population in long-term solitary confinement. A large proportion—some think a majority—are not there for violent offenses, either. It’s a method of control that we regard as increasingly routine. And so, what my puzzle was, is it torture, or is it not?

And what I looked back to was the experience and the literature, which is much richer, around what hostages and prisoners of war—our Vietnam veterans, for example—experienced when they went through solitary confinement. And what’s found is that people experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture. Vietnam veterans who received physical torture—John McCain had two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, had his legs and arm broken during his imprisonment, but described the two-and-a-half years that he spent in solitary as being the most cruel component and the most terrifying aspect of what he went under. You also look at studies that show that people held in isolation from other human beings—we actually need social, friendly interaction with other people to be sane, to be absolutely—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. You document how people actually reach a level of psychosis.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: That’s right. Not everybody.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: They begin to lose their minds, right?

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Not everybody. The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. Well, guess who is in our prisons? And there’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison. And my finding was that we have decided that when it is political—when it is a prisoner of war or a hostage, that it is absolutely torture when other countries do this to people, and that there is no discernible difference in the experience of what people go through in our prisons, when they’re in solitary confinement for 14 years, in the case of one person who I documented, that this is torture.

Source: DemocracyNow. Please support them!

Solitary-confinement report conclusions outrage prison activists

From: Westword.com:
By Alan Prendergast, Tuesday, Jun. 8 2010

The release of a twelve-month study about the mental effects of solitary confinement at Colorado’s supermax is still weeks away.

But preliminary results leaked from the report — which suggest state prisoners suffer little, if any, psychological impact from even long-term stay in isolation cells — is already stirring outrage among prison activists and civil liberties attorneys.

A National Geographic special on solitary confinement that aired in April focused on life at the Colorado State Penitentiary, where inmates are housed in 23-hour-a-day lockdown. The program mentioned that the study’s preliminary findings indicated little effect on inmates’ mental health from their confinement.

That tidbit, which flies in the face of much of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature on the effects of solitary, has activists steeling themselves for the worst when the report is officially unveiled next month. The study and this fall’s expected opening of a second supermax, known as CSP 2, were hot topics at Tuesday’s American Civil Liberties Union talk by University of Denver law professor Laura Rovner.

Rovner, who’s involved in lawsuits challenging conditions of solitary confinement faced by 27-year federal lockdown champion Thomas Silverstein and mentally ill CSP inmate Troy Anderson, noted that the evidence of psychological deterioration in solitary is compelling — but that hasn’t deterred state and federal prison authorities from building more supermaxes.

“There are more people in supermaxes, so it doesn’t seem as shocking as it once did,” she said.

Several audience members, including a smattering of attorneys, commented on the upcoming report, which some suspect is designed to help pave the way for the opening of CSP 2 by minimizing the degree to which solitary may encourage paranoia, rage and suicide. A few questioned the methodology of the state’s research, which (at least as glimpsed in scenes from the NG special, which can be found here) seemed to rely on self-reporting from inmates desperate to get out of CSP. “Of course they’re going to say they’re okay,” one noted.

Rovner agreed. She recalled one supermax inmate she had interviewed who kept insisting he was doing just fine, despite a nasty wound. “It turned out he’d been trying to dig the FBI chip out of his head,” she said.

A summary of the report is expected to be presented to a state task force on prison mental health issues in mid-July.

ACT NOW: FBOP trying to expand use of CMUs

News via our comrade, Vikki Law. There is action to take here:

———————-

The BOP is proposing further isolating people in Communications Management Units. There’s a period for public comment that ends June 7th.

Conveniently for the BOP, the comment form is undergoing some maintenance this weekend and won’t be back up until Monday, 5/31, at 11:59 pm. But that still leaves a week to leave a comment on the proposed rules.

If you can’t wait till Tuesday morning, you can also snail mail your outrage to the BOP:

Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel
Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW.
Washington, DC 20534

Include the following docket number in your correspondence:

BOP DOCKET #1148-P COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT UNITS

Lawsuit filed against Communications Management Units

Posted on April 1, 2010 by Denverabc

March 30, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging violations of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to due process, at two experimental federal prison units called “Communications Management Units” (CMUs). The units are being used overwhelmingly to hold Muslim prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs.

CCR filed Aref v. Holder in the D.C. District Court on behalf of five current and former prisoners of the units in Terre Haute, IN and Marion, IL; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of prisoners. The CMUs were secretly opened under the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007 respectively and were designed to monitor and control the communications of certain prisoners and to isolate them from other prisoners and the outside world.

Transfers to the CMU are not explained; nor are prisoners told how release into less restrictive confinement may be earned as there is no review process. Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged. The five plaintiffs in Aref were designated to the two CMUs despite having relatively or totally clean disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs have received any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade. Several of the plaintiffs expect to serve the entire remaining duration of their sentences at the CMU.

“These units are an experiment in social isolation,” said CCR Attorney Alexis Agathocleous. “People are being put in these extraordinarily restrictive units without being told why and without any meaningful review. Dispensing with due process creates a situation ripe for abuse; in this case, it has allowed for a pattern of religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment. This is precisely what the rule of law and the Constitution forbid.”

In addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on contact visitation, which is unique in the federal prison system, not only causes suffering to the families of the incarcerated men, but is a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

Said the 14-year-old daughter of one of the prisoners in the lawsuit, “The thing that hurts the most is that I can hear him but I can never touch him. I haven’t hugged, kissed or held my dad since December of 2007.”

Between 65 and 72 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men, a fact that attorneys say demonstrates that the CMUs were created to allow for the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslims based on the discriminatory belief that such prisoners are more likely than others to pose a threat to prison security.

Others prisoners appear to be transferred to the CMU because of other protected First Amendment activity, such as speaking out on social justice issues or filing grievances in prison or court regarding conditions and abuse.

For more information on Aref v. Holder, visit CCR’s legal case page or http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/aref%2C-et-al.-v.-holder%2C-et-al. (FPW: link does not work)

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.

Visit www.ccrjustice.org.