CDCR allegedly creates new types of solitary confinement cells, applying double jeopardy

From a letter sent on Aug. 14, 2015:

I’m writing to you about a new disciplinary building that’s been implemented here and at other prisons. It is known as a C-Status building.
It’s both similar and yet different from the Hole, or SHU.

This new program was implemented this year and cdcr are putting inmates in here based on how many 115s we get. The criteria is having two “Serious” 115s* (this could be for phone possession, dirty drug test, fighting, ANY Division offense really), or one Serious and two Administrative 115s, within a 6 month period.

The problem with this is if staff doesn’t like you, they can and will find something to write us up on, and it’s like we are being punished twice.

We have to deal with the disposition/punishment from the 115 (loss of yard, loss of phone, canteen, appliances, visits, etc), and then if we have two write ups, they convene a Commitee hearing (the captain, CC1, and CC2), label us as ‘program failures’ and we get put in the C-Status building for on average 5 months.

Once in the C Status building, our TVs, hot pots, fans, watches, radios, shavers, anything electronic is taken from us, as well as musical instruments, and we’re told to either send it home or donate it, but they will not store it for us. For recreation, we are only given one hour in the concrete yard at the same time every day.

The Title15 says they are only supposed to take away entertainment appliances, but they are going beyond that. They do not allow us to go to the law library (only paging), or go to any religious services.

Many of us have appealed via 602, but they have been screening out every one. We are essentially being punished twice, the first punishment being from the 115, and then by committee putting us in here, sometimes months after the original 115 disposition.

There are approximately 44 cells that have been appropriated in 8-Block (all of the cells in B and C section) to be used to house inmates placed on ‘C-Status’ by the disciplinary lieutenants and/or ‘C/C’ placement (Privilege Group & Work Group), by prison officials at a Committee hearing (which consists of the facility Captain, CC1 Counselor, and CC2 Counselor).

Since the implementation of this new punishment, prison officials have been on a grind to fill up these cells. And they have done just that; almost all 44 cells (double occupancy) have been filled up. And these are only with the inmates on this yard, C-yard.

There is a huge disparity in the treatment and ‘program’ we receive compared to those inmates that get sent to Ad-Seg and SHU’s. They have more privileges than us and they are often placed there for way more serious offenses, such as possession of weapons, distributing/possessing drugs, battery and assault on staff or inmates, etc. And these Ad-Seg inmates are allowed to have their TV’s, and new arrivals to Ad-Seg are even given radios to use temporarily. Even more important, they are [in theory] allowed access to the law library twice a week.

But for many of us we’re put on C/C for petty offenses, and once here we are not allowed to go to the law library or any religious service programs.
Being denied access to the law library and its resources is a huge obstacle to those with active appeals and court cases. It’s denying us with one of our fundamental rights to have access to law materials and the courts.

CSP-Sac officials have ignored the Title-15, and often make and impose changes arbitrarily. For example, since when is a hotpot, fan, or wrist watch considered an ‘entertainment appliance’, which they have and thus will not allow us to have them. However, according to the Title-15, the only property we’re not allowed to have while on C/C or C-Status, are ‘entertainment appliances’ (TVs, radios, and musical instruments).

We are being subjected to worse treatment and denied programs, and for many of us these are for petty offenses. All of us have already been found guilty and punished once already for the 115, but now if we have two 115 write-up’s within 6 months of each other, we get punished twice by being put in this shit-hole of a disciplinary building, often for up to 5-6 months. This is double jeopardy at its finest.

*=Rules Violation Reports, see 3310-3326 of CDCR Title 15 rules book

 

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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.”