Transcripts of the Second Legislative Hearing on Solitary Confinement in California

These transcripts reflect the Second Legislative Hearing, which was held on February 11th, 2014. It was transcribed by Whatthefolly and edited by a member of a coalition of groups who support California hunger strike prisoners. Plz click the following link to read the transcripts:

CDCR’S Proposed New Policies on Inmate Segregation: The Promise and Imperative of Real Reform

CA Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano Promise Hearings in Response to Prisoner Hunger Strike

Press Release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition:

Press Contacts:
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
Azadeh Zohrabi, 310 612 9706
Isaac Ontiveros, 510 517 6612

Oakland—As prisoners’ endure their 54th day without food, California state senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano issued a statement today where they vowed to hold hearings in response to the hunger strike.

“The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – are real and can no longer be ignored,” Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano said in a joint statement. Assemblymember Ammiano said further, “The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed. The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.”

“We appreciate Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s promises to take action. Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest. But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments,” said Dolores Canales, who is a member of the strikers’ mediation team and whose son is in Pelican Bay.

Hancock and Ammiano’s statement represents the strongest steps forward in addressing the prisoners’ peaceful protest, and advocates and lawyers representing the strikers say they are eager to communicate this development to the prisoners. “The prisoners on strike have always been clear that there is a viable pathway toward resolving the crisis created by the CDCR,” Said Anne Weills, a civil rights attorney representing some of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. “I look forward to talking to hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay to get their thoughtful input around the Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s proposal.”

As advocates work to communicate with prisoners on strike around this development, they are also encouraging a cautious attitude. “The strike is not over yet and it is still at a very dangerous moment given that we are entering a long weekend where people have gone 54 days without eating,” said Marie Levin, whose brother is one of the 4 remain strike representatives locked in Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay. “We hope that the CDCR will not act to disrupt this potentially positive development by spreading false information to strikers or continuing to retaliate against their peaceful protest.”

Lawyers visited New Folsom Prison north of Sacramento yesterday where they discovered nearly 80 Pelican Bay strikers had been relocated. They reported that health conditions are poor but that many are still on strike. Some prisoners that had come off strike have resumed the protest due to mistreatment at that facility. Lawyers also reported that other prisoners at New Folsom also joined the protest when they learned of the mistreatment of their fellow prisoners from Pelican Bay.

Concern for the strikers and condemnation of the CDCR is spreading internationally. Earlier today Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International said,“it’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities.” Meanwhile the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they would “again extend our offer to Gov. Brown and Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to assist in the resolution of this urgent life threatening situation. We offer to serve Gov. Brown and Dr. Beard on any outside oversight committee that may be convened to investigate any alleged human rights violations in the California’s prisons in order to propose the necessary corrective measures.”

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August 1st: Assemblymember Ammiano makes statement on ongoing prisoner hunger strike

For immediate release: August 1, 2013
For additional information: Carlos Alcalá, Communications Director, (916) 319-2017
Assemblymember Ammiano makes statement on ongoing prisoner hunger strike
SACRAMENTO — Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, disturbed by the Department of Corrections’ lack of progress in addressing issues raised by hunger striking prisoners in California facilities, today issued the following statement on the strike, currently in its fourth week. Assemblymember Ammiano is chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, visited Pelican Bay State Prison in January, and has held hearings on prison conditions.
“I remain concerned about the hundreds of prisoners still participating in a hunger strike to protest conditions. These are not minor prisoner complaints; they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept. The seriousness of the demands is underscored by the fact that hunger strikers have been at it for more than three weeks now.
“Although the death of a prisoner who had participated in the hunger strike has been ruled a suicide, I can’t be comforted by the knowledge that conditions in taxpayer funded institutions have led to unusual rates of suicide instead of reasonable rates of rehabilitation.
“I support those who are asking the administration to take more active steps to change the culture in CDCR. I am hopeful that the CDCR leadership will talk to mediators for the hunger strikers and that those talks can lead to progress that would allow this hunger strike to end.”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–AUGUST 1, 2013
Amid a Week of Rallies in Support of Prison Hunger Strikers, CA Assemblyman Tom Ammiano Urges Action, Resolution to Strike
Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
Oakland–California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano issued a statement today urging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to meet with prisoner hunger strike mediators and work toward meeting the prisoners’ demands.  Prisoners throughout California have been on hunger strike for 25 days, demanding an end to indefinite solitary confinement, comprehensive changes in draconian “anti-gang” policies, an end to collective punishment, and the provision of nutritious food and constructive programs and educational services.
These are not minor prisoner complaints, they are violations of international standards that have drawn worldwide attention. To keep anyone in severe isolation for indefinite amounts of time does not meet norms of human rights that civilized countries accept,” Said Ammiano.  “I support those who are asking the administration to take more active steps to change the culture in CDCR. I am hopeful that the CDCR leadership will talk to mediators for the hunger strikers and that those talks can lead to progress that would allow this hunger strike to end.”
“We applaud Assemblyperson Ammiano for taking such a strong stance in support of basic human rights for California prisoners,” said Donna Willmott, a spokesperson for the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.  “We hope other California decision makers join with him and not only make strong statements but also taking decisive action to bring about a resolution of this crisis.”
The CDCR has taken a hard line against the strikers and their families, making unsubstantiated claims that the strike and its outside support is part of massive gang conspiracy.  They have also publicized salacious details of some prisoners’ criminal histories, ignoring the roles these prisoners are playing in making just human rights demands and calling for an end to hostilities among prisoners. The CDCR continues to make assertions that the department’s use of extreme isolation is justified to control “the worst of the worst.”   Despite the prisoners being derided by the CDCR, support for the them is spreading. 
Tuesday, nearly 100 family and loved ones of strikers visited the California State Capitol and presented 70,000 signatures urging negotiation with the strikers to Governor Jerry Brown’s office.  Though Brown himself did not meet with family members personally, one of his aides did, marking the first public involvement from his office.  On Wednesday, hundreds rallied in support of hunger strikers at demonstrations held in Los Angeles, Oakland, London, New York, Santa Cruz, Jackson, and Philadelphia.  Demonstrations were also held in Germany and Guyana.  Demonstrators demanded that the CDCR and Governor negotiate with strikers immediately and end any and all retaliations against their protest.  Los Angeles’ rally was attend by at least 200 and included speeches by actors Danny Glover and Mike Ferrell.  Wednesday’s rallies also drew connections between the hunger strike and the recent Trayvon Martin protests.  “In coming together, we work toward bringing an end to injustices everywhere, from solitary confinement to racial profiling to mass incarceration,” said Dolores Canales, of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, whose son is on hunger strike in Pelican Bay.   
The death of hunger striker Billy Sell in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Corcoran prison continues to be an urgent concern.  A moment of silence was held in Sell’s honor at the Oakland rally on Wednesday.  Ammiano addressed Sell’s death directly, saying, “The death of a prisoner who had participated in the hunger strike has been ruled a suicide, I can’t be comforted by the knowledge that conditions in taxpayer funded institutions have led to unusual rates of suicide instead of reasonable rates of rehabilitation.”  Amnesty International also condemned Sell’s death and is joining strike supporters in demanding an independent investigation.  “Conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement in California are an affront to human rights and must end,” said Amnesty.
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Paul Redd: Prisoners, Unite! Community, Stand With Us!

From: SF Bay View
June 19, 2013

Interview by Sharon Martinas

Legendary jailhouse lawyer Paul Redd speaks out at this critical time from the Pelican Bay SHU.

Q: What is your name?

M: My name is Paul Redd. However, many friends and comrades call me P.R., Mume or Abbas.

Photo: Paul “Mume” Redd is a legendary jailhouse lawyer respected both inside and outside the walls. That proud brotherhood, whose work is essential in protecting the freedoms all of us cherish, is described and supported in this book by Mumia Abu Jamal, “Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA.”

Q: May I call you Mume?

M: Of course you may.

Q: Mume, you’re one of the 16 representatives of the 2011 Pelican Bay State Prison SHU hunger strikes in July and September?

M: Yes, I am.

Q: You also signed the Aug. 12, 2012, “Agreement to End Hostilities Between Racial Groups?”

M: Yes, I did.

Q: Let me travel back in time with some questions.

M: By all means.

Q: Where did you grow up?

M: I was born and raised in Oakland, California.

Q: Why are you in prison? And how long have you been in prison, including the SHU?

M: I was convicted in 1976 of first degree murder for the death of a local drug dealer in San Francisco. I am serving a seven years to life sentence with possibility of parole. I’ve been in prison now over 36 years. And 33 of these years have been spent in various SHUs. I have spent 25 years, minus a couple of months, in Pelican Bay supermax SHU.

Q: Mume, you said you were sentenced to “seven years to life with the possibility of parole.” What does that mean?

M: It means that I was eligible to be paroled (released) from prison any time after Dec. 21, 1982, which was seven years. Yet, the Parole Board continues to find me “unsuitable for a parole date” because of my commitment offense and my SHU status. Historically, the Parole Board has never found a prisoner in the SHU serving a life sentence with possibility of parole suitable for a parole release date, in spite of the fact that many of us have met the criteria to be paroled.

Q: How about others in the SHU who are not serving a life sentence with a parole release date?

M: Here is a clear illustration of an arbitrary unwritten policy.
For example: Prisoner A is a non-lifer in the SHU serving an indeterminate SHU term for “validation as a gang member” only. When his parole date arrives, he is paroled from the SHU back into the community.

Prisoner B is a lifer, eligible for a parole date in the SHU serving an indeterminate SHU term for “validation as a gang member” only. He is not given a parole release date. The only difference between the two prisoners: One has a parole release date; the other one does not.

Q: How have you grown as such an intelligent, highly skilled human being that prison officials, the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) decided that your voice needs to be silenced behind the pit of hell concrete walls of PBSP supermax for so many decades? Why have you been separated from your community and from other incarcerated people with similar aspirations and visionary plans?

M: You asked a two-part question. My growth is owed to many direct and indirect experiences in my life, prior to prison and while in prison. When I came into the prison system in 1976 to DVI (Deuel Vocational Institution) in Tracy, California, I felt the need to be a part of something to bring about positive changes to benefit the Black prisoner population. I started by using what little outside influence I had with friends to bring live entertainment shows inside the prison.

At the same time, I met other positive brothers educating others about our history and culture, including teaching reading and writing. They shared books with me that really opened my eyes, exposing the blatant institutional racism from the administration, top to bottom.

I also called upon other prisoners to join me in donating a few dollars each to raise funds to purchase a large amount of canteen to send into the SHU/MCU to be shared among all Black prisoners housed there. It was important to those brothers living under those inhumane conditions to know that there were brothers out there in general population that were going to look out for them.

I saw other prisoners contesting these conditions and it was a natural thing for me to join that fight. That was the way I was raised, although my life took a different path. Prison brought me back to those natural things I saw as a kid growing up in West Oakland in the ‘60s.

I began filing prison grievances, reading law books – and finding myself wrongfully being placed in the SHU, based entirely on manufactured accusations by certain prison officials, just to remove me from the general population to stop the positive things I was doing.

While in the SHU, I joined major class action lawsuits, continued to file grievances, and assisted other prisoners with filing documents. Some prisoners would call me a “legal beagle,” a “jailhouse lawyer,” “the people’s lawyer.” I was far from developing my legal skills back then.

They fear us prisoners who have the ability to use our positive conscious minds to unite prisoners in a peaceful, non-violent movement to eradicate repressive conditions and arbitrary, discriminatory policies and regulations.

Anyway, many prison officials over the years and even today, have called me a “troublemaker,” a “thorn in their side,” “an agitator.” I welcome with a smile what CDCR officials call me. But two things they can never call me are (1) a liar, or (2) someone who embellishes the facts.

When prisoners speak out and stand up to challenge acts of injustice that prove to be an embarrassment to CDCR officials, the officials retaliate by placing you in a SHU on bogus accusations or charges in an attempt to discredit us. This is the case today behind the pit of hell concrete walls. But thanks to the united hunger strikes, our voices are being heard, and our undisputed truths revealed, causing greater embarrassment to the CDCR.

CDCR officials, from Sacramento down to the prison grounds, have always known that prisoners hold the solutions to solving prison conditions entirely. They fear us prisoners who have the ability to use our positive conscious minds to unite prisoners in a peaceful, non-violent movement to eradicate repressive conditions and arbitrary, discriminatory policies and regulations.

Q: What are your hopes now, in this time and in the near future?

M: My hopes are many, but my immediate hopes are as follows:

(1) Establish a campaign calling on all Afrikan prisoners in the California prisons’ general populations, SHUs and ASUs to unite together as one voice to help reduce and end the senseless Black on Black killings and violence in our neighborhoods, using our unity to help rebuild our families, foundations and neighborhoods.
We as a proud Afrikan race with a history can solve our own problems without any involvement from law enforcement.

I want to start with bringing all the Afrikan prisoners from the Bay Area to join this unity movement through a creative Bay Area workshop. The success of this workshop will be to set up all over the major urban cities from up North to Southern California, committed to rebuilding our families and neighborhoods.

(2) Unite all the California prisoners in the general population as addressed through our call ‘Agreement to End All Hostilities Between Races,’ reaching mutual common ground in order to focus on the bigger picture to better our conditions for pushing for greater changes: from CDCR regulations to Parole Board composition and decisions. And, more importantly, rebuild our communities through our united efforts.

(3) Unite serious committed jailhouse lawyers behind the walls as a power “think tank” in addressing issues affecting the class of prisoners and working with outside legal aid clinics, law firms and attorneys. This is a vision I have had for a long time. My attempt to create such a think tank was disrupted by prison officials who implemented new policies to prevent me and other jailhouse lawyers in Pelican Bay SHU from communicating with other JHLs within the SHU and outside of the SHU.

We as a proud Afrikan race with a history can solve our own problems without any involvement from law enforcement.

I was recently reading the book you sent me called “Jailhouse Lawyers” by Brother Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he said something very similar, reminding me just how important it is for us to build this JHL movement and connect ourselves to the outside. Let me close by paraphrasing Bro Mumia’s words: Jailhouse lawyers must look beyond the state’s imprisoning bars, bricks and cement to build relationships with others in the so-called “free” world to further and support social movements that spread liberating and progressive space within society.

These words are relevant today and equally applicable to our call for broader unity. We behind the concrete walls start this new progressive movement. But we need the outside support of our communities to stand with us. Thank you all! I can be contacted at the address below:

Building Social Change, In Solidarity,

Mume

Send our brother some lover and light: Paul Redd Jr., B -72683, Pelican Bay State Prison D2-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

Note from Sharon Martinas: Mume and I have been pen pals since the summer of 2012. Mume is one of the representatives housed in Pelican Bay State Prison’s SHU, in the Short Corridor. I am a member of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition (PHSS) and a coordinator of PHSS’s Human Rights Pen Pal program. We agreed that Mume would also write the interview questions, since he knows what he wants to share about his life, his beliefs and his visions for a better world.


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Paul’s Testimony for the Legislative Hearing on Solitary Confinement, California Feb. 2013

From: Paulredd.org

February 8, 2013 To: Assembly Member Tom Ammiano
From:  Prisoner Paul Redd B-72683

Dear Committee Members,

Thank you for this brief opportunity to speak via letter. I understand we only have a couple of minutes in having our letters read which is impossible on PBSP SHU Inhumane Torture Conditions. So I’ll just go to the Main Issues.

1.      My name is Paul Redd, I am a New Afrikan prisoner serving a seven years to Life Sentence W. Possibility of Parole on a 1976 senseless murder conviction of a local drug dealer.

2. I’ve been held here at PBSP – SHU since September 5 1990 to present except for a brief 60 days period when I won my SHU release on December 29, 2000. Only to be fraudulently placed back into a SHU on March 12, 2001 without Due Process.

3. I have been held in California Prisons for the last 36 Years. I have spent 33 of those years in a SHU.

4. Again, it’s impossible for me to give a brief description of what my experiences of Solitary Confinement have been like here in two minutes.

Let me tell like this: The Architectural SHU Design at PBSP was intentionally designed to inflict physical and psychological torture on our bodies and minds. I have seen some prisoners lose their minds in a short period of time, while others it took more years.

I have had some prisoners from all races, whom debriefed, tell me they made up information on some prisoners or / and went along with what Gang Investigators wanted them to say on specific individuals. They told me they couldn’t take living in this SHU anymore. I have seen some prisoners harm themselves to Get Out of this SHU or get on psyche medications just to get moved out of this SHU. I have seen prisoners health deteriorate, – Died etc.

What effect this Long Term Solitary Confinement has done on me:
Escalating health problems such as:

– Taking several pills to treat high blood pressure,

– Enlarged Thyroid Gland and partial removal of the right Thyroid Gland.

– Two (2)times right knee surgery.

– Short term memory loss more frequently.

– Distorted hearing.

– Lack of sleep due to the loud noises of cell doors / pod doors opening / closing.

– Loud noise from toilet flushing.

– Bad vision, double right eye vision.

– Last Year I was diagnosed with right eye double vision and given special lenses called Prisms, which I blame these perforated cell doors (small holes) for messing up our eye sight.

5. This  Security Threat Group (STG) and  Step Down Program (SDP) do not serve any legitimate purpose. It’s Racist inside and outside and Ridiculous on its Face. It completely suppresses what little First Amendment Rights we are supposed to have. It does not afford any meaningful due process safeguards before any impartial Fair Review / Hearing Panel.

It allows for more arbitrary and discriminatory decisions cloaked under the erroneous pretext confidential informant information or / and current gang activity.

Most importantly it allows for more new abuse of power by those administering this racist profiling policy that changes nothing nor improves nothing.

This STG / SDP is manipulative and designed to mislead the Legislative Members to approve more wasted unnecessary fundings.

This STG / SDP should be rejected and not funded. The SDP is not voluntary. But – to be forced on us Prisoners

WHY? Because CDCR Officials / IGI / OSC know:

NO PRISONERS WOULD VOLUNTARILY PARTICIPATE IN THIS SDP.

We prisoners have real valid reasons backed with undisputed evidence to justify ourconcerns why it must be shut down.

– Let us have some Legislative Hearings under Oath that will review / examine our evidence given to us for Indeterminate Placement, “CDC 1030” Disclosure Forms, that are vague and NOT satisfying Due Process Requirements, IGI Validations Packages. Six Years Inactive Reviews.

– Hear live Testimony from both Prisoners and CDR Prison Officials, Captains, LT’s, Sgt’s and IGI Staff Behind these already existing Programs causing years of long-term Solitary Confinement.

– Ask the hard questions that have been covered up for decades. Most of you think the Hunger Strikes of 2011 exposed shocking inhumane conditions, discriminatory practices and abuse to follow Court Rulings. CDC Policies.

It was shocking to learn many of us prisoners have spent 30 to 40 plus years in the SHU with no acts of violence against prisoners nor CDCR staff. I hit a prisoner one time with my fist in 1984 on a SHU Yard. I received a CDC-115, I pled guilty and accepted responsibility for my actions. That’s the only assault I have on a prisoner and none on any staff. That was almost 30 years ago!

It’s funny CDCR Officials / Gang Officials tell the Media and Legislature, we use other prisoners to commit our violence. Yet they failed to produce any evidence to connect you to the incidents. 

They also fail to tell the Media and Legislature that the prison’s own investigations into certain incidents has cleared our names of any involvement. So, instead of releasing us from the SHU, they use group punishment with validation membership to warehouse you for decades in the SHU.

6. Since this New CDCR Regulations, staff have, in the last 3 to 6 months, issued more  ridiculous “CDC-128” chronos, “CDC-115”  and stating the information should be considered during the prisoner’s Six Years Inactive SHU Review.

A final note: CDCR budget has been cut in some areas. Now they are attempting to implement this STG / SDP to seek funding for it and going to turn it into more funding, because the reality is it will be a failure.

Our proposed MCUProposal is based on already existing programs within CDCR and reduces spending and not ask for more funding etc. Yet CDCR Officials rejected our proposal.

Thank You For Your Time.

Paul Redd Jr B – 72683

Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU
D2-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532

California Bill Would Increase Media Access to Prisoners

From the website of SolitaryWatch:
Jan. 6th 2012
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

The nation’s supermax prisons and solitary confinement units are virtual black sites, off-limits and therefore invisible to both the public and the press. While laws vary from state to state, the media are for the most part barred from touring these facilities, and forbidden to conduct in-person interviews with prisoners being held in solitary confinement. These rules are made by the prisons themselves, in the name of safety and security, and with few exceptions the courts have acquiesced, ruling that the freedom of the press stops at the prison gate.

A bill introduced in the California State Assembly seeks to challenge the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations ban on interviewing prisoners in its notorious Security Housing Units (SHUs) and ease restrictions on interviews with other prisoners. Assembly Bill 1270 was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano of San Francisco. Ammiano chairs the Public Safety Committee, and held hearings on California’s SHUs in August 2011, following the historic inmate hunger strike that began at Pelican Bay State Prison in July.

According to a fact sheet released by Ammiano’s office, AB 1270 seeks to restore the media’s ability to conduct pre-arranged in-person interviews with specific prison inmates…It would allow the media to provide more balanced information about our prison systems to keep the public informed and our institutions both transparent and accountable.” (The full fact sheet appears at the end of this post.)

The fact sheet notes: “Media is even more restricted access to the most controversial correctional facilities such as the secure housing units (SHUs). It goes on to describe the extreme isolation of the SHUs, and mentions findings that link solitary confinement to mental illness and suicide.

According to the bill, the interviews would take place “under the discretion of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” which could choose, for safety reasons, to deny a media request to interview a particular inmate. However, “Any responses denying a request must be accompanied by a written explanation for the request denial.” According to the text of the bill, it would also “forbid retaliation against an inmate for participating in a visit by, or communicating with, a representative of the news media.”

Earlier this week, the bill was referred to the Committee on Public Safety, which will decide whether it goes any further.