Georgia Prison Strike, One Year Later: Activists Outside the Walls Have Failed Those Inside the Walls

From: Black Agenda Report:
Dec 21, 2011
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In December 2010 inmates in up to a dozen Georgia prisons either refused to leave their cells for work assignments, or were pre-emptively locked down by prison officials. They demanded wages for work, access to educational programs, fairness in release decisions, along with decent food and medical care. An ad hoc coalition sprung up to negotiate with state officials, and gained privileged access to Smith and Macon State Prisons. But the coalition has long since withered and died, without even issuing reports from its December 2010 fact finding visits. What happened? And what happens next?

The Concerned Coalition To Respect Prisoner Rights was supposed to issue public reports of its fact-finding prison visits. That never happened.

A year ago this month, black, white and brown inmates in a dozen Georgia prisons staged a brief strike. They put forward a set of simple and basic demands — wages for work, decent food and medical care, access to educational and self-improvement programs, fairness and transparency in the way the state handles grievances, inmate funds and release decisions, and more opportunities to connect with their families and loved ones. A short-lived formation calling itself the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights came together, and met with the Georgia Department of Corrections. In the last weeks of 2010 teams of community observers were allowed to visit Macon State and Smith prisons, where they examined facilities and interviewed staff and prisoners.

The Concerned Coalition To Respect Prisoner Rights was supposed to issue public reports of its fact-finding prison visits. That never happened. It was to have initiated a long-term dialog with state officials in pursuit of the inmates’ eminently just and reasonable demands. That never happened either. It should have called public meetings and begun to organize a lasting campaign to educate the public on the meaning of Georgia’s and the nation’s prison state, and the possibilities for radical reform. These are the things the prisoners expected of their allies and spokespeople on the outside. But compromised and undermined from within and without, the coalition was unable to make any of these things happen. Thus the trust that Georgia prisoners placed in activists outside the walls to organize in support of their demands was betrayed.

From the beginning, members of the coalition uncritically deferred to a single one of their number with extremely limited local availability. That leading person vetoed public meetings, the establishment of an interactive web site or even a steering committee listserve, insisting that nobody else could not be trusted to manage or access the coalition’s contacts. So apart from the limited interactivity of a seldom updated Facebook page, the coalition maintained no easily found point of public contact. This leading person, in sole charge of calling meetings simply stopped emailing or telephoning this reporter and others who contributed significantly to the cause of the prisoners.

State authorities did their party to gut the coalition as well. Georgia got a new governor at the beginning of 2011, who took a keen interest in his own right wing vision of “criminal justice reform.” Taking his cues from an ultraconservative think tank called “Right On Crime”, Governor Deal is one of those who believes the main thing wrong with mass incarceration is that it’s too expensive. Aided by the Pew Foundation and a major state contractor, Deal created a commission on “criminal justice reform” composed of judges, prosecutors and state legislators to approve what his consultants cooked up — a hodgepodge of recommendations to shrink the state’s maximum and medium security institutions while greatly expanding probation, home monitoring, workfare, closely supervised “diversion” and misnamed “re-entry” programs, all under the profitable guidance of well-connected “not for profit” entrepreneurs.

True to his name, Deal reportedly made a deal with some leading figures in the Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, who bolted the coalition with the expectation that if they help line up black Democrats behind the white Republican governor’s “criminal justice reform” proposals, they’d get some of the state’s new “re-entry” money. A senior national civil rights leader quietly flew in and out of Atlanta the same day to quietly meet with Governor Deal about his deal. So the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, withered and died.

And so, a year out from the December 2010 prison strike, it is clear that activists outside the walls have largely failed to honor their commitment to those inside the walls. In the past year, not much has changed. Scores of prisoners alleged to be strike leaders were punitively transferred and locked down in the wake of the strike. Dozens more who were not strike leaders were savagely beaten, as exemplary reprisals for the strike, and denied medical attention afterward. State officials conspired to hide from his family and the public the whereabouts of one man they beat into a coma for nearly two weeks as he hung between life and death. A handful of guards were charged, but local prosecutors and grand juries refused to indict. The federal Justice Department, under its first black attorney general, and president has thus far expressed no interest in protecting prisoners from the arbitrary and brutal retaliation inflicted upon them by Georgia officials.

Inmates with debilitating and life threatening conditions are still mostly untreated. Educational programs are available to less than 5% of prisoners, and thousands of Georgia’s prisoners as young as 14, 15 and 16 years old, continue to be confined in adult institutions with adults. Bank of America still has the exclusive contract to handle inmate accounts, and levies a parasitic fee each and every time a family member sends an inmate a few dollars, and deducts another monthly charge as long as any funds remain in an inmate account. This year as last, thousands of prisoners who speak mainly Spanish are not afforded interpreters at disciplinary hearings, and with no transparency at any level it’s impossible to know whether there is any hint of fairness in these proceedings. Politically connected companies like J-Pay and Global TelLink are still allowed to siphon millions each month from the families of inmates by collecting tolls on the money transfers going into and phone calls coming out of prison. Food ranges from bad to merely inadequate, vermin infestations abound, and of course Georgia inmates still work every day without pay.

On Wednesday December 14, a year after the strike, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of TOPS, The Ordinary Peoples Society showed up at the Georgia state capitol with some of the families and supporters of prisoners savagely beaten by wardens and correctional officers in Georgia after the strike.

“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to the prisoners who made a principled stand for their own and each others’ human rights a year ago this week. We know the ball was dropped. TOPS and the National Organization of Formerly Incarcerated Persons, along with some others, are picking it up. Over the past year we’ve worked to secure legal and other assistance to the families of some of the prisoners who suffered beat downs in retaliation for the December 2010 strike, and we’ve expanded our work with the National Organization of Formerly Incarcerated Persons. But we know that much more has to be done to fulfill the promise of last year’s coalition.

For our part, we can promise that the next twelve months out here won’t be like the last twelve. Decent food and medical care, wages for work, educational opportunities and the like are ordinary human rights to which everybody is entitled. The Ordinary Peoples Society is ready to work with whoever is willing to advance the human rights of Georgia’s prisoners.”

Read the rest here

Georgia Dept of Corrections Withholding Medical Care to Brutalized Inmates, Retaliatory Campaign Continues

By Bruce A. Dixon
03/21/2011
http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/georgia-dept-corrections-withholding-medical-care-brutalized-inmates-retaliatory-campaign-co

From the correspondence of their attorney and the testimony of their families and friends, details are emerging which indicate a still ongoing campaign of brutal beatings and withheld medical care in the wake of the December 2010 inmate strike in Georgia prisons. Does the fact that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has take charge of inquiries into the beatings confirm the suspicion of some that the Department of Corrections is not to be trusted with investigating itself? And is it time, as Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of The Ordinary Peoples Society suggests, for a thoroughgoing yearlong series of public hearings into all aspects of Georgia’s troubled prisons?

Is Georgia’s Dept of Corrections Withholding Medical Care To Beaten Prisoners as Part of Retaliatory Campaign After Dec 2010 Inmate Strike?
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

“ …correctional officers singled out Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson, handcuffing and savagely beating both inmates after a search of their cells.”

Has the Georgia Department of Corrections, in the wake of the inmate strike of December 2010 embarked on a campaign of brutal retaliation against inmates in its custody? Is the department deliberately withholding medical treatment to prisoners its officers have viciously assaulted? Is the removal of Smith Prison’s former warden, and apparent demotion to a superintendent of a probation facility connected with extensive ongoing investigations into prison abuse and potential corruption? Have the department’s own internal affairs investigators turned a blind eye to ongoing threats and beatings inflicted upon prisoners with the apparent blessings of their supervisors, leaving investigations of these allegations exclusively to the GBI? And is the Department of Corrections preparing to go before a pliant southeast Georgia grand jury, where prisons are one of the region’s major industries, in the hope of seeking pre-emptive indictments against prisoners to shield its officers and supervisors from civil or criminal prosecution?
The questions around Georgia’s Department of Corrections are piling up. Some of the answers, as well as fuel for brand new questions, are in the stream of correspondence and open records requests filed by Mario Williams of Williams Oinonen LLC, attorney for several of the brutalized inmates.

From portions of that correspondence we know that on December 31, the day after a team of citizen observers were admitted to Smith Prison to interview staff and inmates, correctional officers singled out Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson, handcuffing and savagely beating both inmates after a search of their cells. Smith suffered multiple indentations to his head, blunt trauma apparently inflicted with a hammer-like object resulting in weeks of severe untreated pain. Georgia Diagnostic officials placed Kelevin in max lock down with a broken jaw that the officials knew needed to be wired, yet, waited nearly three weeks to do so, and only wired Kelevin’s jaw after repeated letters from Mr. Stevenson’s attorney to DOC officials requesting that immediate action be taken. And it is clear that Miguel Jackson and Kelvin Stevenson sustained these injuries not during the search, but only after they had been removed in handcuffs from their cells.

We know that all the fruitful investigations and arrest warrants for guards thus far were conducted and sworn out not by the Department of Corrections’ internal affairs officers, but by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. And we understand that the former warden at Smith State prison has been inexplicably transferred and demoted.

We know that Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson were denied doctor visits, urgently needed examinations and access to their own medical records for weeks after the assault despite daily complaint of hearing and memory problems, as well as problems with vision and other dangerous symptoms. The correspondence also documents a series of dire and terroristic threats made on multiple occasions by Jackson State correctional officers. After his attorney’s repeated complaints to Ricky Myrick of DOC’s Internal Investigations Unit, one of the guards making said threats was finally transferred out of the wing, but no other action was taken against him. The correctional officer continues to incite other inmates against Miguel Jackson by spreading rumors that he is a snitch.

“ Founded by ex-offenders in Alabama, The Ordinary Peoples Society has worked with prisoners, their families and communities for more than ten years in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.”

“ Over the last three months the attorney for the prisoner’s families has had to send a daily stream of letters, faxes, phone calls and document requests, visits and other inquiries to uncover and address the denial of medical care to the beaten prisoners, along with the facts of their cases,” declared Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of TOPS, The Ordinary Peoples Society [8]. “The Department of Corrections has dragged its feet at every opportunity during this time. The fact that GBI has had to take charge of investigating the vicious assaults of correctional officers and their supervisors upon prisoners is a clear admission on the part of state government that the Department of Corrections is unable or unwilling to uphold the laws it’s supposed to enforce.

“ So later this year TOPS is taking the lead in convening a series of public hearings throughout the state in which we will examine the way Georgia’s prisons operate, and specifically look into the wave of beatings, retaliations and cover ups that followed the inmate strike of December 2010.”

TOPS seems eminently qualified to lead such a public inquiry. In the decade since its founding The Ordinary Peoples Society has stood with and for prisoners, their families and communities in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, both on the level of individual and collective self-help, as well as advocacy on the level of public policy and public education. TOPS is working closely with the attorney for the families of prisoners Miguel Jackson, Kelvin Stevenson, Terrance Dean [10], and other recent victims of unlawful violence on the part of Georgia correctional officers.

“ We found out about TOPS from talking to the families of other prisoners,” Delma Jackson, the wife of Miguel Jackson told Black Agenda Report. “They told us that TOPS would work with us and stand with us to get the justice we need, both in prison and afterward. If there’s no jobs or education there’s not much for those who come out of prison, no way for them to support families and build new lives.”

Read the rest here.