This is from the Miami Herald, Dec 13, 2014:
By Julie K. Brown
Bernadette Gregory was getting out of prison in eight months and planning her wedding when she was found hanging in a cell at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution.
Prison authorities say Gregory, 42, tied a double knot in a sheet, twisted it several times around her top bunk, looped the other end around her neck and hanged herself.
Despite relying on a wheelchair to get around, she did all of this in 11 minutes — while she was handcuffed, a detail the Department of Corrections’ investigative summary mentions only in passing.
Gregory’s 2009 death is one of many that don’t seem to add up but have nevertheless been tucked away in the department’s files, categorized as suicides, homicides, accidents or natural deaths.
With 320 inmate deaths tallied as of Dec. 8, Florida’s prison system is on track to have the deadliest year in its history. This rise in prison deaths coincides with an aging of the prison population, but also with a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by officers over the past five years.
Now, six months after the Miami Herald began an investigation into the questionable deaths of inmates in Florida’s state prisons, the U.S. Department of Justice is gathering evidence for a possible investigation into whether the agency has violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The Justice Department has sent letters to Florida’s three U.S. attorneys informing them of the inquiry.
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.
Keith LaMar (aka Bomani Shakur) was placed on death row after the State framed him for crimes he can prove he did not commit during the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He has been held in solitary confinement for the past 21 years.
Please show up to events, come to the oral argument on December 2nd, read Keith’s book, Condemned, and spread the word. Let’s join Keith LaMar in his fight to stay alive!
Keith’s death sentence is nearing its most critical stage. His final appeal will be heard through oral arguments, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2nd at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The address is:
540 Potter Steward U.S. Courthouse
100 East Fifth Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Schedule of Events for Tuesday, December 2nd — Keith LaMar Oral Arguments, Cincinnati, Ohio
12:45 p.m. — Supporters’ Rally before Keith’s Oral Arguments. Let’s come together in Lytle Park, East 4th Street, 2 blocks east of the Potter-Stewart Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Wear or carry your shirt if you have one (more will be available for $15).
1:10 — March to the Potter-Steward U.S. Courthouse together. Family and close friends will lead us there (per Keith’s wishes). Address: 100 East Fifth Street in Cincinnati.
1:20 — (T-shirts off/covered/put away). Check in through security and be seated.
2-3 p.m. — Oral Arguments will take place. Be Keith’s ears and eyes and please conduct yourselves peacefully (per Keith’s wishes).
3-3:15 p.m. — Please make your way to a private Vigil for Justice for friends and family at 1st Unitarian Church of Cincinnati. Address: 536 Linton Street (In Avondale off Reading Rd). Free parking and security provided.
3:15 — Fellowship and refreshments in the Fellowship Hall
3:45-5:15 — Vigil for Justice in the Sanctuary
Keith’s is a story about racialized injustice, State corruption, struggle, perseverance and truth. He has laid it all out in Condemned–a soulful, fiery, and captivating book. In it, he traces how the prosecutors fabricated a case against him, dismantles their lies by highlighting their inconsistencies, and proves that his Constitutional rights were violated by their willful withholding of evidence favorable to his defense. Most importantly, Keith compels readers to consider their place within the larger social system, inviting those who would stand on the side of social justice to join him, on his behalf and also for the countless other nameless, faceless people caught up in the struggle for humanity.
A documentary film that focuses on the State’s intentional railroading of Keith LaMar has just been completed (October 2014).
by Randall ‘Sondai’ Ellis, in: SF Bay View, November 29, 2014
In order to successfully advance in each step of CDCR’s newly enacted Step Down Program
(SDP), prisoners are expected to fill out and complete a series of thought policing or brainwashing workbooks. One such workbook is entitled “The Con Game” and purports to elucidate for the prisoner via “self-directed journaling” the ways in which he either consciously or unconsciously is a con artist and criminal.
However, empirical evidence irrefutably proves that the true con artists and criminals are CDCR, the Department Review Board (DRB), Office of Correctional Safety (OCS), Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI), Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and the Classification Staff Representative (CSR) – and the con game they’re running is the SDP, replete with such old cons as “Three Card Monty,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” “The Bait and Switch,” word games and manipulation.
So let’s look at it. It appears that the court has issued CDCR yet another “save.” It has effectively permitted CDCR to undermine the class action lawsuit filed in Ashker v. Brown et al., CV-05796-CW, challenging the use of long term solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful periodic review of our status towards release from said confinement, as was mandated – but never enforced by a court – in Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1098-1101(9th Cir. 1986).
Following the suspension of the hunger strikes, CDCR issued a series of memorandums that it said would effectively move it away from the current status-based punitive system to a more behavioral based individual accountability system, where a man would be punished based on his individual actions and not based on this current “he said she said” game. That game has evolved into a mechanism whereby the so-called investigators fabricate so-called evidence of gang activity and association and membership and is based on things like “your name was discovered on a roster in another validated prisoner’s property” or whatever comes to their imagination.
The court, seeming to support the prisoners’ position in Ashker v. Brown, denied CDC’s motion to dismiss the suit saying that “CDCR may be violating prisoners’ constitutional rights by confining them to the SHU indefinitely and without offering them a meaningful way out.”
It has effectively permitted CDCR to undermine the class action lawsuit filed in Ashker v. Brown et al., CV-05796-CW, challenging the use of long term solitary confinement and the lack of any meaningful periodic review of our status towards release from said confinement.
True to its form, CDCR released a few hostages from the SHU and set in motion a pilot program that it touted as a change to the current policy. It sold this policy to the Legislature in a series of hearings and informed the prison population via a series of memorandums.
CDCR claimed to be initiating case-by-case (CBC) reviews of every prisoner assigned to the SHU, beginning with those with the lengthiest validation dates, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s etc.
In the meantime CDCR began playing “Three Card Monty.” It claimed that as part of these reviews, the DRB would look back four years for evidence of “gang activity” to determine one’s placement within a given step in the so-called Step Down Program (SDP). The CCPOA, the guards’ union, threw a fit, filing a motion to intervene in the case. It claimed that CDCR was putting guards in danger if they released these guys.
As the process evolved, the court hinted that the new pilot program wasn’t a cure for the prisoners’ claims because it was only a pilot program, so CDCR moved to make the program permanent by enacting a rule change with the OAL. At the same time, CDCR set up a sanctioned “punishment facility” at Tehachapi, where the program is so dysfunctional, so disrespectful, so degrading, it is said to be even worse than the torturous conditions that spawned the hunger strikes at Pelican Bay!
Here, the DRB selects who it will subject to additional punishment by placing him in either Step 3 or 4 under the guise of there being some sort of recent gang activity uncovered by the IGI or OCS – “smoke and mirrors.”
In a subsequent ruling, the Ashker court ruled to certify the case as a class action and said that anyone confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay for 10 continuous years could adequately represent the class and anyone placed into the new SDP could not represent the class! So CDCR began relocating the named plaintiffs to the new punishment facility Step 3, though one or two went directly to the general population.
And wouldn’t you know it, the DRB has changed its focus. It is no longer reviewing those with the lengthiest validation dates. They are now focusing their reviews on those who have been confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay the longest.
medical treatment or sent to another SHU for a brief period, as experienced by myself – is not viewed as having been held hostage in Pelican Bay for 10 continuous years. Many of us were transferred to Corcoran SHU back in ‘99-‘00 as part of the first con game, the active/inactive reviews.
CDCR set up a sanctioned “punishment facility” at Tehachapi, where the program is so dysfunctional, so disrespectful, so degrading, it is said to be even worse than the torturous conditions that spawned the hunger strikes at Pelican Bay!
Now all of a sudden our DRB reviews will be scheduled according to the date they deem you were “returned” to the PBSP SHU. So one can end up being in the SHU 30 to 40 years, as in my and other prisoners’ cases, as long as he’s transferred to another SHU before he reaches the now requisite 10-year continuous mark – “word games and manipulation.”
This effectively undermines the entire case, and CDCR is taking the “save” it’s been given by now “bait and switching” its stated procedure of reviewing the hostages by length of validation, to those by length of placement in the Pelican Bay SHU. They didn’t even bother to issue a memo for this latest arbitrary policy shift, proving their nefarious if not criminal intent.
This is nothing but a con game, a scheme to buy time so that they can conspire to ensure that they keep this place full of hostages. After all, they have a 10-year window to torture their next victims to death, or worse, at “the punishment facility.”
This con game must be viewed for what it really is, an ongoing and continuing conspiracy designed to keep as many hostages in the SHU as possible, while the guards sit back and collect exorbitant pensions in the name of safety and security. Who said crime doesn’t pay?
This con game must be viewed for what it really is, an ongoing and continuing conspiracy designed to keep as many hostages in the SHU as possible, while the guards sit back and collect exorbitant pensions in the name of safety and security. Who said crime doesn’t pay?
In closing, Ashker v. Brown should be amended to make a claim for damages we suffered as a result of being subjected to these unconstitutional practices, which have resulted in irreparable injury to their victims. For more information, visit Justiceforsondai.wordpress.com.
Release the hostages!
Send our brother some love and light: Randall ‘Sondai’ Ellis, C-68764, PBSP SHU D1-223, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.
After decades behind bars for a 1975 murder they did not commit, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman have walked free in Ohio. The key witness, a 12-year-old boy at the time, said police coerced him into false testimony.
Written By Annie Wu for The Epoch Times
NEW YORK—At a Thursday press briefing on the Department of Correction’s planned reforms of jail conditions at Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte expressed that their biggest challenge is how to provide for mentally ill inmates.
The mayor said the high proportion of inmates with a mental illness—at 40 percent of the total population at Rikers Island—was a reality that the Corrections Department failed to address, and was at times unwilling to. Half of all violent incidents reported at Rikers involved mentally ill inmates.
“There was no public acknowledgement that the problems on Rikers Island were first and foremost a mental health problem,” the mayor said. “We literally as a city, didn’t diagnose the problem until now.”
He added that a “culture change” was necessary to bring about effective reform in an agency where there existed “practices that were shockingly outmoded, things that went unsaid, things that went unaddressed.”
On Nov 12th and 13th, the U.S. Government went before the U.N. Committee Against Torture for a periodic review. Here follow a few Shadow Reports submitted to the U.N. reporting on the torturous practice of Solitary Confinement used in the U.S.A.:
First, an introduction to the matter:
From Dissenter / Firedoglake, Nov 11th, 2014:
US Government to Go Before UN Committee Against Torture & Defend Solitary Confinement
During a periodic review of the country’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the United States is expected to go before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva and defend the use of solitary confinement.
On November 12 and 13, the committee will scrutinize President Barack Obama’s administration and its compliance with the treaty.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture defines [PDF] solitary confinement as “physical and social isolation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day.” The UN has been particularly concerned about “prolonged solitary confinement,” which is a “period of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days.” This is when “some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible.”
Also, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern in 2011 that “super maximum security” prisons “impose solitary confinement as a normal, rather than an ‘exceptional,’ practice for inmates.”
Following are Shadow Reports submitted to the U.N. Committee Against Torture:
The Torture of Solitary Confinement in the United States: The Example of New York State
Shadow Report of the Correctional Association of NY to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, 53 rd Session
September 22, 2014
THE USE OF PROLONGED SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN UNITED STATES
PRISON S, JAILS, AND DETENTION CENTERS
Shadow Report Submission to the Committee on the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Review of the United States of America
This report is submitted by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), and California Prison Focus (CPF).
Children in Adult Jails and Prisons
Shadow Report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture
September 22, 2014
– International Women’s Human Rights Clinic
– City University of New York Law School
– ACLU Michigan/Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative
– Campaign for Youth Justice
– Correctional Association of New York
– The Project on Addressing Prison Rape
– American University, Washington College of Law
– University of Miami Human Rights Clinic
Torture in U.S. Prisons: Interfaith Religious Coalition Calls for End to Widespread Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement
A Shadow Report Prepared for the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Connection to its Review of the United States Compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT)
by Shandre Delaney
SF Bay View, November 13th, 2014
Imagine sitting in a windowless 6-foot-by-9-foot room the size of a bathroom for 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with family or anyone on the outside. The lights are on 24/7. The only drinking water you have is brown from rust. You constantly hear mentally ill people screaming and harming themselves.
Within days of this torturous isolation you may begin to feel mental breakdown. Is this Guantánamo? Abu Ghraib? A torture chamber in some distant land? A torture chamber, yes, but a homegrown one.
This is solitary confinement in a state prison near you. The United States has many like the one in Dallas, Pennsylvania, a modern day dungeon, which imprisons people for years to face abuse and violence out of public view by guards paid with our tax dollars. But men inside also defend themselves and, even locked within their cells, try to fight back. One of those men was my son Carrington Keys.
The United States has many like the one in Dallas, Pennsylvania, a modern day dungeon, which imprisons people for years to face abuse and violence out of public view by guards paid with our tax dollars.
Six Black men – Andre Jacobs, Anthony Kelly, Anthony Locke, Duane Peters, Derrick Stanley and Carrington, now known as the Dallas 6 – blew the whistle and took nonviolent action to stop the abuse. It started when the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), a grassroots group of prisoners, ex-prisoners, activists and family members like myself, began receiving letters from prisoners alleging abuse.
We built abuse logs with information about beatings; mental abuse; glass, metal, feces, spit, semen and urine in the food; mail tampering; deprivation of human contact; withholding medication; and starvation. Particularly upsetting to the men was the coerced suicide by guards of a mentally ill white man. “Seeing that body bag come out really shook me,” said Derrick Stanley, now free.
The men went through all the complaint channels. Carrington wrote to then District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll informing her of the abuses and asking for help. She never replied. He filed a lawsuit against her for turning a blind eye. He informed the family of the man coerced into suicide and they sued and won an undisclosed sum.
HRC compiled the abuse logs into the Institutionalized Cruelty report. But instead of ceasing, the abuse escalated. On April 29, 2010, after young Isaac Sanchez was bound, naked and bloody, to a restraint chair for at least 16 hours (two hours is the legal limit), the men peacefully covered their cell windows to ask for outside intervention.
Covering a cell window is a signal in Pennsylvania prisons to summon a captain, who is required to come down, so that the prisoner can make complaints directly to him about a guard or circumstance that they have exhausted all other means to resolve. Instead, guards in riot gear pepper-sprayed, tasered and beat the unarmed men.
The six were originally charged with refusing to obey an order, a misconduct charge handled within prison. Four months later, however, after the assaults became public when HRC filed a criminal complaint against the Department of Corrections (DOC), Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, the DOC and the state police conspired to charge these men with riot, a felony.
Although former Luzerne County judges Mark Ciavarella Jr. and Michael Conahan now sit in prison for incarcerating youth for kickbacks (the “kids for cash” scandal), the corruption that enabled their outrageous crimes continues to flourish, as demonstrated by this malicious frame-up and cover-up.
Covering a cell window is a signal in Pennsylvania prisons to summon a captain, who is required to come down, so that the prisoner can make complaints directly to him about a guard or circumstance that they have exhausted all other means to resolve.
A common wish of prisoners is to be treated like human beings. They expect to do their time and come out. While guards are not expected to be courteous or sociable, they are expected not to harass, threaten, shout racial slurs, provoke suicide or retaliate because you use your right to complain about their lack of professionalism and ethics.
Whatever a person’s sentence, it does not include torture, abuse or murder. The law should be upheld. The guards and those covering up for them should be on trial, not the Dallas 6.
A common wish of prisoners is to be treated like human beings.
The Dallas 6 are part of a movement of prisoners, such as the California and Georgia prisoner hunger and work strikers, who use peaceful resistance to counter rampant abuses in solitary, crossing racial divides and ending hostilities among themselves to do so.
The Dallas 6 trial started Nov. 10, is scheduled to continue Nov. 17-20 and may resume in February. This is a landmark case for all who believe in justice, anti-racism and human rights. The public needs to know, and the decent guards need to be supported rather than letting their brutish colleagues dominate the DOC with their illegal sadism in prisons and courtrooms. We demand accountability.
Shandre Delaney, coordinator of the Justice for the Dallas 6 Support Campaign and mother of Carrington Keys, one of the Dallas 6, has been an advocate for human and civil rights for 15 years at Human Rights Coalition and Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story first appeared on Truthout. Visit scidallas6.blogspot.com and the Facebook page for the latest information.
The Dallas 6 trial, begun Nov. 10, is back in session at least through Nov. 20 at Luzerne County Courthouse; transportation is available to and from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – email email@example.com. Two stories follow.
The Dallas 6 go to court
by Mumia Abu-Jamal
They are called the Dallas 6 – and we ain’t talking about Texas.
Dallas, in Pennsylvania, is one of nearly 30 prisons in the state, located in its rural outback. The six are young Black men who, in 2010, tried to stage a peaceful protest in the prison’s “hole,” its solitary confinement unit.
They were moved to such protest after witnessing another prisoner, Isaac Sanchez, being strapped into a torture chair (prison officials call it a “restraint chair”) for hours – even overnight. When guards threatened to do the same to them, the men tried to cover their cell doors with their bedding – and refused to leave their cell, in an effort to protect themselves.
The guards armed themselves with batons and electrified equipment, and they stormed the six cells, leaving the men beaten, bloody, naked, eyes burning, their flesh seared with pepper spray.
All of the guards later admitted they suffered no injuries. How could they? They wore black body armor and helmets – what prisoners call “star wars” garb.
After some of the men filed grievances and civil suits, the DA replied with criminal charges, and on Nov. 10, 2014, the men were marched into Luzerne County Courthouse, in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., to face “riot” charges.
They were gassed, they were beaten, they were tasered and zapped with electro-shields – and they face riot charges!
It should be noted that this is the same county where judges took money to send kids to jail, where no one reported their monstrous actions – not even the DA! – for nearly a decade!
The Dallas 6 – Andre Jacobs, Anthony Kelley, Carrington Keys, Anthony Locke, Dwayne Peters and Derrick Stanley – are potentially facing more prison time for refusing to submit to torture, for men have died, in America, while strapped into the torture chair.
Should they have meekly submitted to torture – like sheep to the slaughter?
For more information on the Dallas 6, go to scidallas6.blogspot.com.
Help the Dallas 6 stand for justice and human rights!
© Copyright 2014 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Read Mumia’s latest book, “The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America,” co-authored by Columbia University professor Marc Lamont Hill, available from Third World Press, TWPBooks.com. Keep updated at www.freemumia.com. For Mumia’s commentaries, visit www.prisonradio.org. For recent interviews with Mumia, visit www.blockreportradio.com. Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI–Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.