Corona-virus (COVID-19) in prisons

Corona-virus (COVID-19) in prisons:

Words from prisoners and a call to take healthcare for all inside and out seriously

15th of March 2020

In the light of the question whether prisons are taking enough precautions to safeguard their prisoners against the spread of COVID-19, I spoke with several prisoners in different states. I also contacted Marina Drummer of the Angola 3 Newsm who had some very informative links to share.

During a phonecall with our Brother Kenny Zulu Whitmore, who is incarcerated since 1975 and who is in a dormitory in LA State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, we talked about the situation inside during this COVID-19-pandemic. Zulu is still waiting for his court date, which will hopefully be soon, this March or April.

Zulu said that the prisoners were ‘locked in’, which basically means no visitors could come inside to visit the prisoners. I asked him if they had been given soap, handsantizer, and instructions what to do and how to keep “social distancing” while inside. If they received more “yard-time” outside as it is probably healthier in the outside air than inside with hundreds if not thousands of fellow prisoners and guards in the same rooms, close to each other. He had not seen any of these things yet.

Our Brother Joseph in WA State added the following:

“Here in the Washington prison system we’re in the early stages of this crisis and a quarantined area has been designated for those who may test positive. So far, no additional soap or other products are being provided, but all pecautionary measures are being taken. A concentrated emphasis is being placed on cleaning and disinfecting frequently used surfaces. Since visits have been suspended were relying heavily on jpay services.
We salute our brothers, sisters, and loved ones across the nation to hold firm and trust in the power of due dilligence and faith.”
– Joseph “Broadway” Kennedy, Wash. State.

The prisoners and their loved ones have not been inactive in these times.

In California a letter, signed by many organizations (the ACLU and UCL among others), was sent to Governor Newsome on March 13th asking to protect the lives of the people impacted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), including people in custody, staff at CDCR, and the family members and communities of staff and those who are incarcerated.

The letter (see attached PDF) first of all asks to release all medically fragile adults and adults over the age of 60 to parole supervision. Secondly, to release all people who have an anticipated release date in 2020 and 2021 to parole supervision. Thirdly, to expedite all review processes for people already found suitable for release, lift holds, and expedite the commutation process. Also: to immediately suspend all unnecessary parole meetings. Finally, to eliminate parole revocations for technical violations.

We are here further adding a few links we gathered and received from Marina Drummer (Angola3News) to help and to demand to authorities:

The Justice Collaborative (TJC) anchored a powerful webinar about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated people in prisons, jails and detention centers around the U.S.

You can watch the full recording at: https://youtu.be/ZQ7CMKwB-Ng

Below are important resources for understanding the impact on people inside and demands to make on public officials:

TJC also has factsheets out based on the initial ideas offered by the Prison Policy Initiative (see below):

Here is a link to the PPI report upon which many of these ideas are drawn.

Emergency Response Demand Lists

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) on March 6th wrote the initial article which was referred to above with 5 powerful and very useful suggestions for politicians in these times of the pandemic. The letter to the California governor was also based on the suggestions of the PPI. It would be good if all other states followed the example of the California groups writing to Governor Newsome.

The title of the article in PPI is: No need to wait for pandemics: The public health case for criminal justice reform, by Peter Wagner and Emily Widra.

The PPI offer “five examples of common sense policies that could slow the spread of the virus. This is not an exhaustive list, but a first step for governors and other state-level leaders to engage today, to be followed by further much-needed changes tomorrow”:

Here are five places to start:

1) Release medically fragile and older adults.
Jails and prisons house large numbers of people with chronic illnesses and complex medical needs, who are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill and requiring more medical care with COVID-19. And the growing number of older adults in prisons are at higher risk for serious complications from a viral infection like COVID-19.
Releasing these vulnerable groups from prison and jail will reduce the need to provide complex medical care or transfers to hospitals when staff will be stretched thin. (In Iran, where the virus has been spreading for several weeks longer than in the U.S., the government just gave temporary release to almost a quarter of their total prison population.)

2) Stop charging medical co-pays in prison.
Most prison systems have a short-sighted policy that discourages sick people from seeking care: charging the free-world equivalent of hundreds of dollars in copays to see a doctor. In the context of COVID-19, not receiving immediate, appropriate medical care means allowing the virus to spread across a large number of people in a very confined space. These policies should all be repealed, but at a minimum should be immediately suspended until the threat of pandemic is over. (This will also reduce the administrative burden of processing and collecting these fees.)

3) Lower jail admissions to reduce “jail churn.”
About one-third of the people behind bars are in local jails, but because of the shorter length of stay in jails, more people churn through jails in a day than are admitted or released from state and federal prisons in 2 weeks. In Florida alone, more than 2,000 people are admitted and nearly as many are released from county jails each day.

As we explained in a 2017 report, there are many ways for state leaders to reduce churn in local jails; for example, by: reclassifying misdemeanor offenses that do not threaten public safety into non-jailable offenses; using citations instead of arrests for all low-level crimes; and diverting as many people as possible people to community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment.

State leaders should never forget that local jails are even less equipped to handle pandemics than state prisons, so it is even more important reduce the burden of a potential pandemic on jails.

4) Reduce unnecessary parole and probation meetings.
People deemed “low risk” should not be required to spend hours traveling to, traveling from, and waiting in administrative buildings for brief meetings with their parole or probation officers. Consider discharging people who no longer need supervision from the supervision rolls and allow as many people as possible to check in by telephone.

5) Eliminate parole and probation revocations for technical violations.
In 2016, approximately 60,000 people were returned to state prison (and a larger number were arrested), not because they were convicted of a new criminal offense, but because of a technical violation of probation and parole rules, such as breaking curfew or failing a drug test. States should cease locking people up for behaviors that, for people not on parole or probation, would not warrant incarceration. Reducing these unnecessary incarcerations would reduce the risk of transmitting a virus between the facilities and the community, and vice versa.”

(https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/03/06/pandemic/ )

The New Forgotten Men and Women-Elderly Prisoners Appeal for Help!

Received via email from JusticeforMajorTillery.org on March 16, 2018:

In December 2017, Major Tillery, sixty-seven years old and imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Frackville made a proposal to Superintendent Kathy Brittain for remedial policies and to stop the disrespectful and abusive treatment of the seniors.

“On behalf of all the Elderly Members of the General Population” Major Tillery asked for “humanistic consideration for health reasons” to implement some commonsensical, little or no cost changes: housing unit adjustments for the elderly; modifying shower times; providing additional blankets and cold-weather clothing items like gloves and long-johns; virtual visitation with even older parents. He also suggested a pilot program that combined seniors mentoring younger prisoners while getting their help in escorting the elderly in the prison. This program would “bridge the gap between the elderly and youth, create meaningful interaction—now and in the future with family and friends—and educate about diversity of true ethnic cultural differences.”

Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of elderly prisoners in the U.S., related to the fact that it is one of six states that have prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole. In 1980 there were 370 elderly people in PA’s state prisons, as of 2014 there were 8000, which was 16% of PA prisoners over the age of 55. As of January 1, 2018, the DOC reported 10,442 inmates over the age of 50. The consequences of lack of adequate health care for any and all prisoners is exacerbated when it comes to elderly prisoners; years of prison life, including the food and quality of the water. The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, cancer, and liver disease. Studies establish that the elderly prison population is at higher risk for self-harm, suicide and victimization by staff and other prisoners.

On January 3, 2018, Major Tillery re-submitted his proposals to Sup. Brittain, the Office of Legal Counsel to the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Deputy Secty for the Eastern Region stating the denial of accommodations for elderly prisoners is a violation of the American Disabilities Act as applied to the Elderly. He said:

“It is cruel and unusual punishment for the elderly to be abused and mistreated by correctional staff, our primary caretakers…. Medical and elderly care is part of reasonable care, custody and control [by the DOC] under color of law.”

The prison response is a once-a-week activities program and to limit participation to the twenty-two prisoners at SCI Frackville who are over 65. This doesn’t even comply with the DOC recognition that in the prison system, 50 is considered elderly.

With the support of other elderly prisoners, Major Tillery on February 16, 2018 gave notice to the Office of Legal Counsel for the PA. Department of Corrections (DOC) and Sup. Brittain:

“I am required to try and solve the Elderly Prisoners’ Issues by law under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act before seeking class action Litigation. Supt. Brittain you know this is a real issue, and I realize changes take awhile. However, not being taken seriously for something this important I have no other choice, to save my life and others. I’ve been housed in the hardest control units in the U.S. I have issues from years of isolation, starvation and other abuses while at Marion [infamous federal lock-down prison], they fed me one meal a day, in the dark and now I’m old and still going through it.”

Major Tillery asks for “proper medical care opposed to dismissing our concerns and needs.” This complaint is for consideration of aging prisoners, eliminating lengthy periods of standing for count, or in line for medications and commissary or out in the cold between buildings or in the cell without long johns, gloves, sweaters, extra blankets. It is also a demand to stop staff bullying and harassment of elderly prisoners for memory loss, inability to hear announcements, or time needed to walk through the prison from the cell to the mess hall to the infirmary. The proposals repeated the need for a mentoring program with younger prisoners that would also provide assistance to seniors.

YOU CAN HELP:

TELL PRISON OFFICIALS:
Elderly Prisoners Need Respect and Additional Care
Implement Major Tillery’s Proposals, including an elderly housing unit and a mentoring program with younger prisoners; more medical attention; and appropriate clothing and additional blankets in cold weather

CALL:
SCI Frackville Superintendent Kathy Brittain 570 874-4516
Dep. Secretary, DOC Eastern Region Michael Wenerowicz 717 728 4122 or 4123

EMAIL: Ra-contactdoc@pa.gov

Excerpts of testimonials from Major Tillery, Terrence Poles and Clifford Smith below. Read these in full on Justice for Major Tillery

The New Forgotten Men and Women!
Major Tillery AM978, January 18, 2018

Now we have a group of “New Forgotten Man and Women,” the elderly held in Pennsylvania state prisons. Take myself– in 1983 at the age of 33 I entered the prison with a life sentence, without the chance of parole. At that time I was both mentally and physically strong. Even back then I noticed how older people were being treated; the lack of concern [for] programming for elderly assistance didn’t exist.

Although I was 33 then, it struck me as wrong and on several occasions I complained to the administration on behalf of the elderly and mentally ill prisoners. This bothered me to the point that I filed a civil lawsuit on these issues. [Tillery v. Owens, a federal a lawsuit that ended double-celling (4 in a cell) in PA prisons and required the Pa. Department of Corrections to provide additional mental and medical health care to prisoners.] …

The DOC has a humanitarian problem as it relates to how people treat other people.
Now I face the same fears. Not dying, but to die among people and medical staff who would treat one of the dogs up here with more care and compassion than me. I’m not exaggerating, it’s true. I have it a little better than most older prisoners here, because after 35 years I helped raise a lot of these young brothers, so they check on me daily. But what about the others, the older people who are not Major Tillery? They get pushed around, cheated for phone time, medical treatment just flat out dogged by both staff and other prisoners. I only get problems mostly from administration. So when the old people come to me, I try to bring their grievances with mine. And like I started— ‘Forgotten Men and Women in 1983’ and now ‘Forgotten in 2018’ … .

Aging in Prison
By Bro Tacuma/Terrence Poles BL5740

NEGLECT, CARELESSNESS and DISRESPECT, are the main aspects of aging in prison that the general public isn’t fully aware of. First and foremost my name is Terrence Poles. I’m 55 years old, and I’ve been serving a DBI sentence since 1989. (Death By Incarceration: AKA LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE.)

We’re NEGLECTED because the state doesn’t offer any meaningful or therapeutic programs for the elderly.

Because of their CARELESSNESS and callousness, they won’t even give/allow me to use an extra mattress (for back pain and arthritis).

The DISRESPECT is manifested in so many ways. We aren’t given thermals, vitamins, or nutrients and other things that will prolong our health and well-being. There isn’t even a housing unit for the elderly. Some older individuals have serious medical issues, which may cause them to have to get in the showers at certain times. Instead of having to wait until 3 pm standing for sometimes 15 minutes to 20 minutes just to get into the shower.

A Summary of Life, My Life as an Old Man…
By Clifford Smith AM8913 (AKA) Robert Amin Atkins

It’s 2018: I’ve been incarcerated for 36 years, watching my life, my hopes, dreams, and visions slip away. That’s my perception. It’s a reality that society, my correctional community see me, and all the elderly at SCI Frackville.

Is it unreasonable to request civil, fundamental, basic human rights for the elderly? Fair treatment programs that inspire growth? Awareness of how to transition to old age? It’s a difficult task, with deliberate indifference from staff, and other inmates who don’t understand that they will eventually grow old, and die in prison. Why can’t we die with respect and dignity?

I’m fighting for the right to be treated fairly as we grow older. I’m afraid I will have my job taken from me because I am an old man and continue to question, challenge our treatment.

When you speak truth to power there are consequences; but we won’t be silent. The simple things we do day to day are a challenge, like walking to the dining hall. I’m bumped, pushed just because I don’t move fast enough. If I don’t chew fast enough, I’m not allowed to finish my meal. I’ve outlined many examples of abuse and questions about the treatment of the elderly.

In struggle, Amin The (Old Man)

Write separately to:

Major Tillery AM9786
Clifford Smith AM8913
Terrence Poles BL5740

SCI Frackville
1111 Altamount Blvd.
Frackville, PA 17931

For More Information, Go To: JusticeForMajorTillery.org
Call/Write:
Kamilah Iddeen (717) 379-9009,
Kamilah29@yahoo.com

Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq. (917) 689-4009, RachelWolkenstein@gmail.com

JusticeForMajorTillery.org

Graying Prisoners

From:  New York Times
Aug 18th 2013, 
By Jamie Fellner, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch, focusing on criminal justice in the United States.

MORE and more United States prisons resemble nursing homes with bars, where the elderly and infirm eke out shrunken lives. Prison isn’t easy for anyone, but it is especially punishing for those afflicted by the burdens of old age. Yet the old and the very old make up the fastest-growing segment of the prison population.

Today, the New York State Board of Parole is scheduled to decide whether to give medical parole to Anthony D. Marshall, who was convicted of stealing from his mother, Brooke Astor. Mr. Marshall is 89 and suffers from Parkinson’s and congestive heart failure. His lawyers say he cannot stand or dress himself. He is one of at least 26,100 men and women 65 and older incarcerated in state and federal prisons, up 62 percent in just five years.

Owing largely to decades of tough-on-crime policies — mandatory minimum sentences, “three strikes” laws and the elimination of federal parole — these numbers are likely to increase as more and more prisoners remain incarcerated into their 70s and 80s, many until they die.

I try to imagine my 90-year-old father in prison. His body and mind whittled by age, he shuffles, takes a painful eternity to get up from a chair and forgets the names of his grandchildren.

How would he fare climbing in and out of an upper bunk bed? Would he remember where his cell was in the long halls of many prisons? How would his brittle bones cope with a thin mattress and blanket in a cold cell in winter, or his weak heart with the summer heat. If he had an “accident,” would someone help him clean up? Unlike Mr. Marshall, some older inmates committed violent crimes, and there are people who think such prisoners should leave prison only “in a pine box.”


Read the rest here.

Dying inside: The elderly in prison


Plan to spend about 20 minutes weeping, if you tune into this documentary on aging in US prisons. Thank you, Jeremy Young and Al Jazeera.

———————-from Al Jazeera—————————-

Our program has aired and is finally up online—it is titled “Dying Inside: Elderly in Prison”. Here is the link to the show, please let me know your thoughts and feedback:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvqj8hgxRfg


If you toggle the settings on you tube from 360 to 720 and you have a strong internet connection the quality of the video is very vivid. Please feel free to share the video with whomever.

Many thanks to all of those people that helped us out along the way….your contributions are greatly appreciated!

Jeremy Young

Al Jazeera English- The Americas

1627 K Street, 11th Floor

Washington, D.C. 20006

Work- 202.496.4543

Cell- 202.651.1632

al Jazeera English: Dying inside: Elderly in Prison

Part 2:

This was aired on Al Jazeera English, from June 5th 2010:

The US’ massive prison population is getting older.

Long sentences that were handed out decades ago are catching up with the American justice system.

Prisons across the country are dedicating entire units just to house the elderly.

During difficult economic times, the issue has hit a crisis point. Estimates are that locking up an older inmate costs three times as much as a younger one.

How are prisons dealing with this issue? Who are the prisoners that are turning gray behind bars?

Josh Rushing gains exclusive and unprecedented access to jails and prisons across the country to tell the story.