Prisoners and advocacy groups oppose Sen. Loni Hancock’s prison reform bill, SB 892

This comes from the SF Bay View:
May 4, 2014

Lawyers from the LA-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently spent two days at Pelican Bay discussing with prisoners bills now introduced in the Senate by Sen. Loni Hancock and in the Assembly by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano dealing with solitary confinement. The Center’s lawyers met with Todd Ashker, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (R.N. Dewberry), Arturo Castellanos and Antonio Guillen, four of the prisoners in the Short Corridor who inspired the hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 that were joined by 30,000 other prisoners at their peak.

The Assembly and Senate bills are very different in their approaches to solitary confinement. Ammiano’s bill, which the prisoners support, is short and simple and is focused on one critical issue: prohibiting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

The prisoners believe that this bill addresses a major concern with California’s current policy and does so in a clean-cut and effective way. In legal discussions and letters to the Center, prisoners suggested two additions to the Ammiano bill: First, that it incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU (Security Housing Unit, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement) unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Second, they recommend that data-gathering provisions in Loni Hancock’s Senate bill be added to Ammiano’s bill so data can be obtained from CDCR which could be used in the future to advocate for changes in regulations or additional legislation. However, prisoners support the Ammiano bill even if these two proposals are not adopted.

On the other hand, prisoners have informed the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in personal interviews and letters that they do not support Loni Hancock’s Senate bill because for the first time in history it would put into state law authority for CDCR to place prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership without any accompanying serious misconduct. The prisoners believe this would be a major step backwards in the struggle to get California to follow other states that have terminated their “gang validation” policies as a basis for putting prisoners in solitary confinement.

They would support the Hancock Senate bill only if it adopted the Ammiano approach of prohibiting CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct. They would also want it to incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an inmate informant to place someone in a SHU unless the inmate’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.

Based on the prisoners’ positions, which seem fair and rational, several groups and community leaders, led by the California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee opposing the Hancock bill.

At a hearing before the Appropriations Committee held on April 28, Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights, testified against the Hancock bill on behalf of a number of groups and individuals, including CFASC, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Centro Legal de la Raza, Community Futures, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS), Homeboy Industries, Homies Unidos, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 (ILWU), Justice Now, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), actor-activist Mike Farrell and labor leaders Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and Mike Garcia, president of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West (SEIU-West). No one appeared to testify in favor of the bill.

Notably, neither CDCR nor CCPOA, the guards’ union, voiced any opposition to Hancock’s bill – whereas they had shown up in full force to oppose Ammiano’s bill.

The full text of the letter presented to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below. Over the next few weeks, CFASC and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law plan to intensify their lobbying and gather more support to block passage of the Hancock bill unless it is amended to prohibit CDCR from placing prisoners in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership when there is no finding that they have engaged in serious misconduct.

At the same time they will support passage of the Ammiano bill. “Whether we are fighting the gang validation policy in the courts or through public advocacy,” said Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights, “we are far better off fighting a policy of the administration than something enshrined into state law by the legislature for the next 10 to 20 years.”

The breadth and strength of opposition that has quickly built up against Hancock’s bill shows that over the next few months a powerful statewide coalition will form to block the Hancock bill unless it’s amended to prohibit the CDCR’s gang validation policy.

Letter to Senate Appropriations Committee

The following letter, dated April 25, 2014, was addressed to:

Sen. Kevin de Leόn, Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee, State Capitol, Room 5108, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Loni Hancock, State Capitol, Room 2082, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Jerry Hill, State Capitol, Room 5064, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Ricardo Lara, State Capitol, Room 5050, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Alex Padilla, State Capitol, Room 4038, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Darrell Steinberg, State Capitol, Room 205, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. William Monning, State Capitol, Room 4066, Sacramento, CA 95814
Sen. Mark Leno, State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 892 (solitary confinement)

Dear Sens. de Leόn, Hancock, Hill, Lara, Padilla, Steinberg, Monning and Leno:

This letter is submitted on behalf of the undersigned organizations and individuals.

The California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), which represents approximately 450 California prisoners in solitary confinement, as well as several other organizations, have previously communicated to Sen. Hancock concerns with certain provisions in SB 892 with specific suggested amendments. To date we have not received any response indicating whether Sen. Hancock will seek to amend her bill to address these matters.

We are writing to explain our concerns with SB 892 that now comes before the Senate Appropriations Committee. We are respectfully requesting that consideration of SB 892 be delayed for a few weeks to allow greater input and discussion about the intended and unintended consequences enactment of the bill will cause.

While well-intentioned, SB 892 fails to reform the widely condemned, inhumane, and outdated “gang validation” policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Although the bill contains some positive provisions, it fails to include critical provisions needed to bring California law in line with modern prison security trends adopted in many other states – with successful results – and worse it institutionalizes “gang validation” as a basis for long-term solitary confinement for prisoners who have engaged in no serious wrong-doing while serving their sentences.

The cost of this program is estimated to be $44 million per year while 1) perpetuating the inhumane treatment of prisoners, 2) compromising the goal of rehabilitation and 3) causing hundreds of “validated” prisoners to suffer severe physical and mental disabilities – with added costs of treatment.

We are most concerned with the provisions of SB 892 that will memorialize into state law the widely condemned and outdated policy of the CDCR of placing inmates in SHUs for mere alleged gang association without any actual incidents of misconduct. Gang validation practices have been criticized by prison reform advocates throughout the country, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, American Bar Association, Amnesty International, the U.S. government and members of Congress.

While the bill proposes an indefinite number of “step-down” programs for “validated” prisoners after several years to be released from solitary confinement, both prisoners and prison security experts believe the proposed step-down program will be ineffective as proposed in SB 892. CDCR already follows a similar step-down program, but only a relatively small number of “validated” gang members have been released from solitary confinement through the program.

Prisoners and prison reform experts likewise agree that the minimal efforts in SB 892 to “improve” the due process rights of prisoners will be costly to the state while having little to no practical effect on prisoners’ rights. Overall, SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

SB 892 would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.

From a budget standpoint, enactment of SB 892 in its present form will increase the incidence of costly litigation challenging the law, likely lead to further costly hunger strikes by prisoners in solitary confinement, cost the taxpayers $44 million a year for maintaining prisoners in solitary confinement based on mere alleged gang membership, and cause untold additional medical costs as hundreds of these prisoners suffer mental and physical disabilities due to their confinement in segregated housing units.

In contrast, Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assemblymember Ammiano, is far narrower in what it attempts to achieve, is far better drafted to achieve reforms in solitary confinement and gang validation practices in California, and would save about $50 million per year in prison costs.

We respectfully request that the Senate Appropriations Committee delay consideration of SB 892 for a few weeks to evaluate whether amendments can be made that will save costs and potentially close the gap between the SB 892 and AB 1652

We urge you to please contact Dolores Canales, California Families Against Solitary Confinement, (714) 290-9077, and Peter Schey, President, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, 323-251-3223, to discuss whether consideration of SB 892 may be postponed for two to three weeks so that experts and family members may provide additional input for consideration by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Thank you for your consideration.

Respectfully,

California Families Against Solitary Confinement

Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law

Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights

Centro Legal de la Raza

Community Futures

Council on American-Islamic Relations – California (CAIR)

Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS)

Hermandad Mexicana Humanitarian Foundation

Homeboy Industries

Homies Unidos

Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace

International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 13 (ILWU)

Justice Now

League of United Latin American Citizens

Mexican American Political Association (MAPA)

Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community

Students Against Mass Incarceration (UC)

William C. Velasquez Institute

Father Gregory Boyle, Executive Director, Homeboy Industries

Rabbi Joshua Brumbach, Ahavat Zion Synagogue, Beverly Hills

Dolores Canales (son incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Dennis R. Childs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego

Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO)

Mike Farrell (Actor-Activist)

Mike Garcia, President, Service Employees International Union- United Service Workers West (SEIU-West)

Irene Huerta (spouse incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

James Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild – Los Angeles Chapter

Sharon Martinas (prison reform advocate)

Sister Elisa Martinez, MSW

Heidi L. Rummel, Co-Director, Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP)

Kimberly Starr (prison reform advocate)

Sarah Torres (prison reform advocate)

Kimberly Rohrbach (prison reform advocate)

Beth Witrogen (life partner incarcerated in Pelican Bay SHU)

Institutionalized racism and censorship are relatives

This comes from the SF Bay View, May 24, 2013:

Statement from the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement First Amendment Campaign
by Sondai Dumisani, Abasi Ganda, Mutope Duguma, Abdul O. Shakur, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa

The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper for March 2013, Vol. 38, Issue 3, was censored by staff at Pelican Bay due to an article titled “Prisoners’ peaceful protest to resume July 8 if demands are not met” on Page 3 in the “Behind Enemy Lines” section. The article was written by our four representatives, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and Antonio Guillen.

Before it was sent to Willie and Mary Ratcliff for publication, it was sent to the following: Gov. Brown, the secretary and undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and to the warden of Pelican Bay State Prison. The article was then forwarded to many news outlets, including the local news here in the Crescent City area.

Every prisoner with a TV watched it being aired three or four times, where it was also reported that we prisoners will be going back on our peaceful hunger strike on July 8, 2013, if our Five Core Demands are not met, as per our representatives, due to our long term confinement, torture and overall prison oppression, in which prisoners are made to suffer indefinitely in solitary confinement, administrative segregation and security housing units throughout California.

The article for which Capt. Puget stopped delivery of the SF Bay View is the exact same article that Lt. Diggle passed around the prison for the four representatives, per Associate Warden P.T. Smith. That is how it was able to be circulated throughout solitary confinement.

So it is very questionable how CDCr and PBSP can now state that the article is, and I quote, “a threat to the penological interests” under California Code of Regulations Sections 3006(c)(5) and 3135(c)(5). The rules read as follows:

“3006. Contraband. … (c) Except as authorized by the institution head, inmates shall not possess or have under their control any matter which contains or concerns any of the following: … (5) Plans to disrupt the order, or breach of security, of any facility.”

“3135. Disturbing or Offensive Correspondence. … (c) Certain correspondence, including but not limited to the following, is disallowed, regardless of values or morals, in order to ensure the safety and security of the institution/facility. … (5) Concerns plans to disrupt the order, or breach the security of any institution/facility.”

There has been a clear line of communication between our representatives and CDCr and PBSP. It is understood that all prisoners’ actions will always be peaceful. Under no circumstances can we see how on the one hand the CDCr and PBSP can kill us prisoners with oppressive prison policies, then turn around and say that they are concerned with the security of the institution but not the many human beings inside this institution who are being tortured and murdered by proxy.

The prisoners are not the culprits here. We are only responding to the horrible prison conditions that are sucking the very life out of us each and every day we spend wasting away in solitary confinement, under sensory deprivation that allows the prison officials to administer a very cruel form of physical and psychological torture.

The SF Bay View does not advocate violence, nor is it complicit in conspiring to advocate violence. The SF Bay View is a 21st century independent national Black newspaper that economically struggles daily to put this information out to the public.

It serves the interests of human beings who struggle day to day, especially those in the New Afrikan, Afrikan Amerikan and Latino communities, who are disenfranchised by the poor governing practices of the states. It is a newspaper that is serving the interests of all poor citizens of this nation. It has no political ties to no one. It caters to no establishment. It is a very small newspaper that is exercising its right to freedom of speech, a freedom that is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The CDCr and PBSP are trying to use their political power through the use of prison rules and policies to censor the SF Bay View. Why? No reason but racism, in order to suppress the voice of the prisoners and the people.

The PBSP SHU white male officers are obsessed with the SF Bay View. They go online and read its contents, and they converse with each other daily about it. They attempt to threaten, intimidate, as well as question prisoners who are writing these articles in the Bay View.

The lot of them, for the most part, see the Bay View as a threat to their interests personally. They sadly see only black and white. They have nothing good to say about the newspaper, despite it being representative of their own class interests. Yet they cannot see past their racism.

I asked one officer how many times have the L.A. Times, USA Today, Sacramento Bee or Triplicate been mail-stopped for printing the same rhetoric? He initially said he didn’t know, but once I pressed him, he said, admittedly, “Never.” I then asked him, “Why do you think that?” He immediately had an epiphany and went on the defensive.

These officers are reading the SF Bay View front to back, and they hate the fact that someone would even provide a platform for prisoners to express themselves, especially when those prisoners are talking about prison oppression. Any mention of torture inside solitary confinement kicks off their reaction, because these officers are the oppressors, the puppets who carry out the many atrocities perpetrated against the prisoners daily in the prison industrial slave complex.

To say the SF Bay View is a threat to the penological interests of the prison and that it plans to disrupt the order or breach the security of any facility is what those of us in this country who are conscious men and women of all nationalities call “institutionalized racism,” where institutions hide behind broadly interpreted prison rules, policies, laws, both state and federal, to suppress the people’s right to assemble in peaceful protest by exercising our freedom of speech, especially where there exists an outright abuse of power by the state and federal government.

The only defense that can protect the people is to assemble the power of the people. We are our only defense. We have suffered enough injustice at the hands of a very evil system – CDCr and PBSP – and it is time that we prisoners express that pain and suffering by all means at our disposal, because CDCr and PBSP are censoring SF Bay View in order to censor prisoners, because we are exposing the cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners.

We collectively commend and value the courage and commitment as well as the principled stand that the SF Bay View is taking to speak truth to power. But there must be real clarity brought to what is going on here, because throughout Amerika there are New Afrikan prisoners who are held in solitary confinement for refusing to become a-political, meaning to cease adhering to their political, ideological and philosophical beliefs, for which we are persecuted by the state, which is a practice that is in direct contrast to our First Amendment rights.

These cruel and unusual punishments are crimes against our humanity, and because we choose to exercise our constitutional rights, we are now being severely punished and tortured by the state of California, the same state that is now censoring the SF Bay View to further silence our voice.

We say that the SF Bay View must continue to fight against institutionalized racism, prisoner oppression, long-term solitary confinement and any other form of abusive actions by the state that uses its power to suppress the voice of the people, because the New Afrikans, Afrikan-Amerikans in Amerika, have no voice. We have been shut out of mainstream media politically, socio-culturally and economically since our inception into this nation, so that we have no outlet to convey our concerns and suffering, as they relate to our conditions inside of Amerika. We have been silenced as a people.

The current New Afrikan/Afrikan Amerikan newspapers, for the most part, only cover politicians who are Afrikan Amerikans and celebrities, along with stories that make the mainstream media or news where some injustice occurred that is so egregious that the world is forced to pay attention to it. Other than that, our voice as an oppressed class of people inside these prisons and in the free world is shut out.

So we ask every conscious human being to get a subscription to the San Francisco Bay View Black National Newspaper and all the unconscious human beings also need to get a copy of the SF Bay View. This way, Willie and Mary can continue to represent the oppressed people of this nation and the non-oppressed, while at the same time beating back the attacks by our oppressors.

We ask that the financially able individuals from all walks of life make generous contributions to the San Francisco Bay View in hopes that it can continue the struggle as the voice of the oppressed prison class and our communities by speaking truth to power where there is sincere need to do so and by all means support our Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement to end long term solitary confinement and prison torture, the death penalty and suicides inside these torture chambers.

We write this article on behalf of our First Amendment Campaign and we encourage people to join our “Hands Off the Bay View” campaign.

We encourage businesses to advertise in the Bay View.

Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Sondai Dumisani (s/n R. Elllis), C-68764, D1-223 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Abasi Ganda (s/n E. Jackson), C-33559, D2-107 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Mutope Duguma (s/n J. Crawford), D-05996, D1-117 (SHU) , P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Abdul Olugbala Shakur (s/n J. Harvey), C-48884, D1-119 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532
  • Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (s/n R. Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117 (SHU), P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532