Saturday, November 15, 2014

The case of the Dallas 6: Torture and retaliation against prisoner whistleblowers

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 sd4hrc@gmail.com. This story first appeared on Truthout. Visit scidallas6.blogspot.com and the Facebook page for the latest information.

Support the SCI Dallas 6!

From: SF Bay View, Nov, 13, 2014

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 sd4hrc@gmail.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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pennsylvania legislators are trying to stop prisoners from speaking about their ideas and experience

This comes from Decarcerate PA's website. It sounds like an illegal move to silence people's voices. What about the victims of police violence? Will they not be 'victimised' by their attackers' presence everywhere, incl. the police and former police who have written this proposed law? Vermont College is not even in PA, so is Mumia Abu-Jamal, also not allowed to speak in other states, countries? This law is just an act of vengeance.  

[Here is another article about this anti-human rights attack of politicians in Pennsylvania]

Pennsylvania Legislators threaten to silence people in prison. TAKE ACTION today
On Oct 14th: call your legislators!

Pennsylvania legislators are trying to stop prisoners from speaking about their ideas and experiences. Last week, PA Representative Mike Vereb introduced a bill (HB2533) called the “Revictimization Relief Act,” which would allow victims, District Attorneys, and the Attorney General to sue people who have been convicted of “personal injury” crimes for speaking out publicly if it causes the victim of the crime “mental anguish.”

The bill was written in response to political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech at Goddard College, and is a clear attempt to silence Mumia and other prisoners and formerly incarcerated people. We believe that this legislation is not actually an attempt to help victims, but a cynical move by legislators to stop people in prison from speaking out against an unjust system.

While to us this seems like a clear violation of the first amendment, unfortunately the PA General Assembly doesn’t appear to agree, and they have fast-tracked the bill for approval and amended another bill (SB508) to include the same language. The legislation could be voted on as early as Wednesday.

If this bill passes, it will be a huge blow to the movement against mass incarceration. People inside prisons play a leading role in these struggles, and their perspectives, analysis, and strategies are essential to our work. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who write books, contribute to newspapers, or even write for our Voices from the Inside section would run the risk of legal consequences just for sharing their ideas.

That’s why we are asking you to take action TUESDAY OCTOBER 14 by calling Pennsylvania lawmakers to tell them that prisoners should not be denied the right to speak.

Please call your legislators and demand that they vote NO on HB2533 and SB508. You can look up contact information at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/.

We are also asking folks to call the following Senate leaders and ask them to stop the bill from moving forward:

Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne  (717) 787-1349
Senate Minority Whip Anthony Williams  (717) 787-5970
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi  (717) 787-4712
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (717) 787-7683

- See more at: http://decarceratepa.info/freespeech#sthash.OJAHxMbA.dpuf

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Please Sign and Share for Avis and Charmaine!

Please sign and share these important Petitions: 

Avis Lee
For Avis Lee: in prison in Pennsylvania since 1980, to get her parole.

For Charmaine Pfender: in prison in Pennsylvania since 29 years, to get her released.

Read more about their cases and the Women in Prison Defense Committee Let's Get Free here.

Donna Hill and Charmaine Pfender (Mother and Daughter)
Thank you!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Russell Maroon Shoats moved to general population

We received this good message via Facebook (Bret Grote): 

"Victory! I just got off a phone call with Russell Maroon Shoatz at SCI Graterford. This morning he was placed in the general population of the prison, ending more than 22 consecutive years of solitary confinement. He is VERY happy, and sends his gratitude to all of his supporters."

Thanks to so many people working tirelessly, like the family and friends of Russell, and people of the Abolitionist Law Center, and so many who signed petitions, called in, wrote letters, etc.

Let's keep working to get real justice for Russell Maroon Shoats and all others in difficult positions, wrongfully incarcerated, in solitary confinement for endless times, etc.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Message from Maroon - Action Alert

From the Human Rights Coalition - Action Alert:

“This was the third strike – now we either go hard, or go home."
Greetings! A very happy new year to all my supporters and loved ones!
By now you are aware that I am being housed in an underground cell at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford, in a part of the Restricted Housing Unit known as J Block, which is used to house the criminally insane.
My rapid response team has also got word to you about the conditions in this dungeon: a few days after my arrival I cleaned the human feces off the walls of my cell with my own hands; when it rains, water leaks through a hole in the roof and floods my cell – with heavy rains expected, I am sure this problem will only get worse.
The screaming and banging coming from the surrounding cells of mentally challenged inmates, plus the 24-hour fluorescent lights, make it impossible to concentrate, let alone sleep.
Those of you who have been closely following my situation know that I am being subjected to these conditions DESPITE successfully completing the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC)’s 60-day “step-down” program at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville, which was conducted with the express purpose of releasing me from the hole into the general prison population.
My current circumstances make two things very clear:
  • First, that the Department of Corrections CANNOT be trusted to play by their own rules;
  • Second, that my isolation in the hole has NOTHING to do with administrative or disciplinary concerns but is instead a punishment for my political beliefs, and the prison administration’s fear that these beliefs will reach other prisoners.  They fear that I will awaken the dead . . .
For years, the PA DOC has tried to crush my fighting spirit by keeping me locked up in the hole. This move to SCI Graterford – my third transfer in six months – is just the latest in a series of attempts to test my resolve; it is also, in my opinion, the third strike.
I am here to tell you all that my will is holding strong. I am a political prisoner: imprisoned because I stood up against oppression, and I continue to support all those who stand up against repression everywhere.
My perspective is one thousand years of struggle. My commitment has been – and will always be – the liberation of black people. In that spirit let me say that 2014 is not going to be a year of taking abuse and torture lying down: it is a year in which we either go HARD, or go HOME!
I am calling on you, my supporters, loved ones and friends, to answer that call. This year I am asking you all to do whatever it takes to end the torture of 23-hour isolation and bring an end to this miscarriage of justice.
STRAIGHT AHEAD!           
Russell MAROON Shoatz
# AF-3855, 
P.O. Box 244, 
Graterford, PA 19426-0246

***
ACTION ALERT & UPDATE: CONTINUE THE PRESSURE!
Thank you to all supporters for answering the call to action!  Your phone calls and letters are WORKING.  Maroon received a blanket, clothes, his personal belongings, and his medication. 
Maroon appreciates all your support and diligent action on his behalf. 
However, he is not OUT of this torturous situation.  SCI Graterford authorities still have him buried in solitary confinement - the same Restricted Housing Unit for the criminally insane.  It is an underground dungeon that floods and where the lights are on 24 hours a day.  It is also where Maroon has to endure continuous banging and cries for help from mentally ill prisoners suffering in the same unit.
The time is now to RAMP UP the pressure on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) Secretary John Wetzel and SCI Superintendent Wenerowicz and Graterford authorities demanding that they immediately remove Maroon from this present condition and release him into general population.    
PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel and PA DOC administrators continue to double cross Maroon by not fulfilling their verbal and written promises to release him into general population even after successfully completing a 60 day Step Down Program at SCI Frackville last fall 2013.
As Maroon stated, “the Dept. of Corrections cannot be trusted to play by their own rules.”
We are asking supporters to INTENSIFY the calls, faxes, and letters to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel, Superintendent Wenerocwicz, and Graterford authorities.   Remember, Maroon has made the call to “go HARD or go home!”
CALL, FAX, & SEND SEPARATE LETTERS TO:
SCI Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz
 and 
SCI Graterford RHU J Block Manager Mr. Terra,
P.O. Box 246, 
Graterford, PA 19426-0246 
Phone: 610-489-4151 
FAX: 484-961-7907 
to let them know:
·  We are concerned members of the community who are monitoring the situations involving inmate Russell Shoatz and the conditions he is being held under,
·  We are expecting that SCI Graterford will be accepting the information regarding Shoatz’ successful completion of the step-down program at SCI Frackville, and their recommendation that he be released from Restricted Housing into General Population,
·  We hold PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel and PA DOC administrators responsible for failing to fulfill their promises to release Russell Shoatz into General Population,
·  We request that you immediately remove Russell Shoatz out of the J Block cell for the criminally insane because he doesn’t belong nor deserve to be there, the conditions are torturous, and he is not under Disciplinary Custody, AND
·  We also request that SCI Graterford transfer Russell Shoatz into General Population as promised by Secretary Wetzel and PA DOC authorities.
For letters and faxes, please use the same talking points (letters: return receipt requested).
CALL, FAX, & SEND LETTERS OF CONCERN, PA DOC SUPERINTENDENT JOHN WETZEL, 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050, Phone: 717-728-4109, FAX 717-728-4178 to let him know:
·  We are frustrated and angry at the continued delays, and unfulfilled promises, and unwarranted treatment of inmate Russell Shoatz with his most recent transfer into a feces infested cell where the criminally insane are housed in the J Block unit at SCI Graterford.
·  His consistent good faith efforts to abide by all State Correctional procedures for transfer to general population have successfully earned him the support of prison official and administrators at SCI Mahanoy and Frackville.
·  In light of recent US Department of Justice findings that Pennsylvania State Prisons have used solitary confinement in direct violation of inmates’ constitutional rights, and United Nations guidelines regarding the illegality of using restrictive housing for punitive, long-term purposes, we write with concern that Shoatz’ continued placement in restricted housing constitutes an act of torture: cruel and unusual punishment.

·  As voters and community members, we demand Shoatz’ immediate release into general population, and will continue to closely monitor this situation until Shoatz’ conditions are safe and legal.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Petition to Dismiss all charges against Dallas 5

MORE CORRUPTION FROM THE COUNTY WHERE KIDS FOR CASH SCANDAL TOOK PLACE

In April 2010, at SCI Dallas (PA), after a series of abuses at the hands of corrections officials, 6 prisoners housed in the solitary confinement unit decided they had enough and decided to stage a peaceful protest in response to the inhumane conditions and mistreatment of prisoners. Each prisoner involved in the protest is now collectively referred to as the Dallas 5.    

After enduring abuses, official misconduct and outright administrative corruption, these men decided it was time to do something about the inhumane conditions, immediately, before another prisoner died or is brutally harmed.  The guards were beating inmates and promised these men were next. 

These men who peacefully covered their cell doors and barricaded doors are being charged with riot.  All they did was ask for an outside official. They were protecting themselves from harm.   They committed no violent acts, yet violence was inflicted upon them by the guards in riot gear.  They were pepper sprayed, beaten and tased.  These men are in solitary confinement, which means they are in a single cell 24/7 with no contact.  They did not cause or create riot!  They had no ability to do so!  They are being charged with riot because they have lawsuits against the prison and guards.  Some of them are pro se lawyers who have gone against the DOC as their own attorney.  This is frowned upon and retaliated against on a massive level.  These same men contributed to the Human Rights Coalition report which detailed ongoing abuses and human rights violations within the dungeons of this state and especially at SCI Dallas. 

As revealed in the Human Rights Coalition report and before the House of Representatives, there has long been a policy within the prison walls of Dallas and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to operate a corrupt administration under an iron wall of silence.  Under this iron wall or code of silence, SCI Dallas, PA DOC, District Attorney’s Office, as well as the Pennsylvania State Police operates in participation and conjunction with one another to cover up crimes and misconduct by state offices by overlooking video footage of officers caught on video tape committing human rights violations.
 This case should be thrown out.  Besides the fact that charges are bogus here are some of the reasons it should be dismissed:

 • Discovered that one man was not arraigned and after more research that none of the men were arraigned in a timely manner.
• They have wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in housing, transportation and court costs bringing them back and forth across the state for their dog and pony show. The first time they brought them under heavy security with helicopters.
• They brought them to court illegally while the case was in the supreme court in September 2012 but when they guys spoke up that it was illegal they ended the hearing and removed the hearing from dockets like it never existed.
• The charges only carry a short sentence and are ordinarily handled through the prison disciplinary system.
•In 3 ½ years they have been before the court on at least 6 occasions and have not even had pre-trial because the prosecution continues to postpone due to their own errors.
•It is evident that if they had a case it would have been adjudicated long ago.

These men do not want sympathy; they want to do their time without being subjected to racism and violence by staff. These false charges should be dropped.  Mr. Peters who is still being tortured at SCI Dallas, should be moved out of there.  Taxpayer’s money is being wasted on a personal vendetta.  The crime here is what is really going on with in the bowels of our “justice and prison” system.  They should be on trial and not these men.

For more information and updates about the case please visit:

------------------------- 
Text of the petition:

To: Luzerne County DA Stephanie Salavantis, Luzerne County Court
Dismiss all charges against Dallas 5

The Dallas 5 are Andre Jacobs, Carrington Keys, Duane Peters, Anthony Locke and Derrick Stanley.

Besides the fact that it is a false and retaliatory complaint, there are many reasons for dismissal of charges. These are only a few:
• The county and DOC have wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars in housing, transportation and court costs bringing them back and forth across the state for a personal vendetta
• Pre-trial has been delayed at least 6 times due to prosecution errors.
• It has take over 3 1/2 years to prosecute a 3rd class felony
• The men have endured well documented human rights abuses at SCI Dallas
• The only people injured during the incident were the prisoners
• They have a right to a speedy trial and this has been anything but a speedy trial
• Covering your window is a violation of DOC policy and should have been handled internally not through the courts
• Covering your window is not a riot!

Sincerely,
[Your name] 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mumia: Free Lorenzo Johnson


CAT’S CRIES
[col. writ. 10/20/13] © ’13 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Several days ago, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Philadelphia, delivered a shocking decision in the continuing case of Lorenzo Johnson, the New Yorker recently released from 17 years in prison after the very same court found the evidence was insufficient to uphold a conviction.

Lorenzo (known by family and friends as Cat), spent just over 4 months in freedom, until a U.S. Supreme Court per curlem opinion, without arguments or briefing, summarily ordered his return to a life sentence for a murder that the evidence shows he did not, and could not, have committed.

In the year since his return to PA prisons, his lawyers have uncovered a wealth of evidence that reveals not only his innocence, but that of his co-accused. Indeed, they have shown that the State knowingly used false evidence to secure a conviction from Day One. Moreover, it appears the state’s star witness, a notorious crack fiend, may herself have been an accomplice in the slaying of a small-time Harrisburg drug dealer.

But back to the shocking decision. The 3rd Circuit, after receiving an extraordinary writ that proved every facet of the original trial was corrupt, said the petition didn’t meet the standard for a second habeas corpus writ.

A few days ago, Cat sat with the recently freed NY exonerated prisoner, Jeff Deskovic, and both men quietly wept.

In the face of such bold injustice, what more can men do?

No sober judge, reading such pleadings as his lawyers filed, could in good conscience say it didn’t prove the injustices claimed. But judges today are seldom sober.
They are political actors who wear robes, instead of suits.  And their job is to protect a system of corruption, lest the whole system collapse under its monstrous weight.

For Cat, the struggle continues.

In fact, a serious post-conviction petition is now pending in the county court in Harrisburg, PA.
We’re watching.

Note: for more info: www.freelorenzojohnson.org.
--© ‘13maj

Lorenzo Johnson is an Innocent Man!
Released from Prison-- only to be Re-incarcerated!

Sign the petition

http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/how-can-i-help.html

Friday, June 7, 2013

Special "SCI Cresson Investigation" Edition of HRC Report

This was reblogged from: Pennsylvania Prison Report

Special "SCI Cresson Investigation" Edition

June 6, 2013
On Friday May 31, the United States Justice Department issued a report on its 18-month investigation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' (PADOC) prison in Cambria County, State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cresson, finding that the solitary confinement of people with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities is in violation of both the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The announcement came in a findings letter detailing the results of its investigation of SCI Cresson by attorneys with the Justice Department's Special Litigations Section of the Civil Rights Division, working in partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The letter also notified PA governor Corbett that both agencies are expanding their investigation to include all 28 prisons under the control of the PADOC.

The investigation, launched in December 2011, set out to find whether SCI Cresson was violating the constitutional rights of prisoners to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting mentally illl prisoners to the psychologically damaging conditions of long-term solitary confinement and depriving them of mental health care.

SCI Cresson, built in 1987, housed the PA Department of Corrections' second-largest Secure Special Needs Unit (SSNU), a type of solitary confinement unit used for the isolation (and on paper, the treatment) of mentally ill prisoners. In January 2013, the PA DOC announced its intention to close the prison-- three months after members of the investigation team met with PA DOC leadership and Cresson Superintendent Kenneth Cameron to discuss concerns about information received during the investigation. As of April 2013, the SSNU had been emptied and the prison held less than 400 prisoners (down from approx.1600).

Warehousing the Mentally Ill

The Department of Justice's (DOJ) letter, briefly summarized in a press release, catalogs a long list of human rights violations that will be familiar to readers of the Prison Report, centering on conditions of extreme isolation coupled with additional cruel and degrading punishments inflicted by staff, presided over by a prison administration that not only ignored wrongdoing by prison staff, but also actively prevented seriously mentally ill prisoners from receiving treatment.

The DOJ found that "Cresson routinely locks prisoners with serious mental illness in their cells for roughly 23 hours per day for months, even years, at a time. At Cresson, the prolonged isolation is all the harder for many prisoners with serious mental illness to endure because it involves harsh and punitive living conditions and, often, unnecessary staff- on-prisoner uses of force." The report noted that placement of mentally ill prisoners in the prison's solitary confinement units was intentional; not the consequence of a failure to identify those who are most vulnerable to such psychologically destructive conditions, but as a matter of systematic and deliberate practice.

The resulting harms have been catastrophic: "Cresson’s practice of subjecting prisoners with serious mental illness to prolonged periods of isolation under the conditions described in this letter has resulted in harm, including trauma, bouts of hysteria and extreme paranoia, severe depression, psychosis, serious self-injury and mutilation, and suicide." Corroborating this conclusion is the fact that although less than 10% of the prison's total population is held in solitary confinement, during the previous year and-a-half, 2 of the 3 suicides and 14 of the 17 suicide attempts at SCI Cresson occurred in these units. Both of the suicides in the solitary units (which HRC reported on shortly after they happened) occurred after requests for mental health care were ignored by staff.

(Links to HRC reports on the 2 suicides in Cresson's solitary units: "In Memory of Brandon Palakovic" and "Prison staff scramble to cover up circumstances of suicide at SCI Cresson")

In one of the more graphic examples of self-harm described in the DOJ report, one prisoner was said to have "tore open his scrotum with his fingernail while housed at the RHU after experiencing isolation and a lack of adequate treatment there for three months. In the three days preceding this incident, BB cut his arm with a staple, smeared feces on himself while complaining of hearing voices, and tore off a fingernail. After the incident involving BB injuring his scrotum, he told staff that 'mental health won’t listen to me so I’m pulling my nuts out.'"

A prisoner who has spent more than 7 of the last 12 years in solitary confinement in PADOC prisons told the DOJ that "isolation makes me want to rip my face off." Emphasizing the seemingly endless duration of indefinite isolation, another prisoner stated that confinement in the SSNU "feel[s] like it will last the rest of [your] life."

Torment and Punishment

Among the most disturbing of the investigation's findings is the degree to which dehumanizing and harmful treatment of prisoners at Cresson was normalized and incorporated into the routine operations of the prison. Though the SSNU was supposedly intended for the treatment of seriously mentally ill prisoners, by policy and practice unit staff were encouraged to react to behavior symptomatic of severe mental illness with "aversive" measures intended to punish. Shouting, throwing feces, or banging one's head into the wall were consistently responded to with violence by prison staff. The routine use of full-body restraints for extensive periods of time (avg 10.5 hours), using tasers on prisoners who were already fully restrained, forcing prisoners to sleep on cold concrete without a mattress, denial of food, exercise, visits and reading materials, were all regular tools of SCI Cresson staff.

Readers of the Prison Report, former prisoners, and family members will recognize these as regular tools of staff at most or all PA DOC prisons. Punishment of those with mental health needs results in a predictable cycle of dysfunction wherein psychological decompensation is exacerbated by violent repression. This recurring cycle is a phenomenon that is noted in virtually every human rights report, academic or clinical study, court case, or government report assessing conditions of solitary confinement across the country during the past 30 years. The DOJ report described the cycle of dysfunction as follows:

"At Cresson, prisoners with serious mental illness are often subjected to a toxic combination of conditions that include: prolonged isolation, harsh housing conditions, punitive behavior modification plans, and excessive uses of force. These conditions, intended to control these prisoners’ behavior, serve only to exacerbate their mental illness. Frequently, these conditions combine to do serious harm in the following way: a prisoner with serious mental illness is placed in isolation with inadequate mental health care, causing him to decompensate and behave negatively; staff respond by subjecting the prisoner to harsher living conditions, denying him stimuli, and/or using excessive force against him; the prisoner’s mental health continues to deteriorate, and he begins to engage in self-injurious conduct (e.g., banging his head hard and repeatedly against a concrete wall, ingesting objects, or hurling himself against the metal furnishings of his room) or attempts to kill himself; staff eventually respond by placing him in the MHU – a unit where a limited amount of treatment is provided; as soon as the prisoner begins to stabilize, he is returned to isolation, and the prisoner’s mental health again spirals downward."

Noting that Cresson views "serious mental illness [as] intentional misbehavior that must be punished rather than treated," the DOJ found that prison staff responded to "behaviors mostly or entirely derivative of mental illness" by deprivations such as "forcing the prisoner to sleep on cement slabs without a mattress; denying the prisoner access to warm food and instead giving him nothing but “food loaf” to eat; denying access to reading materials; denying the prisoner access to the caged, exercise pens; denying the prisoner access to showers; and restricting or eliminating the prisoner’s already limited ability to make phone calls or engage in non-contact visits with loved ones or friends."

The culture of abuse on display at Cresson included tasering and pepper-spraying suicidal prisoners and leaving their arms and legs strapped to a concrete slab or bed for more than 10 hours at a time. In one incident, prison guards responded to an act of self-harm by placing the prisoner in four-point restraints, and tasering him with "a handheld electronic body immobilization device" when he requested that a mattress be placed on the metal bed prior to his being strapped down. He remained strapped down for nearly 15 hours. Another prisoner was placed in a restraint chair after slamming head first into his cell door, and was tasered seven times and pepper-sprayed in the face twice during the 24-hour period he was in the restraint chair.

In some instances prisoners were double-celled in the solitary confinement units with violent, predatory prisoners, including one case where a diagnosed schizophrenic poured boiling water on another prisoner, who was himself a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and with an IQ of 48. The boiling water caused blistering of the skin.

The DOJ concluded that Cresson lacks a "functioning residential treatment unit," and that the SSNU does not "even resemble" a treatment unit. When prisoners in the isolation units are provided out-of-cell therapy, "the therapy is generally provided to the prisoner while he sits in a small cage roughly the size of a telephone booth." According to the DOJ, one of the major causal factors of these conditions are staffing shortages that make it impossible for mental health professionals to provide necessary care.

Instead of any semblance of the residential treatment unit or programming, the DOJ found a prison where the sick torture the sick, and the endless depths of isolation are punctuated only by guard violence, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, and death.

What's next?

The impact that the release of the DOJ/US Attorney's Office investigation findings will have remains unclear. Because conditions at Cresson appear to be indicative of systemic patterns throughout the PA DOC, the DOJ has now taken the unprecedented move of expanding the investigation to include all solitary confinement units of the state's prison system. However, the office of the DOJ tasked with the investigation- the Special Litigations Section of the Civil Rights Division- does not have the power to prosecute, and under the controlling statute- the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA)- the PA DOC is allowed the opportunity to voluntarily remedy the unconstitutional conditions found by the DOJ. Failure to do so means that the DOJ will be permitted- but not required- to file a lawsuit in federal court to enforce the Constitution.

At this time, it appears that all PA DOC staff complicit in the abuse, torture, and negligent treatment of severely mentally ill prisoners at SCI Cresson have not in any way been held accountable for their actions by either PA DOC or law enforcement agencies-- in fact, the opposite has occurred: the prison's chief psychologist James Harrington, who presided over the atrocities in Cresson's "treatment units", was recently promoted to the newly created position of Regional Chief Psychologist, in charge of overseeing the mental health services of seven PA DOC prisons.

***

We end this report with a quote from Renee Palakovic, whose son Brandon committed suicide while caged in SCI Cresson's isolation units in July 2012 (read Renee's full statement):

"..On Friday, May 31st (2013) when I read the news articles and eventually the Justice Department report later in the weekend, the pain that I have been fighting to control and manage every minute of every day came flooding back in a real and powerful way that I was not prepared for.

..What psychiatrist does this to a patient? He was ignored. Placed in solitary for extended periods of time and treated like an animal. Taunted by guards who found amusement in toying with his mind and his emotions and given the opportunity to harm himself.

..To read the Justice Department’s report and find that his requests for help were ignored, his visits with the psychiatrist skipped and his treatment reduced to ongoing and never-ending confinement in a small cement cell made my heart break all over again and quite frankly, made me mad as hell.

..My son was more than just a prisoner confined to a cell in a state correctional institution. I will keep telling myself this, because it is true. But until state correctional institutions believe it and operate based upon it, more and more sons and daughters will become victims of the callous and irresponsible treatment seen behind the walls of Cresson SCI."



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If you'd like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, call us at 267-293-9169, email info@hrcoalition.org, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./

Pittsburgh area: Write On! – letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh,email hrcfedup@gmail.com or call 412-654-9070.

This is the Human Rights Coalition's PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.

Keep up the fight!

Copyright © 2013 Human Rights Coalition - FedUp!, All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Russell Maroon Shoatz Out of Solitary NOW!

Action Alert: Russell Maroon Shoatz Out of Solitary NOW!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Action Alert : Call now to demand the IMMEDIATE release of Russell Maroon Shoatz from solitary confinement!

Former Black Panther Russell Maroon Shoatz has been held in torturous conditions of solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons for the past thirty years. He has not had a serious rule violation for more than two decades. Maroon's role as an educator, human rights defender, writer, and critical intellectual of liberation movements is widely renowned.

From April 8 to May 10, the Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz is calling for an intense call-in and write-in campaign to bring pressure on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC), to release Maroon from solitary confinement and into the general prison population. This is the first major phase of a coordinated political-legal campaign, beginning with Maroon's attorneys sending a "Demand Letter" to the PA DOC on the morning of April 8, 2013. The letter, outlining the legal and humanitarian reasons why an immediate release from solitary is needed, gives the PA DOC an opportunity to correct the grave injustices being carried out on a daily basis before litigation begins.

Maroon needs your help! Here's how:
April 8
-Begin flooding the office of PA Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel with phone calls, letters, and faxes. Send a copy of that letter, or address a similar letter, to the office of SCI Mahanoy Superintendent John Kerestes.(download sample letter)   (download sample letter)

PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel                        SCI Mahanoy Supt. John Kerestes
1920 Technology Parkway                                   301 Morea Road
Mechanicsburg, PA, 17050                                  Mahanoy, PA, 17932

Phone number: 717-728-4109                           Phone number: 570-773-2158
Fax number: 717-728-4178                                Fax number: 570-783-2008

If you have contact with media in your area, consider suggesting that they cover this story, including the April 8 - May 10 pressure campaign.
Help publicize the campaign in schools, workplaces, churches, and communities nationwide. (download press release)

Talking Points
  • Russell Maroon Shoatz (if writing DOC, always put his prison number - AF-3855) has been in solitary confinement for almost 30 years despite the fact that his disciplinary record has been impeccable-without incident for the past 20 of those years.
  • Such "prolonged" solitary confinement is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, according to UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez. It starves the mind of basic social interaction, human contact, and intellectual stimulation needed for proper brain functioning.
  • Other Pennsylvania prisoners with more extensive violent histories and more recent disciplinary infractions have nevertheless been released from solitary and are now held in general population.

  • Maroon is being targeted because of his work as an educator and because of his political ideas; his time in solitary began just after he was elected president of an officially-sanctioned prison-based support group. This targeting is in violation of his basic human and constitutional rights.
  • At age 69, Maroon poses no threat to the physical well-being or running of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. His 23-hour-a-day physical isolation in solitary is unnecessary and costly.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union, Physicians for Human Rights, and a growing number of prominent world leaders are calling for an end to prolonged solitary confinement. Maroon's case is one of the most egregious, politically motivated, and long-standing of the nation's solitary cases.
  • Maroon has deep roots in Pennsylvania's Black community, many friends in peace, justice, and human rights organizations, and family members and supporters throughout the State, the USA, and the world. We understand the PA DOC Secretary's Office and the Warden of SCI Greene to be particularly and personally responsible for the torturous and lethal conditions of solitary under which Maroon is still kept.
  • Maroon must be released from solitary confinement IMMEDIATELY!!!

Who is Russell Maroon Shoatz?

Russell Maroon Shoatz is a former leader of the Black Panthers and the Black freedom movement, born in Philadelphia in 1943 and originally imprisoned in January 1972 for actions relating to his political involvement. With an extraordinary thirty-plus years spent in solitary confinement-including the past twenty-three years continuously-Maroon's case is one of the most shocking examples of U.S. torture of political prisoners, and one of the most egregious examples of human rights violations regarding prison conditions anywhere in the world. His "Maroon" nickname is, in part, due to his continued resistance-which twice led him to escape confinement; it is also based on his continued clear analysis, including recent writings on ecology and matriarchy. THOUGH MAROON WAS RECENTLY TRANSFERRED to a lower-security correctional facility in Central Pennsylvania, he IS STILL HELD in a SOLITARY CONFINEMENT UNIT. It will take a mass, grassroots movement to free this inspiring community activist.

Part of the momentum for the campaign will come from a book tour taking place during this period, promoting the newly-published Maroon the Implacable: The collected writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz
. But it is up to everyone concerned with human rights anywhere and everywhere to spread the word far and wide, to make these 30 days count-for an end to solitary confinement and an end to the torture of Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz, freemaroonshoatz@gmail.com,
c/o WRL/Matt Meyer, 339 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10012