“We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month.” PRISONERS UNITED & SUPPORTERS DRAW ATTENTION TO ABUSIVE ISOLATION AND MEDICAL IN ALAMEDA CO. JAILS

Nearly one third of Glenn Dyer prisoners wrap up hunger strike

By Lucas Guilkey  October 27, 2017
https://oaklandnorth.net/2017/10/27/nearly-one-third-of-glenn-dyer-prisoners-wrap-up-hunger-strike/

Last week, 125 prisoners at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in downtown Oakland—over 30 percent of the prisoners housed there—participated in a five-day hunger strike to protest what they say are abusive conditions of isolation and poor healthcare in Alameda County jails.

I am on hunger strike, as well as many many others here at Glenn Dyer Detention Facility,” reads a letter sent from the jail dated October 17, the third day of the hunger strike, and signed “Prisoners United,” a group formed for purposes of the hunger strike.

We are locked in our cells all day,” the letter states, saying that “out of cell time” is insufficient and “boils down to [the assigned housing deputies’] decision, which are mostly arbitrary and capricious.” The letter also outlines grievances alleging inadequate access to courts and attorneys, telephone calls, a variety of healthy food and recreation time, which are all required under California’s minimum standards codes for local detention centers.

The same day, over 30 supporters rallied outside of the Alameda County administrative building, where the county supervisors’ offices are located, to draw attention to the striking prisoners. “They are mothers and fathers in there, our parents, our siblings, our children,” said Yolanda Triana, who used to work as a reserve deputy at Santa Rita Jail in the 1970s before quitting and becoming an advocate for reform. “They are human. Give them basic dignity.”

We’re out here, to make sure [the sheriff and county supervisors] know that we’re paying attention and we’re listening,” said Marlene Sanchez, associate director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), an Oakland organization that that works with young people affected by the criminal justice system.

Speakers drew attention to both detention facilities run by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department—Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita Jail, in Dublin. They stressed the five allegations that are being made by prisoners, who are calling for an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement, subjective practices for addressing grievances, and overuse of lockdown, which is when prisoners are confined to their cell when there is a disturbance in the facility. The prisoners also say that they are being provided with insufficient food and unsanitary clothing.

I [know] a young man in Santa Rita who has been there for five years, and has been in isolation for four, and that is unacceptable,” said Sheri Costa, the director of AL Costa Community Development Center, an East Bay organization dedicated to helping families with detained and incarcerated loved ones.  She has been doing this work for 18 years.  “We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month,” she said.

After rallying, advocates marched two blocks down the street to the sheriff’s offices, where they delivered a letter listing the five demands to Internal Affairs Captain Emmanuel Christy.

Twenty percent of prisoners in Glenn Dyer—or 83 people—are held in “administrative segregation,” in which prisoners are held alone, in cells separate from general population, for a minimum of 23 hours per day, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.  That number is 243 at Santa Rita, or 12 percent of the prisoners currently held there.

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Indefinite Solitary Confinement Ends in San Quentin’s Adjustment Center / Death Row

Links to the articles and radio interview in this post:

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Indefinite Solitary Confinement Ends at San Quentin

on Death Penalty Focus Blog / March 10, 2017

Death row inmates will no longer be kept in indefinite solitary confinement in San Quentin State Prison, it was announced Monday [March 6]. The agreement was part of a settlement of a 2015 lawsuit filed on behalf of six inmates who were held indefinitely in what is called an “adjustment center” because they were suspected of being gang members. When the lawsuit was filed, there were some 100 inmates being held in the adjustment center. Since then, the number has fluctuated from around 10 to 22 inmates.

“Basically, these guys were housed there for 23 hours a day,” says Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the six inmates. “They got one hour three times a week in the yard. They had no human contact. The cells were like closed boxes, no windows. And they’ve been there for years and years. It takes a toll — emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

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Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”

Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”

http://solitarywatch.com/2016/05/05/prison-labor-strike-in-alabama-we-will-no-longer-contribute-to-our-own-oppression/

Jack Denton – May 5, 2016

Despite being held in solitary confinement for years, men known as Kinetik, Dhati, and Brother M, primary leaders of the Free Alabama Movement, have been instrumental in organizing a statewide prison work stoppage in Alabama that began on Sunday, May 1. Currently, the prison labor strike has begun at Alabama’s Holman, Staton, and Elmore Correctional Facilities. St. Clair’s stoppage will begin on May 9, with Donaldson and other correctional facilities to follow soon after. The current plan is for the work stoppage to last 30 days, although the Movement’s leaders said the length of the strike is contingent on the cooperation of legislators in regard to reforming the prison labor system and the conditions of the prisons. The Free Alabama Movement is an activist network of incarcerated men, spanning numerous state prisons across Alabama.

Participants report that, apparently in retaliation against the work stoppage, the entire populations of the striking prisons have been served significantly smaller meal portions this week, a tactic called “bird feeding” that is sometimes used by prison guards to put pressure on prisoners through malnourishment. “They are trying to starve a nigga into compliance,” said one man, who estimated that his meals had been reduced by more than 60 percent of his normal serving size. Prisons that have not begun striking, but are soon scheduled to, like St. Clair, are also allegedly being bird-fed. “The food is always garbage,” said one man, “but it’s usually a lot more than this.”

Additionally, the entire populations of Alabama’s striking prisons–including the general prison population not usually in 23 hour a day segregation–have been placed in indefinite solitary confinement. A statement released by the Alabama Department of Corrections calls this a “lockdown with limited inmate movement” that will persist “while ADOC investigates the situation.” Holman was also placed on lockdown in March following an uprising in which a correctional officer and the warden were stabbed after intervening in a fight, and prisoners briefly set fire to hallways.

The prisoner work stoppage is a nonviolent protest against many of the conditions in Alabama’s prisons, especially against the unpaid prison labor that makes money for private companies and the state of Alabama. During the stoppage, Alabama’s incarcerated will refuse to leave their cells to perform the jobs that they usually perform each day for little to no pay. These range from the many jobs that allow the prison to function (such as serving food) to “industry” jobs (which allow private companies to profit off of prison labor). These “industry” jobs are the only jobs in Alabama prisons that pay at all, though the pay rates are negligible, ranging from $0.17 to $0.30 an hour.

At Holman, the industry jobs are done at the tag plant that makes license plates for the state of Alabama and the sewing factory that makes sheets and pillowcases for Alabama’s state prisons. Elmore contains a canning and recycling plant, and St. Clair contains a vehicle restoration and chemical plant that, according to the Free Alabama Movement, produces more than $25 million worth of chemicals a year.

The use of prison labor in Alabama by private, for-profit companies was legalized by the Alabama state legislature in 2012. “We are going to put our prisoners to work. They are going to be paid a reasonable wage,” Alabama state representative and bill sponsor Jim McClendon told AL.com at the time. Since then, Alabama has developed 17 different prison labor industries at correctional facilities across the state.

Alabama’s incarcerated are regularly charged what they call “outrageous fines” and fees, despite the fact that they are paid nothing, or only a few cents an hour, for their labor. “Our mass incarceration is a form of slavery, because we’re not being paid for our work, but we’re being charged outrageous fines,” one man told Solitary Watch. Required fees include $4 for armbands, $4 for identification cards, and $31.50 for a urinalysis test. Prisoners are charged $200 to petition a court, which is their only way to file a complaint, since Alabama’s prisons have no grievance procedure.

Incarcerated individuals are also charged $25 dollars for being caught with a cell-phone the first time, $50 the second time, and $75 the third. The fine goes up by $25 each time, despite the fact that correctional officers sell the phones to prisoners, and that the phones are primarily used by the incarcerated to contact their families. These families are required to cover the costs of these fines and fees incurred by their loved ones inside, since prison labor is unpaid or barely paid. “This is extortion; there’s no other way to put it,” said another man.

The Free Alabama Movement is not just hoping for change in the practices of their individual facilities, but for legal change in Montgomery. “Our problem is with the legislature,” Dhati told Solitary Watch. “No one within these facilities can resolve these issue for us. We have a spokesperson outside of prison that will give our demands to the state legislature for us.”

That spokesperson is Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, a Dothan, Alabama, pastor and the younger brother of Al Sharpton. Glasgow is the director of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), a nonprofit that serves as a halfway house for many people recently released from Alabama prisons, providing them food, housing, addiction counseling, and job training. Glasgow has long been an advocate for incarcerated people, having once served 15 years himself on drug-related charges. During the work stoppage, Glasgow said, “I am the advocate for the Free Alabama Movement…I am here to make sure their voices are heard.”

Last Thursday, Glasgow visited the statehouse in Montgomery to speak to state legislators about the work stoppage and the Movement’s demands. Glasgow told Solitary Watch that he will also be back in Montgomery later this week. He said that he had already received supportive comments from the state legislature’s Democratic caucus.

When reached for comment, the Alabama Department of Corrections refused to answer specific questions, but pointed to a press release sent out on Monday, May 2, that alleged, despite Glasgow’s advocacy as a spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement, that the DOC had not been “given any demands, or a reason for refusing to work.”

A statement from the Free Alabama Movement, that they said was sent to the Alabama DOC on Monday, makes it clear that their chief demand is the abolition of unpaid prison labor, which they consider to be slavery. The work stoppage is “about the 13th Amendment, the Alabama Constitution of 1901 and the Statutory Laws discriminatorily enacted from both,” the document states. Currently, the text of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution outlaws slavery for all “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Other demands include the improvement of the unsanitary living quarters and drinking water in Alabama’s prisons, and the creation of a grievance procedure in Alabama’s prisons. “We will no longer contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik said. “We will no longer continue to work for free and be treated like this.” Dhati called the nonviolent work stoppage “an economic solution to an economic problem.”

What the movement calls their “deplorable conditions of confinement” refers not only to the cleanliness of the cells, but also to the negligence those in solitary confinement experience. Every cell in the solitary confinement unit at Alabama’s Holman State Correctional Facility is equipped with a call button, to be used to summon prison guards for help in an emergency. Despite their apparent function, these buttons fail to send a signal to the guards or elsewhere, so prisoners’ requests for help often go unheeded.

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CA Prisoners Win Historic Gains with Settlement Against Solitary Confinement

Agreement reached in Ashker v. Brown ends indeterminate long-term solitary confinement in CA, among other gains for prisoners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 1, 2015
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland – Today, California prisoners locked in isolation achieved a groundbreaking legal victory in their ongoing struggle against the use of solitary confinement. A settlement was reached in the federal class action suit Ashker v. Brown, originally filed in 2012, effectively ending indefinite long-term solitary confinement, and greatly limiting the prison administration’s ability to use the practice, widely seen as a form of torture. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s infamous Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years, where they spend 23 hours a day or more in their cells with little to no access to family visits, outdoor time, or any kind of programming.

“From the historic prisoner-led hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, to the work of families, loved ones, and advocate, this settlement is a direct result of our grassroots organizing, both inside and outside prison walls,” said Dolores Canales of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC), and mother of a prisoner in Pelican Bay. “This legal victory is huge, but is not the end of our fight – it will only make the struggle against solitary and imprisonment everywhere stronger.” The 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes gained widespread international attention that for the first time in recent years put solitary confinement under mainstream scrutiny.

Currently, many prisoners are in solitary because of their “status” – having been associated with political ideologies or gang affiliation. However, this settlement does away with the status-based system, leaving solitary as an option only in cases of serious behavioral rule violations. Furthermore, the settlement limits the amount of time a prisoner may be held in solitary, and sets a two year Step-Down Program for the release of current solitary prisoners into the prison general population.

It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement. A higher security general population unit will be created for a small number of cases where people have been in SHU for more than 10 years and have a recent serious rule violation.

“Despite the repeated attempts by the prison regime to break the prisoners’ strength, they have remained unified in this fight,” said Marie Levin of CFASC and sister of a prisoner representative named in the lawsuit. “The Agreement to End Hostilities and the unity of the prisoners are crucial to this victory, and will continue to play a significant role in their ongoing struggle.” The Agreement to End Hostilities is an historic document put out by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay in 2012 calling on all prisoners to build unity and cease hostilities between racial groups.

Prisoner representatives and their legal counsel will regularly meet with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials as well as with Federal Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas, who is tasked with overseeing the reforms, to insure that the settlement terms are being implemented.

“Without the hunger strikes and without the Agreement to End Hostilities to bring California’s prisoners together and commit to risking their lives— by being willing to die for their cause by starving for 60 days, we would not have this settlement today,” said Anne Weills of Siegel and Yee, co-counsel in the case. “It will improve the living conditions for thousands of men and women and no longer have them languishing for decades in the hole at Pelican Bay.”

“This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters,” said the prisoners represented in the settlement in a joint statement. “We celebrate this victory while at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.”

Legal co-counsel in the case includes California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Chistensen O’Connor Johnson Kindness PLLC, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone. The lead counsel is the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge in the case is Judge Claudia Wilken in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

A rally and press conference are set for 12pm in front of the Elihu M Harris State Building in Oakland, which will be livestreamed at http://livestre.am/5bsWO.

The settlement can be read on CCR’s website, along with a summary. CCR has also put up downloadable clips of the plaintiffs’ depositions here.  Read statement from plaintiffs.

Great NEW VIDEO: “Breaking Down the Box” (40 min.)

TORTURE IS A MORAL ISSUE

As the grievous loss of Kalief Browder reveals, we must act with urgency to end the devastation of solitary confinement. To that end, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture announces the release of a new NRCAT film, Breaking Down the Box, a 40-minute documentary for communities of faith, to expose the torture of solitary confinement in the context of mass incarceration in the United States.

Breaking Down the Box from NRCAT on Vimeo.

Produced by filmmaker Matthew Gossage, the film examines the mental health, racial justice and human rights implications of the systemic use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. It is a call to action for communities of faith to engage in the growing nationwide movement for restorative alternatives to isolated confinement that prioritize rehabilitation, therapeutic interventions, and recovery.  Watch the film online and then download or order a DVD for use in your congregation or community, at no cost. More resources and DVD order form at www.nrcat.org/breakingdownthebox

Please spread the word:

Twitter  New documentary from @NRCATtweets exposes torture of #solitaryconfinement in context of mass incarceration www.nrcat.org/breakingdownthebox

fb_logo  Watch a new documentary exposing the torture of solitary confinement in the context of mass incarceration in the U.S.  Film and resources for faith communities at www.nrcat.org/breakingdownthebox

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We encourage you to share this new resource in your community during June Torture Awareness Month and throughout the year. Additional promotional and discussion materials are available at www.nrcat.org/breakingdownthebox.

Thank you for your commitment to building a #TortureFreeWorld together.

In community,

Rev. Laura Markle Downton
Director of U.S. Prisons Policy and Program

Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

After a half-decade and a mandate by the U.N. to investigate solitary confinement practices, U.N. torture rapporteur Juan Mendez had to find a backdoor into an American jail. Today, his findings are released in a report.

In 2010, Juan Mendez was appointed Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Degrading and Inhumane Treatment by the United Nations. His mandate is wide in size and scope—to expose and document torture wherever it exists on the planet today.

Since the beginning of his mandate Mendez has made criticizing the overuse of solitary confinement a priority. In 2011, he issued a report stating that 22 or 23 hours a day alone in a prison cell for more than 15 days at a time can cause permanent, lasting psychological damage and can constitute torture.

This problem, he emphasized, is particularly severe in the U.S., where prisoners are routinely held under such conditions for months, years and even decades at a time. Many have never committed a violent crime.

Fast-forward five years. The U.S. government has yet to grant Mendez access to a single isolation pod in any U.S. prison. The clock is ticking. Mendez has a mere 20 months left of his term, and he has yet been able to substantiate his reports with a firsthand investigation.

“The U.S. was voted into the Human Rights Council—a position that carries with it an obligation to cooperate,” he says. When he speaks, Mendez wears a look of weary determination befitting of his post.

“I’m disappointed to still be waiting for the State Department to respond to my request. I’ve been waiting over two years.”

“That fact that he hasn’t received a response is contemptible,” says Laura Rovner, legal expert on prison conditions from University of Denver. “It puts the U.S. in the company of countries like Syria, Pakistan, and Russia that also have been unresponsive to requests for country visits.”

“Given the length of the delay,” Rovner continues. “You have to wonder about the reason, whether it’s motivated by concerns about what the Special Rapporteur will find inside these prisons.”

Then suddenly, last December, Mendez was allowed access to California’s Pelican Bay State Prison—a facility known for keeping inmates in isolation indefinitely in its Security Housing Unit (SHU).

This visit did not come about through the official channels Mendez had long been appealing to, however. Instead, he found a way in to one of the most notorious prisons in the country through a kind of backdoor.

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Successful Motion in Court Strengthens CA Prisoners’ Case Against Solitary

For Immediate Release – March 10, 2015
Press Contact: Mohamed Shehk, Critical Resistance – 408.910.2618mohamed@criticalresistance.org

Oakland, CA – Pelican Bay prisoners named as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California gained an important victory yesterday as U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favor of a motion filed by the plaintiffs’ counsel. The motion allows prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, but have been transferred out of Pelican Bay State Prison since the lawsuit was first filed, to be eligible as class members in the case.

Our success with this motion should be a strong message to the prison administration that its attempts to evade court review of its unconstitutional practices,” says Carol Strickman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and Staff Attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “Our goal in this case is to support the demand of prisoners to end the inhumane use of indefinite solitary, and no amount of legal shell games is going to stop us from achieving that goal.”

In June 2014, the court granted class action status to the case for prisoners held in Pelican Bay’s notorious Security Housing Units (SHU) for more than 10 years. Since then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has attempted to weaken the case and repress political organizing by transferring prisoners out of Pelican Bay, thereby claiming that they are no longer eligible class members in the lawsuit. Continue reading

Celebrating California’s Historic Hunger Strike, One Year Later – Oakland

A year ago on July 8th, over 30,000 people on the inside began a hunger strike to bring an end to California’s use of indefinite solitary confinement.

This was the largest hunger strike in U.S. history, and dozens of incarcerated people carried on the fast for 60 days.  Join us as we honor these courageous people and push forward to bring an end to the torture of long-term solitary confinement.

PHSS July8flierPlease Join/Invite/Share FACEBOOK EVENT:  Celebrating California’s Historic Hunger Strike Continue reading

Solitary Confinement Bill Passes Public Safety Committee, Could Mark End of Torturous Practice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    April 9, 2014

Press Contact:     Isaac Ontiveros—510.517.6612
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

Oakland—A bill designed to bring about reforms to the California’s internationally condemned use of indefinite solitary confinement, passed its first hurdle yesterday by a 4 to 2 vote (with one abstention) in the State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano authored AB 1652 in response to the historic hunger strike last summer that included the participation of 30,000 prisoners in the majority of the California’s sprawling prison system.   Some of the strikers refused food for 60 days. The prisoners agreed to suspend their hunger strike on September 5, 2013, with the promise of legislative hearings on the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons.

The bill could bring very significant changes to California’s use of solitary confinement.  AB1652 would prohibit the use of solitary except for 14 very serious offenses, and would set a cap on the solitary term to 5 years.   AB 1652 would effectively end the bitterly contested practice of “gang validation” that has led to thousands of prisoners serving indefinite sentences in solitary based merely on association with other prisoners.

According to the bill’s author, “The United States is an outlier in the world on the use of incarceration and solitary confinement, and California is an outlier in the United States and is the only state to use solitary confinement for indefinite terms where SHU [Security Housing Unit] terms are assigned for administrative reasons such as being in possession of artwork or books…

California’s SHUs do not meet international human rights standards regarding the treatment of incarcerated people. The conditions amounted to torture, and groups are challenging the constitutionality of the SHU. This bill is intended to limit the use of solitary confinement to people who have committed serious rule violations, and restore time credits for inmates currently serving time in the SHU on a non-rule violation assignment.”

“This bill responds to some of the core demands of the hunger strikers, namely that indefinite SHU status should be abolished,” said Donna Willmott, who worked on behalf of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition’s legislative working group to help California decision-makers take action on  solitary confinement.  “It is really important to recognize that the human rights struggle being waged by prisoners and their supporters are having an impact.  Given the horrendous violence of solitary confinement, we are eager to work with decision-makers to use this bill to get as many people out of solitary as we can, including making good-time credits retroactive for those who have suffered solitary based solely on accusation of gang membership and association.”

“Some of our loved ones have suffered in these inhumane conditions for 20 or 30 years or more,”  said Marie Levin, an activists with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition whose brother Sitawa Jamaa was one of the lead representatives of the prisoner hunger strikers. “We will continue our fight to make sure AB 1652 can provide some relief to our families, and we will continue to fight until the torture of solitary confinement is a thing of the past.”
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