‘Stop the Torture’ – UN Official Receives Formal Complaint from Solitary Prisoners’ Family Members and Advocates

For Immediate Release – Thursday, March 31, 2016

Statewide groups are condemning sleep deprivation – widely recognized as a form of torture – of prisoners in Pelican Bay’s Solitary Confinement Units in a formal complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Press Contact: Mohamed Shehk
408.910.2618, mohamed@criticalresistance.org
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

 

CA – After months of public outcry, California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) have submitted a formal complaint to Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment condemning the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) jarringly noisy and disruptive “security/welfare checks” in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Units (PB-SHU). These checks, which started on August 2, 2015, have deprived the prisoners of sleep for eight months, amounting to what is widely recognized as a form of torture. The complaint was submitted last week, on Thursday, March 24.

 

One prisoner recently stated that being in PB-SHU with these checks “is like a construction site all night. It is horrible. It really is torture.”  Another wrote, “For decades, military and police forces have used extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, and constant banging/noise to cause mental/physical torment and try to break a person’s mind or human will to resist questioning. These are so-called clean torture methods.”

 

The complaint to Mendez includes reports from interviews with PB-SHU prisoners conducted over a six-month period by Carol Strickman, Staff Attorney at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.  Additionally, Mendez was provided with statements by sleep experts Dr. Thomas Roth and Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, by psychiatrist Dr. Terry Kupers, and by the American Public Health Association’s Jail and Prison Health Committee about the impact of sleep deprivation on mental health – all who have condemned the “security/welfare checks.”  Internationally recognized sleep expert Dr. Zeitzer explains in his October 2015 report, “The negative health consequences of inadequate sleep have been extensively documented and nowhere in the literature is there a report on as severe a disruption in sleep as is occurring in the Pelican Bay SHU.”

 

“My son doesn’t have the energy to exercise, write, or draw nearly as much since the checks started. He used to write me letters 2-3 times a week; now maybe once a week, and only a few lines,” says Grace A., a member of CFASC and whose son is in PB-SHU. “He has hardly been able to sleep since early August, but is fighting to stay strong. I tell him ‘You are not alone.’”

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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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The way forward to End Solitary Confinement Torture: Where’s the army?

Jan. 25, 2015
by Todd Ashker

On the subject of SHU and Ad-Seg constituting torture, for those of us who may not be familiar with the specifics and in light of CDCr’s steady stream of propaganda – saying, “We don’t operate any solitary confinement units or cells in the California penal system, nor do we torture anyone” – here’s a summary of relevant facts supporting our position that these SHU and Ad-Seg units and the operations thereof are designed (modeled) after techniques designed to break political prisoners as a control mechanism. They are intended to break prisoners via coercive persuasion into becoming state informants.

I’ll begin by asking you a simple question?

Why is it that CDCr is able to get away with portraying PBSP SHU (Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit) prisoners as the “worst of the worst” sub-human monsters ever encountered in modern times as justification for their policies and practices of treating said prisoners as sub-human via decades of what is clearly a form of solitary confinement with sensory deprivation – and yet, as soon as these men agree to become state stooges via debriefing, they are no longer a threat and are released to the sensitive needs yard (protective custody) general population prison of their choice?

One of the main reasons they are able to continue to get away with their BS is the failure of the people to hold the lawmakers responsible.

I’ve been in the SHU for 28.4 years, to date, 24.7 years of which has been here in PBSP-SHU. [Editor’s note: This was written Dec. 30, 2014.] I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged with a gang related rule violation. (During our hunger strike I was issued two rule violations classified as serious. They were for: a) having a photo of my longtime friend; and b) a letter that someone had sent me, a stranger who represented herself as a supporter of our cause and wanted to be a pen pal. Staff gave me the letter, and then came around later and confiscated it and wrote me up.)

The above is intended to put the following into some perspective: Based on my personal experience in PBSP SHU during the past 24.7 years, I’ve experienced many techniques designed to break me. One is isolation from my social group. This is a tactic used here by prisoncrats to physically remove those prisoners deemed “problematic” to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or weaken close emotional ties, along with segregation of all natural leaders.

I’ve been challenging prison conditions in the courts since 1988, which is viewed as challenging prisoncrats’ authority, and up until our 2011 hunger strike protest, I’d never been formally charged
with a gang related rule violation.

What prisoncrats like to do is claim that this place can’t be considered a solitary confinement unit because you have eight cells to each pod and thus the prisoners in each pod are able to talk to each other. But here is how it actually operates. If you are deemed a “problematic” prisoner by any of the staff – for example, if you are a prisoner who is constantly challenging the prisoncrats’ policies and practices – their way of subjecting you to an informal form of punishment or to try to break you is to put you in a pod where there are no other people of your social group.

Artwork accompanies writing at this SF Bay View link
http://sfbayview.com/2015/01/the-way-forward-to-end-solitary-confinement-torture-wheres-the-army/

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Groundbreaking N.Y. Legislation: Eliminate Extreme Isolation Beyond 15 Days, Create Humane Alternatives

LAWMAKERS, ADVOCATES, AND SURVIVORS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT BACK SWEEPING REFORMS TO USE OF ISOLATION IN NEW YORK’S PRISONS AND JAILS

Supporters Converge from Across the State to Lobby for the “HALT Solitary Confinement Act”

Groundbreaking Legislation Would Eliminate Extreme Isolation Beyond 15 Days, Create Safe and Humane Alternatives

Albany, May 5, 2014 — At a mid-morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building in Albany, leading legislators joined advocates, people who had experienced solitary confinement, and family members of those currently in solitary to promote the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A08588A / S06466A).

At the same time, more than 120 individuals from across the state, many of them directly affected by the widespread use of solitary confinement in New York, gathered for an inaugural lobby day at the State Capitol, meeting with more than 50 legislators.

After years of activism by human rights and civil liberties groups, faith communities, currently and formerly incarcerated people, and other concerned citizens, solitary confinement is currently exploding as an issue, both in the media and on public policy agendas.

Supporters are hailing the HALT Solitary Confinement Act as the most comprehensive and progressive legislative response to date to the nationwide problem of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. As written, it would virtually eliminate a practice that has been increasingly denounced as both dangerous and torturous, while protecting the safety of incarcerated individuals and corrections officers.

According to Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, who is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly, “New York State was a leader for the country in passing the 2008 SHU Exclusion Law, which keeps people with the most severe mental health needs out of solitary confinement. Now we must show the way forward again, ensuring that we provide safe, humane and effective alternatives to solitary for all people.”

“Solitary confinement makes people suffer without making our prisons safer. It is counter-productive as well as cruel,” said Senator Bill Perkins, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “Solitary harms not only those who endure it, but families, communities, and corrections staff as well.”

Additional sponsors of the bill include Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Brad Hoylman, Velmanette Montgomery, N. Nick Perry, and John L. Sampson.

On any given day, about 3,800 people are in Special Housing Units, or SHUs, with many more in other forms of isolated confinement in New York’s State prisons. They are held for 23 to 24 hours in cells smaller than the average parking space, alone or with one other person. More than 800 are in solitary confinement in New York City jails, along with hundreds more in local jails across the state.

New York isolates imprisoned people at levels well above the national average, and uses solitary to punish minor disciplinary violations. Five out of six sentences that result in placement in New York State’s SHUs are for non-violent conduct. Individuals are sent to the SHU on the word of prison staff, and may remain there for months, years, or even decades.

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act bans extreme isolation beyond 15 days–the limit advocated by UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez, among others. Méndez, who is the United Nations’ main torture investigator, has found that solitary confinement as it is practiced in New York violates the U.S.’s international obligations with regard to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.

The Special Rapporteur contributed a statement which was read aloud at the press conference, concluding, “The HALT Solitary Confinement Act reflects both safe and effective prison policy and respect for human rights. It should become law in New York State and a model for change across the United States.”

The HALT Solitary Confinement Act goes well beyond the agreement that was recently reached between the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the New York Civil Liberties Union to limit the use of isolation on youth, pregnant women, and people with developmental disabilities. HALT completely bars these and other vulnerable populations from being placed in solitary at all.

For those who present a serious threat to prison safety and need to be separated from the general population for longer periods of time, the legislation creates new Residential Rehabilitation Units (RRUs)–separate, secure units with substantial out-of-cell time, and programs and treatment aimed at addressing the underlying causes of behavioral problems.

“Isolation does not promote positive change in people; it only damages them,” said Megan Crowe-Rothstein of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project. “By requiring treatment and programs for people who are separated from the prison population for serious misconduct, the legislation requires Corrections to emphasize rehabilitation over punishment and degradation.”

The widespread use of long-term solitary confinement has been under fire in recent years, in the face of increasing evidence that sensory deprivation, lack of normal human interaction, and extreme idleness can lead to severe psychological damage. Supporters of the bill also say that isolated confinement fails to address the underlying causes of problematic behavior, and often exacerbates that behavior as people deteriorate psychologically, physically, and socially.

Rev. Ron Stief of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture said, “The diverse faith traditions represented by NRCAT hold in common a belief in the dignity of each human person. We share a conviction that the use of isolated confinement in U.S. prisons and jails violates basic religious values of community and restorative justice. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act provides New York with a critical opportunity to lead the way nationally in increasing access to rehabilitation and ending the torture of isolated confinement.”

Solitary confinement has never been shown to reduce prison violence. In fact, several state prisons systems, including Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, have significantly reduced the number of people they hold in solitary confinement, and have seen prison violence decrease as well. In addition, individuals released from solitary confinement have higher recidivism rates. In New York each year, nearly 2,000 people are released directly from extreme isolation to the streets.

“The damage done by solitary confinement is deep and permanent,” said solitary survivor Five Mualimm-ak of the Incarcerated Nation Campaign. Mualimm-ak spent five years in isolated confinement despite never having committed a violent act in prison. “Having humane alternatives will spare thousands of people the pain and suffering that extreme isolation causes–and the scars that they carry with them back into our communities.”

Also speaking at the press conference was hip-hop artist Mysonne, who spent time in solitary in New York, and Jessica Casanova, aunt of a young man currently in solitary.

Many of those represented at the press conference are members of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), which was instrumental in drafting the bill. CAIC unites advocates, concerned community members, lawyers, and individuals in the human rights, health, and faith communities throughout New York State with formerly incarcerated people and family members of currently incarcerated people.

On May 5, CAIC members from all corners of New York State were gathering at the State Capitol to lobby legislators to support the HALT Solitary Confinement Act.

“CAIC recognizes that we need a fundamental transformation of how our public institutions address people’s needs and behaviors, both in our prisons and in our communities,” said Scott Paltrowitz of the Correctional Association of New York. “Rather than inhumane and ineffective punishment, deprivation, and isolation, the HALT Act would provide people with greater support, programs, and treatment to help them thrive, and in turn make our prisons and our communities safer.”

PRESS CONFERENCE DETAILS:
Date/Time/ Location: Monday, May 5, 10:00 – 11:00 am
LCA Press Room, Legislative Office Building, First Floor198 State Street, Albany

Speakers:

Assembly Member Jeffrion L. Aubry (D, 35th District, Queens),

Assembly sponsor Senator Bill Perkins (D, 30th District, Harlem), Senate sponsor

Five Mualimm-ak, survivor of solitary confinement in New York, Incarcerated Nation Campaign, Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC)

Mysonne, survivor of solitary confinement in New York, hip-hop artist

Jessica Casanova, aunt of individual currently in solitary, CAIC

Scott Paltrowitz, Correctional Association of New York, CAIC

Claire Deroche, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, CAIC

All speakers will be available for interview along with additional family members of    individuals in solitary confinement, advocates, and members of the clergy, including Rev. Dr. Paul S. Johnson, Senior Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock

PRESS KIT INCLUDES:

Press Release

Summary of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT)

Solitary Confinement Act

Full Text of HALT Act (A08588A / S06466A)

Fact Sheet on Solitary Confinement in New York State

New York Voices from Solitary Confinement

Congressional Testimony Provided by the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Articles and commentaries on solitary confinement in New York

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

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