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    News from a Nation in Lockdown
    Updated: 40 min 45 sec ago

    Teens in Isolation: State Advisers to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Hold Briefing on Juvenile Solitary Confinement in New York

    Mon, 07/14/2014 - 10:00

    An isolation cell in “the Bing” on Rikers Island. Some 60 percent of the adolescents sent to Rikers have been diagnosed with mental illness. Many end up doing time in solitary.

    Johnny Perez was sixteen when he was arrested for weapons possession. New York State automatically charges people ages 16 and over as adults, so the teenager was charged as an adult. Unable to afford the $100,000 bail, he was sent to Rikers Island to await trial. There, he was placed in C-74, the unit for 16 to 18 year olds. “A lot of the adolescents can be real territorial,” he recalled. At C-74, they tried to control the phones, the bathrooms and all other aspects of life in the jail. Perez got into a fight over using the phone. “It was a gang-only phone, but I didn’t care,” he said. For that fight, the 16-year-old was sent to solitary confinement (known on Rikers as “the Bing”) for sixty days.

    When Perez entered solitary, jail staff took his clothes and issued him a jumpsuit. He was placed in a cell which he described as a “concrete slab with a mattress. There was a toilet-sink combo, but nowhere to sit.” He sometimes spent days without eating or being able to use the phone. “The phone is supposed to be passed cell to cell by another inmate [a suicide prevention aide],” he recalled. But on his first day in the Bing, the suicide prevention aide was a member of the gang with whom Perez had fought. Whenever he worked, I didn’t get access to the phone or to food,” Perez said. He recalled that the first three weeks were the most difficult. “I felt isolated, sad, helpless,” he recalled. “I remember crying a lot.”

    On Thursday, July 10th, the now-adult Perez testified before the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The advisory committee investigates civil rights concerns in the state and reports to the Commission, which can then choose to issue recommendations to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action. Each advisory committee is appointed for two years and chooses which issues to focus on during that two-year tenure. Appointed in July 2013, committee members in New York chose to focus on juvenile justice within the state, looking specifically at education, solitary confinement, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

    The Advisory Committee’s all-day briefing at NYU Law School on July 10 concerned juvenile solitary confinement in New York State. Panelists included New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci, New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, former judges, mental health professionals, advocates, attorneys, and two men who experienced solitary confinement personally—Perez and Five Mualimm-ak, who spent five years in isolation in New York State prisons.

    Ian Kysel, author of a 2012 report on youth in solitary confinement, was one of several witnesses to make note of the lack of national data about the solitary confinement of children in the United States. The lack of data extends to information about race and mental health diagnoses among youth placed in solitary—a particular concern of the Advisory Committee, which investigates discriminatory treatment.

    Bryanne Hamill, a retired family court judge and current member of the New York City Board of Correction, which monitors conditions in city’s jails, noted that adolescents in general are overrepresented in solitary confinement in Rikers Island. Approximately 60 percent have mental health diagnoses, in contrast to 40 percent of the adults in solitary.  Last September, the Board of Correction unanimously approved recommendations to commence rulemaking around solitary confinement. However, warned Hamill, the process will be slow.

    Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who has introduced two bills regulating the use of solitary in New York City jails, talked about his visit to Rikers Island. “What I saw was cruel and inhumane,” he testified. Although people in solitary are allowed one hour out of their cells for recreation time, that one hour falls between four and six in the morning and then consists only of being brought to another cell. Dromm recounts that guards boasted that they woke people at four, rather than at five, to offer them rec. “Very few people are willing to get up at 4 am for rec,” Dromm recounted. During his visit, Dromm asked how many rules could land a person in solitary confinement if broken. Jail staff told him that there are over 100 such rules that. Those arriving at Rikers Island are not given copies of these rules. Dromm reported that he also saw youth awaiting therapy sessions chained to pipes.

    In February 2014, the New York State DOCCS entered a settlement agreement with the New York Civil Liberties Union in Peoples v. Fisher,  with DOCCS agreeing to prohibit the use of Special Housing Units for minors, pregnant women, and people with developmental disabilities. Instead, it will utilize in-cell confinement for youth that does not exceed 19 hours per day on weekdays. Four hours will be spent on out-of-cell programming and one hour on recreation. DOCCS has 18 months in which to implement changes. In the meantime, Commissioner Annucci acknowledged that DOCCS is not yet keeping statistics on the number of 16 and 17 year olds placed in disciplinary segregation, and that he did not know if there were disparities in the use of solitary based on race or mental health.

    At any given time, Annucci testified, DOCCS has approximately 120 15 and 17 year olds in its prison system. Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, those under age 18 must be separated from adults by both sight and sound. DOCCS currently houses teenage boys in one of three prisons—Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, and Greene Correctional Facility. While Coxsackie and Woodbourne will employ in-cell confinement for 19 hours each day to replace SHU treatment for youth, Greene includes a special eight-bed unit for youth sent to disciplinary segregation. “We are crafting a prison within a prison and programs that meet their needs,” Annuci stated before the Committee. Only one to three teenage girls are in adult prisons at any given time. “It’s been a challenge to keep them separate,” he told Solitary Watch. “If you’re [a] 17-year-old [girl], you’re going to be kept by yourself.”

    Although details of the Peoples v Fisher settlement agreement remain undisclosed because of a confidentiality clause, Karen Murtagh of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York points out that the new conditions will not only have to wait eighteen months for implementation, but are also contingent upon DOCCS’ ability to secure funding. She also noted that the 19-hour limit on in-cell confinement is only limited to weekdays. On weekends, youth can still spend up to 23 hours per day in their cells. “Let’s not use isolation as the norm and pat ourselves on the back that we’re now only confining them for 19 rather than 23 hours,” she argued. Moreover, the agreement will apply only to New York State prisons, not local jails such as Rikers Island.

    Several advocates point to other racial demographics around policing, imprisonment, and even school discipline to extrapolate similar patterns. Alexander A. Reinhart, professor at the Cardozo School of Law, noted that the use of discipline in schools disproportionately impacts students of color two to five times more than it does white students. “We can expect to see similar outcomes in jails and prisons,” he stated. Scott Paltrowitz, of the Correctional Association of New York, pointed to the racial disparities in policing, prosecution, and imprisonment in New York State and across the country. “Even if we don’t have numbers about race in the SHU,” he said in his testimony, “look at the proportion [of people of color] behind bars.” He noted that, while eighteen percent of the state’s population is Black, Black people make up two-thirds of the New York State prison population. Of those 21 and under in New York’s SHUs, he added, Black children make up 66 percent.

    Advocates also noted the necessity of not limiting the investigation only to the effects of solitary confinement on minors. Murtagh strongly recommended that the Committee extend its focus to people who were sentenced to solitary confinement between the ages of 16 and 18 but who are now age 23, 34, and 25. She points to one client, Raymond, who is currently facing more than three years in solitary because he received 23 rules violations tickets in 29 days. If Raymond wanted to appeal, he would have to file 23 separate appeals, one for each ticket. In the meantime, his solitary sentences will be run consecutively. Raymond turned eighteen on May 27th and currently falls out of the Committee’s scope of examination.

    Paltrowitz echoed that recommendation. “Someone who is 17 will turn 18, 20, 21, etc., so don’t draw the line at 17,” he urged. He recalled a recent visit to Greene Correctional Facility. There, he met a man who was sent to the SHU at age 17. While in the SHU, the young man received more and more tickets for rules violations. He is now 34 years old. Paltrowitz emphasized that this man’s experience is not an anomaly. “We repeatedly hear that people get ticket after ticket while in the SHU, which extends their SHU sentence,” he stated.

    Those who testified, including Commissioner Annucci, repeatedly pointed to studies showing that the teenage brain is still developing and that impulse control has not yet fully formed. Dr. Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine who co-wrote a report condemning solitary confinement practices at Rikers Island, agreed, testifying that the brain is not fully developed until age twenty-five.

    Alexandra Korry, the attorney who chairs the New York Advisory Committee, can’t say whether the federal government will intervene in the issue. But after hearing nearly seven hours of testimony, she said, “We’ve heard an overwhelming amount of evidence that something needs to change. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of recommendations.” Those recommendations will go to the national Commission on Civil Rights, which can in turn urge the Justice Department to act. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a circumscribed statement on juvenile solitary confinement, saying that  “unnecessary or excessive seclusion of youth with disabilities” should be ended.

    Johnny Perez, who has been home for nine months and now works as a Safe Reentry Advocate at the Urban Justice Center, is hoping for complete systemic change. “Prison itself, not just solitary confinement, is an attack on your soul,” he told Solitary Watch on the day after the hearing. Both his time in solitary and behind bars affected his self-esteem and his emotions. “When I was 16, I couldn’t identify these emotions a lot of times. My default emotion was anger, which led to aggressive behavior like lashing out, overcompensating, and violence.” He also stresses that laws and rules have been constructed by people who have no direct experience with the prison system. “The voice of those people is critical to any type of reform or change. Those most directly affected by these rules and laws need to be heard—and involved—in making these changes.”

    Seven Days in Solitary [7/13/14]

    Sun, 07/13/2014 - 23:50

    The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

    • California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) has filed a lawsuit against the state’s corrections officials, demanding disclosure of information regarding solitary confinement policies under the California Public Records Act. In San Bernardino and elsewhere across the state, protesters came out to honor the one-year anniversary of the California prison hunger strikes and call for change.

    • Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced a bill into Congress that would prohibit juvenile facilities from using solitary confinement unless the youngster posed a “serious and immediate risk of physical harm” to themselves or others. The REDEEM Act, or Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, would also require courts to expunge or seal criminal records for a broad scope of juvenile offenses and provide financial incentives to states that set 18 as the age of adult jurisdiction.

    • A Tennessee man has filed a lawsuit against Sierra County in New Mexico after he was denied psychiatric medication and left to decompensate in a filthy solitary confinement cell for 18 days. Michael Faziana, who had been arrested on misdemeanor charges, is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

    •  New York City’s Board of Corrections asserted that the newly appointed Commissioner violated the law by placing as many as 47 inmates with mental illness into solitary confinement without first getting clearance from qualified clinicians. The board, which provides independent oversight of the city’s jails, disputes Commissioner Ponte’s assertion that the transfer was necessary to control rising violence on the inside.

    •  A Wisconsin coalition of churches has launched a campaign to reform practices within the state’s Department of Corrections, including ending solitary confinement.

    •  The family of an Army veteran who died in solitary confinement in a Florida jail in July 2012 is suing the Broward County Sheriff’s Office as well as the jail’s private health care provider. Raleigh Priester, 52, who had long struggled with schizophrenia, was found unresponsive in his cell in May 2012 after spending several months in isolation. Priester was released back to jail staff with “specific instructions” for his ongoing care, and died just a few weeks later – weighing just 120 pounds despite being over six feet tall.

    •  A lawsuit filed this week against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) alleges that guards at Franklin Correctional Institution gassed to death an individual in solitary confinement, then covered up the incident with the help of high-level staff and medical providers. The whistle-blower complaint alleges that 27-year-old Randall Jordan-Aparo was begging jail staff for medical attention when he was transferred into isolation. The Miami Herald published an editorial calling for a full investigation into the DOC’s practices.

    •  Two years after Brandon Palakovic hung himself in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison, his parents have filed a lawsuit against state’s Corrections Secretary and several facility staff. Palakovic, who was 23 when he died at Cresson, had an extensive history of mental illness. In May 2013, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin wrote that the facility “often permitted its prisoners with serious mental illness… to simply languish… in solitary confinement for months or years on end under harsh conditions in violation of the Constitution.”

    Ninety Years Old, Deaf, and in the Hole in a Florida Prison

    Thu, 07/10/2014 - 13:43

    Elliott “Bud” Yorke, who is incarcerated at Florida’s Columbia Correctional Institution Annex at Lake City, was sent to solitary confinement on June 24. According to prison officials, he was placed in isolation for his own protection after corrections officers observed injuries suggesting that he had been assaulted. Aside from being two months shy of his 90th birthday, Yorke is deaf and non-verbal, communicating primarily through writing. He uses a wheeled walker to move around.

    “Apparently this confinement system is not concerned with impaired and elderly,” Yorke wrote in a July 1 letter to a friend. He continued:

    There are no grab and hold bars on wall to help me up and down on toilet. They won’t let my walker stay in my cell to help, tho I am solo occupant in this cell while I’m in this present hell place…

    At 13’10 hrs. on June 25, 2014 the confinement guard has taken my walker wheels. He rode it out like a “scooter” with one knee on the seat. It was parked outside my cell. It has my jar of topical allergy skin salve under seat and I can’t walk without a walker!! I need these. I wrote a note of need to guard and he wrote on back of note” “Make your bed- that is what you need!” At 16’35 hrs I got jar and nasty note “F— you!…

    My stationery, envelopes, stamps, pens, address records, and crotch supporters for sanitary male napkins have been put in storage and I have no access!!! Diapers, [to] which I am historically allergic, have been issued under door ground gap.

    Yorke, who has served close to 30 years in Florida for a sex offense,  has requested to be sent to a prison that teaches American Sign Language. He is able to hear some things with the help of a tinnitus masker, but has been denied that as well.

    According to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prisons receiving federal funding must supply an effective communications system for the deaf, while the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically requires state and local agencies to make sure a disabled person is not limited in terms of communication. In the past, courts have found prisons that do not provide disabled inmates physical accommodations like handrails and shower chairs to be in violation of the ADA, according to A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual

    On Monday, Columbia Annex Warden Munroe Barnes told Solitary Watch that he had made sure to correct the majority of Yorke’s complaints, although a walker was still not permitted in keeping with standard procedure in solitary “in case it can be made into weapon.” The tinnitus masking instrument is also not allowed in solitary cells, Barnes said, because inmates are supplied with mp3 devices that have the same capabilities.

    Yorke has been approved for transfer to a facility “commensurate with his age and disability status,” according to Barnes, but the process takes time due to limited availability throughout the state prison system. In the meantime, Yorke remains in solitary indefinitely.

    “We Are Not the Worst of the Worst”: One Year Later, What’s Changed for Pelican Bay’s Hunger Strikers?

    Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:53

    Photos: A cell in the Pelican Bay SHU occupied by hunger striker Todd Ashker.

    On July 8, 2013, 30,000 prisoners refused their meals, launching the largest mass prison hunger strike in U.S. history. One year later, Todd Ashker is marking off his twenty-fourth year in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).  “I’m still alive, kicking and strong in heart and spirit,” he wrote in a June 2014 letter. Ashker is one of the four main representatives for the hunger strikers and the lead plaintiff in the class-action suit Ashker v. Brown. Nonetheless, he remains confined in the SHU since his placement there in 1990. He is not alone; as of April 2014, 1,199 people were held in Pelican Bay’s SHU. Some have been there for over a decade.

    Inside the SHU, people are locked into windowless cells for at least 22 hours a day. Prison administrators place them in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or an indeterminate term for gang membership. Accusations of gang affiliation often relied on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence. Hundreds have been confined within the SHU for over a decade. Until recently, the only way to be released from the SHU was to debrief, or provide information incriminating other prisoners, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. In 2011, SHU prisoners called for a hunger strike to protest SHU policies. In 2013, frustrated with the lack of changes, they called for another hunger strike.

    The call was taken up across California and in out-of-state prisons where California prisoners are held. Thirty thousand people responded, refusing meals that first day. Hunger strikers issued five core demands, including the elimination of “group punishments for individual rules violations”; changes in the criteria for being “validated” as gang members, and for “debriefing” from gang status; compliance with the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement; provision of “adequate food”; and expansion of “constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU prisoners.” The men of Pelican Bay issued forty additional demands, such as expunging all violations issued for participation in the 2011 hunger strikes, and prohibiting retaliation for those participating in the most recent strike.

    The strike ended on September 5, 2013, or Day 60, after California legislators Loni Hancock, chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and Tom Ammiano, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, issued a statement of support for the hunger strikers and promised to hold hearings around SHU placement and long-term solitary confinement.

    Changes in Conditions Inside the SHU

    One of the five core demands during the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes was adequate food. After the 2011 hunger strike, Mutope DuGuma charged that prison staff served inedible food to those in the SHU. More recently, he reports that the food servings are small, noting that those without family members able to send them money cannot rely on the (expanded) canteen items to supplement their meals.

    While prisoners, family members and advocates state that none of the five core demands have been adequately met, some of the forty supplemental demands have. Visiting times, for instance, have doubled from ninety minutes to three hours. For family members driving fourteen hours from southern California, the increase in visiting time means a lot. But, notes Mutope DuGuma, who has been in the SHU since 2001, “if you’re so far away from home, it don’t matter because your people can’t afford the trip anyway which is anywhere from five hundred dollars for up and back, if not more.” (The increase in visiting times only applies to Pelican Bay. In Tehachapi, which also has a Security Housing Unit, visiting continues to be limited to one hour.)

    Hunger strikers also won the right to order an increased number of items from the canteen. “Imagine being able to order a jalapeno or cheese after being there [without them] for decades,” stated Dolores Canales, whose son has been in the SHU for thirteen years. She also stated that they also won the right to order their own underwear rather than wearing prison-issued underwear that has been worn by countless others. They can also buy a cup and bowl as well as a handball from the canteen. “Of course, the families are paying for these items,” she added.

    “Is this what they’ve been fighting for and starving themselves for?” Canales reflected. “No. But does it make a difference in their lives? Yes.” Both family members and SHU prisoners agree that the five core demands have yet to be met.

    Medical care inside Pelican Bay remains problematic. “There are NO doctor visits in segregation, the SHU or solitary confinement,” reports DuGuma. “It’s a constant struggle to be treated for what you are suffering. All health care rounds are based on the prisoner filing paperwork to see the doctor and you have to pay five dollars for every visit.” According to DuGuma, Pelican Bay has a licensed vocational nurse, a registered nurse and a doctor present daily, but they do not make rounds of the SHU other than to pass out medications. Ashker corroborates this, stating that he has not seen medical staff making rounds of the SHU cells. He also notes that the only mental health assessment he’s received was during the 2013 hunger strike. Prior to placing hunger strikers in Administration Segregation, a nurse asked each person if he wanted to hurt himself. If he wants medical attention, he has to file a request for a medical visit.

    But medical care is not free. Alfred Sandoval, who has been in the SHU since 1987, described the process: “I am charged five dollars for each medical visit, for which I am strip searched, placed in waist chains, then escorted to a small, cold holding cell and put into leg irons before the RN [registered nurse] will take my vitals. Then I am put back into the cold, small, usually dirty, holding cell and left to wait. There is no talking allowed and any violation of this illegal underground regulation is cause for termination of the medical visit. A prisoner can be held in that small cell for hours only to be told by the doctor to ‘drink more water and try to meditate for the pain’ and returned to his cell. I have been sent back to my cell after complaining of abdominal pain and fainted the next day after a Crohn’s flare-up which caused intestinal bleeding and loss of blood pressure.” He charges that he and others have repeatedly been told by medical staff that they would receive better medical care if they debriefed.

    While SHU prisoners and their families are glad to see some positive changes, they all reiterate that these are not enough. They continue to demand an end to the policies that placed them in solitary confinement for so many years and for an end to their isolation: “Although people are being released to some very small degree, the majority of us will remain back here unless it’s some real change,” wrote DuGuma, who is scheduled to be reviewed for the Step Down program in December. “We all can be released today with no problem, but that’s not the intent by our keepers. We all fit the same profile for the last thirty-something years, so why now do only a few fall under this case-by-case review? We all meet the same criteria [of] administrative SHU placement, meaning that we’re only here for being validated. NO other reason. I’ve been back here twelve years for nothing. I was never part of a prison gang—never and they know it! So it’s righting a wrong with me, but I cannot get those years back.”

    Ashker v Brown Is Certified As a Class-Action, but the Class Is Shrinking

    In March 2012, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) changed its practices around SHU placement. Prisoners identified as part of Security Threat Groups (STGs) can be placed in the SHU. Advocates and prisoners charge that the STG designation would enable CDCR to place greater numbers of people in the SHU. CDCR, however, asserts that those validated as STG associates are not placed in the SHU unless they are also involved in gang and/or criminal behavior. Later that year, CDCR also began its Step Down program. The program evaluates prisoners with indefinite SHU terms for release into general population. Both prisoners and their advocates have criticized the program, noting that even those who have spent years in the SHU may still be required to spend two to three additional years in solitary confinement under this program. The program originally included a requirement that each person sign a contract renouncing gang affiliation. Many refused, believing that signing the document was an admission of gang activity. CDCR has since eliminated that requirement. The debriefing program remains in place.

    In May 2012, Pelican Bay prisoners filed Ashker v. Brown, a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners who have spent ten or more years in Pelican Bay’s SHU. On June 2, 2014, a federal judge ruled in favor of class certification, allowing prisoners who have spent the past decade(s) in the SHU to join the suit. The class is still limited to those held in Pelican Bay’s SHU. However, the Step Down Process, the ensuing approvals for less-restrictive steps and transfers out of Pelican Bay, are shrinking the class of prisoners eligible to participate.

    As of June 9, 2014, CDCR has conducted 828 case-by-case reviews of prisoners housed in the SHUs and Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs) on Security Threat Group (STG) charges. Of those reviewed, 557 have been released to Step Five, which is general population housing. Two hundred thirty-one people have been placed in Steps One through Four, six are going through the debriefing process and the rest remain in the ASU.

    Several plaintiffs on Ashker v Brown have been moved from Pelican Bay’s SHU. Danny Troxell and Jeffrey Franklin have been moved to Tehachapi, Gabriel Reyes to the California State Prison in Sacramento, and Paul Redd to the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran State Prison, where he writes that his arrival has “been positive and surprisingly welcome.” Ronnie Dewberry, who goes by the name Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa was reviewed in May 2014 and assigned to Step Three; he is currently awaiting transfer to the SHU in Tehachapi.

    Dewberry’s sister Marie Levin believes that his role as one of the four main representatives of the Pelican Bay hunger strikers is why he was not assigned to Step Five. “He’s not a gang member,” she said. “So many African-Americans whom CDCR claimed were gang members have been released to Step Five, so it’s puzzling as to why my brother wasn’t released,” she continued. Paul Redd, who is also African-American, notes that, of the seven African-Americans transferred from Pelican Bay SHU with him, all but one had been placed on Step Five.

    According to attorney Anne Weills, while the named plaintiffs continue to be part of the suit, others who have spent ten or more years in Pelican Bay but have recently been transferred elsewhere are no longer part of the class. Thus, Lorenzo Benton, who was recently approved for Step Five and transferred to Ironwood State Prison after more than 25 years in the SHU, is no longer eligible to be part of the class-action suit.

    Those remaining in Pelican Bay have varying reports about the Step Down Review process. Some feel that they are being retaliated against for their participation in the hunger strike. J. Baridi Williamson, for instance, stated that, two months before the 2013 hunger strike, the warden and Institutional Classification Committee (which determines SHU placement) had informed him that his case would soon be reviewed. “But then the hunger protest resumed, I got retaliated against and it looks like they likely crossed my name off their CBC review list for forwarding my case to DRB [Departmental Review Board]…None of the eight fellas here in our assigned Unit D4′s B-pod has been notified or placed on any DRB [Departmental Review Board] list. We’re not even sure if the CDCR case-by-case specialist here has even considered reviewing any of our cases.”

    In the D3 unit, Kijana Tashiri Askari, who has been in the SHU since 1994, reported that, as of March 24, 2014, ten people from his unit had been reviewed. Half had been placed in Step 5 and released from SHU. “All of the people being released from SHU to the main line via the DRB have at least ten years in solitary confinement, which has led us to believe that the DRB is doing this to sabotage the lawsuit,” Askari noted. “It will be next to impossible to make a case for ‘class certification’ for a lawsuit that is based upon people being held in solitary confinement for ten years when these people are being released to the main line.”

    “I Remain Committed for Freedom for All and All Five Core Demands”

    Those who have been released to Step Five report that their placement and subsequent treatment should disprove CDCR’s assertion that those in Pelican Bay SHU are “the worst of the worst.” “What was most interesting was our exiting the bus without any secure tactic intimidation,” Paul Redd wrote about his arrival at Corcoran’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. “[We received] a friendly and respectable welcoming by the group of IGIs [Institutional Gang Investigators] who informed us that they aren’t going to be at our cells bothering us but allow us to program. Prison officials also gave a friendly welcome and stated they’re making sure all DRBs have first priority for job openings.” Those who had been released in previous months informed him that IGI officials have not bothered them.

    Having endured over 25 years in solitary confinement, Benton asked, “What was our crime to be placed in the SHU on indeterminate status and being continuously held all these years???” At Ironwood, Benton has been assigned to both a work program and a vocational training program. Although he can now see the sun and the night sky and interact with other people face to face, Benton has not forgotten those still locked in Pelican Bay’s SHU. “I remain committed for freedom for all and all five core demands,” he wrote. “So until justice for all, may our existence reflect what’s good and right in life.”

    The post “We Are Not the Worst of the Worst”: One Year Later, What’s Changed for Pelican Bay’s Hunger Strikers? appeared first on Solitary Watch.

    Seven Days in Solitary [7/6/2014]

    Sun, 07/06/2014 - 18:28

    The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

    • The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) has established a new Administrative Regulation (AR) that eliminates “administrative segregation” in favor of “restrictive housing.”  Maximum security housing status will be limited to six to twelve months, and offenders will know their release date.  The AR also states, “CDOC will make every attempt to ensure offenders will not release directly to the community from Restrictive Housing Maximum Security Status.”

    • The mother of a prisoner killed by his cellmate – an eight-year survivor of solitary confinement who had previously attacked others on the inside – is suing the state of Colorado, claiming that her son’s death should have been foreseen by prison officials. The suit comes as the Colorado legislature and Corrections Department take steps towards reducing the use of solitary confinement across the state.

    • A Nebraska judge has ordered the state to release all documents relating to Nikko Jenkins, the man who killed four people just days after being released directly from solitary confinement.  Jenkins had spent more than half of his nearly 10 year sentence in isolation.

    • The ACLU of NJ has filed a lawsuit against Middlesex County, claiming that it is unconstitutional to subject a pretrial client with mental illness to solitary confinement.  Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney said, “Mental health professionals agree that subjecting someone like [our client] to well more than one hundred days in isolation can do serious, long-term damage to his mental health. To do that to anyone is cruel; to do it to a mentally ill and cognitively impaired person who is presumed innocent is inhuman.”

    • Folio has published a longform article on Daniel Linsinbinger, a 19-year old with mental illness who died in a restraint chair in a Florida county jail after spending 10 days in solitary confinement.

    • Writing for The Atlantic, Laura Dimon explores “How solitary confinement hurts the teenage brain.”  “If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though,” she pens, “it can shatter a juvenile.”

    The post Seven Days in Solitary [7/6/2014] appeared first on Solitary Watch.

    New Solitary Confinement Policies in California Bring Small Changes and Raise Big Questions

    Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:53

    The latest and largest of three hunger strikes in California prisons began nearly a year ago, on July 8, 2013.  The strike brought international attention to California’s liberal use of indefinite solitary confinement and resulted in legislative hearings and the introduction of bills to curb solitary in both houses of the California state legislature. (Only one of these bills  State Senator Loni Hancock’s SB892, remained in play at the end of the legislative session in June, passed by the Senate and waiting to be taken up by the Assembly in the next session.)

    For decades, California prison officials have placed individuals with real or suspected prison gang affiliation in SHUs for indeterminate terms with few means available of being released from the SHU. As a consequence, thousands of people in the California prison system have spent years, some even decades, in small, isolated prison cells for up to 24 hours a day, with few rehabilitative or educational resources made available to them. There are currently SHU facilities in five California prisons: Pelican Bay State Prison, California State Prison, Corcoran, California State Prison, Sacramento, California Correctional Institution, and at the California Institution for Women.

    In light of the various pressures of international, federal and state legislative scrutiny, it appears that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has made some modifications to its use of the solitary–at times, in favor of expanding double-celled lockdown in the place of solitary. In 2012, the CDCR announced its intent to reform the status quo gang management strategy. The CDCR sought to revise the standards by which it defined gang affiliation and the creation of a Step Down Program (SDP) by which individuals housed in SHUs for gang affiliation would be able to gradually receive privileges, accesses to constructive programming, and ultimately release to the general population so long as they refrained from gang activity.

    As the CDCR seeks to codify these reforms in the California Code of Regulations, there have been criticisms of the reforms by, among others, the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, a grassroots organization created in 2011 to support the goals of the hunger strikers to reform gang management policy. Critics are concerned that in reality, the CDCR policy will continue to authorize the prolonged solitary confinement of individuals who have been validated as prison gang affiliates. While there is a system by which individuals in the SHU may leave the SHU, individuals could be held indefinitely in the SHU should they be deemed active prison gang affiliates. Significantly, the opportunities for educational programming are non-existent for 2-3 years for those who are deemed active gang affiliates.

    Chief among the concerns, also articulated by individuals such as attorney Charles Carbone during a hearing on gang management policy in February, is that the proposed CDCR reforms would actually expand the number of individuals classified as gang affiliates who may end up in segregation units.

    This concern was echoed by Claude Marks from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, who in a statement to Solitary Watch, wrote that “we think that the ‘changes’ to the Step Down Program and issues of validation are a smokescreen to broadening the bases of gang validating (now called Security Threat Groups…Under the guise of improvement of conditions, and re-evaluating the basis for long-term solitary, the CDCr is actually attacking the basic human rights struggle by denying responsibility for damaging human lives with decades of solitary and by expanding the ways in which leadership can be validated and further punished,” says Marks.

    To evaluate the concern that the revised policies are broadening the numbers of gang affiliates and individuals in solitary confinement in the SHU, Solitary Watch has reviewed population figures of the number of individuals currently identified as prison gang affiliates, and the number of individuals held in solitary confinement in the SHUs over the past year.

    Earlier this year, the OIG released its third report on the progress the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has made in implementing its Future of California Corrections Blueprint. The blueprint was released in 2012 with the overarching goals of ending federal court oversight of the state prison system, improving the state prison system, and saving taxpayer money. Pursuant to these goals, the blueprint placed a focus on revamping the inmate classification system, gang management strategies, and enhancing access to rehabilitative programs, among other reforms.

    In total, as of February 24, 2014, there were 2,832 individuals identified as prison gang affiliates in the California prison system. Of them, 2,281 are held in a SHU facility. The remaining 551 validated gang affiliates are housed in some other segregation unit, including Administrative Segregation Units and, increasingly, general population facilities. The graphic below comes from the latest OIG report showing institutional breakdowns on the numbers of prison gang affiliates.

    In comparison, the following figures come from the first OIG report in 2013, showing similar breakdowns in gang affiliate numbers using data from January 2013:

    These figures indicate a few interesting trends. First is the decline in the number of validated gang associates. This may be due to more stringent standards for what constitutes a “gang associate,” as gang associates are considered individuals who perform acts in conjunction with or on behalf of prison gangs but are not themselves members of the prison gangs. Second, the decline in the number of gang associates has driven a slight decline in the total number of identified gang affiliates. In the past year, there has been a net growth in the number of identified full fledged prisons gang members by seven. Lastly, there has been an increase in the number of validated gang associates and members housed in Pelican Bay.

    Ultimately, it appears that, since the implementation of reformed standards, there have been small decreases, rather than an expansion, in the number of individuals identified as prison gang affiliates. This may be a result of the case-by-case reviews CDCR has been conducting since October 2012. Every gang affiliate held in the SHU or some alternative segregation unit, such as Administrative Segregation Units pending openings in a SHU, will be re-evaluated under the revised standards for a determination of where in the 5-step Step Down Program they will be housed. Step 1 is essentially no change from the current situation and Step 5 is placement in the general population.

    According to CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton:

    • As of March 25th, CDCR has conducted 498 case-by-case reviews of validated inmates in Security Housing Units and 238 reviews of validated inmates in Administrative Segregation Units.
    • Of the case-by-case reviews in the SHU, 338 were released to general population, and six are participating in the debriefing process
    • Of the case-by case-reviews in ASU, 150 were released to general population, 34 retained in ASU for disciplinary, safety or are debriefing

    Those not released to general population or retained for safety or debriefing issues are placed in Steps 1-4 of the Step Down Program.

    The following chart created by the OIG shows the distribution of placement in the Step Down Program as of March 4th:

    The OIG has conducted a review of 150 individuals who have already been reviewed and has produced the following chart of their outcomes:

    The OIG has determined that 17 of the 22 who regressed to Step 1 had refused to participate in programming requirements for progression in the SDP.

    The OIG estimates that the case-by-case review process may take up to four years to encompass all validated gang affiliates.

    Solitary Watch has previously conducted a survey of CDCR COMPSTAT data to determine the number of California prisoners held in solitary confinement. According to our review, in September 2013, there were 5,938 individuals held in “single-cell” housing, or about 4.78% of the California prison population. This figure includes 1,772 individuals held in the SHU, or about 45.6% of the total number of SHU inmates at the time.

    Single-cell housing as a category is the best measure available of the number of people in solitary confinement. Aside from the metric of single-cell housing, trends in the increase of double-celling individuals in the SHU brings with it its own set of problems. Having a cellmate “under this circumstance forces you to modify your daily life to account for the mood swings, biological activities, and other idiosyncrasies of someone who is always – no matter how far in this tiny cell you go – only 2 steps away from you,” writes a group of individuals in the SHU at Corcoran.

    The most recent figures reported by CDCR are available here. Consistent with Solitary Watch’s previous review, the data shows that, between December 2012 and December 2013, the number of people held in the SHUs remained fairly stable. In December 2012, there were 3,897 housed in a SHU, and in December 2013, there were 3,906 housed in a SHU. Taken together with the OIG numbers, it appears that while there have been declines in the number of inmates held in the SHU for gang affiliation, there have been increases in the number of inmates held in the SHU for rules violations. In other words, despite the transfer of hundreds of individuals out of the SHU for gang affiliation, there were fairly constant population levels in the SHU, suggesting that CDCR still heavily relies on SHU housing for disciplinary purposes.

    Recent data from COMPSTAT indicates that there have been notable, though slight, decreases in the number of individuals single-celled in the SHU. Between December 2012 and December 2013, the number of single-celled individuals in the SHU declined from 1,891 to 1,654. As a result of this decrease, the percentage of individuals in the SHU held on single-cell status fell from 48.5% to 42.3%, including a 4% decrease between September 2013 and December 2013, likely reflective of greater numbers of once single-celled gang affiliates being released to the general population due to the case-by-case reviews.

    For opponents of solitary confinement in California, it does appear that the number of individuals held in solitary are on the decline. It further appears, for now at least, that the CDCR reforms are reducing the number of people being held in the SHU and are giving some of those held in the SHU some greater opportunities to access constructive programming opportunities in and out of the SHU. Further scrutiny is warranted to ensure that this not just a temporary trend, and Solitary Watch will provide updates in the future on this matter.

    The post New Solitary Confinement Policies in California Bring Small Changes and Raise Big Questions appeared first on Solitary Watch.

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