Beginning March 23rd: Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

STOP THE TORTURE!

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) has helped launch Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC) to start Monday, March 23, 2015.

Actions will happen on the 23rd of each month.

This date emphasizes the 23 or more hours every day that people are kept in solitary confinement.

PHSS Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Prisoner-Hunger-Strike-Solidarity/117053298383319

Statewide Coordinated Actions every month respond to the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers’ Proposals (November, 2013). They stated:

We want to consider the idea of designating a certain date each month as Prisoner Rights Day. On that date each month prisoners across the state would engage in peaceful activities to call attention to prison conditions. At the same time our supporters would gather in locations throughout California to expose CDCR’s [CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] actions and rally support efforts to secure our rights. We can see this action growing…

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Solitary Confinement in Women’s Prisons in California: Important Message to the Politicians

Received by email: 

October 17, 2013

To:  Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner
From:   Diana Block & Misty Rojo, California Coalition for Women Prisoners

“Last night another girl hung herself, and as they drug her out of her cell and down the stairs and put her on the stretcher it occurred to me that it’s become so common, so common it hurts. I mean I woke up out of my sleep and got off my bunk, got a sip of water and looked out the window and there they were silently dragging her out, no alarm, no sense of emergency or urgency. Just your run of the mill ordinarily scheduled suicide. Nothing special going on here, just all in a day’s work. I don’t know. I laid in bed, praying her spirit would fight for her life since she obviously didn’t have the strength to fight for it herself. By the time breakfast rolled around her bed was already filled by a new inmate. Like rotating cattle.” (Excerpt from a recent letter from a woman in CIW’s SHU)

Dear Assemblywoman Skinner:

The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (www.womenprisoners.org) is a grassroots advocacy organization that works with women and transgender prisoners in California’s prisons and jails. Many of our members live in your District. We are also active in the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition which deals with issues of solitary confinement in California prisons.  Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the recent hearing on solitary confinement which was held on October 9th, but some of us were able to watch on CalChannel. We appreciate your focus at that hearing on information regarding solitary confinement in the women’s prisons.

Much less is known about solitary in the women’s prisons than about conditions in male facilities.  Over the past several months, CCWP has been trying to gather information and testimony about these conditions.  One thing that has become clear is that the recent conversion of Valley State Prison for Women into a male facility (VSP) has led to a dramatic increase in the use of solitary confinement: Ad Seg at CCWF and the SHU at CIW.  Concurrently, there have been several suicides in Ad Seg and the SHU in recent months, at least one from an alleged “overdose.” The excerpt from the letter quoted above is one of many that indicates how desperate the situation is.  

We write to ask that your office initiate an investigation into women’s solitary confinement conditions.  This could include on-site visits of the SHU and Ad Seg. Legislators did visit the SHU at VSPW in 2000 as part of Senator Polanco’s  hearings about the women’s prisons in 2000. They were appalled by what they saw.  In particular, they witnessed women who were held in cages being given “therapy”  for their mental health issues.  Those “therapy cages” are still being used today in both women’s and men’s isolation facilities.

We believe that several key factors have contributed to the increase in the use of solitary in the women’s prisons. 

  • First is the use of the category  “enemy concerns” to designate women/trans prisoners to Ad Seg and the SHU.  “Enemy concerns” is a documented disagreement between inmates that may have led to threats or acts of violence. However, the documentation can be up to decades old in a person’s central file and the person may have been successfully programming in general population for years.  When they are transferred to a new prison, they are put in segregated housing based on this documentation in their file, even when they don’t have any disciplinary issues.
  •  The existence of “enemy concerns” tags for prisoners transferred from VSPW to CCWF or CIW has caused them to be placed in segregated housingindefinitely due to a lack of other alternatives.  Even though women are being placed in isolation for their “protection”, they lose all privileges and are kept in solitary cells for 22-24 hours per day just as women who are there for disciplinary reasons
  •  Because there are no protective housing units for women, they can be kept indefinitely in segregated/solitary housing if enemy issues are involved.  Using the “enemy concerns” label to keep women in the SHU for indeterminate amounts of time is similar to the use of the “gang affiliation” label in the men’s prisons and is increasing the average amount of time that women spend in Ad Seg and the SHU.
  • The extreme overcrowding at CCWF (currently at 173.4% of capacity) has caused increased tensions and conflicts which have led to fights and assaults resulting in more people being placed in Ad Seg/SHU either thru “enemy concerns” designation or disciplinary reasons.
  • The deteriorating conditions in the women’s prisons aggravate mental health issues which also have led to increased placements in Ad Seg/SHU.
  • We are hoping that your office can help further investigate the situation of women in solitary which is largely invisible but is getting worse all the time. Some questions that we think should be answered include:

    1.  How many women/trans prisoners are in Administrative Segregation at CCWF and the SHU at CIW?

    2. What is the average length of time that women are held in Ad Seg/SHU?  What is the longest amount of time that women are being kept in the SHU?

    3. Of the women and trans prisoners in Ad Seg and the SHU how many are there for disciplinary reasons and how many for “enemy concerns?”

    4. Has there been a thorough investigation into recent suicides in Ad Seg and the SHU and if so what are the findings?

    5. What % of women in Ad Seg/SHU were receiving some form of mental health diagnosis and treatment before they were placed in solitary?

    Again, we appreciate your concern for women in solitary and hope that your office can help shine a light on increased use of Ad Seg and the SHU for women/trans prisoners in this period.  We also think it would be important to specifically include women and isolation  at the next hearing on solitary confinement which is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles.  We would be happy to discuss this issue in more depth with you.

    Thank you!

    Diana Block and Misty Rojo, CCWP

    415-255-7036 ext. 314 or info@womenprisoners.org

    CC: Tom Ammiano, Loni Hancock

    CA Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano Promise Hearings in Response to Prisoner Hunger Strike

    Press Release from Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition:

    Press Contacts:
    Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition
    Azadeh Zohrabi, 310 612 9706
    Isaac Ontiveros, 510 517 6612

    Oakland—As prisoners’ endure their 54th day without food, California state senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano issued a statement today where they vowed to hold hearings in response to the hunger strike.

    “The issues raised by the hunger strike are real – concerns about the use and conditions of solitary confinement in California’s prisons – are real and can no longer be ignored,” Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano said in a joint statement. Assemblymember Ammiano said further, “The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed. The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.”

    “We appreciate Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s promises to take action. Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest. But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments,” said Dolores Canales, who is a member of the strikers’ mediation team and whose son is in Pelican Bay.

    Hancock and Ammiano’s statement represents the strongest steps forward in addressing the prisoners’ peaceful protest, and advocates and lawyers representing the strikers say they are eager to communicate this development to the prisoners. “The prisoners on strike have always been clear that there is a viable pathway toward resolving the crisis created by the CDCR,” Said Anne Weills, a civil rights attorney representing some of the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay. “I look forward to talking to hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay to get their thoughtful input around the Senator Hancock and Assemblymember Ammiano’s proposal.”

    As advocates work to communicate with prisoners on strike around this development, they are also encouraging a cautious attitude. “The strike is not over yet and it is still at a very dangerous moment given that we are entering a long weekend where people have gone 54 days without eating,” said Marie Levin, whose brother is one of the 4 remain strike representatives locked in Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay. “We hope that the CDCR will not act to disrupt this potentially positive development by spreading false information to strikers or continuing to retaliate against their peaceful protest.”

    Lawyers visited New Folsom Prison north of Sacramento yesterday where they discovered nearly 80 Pelican Bay strikers had been relocated. They reported that health conditions are poor but that many are still on strike. Some prisoners that had come off strike have resumed the protest due to mistreatment at that facility. Lawyers also reported that other prisoners at New Folsom also joined the protest when they learned of the mistreatment of their fellow prisoners from Pelican Bay.

    Concern for the strikers and condemnation of the CDCR is spreading internationally. Earlier today Tessa Murphy, Campaigner on the USA at Amnesty International said,“it’s nothing short of appalling that instead of dealing with the complaints, California’s prison authorities have chosen to threaten inmates with force-feeding and disciplinary measures, and have moved some to other facilities.” Meanwhile the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they would “again extend our offer to Gov. Brown and Dr. Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), to assist in the resolution of this urgent life threatening situation. We offer to serve Gov. Brown and Dr. Beard on any outside oversight committee that may be convened to investigate any alleged human rights violations in the California’s prisons in order to propose the necessary corrective measures.”

    ###

    Pelican Bay Short Corridor Collective: How many will die when hunger strike resumes?

    Reblogged from: SF Bay View

    June 21st, 2013

    Introduction by Isaac Ontiveros, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

    After a mediation meeting June 19 ordered by a federal judge between prisoners being held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), prisoners issued the following statement.

    Wednesday’s mediation stems from a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The class action suit alleges that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violates the prisoners’ right to due process. During Wednesday’s mediation, the prisoners and their lawyers exchanged settlement proposals with the CDCR via a federal magistrate. Prisoners, their lawyers and the court are now awaiting reply from the CDCR.

    Yesterday also marked the confirmation of new CDCR chief Jeffrey Beard. During his tenure as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Beard oversaw a dramatic increase in Pennsylvania’s prison population and the opening of two new state prisons. Advocates supporting the demands of potential hunger strikers claim Beard and Gov. Jerry Brown hold the power to make changes and to rectify the history of human rights abuses in California’s prisons. Meanwhile, prisoners from at least four additional prisons in California have vowed to go on strike on July 8.

    by the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement

    Written June 20, 2013 – The principal prisoner representatives from the PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective Human Rights Movement do hereby present public notice that our nonviolent peaceful protest of our subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture via long term solitary confinement will resume on July 8, 2013, consisting of a hunger strike and work stoppage of indefinite duration until CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands, the heart of which mandates an end to long term solitary confinement, as well as additional major reforms.

    Prisoners in the Collins Bay Federal Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario, managed to hang this banner declaring their solidarity with California hunger strikers led by prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison on July 4, 2011, shortly after the first 2011 hunger strike began on July 1.
    Our decision does not come lightly. For the past two years we’ve patiently kept an open dialogue with state officials, attempting to hold them to their promise to implement meaningful reforms responsive to our demands. For the past seven months we have repeatedly pointed out CDCR’s failure to honor their word – and we have explained in detail the ways in which they’ve acted in bad faith and what they need to do to avoid the resumption of our protest action.
    On June 19, 2013, we participated in a mediation session ordered by the judge in our class action lawsuit, which unfortunately did not result in CDCR officials agreeing to settle the case on acceptable terms. While the mediation process will likely continue, it is clear to us that we must be prepared to renew our political non-violent protest on July 8 to stop torture in the SHUs (Security Housing Units) and Ad-Segs (Administrative Segregation) of CDCR.

    Thus we are presently out of alternative options for achieving the long overdue reform to this system and, specifically, an end to state-sanctioned torture, and now we have to put our lives on the line via indefinite hunger strike to force CDCR to do what’s right.

    We are certain that we will prevail … the only questions being: How many will die starvation-related deaths before state officials sign the agreement?

    The world is watching!

    Onward in Struggle and Solidarity.

    Todd Ashker

    Arturo Castellanos

    Ronald Dewberry, aka Sitawa

    Antonio Guillen

    Send our brothers some love and light:
    Todd Ashker, C-58191, PBSP SHU, D4-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532;
    Arturo Castellanos, C-17275, PBSP SHU, D1-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532;
    Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Ronald Dewberry), C-35671, PBSP SHU, D1-117, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532;
    and Antonio Guillen, P-81948, PBSP SHU, D2-106, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

    This statement first appeared on Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

    JOIN US! Rally & Public Hearing on the SHU in Sacramento 2/25

    Join us on Monday, February 25th @ 12pm for a rally to hold CDCR accountable for their failure to end their torture policies and respect the human rights of prisoners! Then let Jerry Brown, California legislators and CDCR hear your voice at a public hearing of the state assembly Public Safety Committee at 1pm, and pressure them to end their silence and inaction on this crucial issue! 
    The Department of Corrections has implemented new statewide policies which they claim are a “dramatic” new change to how prisoners are sentenced to the SHU.  However, the new policies don’t change the fact that prisoners are still being gang validated for such innocent activities as possessing cultural artwork or reading political and historical books and articles. The policies also do nothing to alter or end the practice of long-term solitary confinement in California. 
    We need your voices at this hearing in Sacramento of the state assembly’s Public Safety Committee, led by Chairperson Tom Ammiano, where CDCR will defend their new policy!  
    ***Check here for updates on carpool info next week! SEE YOU ON THE 25TH!