State prison culture toxic

The brutal incident that led to indictments last week of three former New York state correction officers is only the latest case to suggest that abuse in state prisons has reached a crisis level.
The federal grand jury indictment alleges that, in 2013, correction officers at a state prison in Dutchess County viciously beat a prisoner from Coxsackie Correctional Facility. In an effort to conceal their crime, the officers injured one of themselves with a club to support their lie that the inmate had instigated the altercation, the indictment said. The inmate, Kevin Moore, was being held overnight, en route to testify at a hearing the next day. A repeat felon serving up to 20 years for burglary, he never made it to the hearing.
The officers “brutally beat (Moore) for an extended period of time with fists, boots and batons, causing many life-threatening injuries,” the indictment charges. He was left bleeding on the floor for hours and was eventually hospitalized for three weeks.
The Times Union and The New York Times have reported extensively on this and similar cases, including the situation at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where two convicted murderers pulled off a stunning escape last summer. The case illustrates the breakdown in the discipline of staff that contributed to the successful break. Reports of inmates beaten during the investigation into the escape evoke an image of a third world prison or the supposedly less-enlightened prisons of our own past.
Numerous other cases across the system, including the 2015 beating death of a mentally ill inmate by a group of officers known as the “Beat Up Squad,” have been documented. The state seems unable to respond.
A major problem is the difficulty in firing corrupt or otherwise unfit correction officers. The disciplinary process under the contract with the powerful correction officers union requires most actions be arbitrated. Both sides must agree on the arbitrator, who knows from experience he won’t be called again to serve in this lucrative position if the findings result in too harsh a punishment, such as firing. Too often, to protect these gigs, arbitrators order only a suspension. So the abusive guard is soon back on the job for which he or she is unsuited.
Over time this fosters a perverse culture in which the rights of prisoners are ignored and correction officers get away with horrific treatment of inmates. The result is an environment not unlike that at Abu Ghraib, where revelations of prisoner abuses by U.S. servicemen, under the guise of “enhanced interrogation,” severely undermined our war efforts in Iraq.
When the rights of prisoners are ignored and they are subjected to such abuse, the most likely result is that they become neurotic, resentful, angry, and even more prone to violence than when they committed the crimes that put them there in the first place.
It’s foolhardy to think this passes for discipline, and it endangers us all to call it rehabilitation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

”We’re Freedom Fighters”: The Story of the Nationwide Prison Labor Strike

James Kilgore – September 18, 2016

The first national prison labor strike in US history launched on September 9. Billed as a “Call to Action Against Slavery in America,” the spark for the action came from the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a prison-based organization that has been mobilizing across the state since 2012. Alabama has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the country.
Reports from FAM’s base within Holman Prison indicated a universal refusal of the population to go to work on September 9. Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, the chief outside spokesperson for FAM, speaking to Truthout on the day of the launch, said significant strike action also took place within prisons in South Carolina, Virginia and Ohio.
“These men have gone beyond religious barriers and race barriers and most of all, incarceration barriers,” Glasgow told Truthout. By Wednesday evening, the Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee (IWOC) estimated that 15,310 people in prisons were on lockdown in facilities where organizing or strikes had been confirmed.
Several actions related to the strike have gained considerable attention. The night before the national action, some 400 men in Florida’s Holmes prison staged a rebellion that lasted most of Thursday night. By Monday, collective resistance had spread to five Florida prisons, including civil disobedience by 40 men in Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City and a two-day work stoppage at nearby Mayo. In Northern Michigan’s Kinross Correctional Facility, the men took a more low-key approach, with about 400 incarcerated individuals staging a demonstration inside the gates. Immediately after the action, 150 of them were put on buses and sent to other institutions.
Political prisoner Chelsea Manning also began a hunger strike on Saturday, September 10, apparently timed to coincide with the national actions. By Wednesday morning she had reportedly won her demand for gender-affirming surgery.
The Legacy of Slavery
The linkage between the strike action and slavery largely grew out of the extreme labor conditions inside Alabama prisons. In these facilities, many people work in license plate factories and on plantation-like farms for a few cents a day or, in some cases, no remuneration at all. The exploitation of prison labor in the state has been accentuated since the state legislature passed a law in 2012 to permit private contractors to employ people behind bars.
But the FAM vision also situated the exploitation of prison labor in the context of broader notions of injustice. Their launching statement said: “Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school-to-prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls.” They went on to posit the potential systemic impact of their actions: “When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.” As Free Alabama member Melvin Ray summed it up, “We’re freedom fighters. We’re not just fighting for wages, we’re simply pointing out the fact that this is a slave model of free labor.”
Historical Roots
This action has deep historical roots. The day chosen to launch the strike, September 9, coincided with perhaps the most famous prison uprising in modern US history — the rebellion in New York’s Attica prison in 1971. On that occasion men of Attica’s D yard took over their section of the prison and held it for four days. They issued a set of demands for improved conditions, but the bottom line was articulated by one of the leaders, L.D. Barkley: “We are men, we are not beasts, and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such.” In the end, Barkley and 38 other men died in that prison yard after an armed assault launched by state troopers. The dead included 10 prison staff.
While the Attica legacy has drawn much attention as an inspiration for the recent strike, the rebellion in upstate New York was an expression of a national awareness among people on the inside during that period. Sundiata Tate spoke to Truthout about this history. Tate was a long-time activist inside California state institutions and close associate of legendary prison revolutionary George Jackson, who was murdered at San Quentin prison in August 1971.Tate told Truthout that there were often-forgotten links between resistance in California prisons and the events in New York. Tate recalled that the seizure of D yard took place less than a month after the murder of Jackson. “People on the East Coast had heard about him, people in the prisons… George was able to reach out into society,” he said. Once the men in Attica seized the yard, Tate noted, “One of the things they mentioned was the death of ‘Comrade’ (Jackson).” At the time, Jackson was a well-known member of the Black Panther Party as well as well as the author of a bestseller written from behind prison walls, Soledad Brother.
In Alabama, the historical roots of the strike also lie in the day-to-day political work done by many incarcerated activists and their families over the years. For instance, former political prisoner Sekou Kambui, who spent 47 years in Alabama state prisons, used his decades behind bars as an educator and organizer, building political awareness and commitment amongst the population and the community, laying the groundwork for present-day activists.
The Significance of the Strike
The strike represents the nexus of several waves of recent social justice activism: the growing movement against mass incarceration; offensives against systemic racism, led by the Movement for Black Lives; and the actions by low-wage workers to gain the $15-an-hour minimum wage. The call for a living wage on the streets resonates behind prison walls, where wages have stagnated for decades while those in prison have seen their living conditions deteriorate due to the cutbacks in educational programs and job training, and the addition of copays for services like health care.
This latest prison strike also constituted an ambitious escalation in scale and tactics of a wave of resistance in prison in recent years. The three hunger strikes in California prisons — largely a protest against solitary confinement in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit and the use of “gang validation” to justify prolonged isolation of prisoner/organizers — have drawn the most attention. However, those in Pelican Bay are not alone. In June of this year, several men inside the Waupun Correctional Institute in Wisconsin embarked on a prolonged “Dying to Live” hunger strike that resulted in forced feeding by prison authorities.
Many other actions have also occurred: labor strikes in Georgia prisons in 2010 along with recent work stoppages in Texas and several Alabama prisons, including an April uprising in Holman. Immigration detention centers have also been the scene of many actions, several led by women. Last fall, women prisoners at Yuba County Jail in California joined a hunger strike initiated by their counterparts who were held in immigrant detention centers in California, Colorado and Texas. These mobilizations are largely a protest against the criminalization of people seeking asylum in the United States as a result of political violence in Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Assessing the Strike
Though information on the level of activity remains limited, the strike appears to have fallen short of the predictions by FAM of the involvement of incarcerated people from 25 states and 54 prisons. The reasons why the action may not have reached anticipated levels are not difficult to discern. To begin with, since prison officials were forewarned, many institutional authorities may have simply imposed a lockdown before September 9, short-circuiting any opportunity for people to refuse to go to work. Evidence of this came via video from one man in a South Carolina prison who posted a clip of water in his cell after men on his block flooded the area as a protest against four days of lockdown.
Second, organizers both inside and outside prison possibly underestimated the difficulty in mobilizing people who are incarcerated, especially at a national level. Most prisons and jails ban meetings or even doing physical exercises in groups. In addition, prison officials have a range of punitive tools available to block coordination and communication. Apart from the possibilities of physical beatings, individuals suspected of organizing collective resistance can be placed in solitary or have visiting and phone privileges denied. Most importantly, for those who do not have a life sentence, receiving a disciplinary infraction can result in an extension of their sentence. In addition, prisons typically have surveillance capacity. They can listen to outgoing phone calls and eavesdrop on visits.
Plus, the widespread use of confidential informants within the institutions provides authorities with an ear to the ground of the details of planned actions. Several instances of reprisals against individuals identified as strike leaders have already been reported. All of these, when combined with the lack of access to information technology inside prisons, pose formidable obstacles to coordinated action.
Perhaps the surprise is not that the strike didn’t reach the level hoped for, but that the spirit of protest and rebellion penetrated as widely as it did.
The Successes
Ultimately, this strike achieved a number of important milestones. Most importantly, strike organizers highlighted the oppressive labor and living conditions inside prisons. No other action in recent times has shone as bright a light on the fact that incarcerated people perform the bulk of the work that keeps the institutions running, from cooking to cleaning to managing the HVAC systems and repairing the electrical circuits. And they do this for little or no pay.
The strike also raised the specter of coordinated national action to emphasize the systemic, national quality of not only conditions of prisons as a workplace, but also as a site of punishment and enslavement.
In addition, although as noted above, most prisons provide no access to the internet or cell phones, the action offered a showcase for how information technology can become an effective tool for sharing the experiences and aspirations of incarcerated people. Individuals on the inside are discovering new ways to make their voices heard on social media. While people like Mumia Abu-Jamal have long communicated with the outside through interlocutors, the men at Holman went further — producing videos earlier this year that exposed the oppressive conditions under which they live. They also captured real-time action of their uprising in April. Kinetik Justice, one of the leaders of FAM, spoke live on Democracy Now! during a strike in May, telling the world that “the prison system is a continuation of the slave system.” Justice has been in solitary confinement for 28 months since playing a leading role in a 2014 protest at Holman but still found his way to the airwaves.
Moreover, social media were crucial in organizing support for prison resistance in communities across the country. IWOC, a relatively small organization, has maintained a constant vocal presence on Facebook and Twitter, with local activists posting videos, photos and written updates in real time. As a result, communities across the country stood up in support of the strike. Actions took place in some 60 locations, including all major cities. Even small towns like Hutchison, Kentucky; Champaign, Illinois; and Merced, California staged noise demonstrations, educational events and mobilizations outside of prisons. IWOC’s webpage produced a daily log of dozens of solidarity actions, which began in early August, while a Google doc tracked strike actions.  IWOC’s reach, coupled with the moral appeal of the voices from inside prison, even succeeded in drawing statements of solidarity from European countries, such as Serbia, Lithuania, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
Lastly, the strike has added further momentum to reconstruct or replace the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment bans slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” effectively permitting the enslavement of those who have been convicted of a crime. The spirit of this amendment flies in the face of increasing pressure for full rights of citizenship and equality for all those convicted of a crime or with a record of incarceration. As Pastor Glasgow put it, “As long as it sits in our Constitution, along with it sits slavery in our Constitution… the 13th Amendment needs to be reconstructed.”
Attention to the 13th Amendment’s legalization of slavery for people who have been convicted of crimes is likely to further heighten later this month when Ava Duvernay’s Netflix film, The 13th, launches at the New York Film Festival.
Key Issues for Social Movements
This strike has also brought to the fore a number of important issues relating to the struggle against mass incarceration and the building of broad movements for social justice and liberation.
The fundamental nature of the strike action raises interesting questions. In a telephone interview with Truthout, talk show host, writer and activist Bill Fletcher, also a former trade union official, expressed uncertainty as to whether the national action was a rebellion or an effort to organize a union. If it was a unionization effort, he was unclear what the specific objectives were and, given the lack of collective bargaining rights inside prisons, “if there is a way to sustain any kind of victory.” Certainly the demands of FAM, as well as those in Kinross and other prisons, went well beyond traditional labor notions of increased pay, shorter working hours and better working conditions. Moreover, a large number of the actions were not refusals to work but other forms of protest, including hunger strikes and demonstrations. While the IWOC literature on the strike has stressed the low wage levels and encouraged the formation of union chapters at the prison level, FAM has not adopted this strategy. Pastor Glasgow stated that FAM views prison labor as slave labor that must be ended rather than fall under a union ambit.
The issue is further complicated by attempting to identify the beneficiaries of prison labor: Who is making money? According to Glasgow, companies in Alabama are not outsourcing labor overseas — they are “insourcing” to people in prison. Yet, much of the production taking place in Alabama prisons, such as license-plate making and agriculture, is designed for use by government rather than for private profit. This is the case across the country, where a relatively small number of people behind bars actually work under contract to private companies. The question then emerges as to whether prisons are primarily profit centers for exploiting labor or a political project driven by white supremacy and neoliberal economic restructuring.
In other words, are people incarcerated in order to mobilize their labor power inside prison, or to erase them from urban landscapes that are being gentrified into enclaves of race and class privilege?
The Complexities of Solidarity
A second crucial question arising from this strike concerns the challenges of building solidarity between people inside prison and those on the outside. IWOC has played the major role in promoting awareness of the strike and getting the statements and voices of FAM and others behind bars onto the streets. An offshoot of an early 20th century labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), the IWOC says its key aim is to “further the revolutionary goals of incarcerated people and the IWW through mutual organizing of a worldwide union for emancipation from the prison system.”
In mobilizing support for the September 9 action, IWOC has helped create one of the most widespread, social-media-savvy networks in the history of the struggle against mass incarceration. Yet IWOC also has a determination to build the strength of its own organization by creating local chapters inside prisons. Its website even includes a link to donate money to pay the annual dues of an “incarcerated worker.” According to activist Claude Marks, the support efforts for the Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers, of which he was a part, took a different approach. He told Truthout: “We focused on raising money to mobilize the families of those incarcerated to organize and speak out.”
While clearly there is a need to incorporate people who are incarcerated into the movement against mass incarceration and for social justice, the complexities of the difference between amplifying the voices of those inside and speaking for them pose key challenges for all those involved in such work. The differences in these approaches have important gender and racial implications. While most of the people involved in the actions inside are men, their family support networks are predominantly women. By lifting up the voices of the families, organizers are acknowledging that individuals who are incarcerated do not do their time alone. Their loved ones also suffer and are willing to fight back. To date, in the September 9 strike, the voices of the families have been faint.
Moreover, efforts to build solidarity and the profile of the movement create uncertainties about how to handle information that comes from unverifiable sources, be they prison officials or individuals who are incarcerated. The repressive conditions in prisons during moments of conflict heighten the complexities of verification. This context perhaps leads to attempts by organizers and supporters to engage in questionable practices like implying that the ongoing hunger strikes at Guantanamo have some relation to the September 9 action.
The third question is perhaps the most obvious: Where was organized labor during this strike and the run-up to September 9? As Fletcher points out, “Organized labor has, up until recently, ignored the issue of mass incarceration.” While prisons and jails hold millions of marginalized workers, the unions’ reluctance to take a position on mass incarceration relates to membership issues. Some of the country’s largest and most significant unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), count on prison and jail workers, including guards, to boost their membership. Pushing back against incarceration could likely jeopardize these jobs. However, over the years union leaders have consistently criticized the use of prison labor, arguing that it undercuts the bargaining position of prison staff. Still, when the incarcerated labor force actually took action, the trade unions remained mute. Repeated efforts by Truthout to elicit a comment on the strike from national and regional officials of the AFL-CIO as well as the SEIU and AFSCME drew silence, apart from one AFL-CIO official who said that they “have not done work around prison labor for many, many years.”
More Fire to Come?
In addition to the strike not surfacing on trade union agendas, mainstream and even alternative media sources have largely steered clear of the story. Though in some ways this strike may be as significant as Attica, media coverage and historical memory are more easily triggered when there is blood on the ground, especially the blood of rebellious, politically-conscious Black people. In last week’s strike, we have an apparently unspectacular case of people standing up for their dignity by refusing to work. In taking this action, the activists behind bars, despite the intense efforts by IWOC, FAM and many others to publicize their actions, may not have done anything dramatic enough to draw significant media attention. The invisibility of worker issues blends with the invisibility of prison activities to create a low profile. Moreover, the ability of prison authorities to both suppress information and punish the rebels without recrimination relegates the heroic efforts of the strike to a sidebar in the chronicle of social justice struggles.
But it seems unlikely that those who want to silence or erase these actions forever will win the day. A flame of resistance inside prisons and in communities across the country is definitely burning. The prison strikers, along with their allies and accomplices on the street, will be on fire again soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Solidarity with Standing Rock, Executive Clemency and the International Indigenous Struggle

international human rights organizations that have called for my immediate and unconditional release for more than four decades.
I have to caution you young people to be careful, for you are up against a very evil group of people whose only concern is to fill their pockets with even more gold and wealth. They could not care less how many of you they have to kill or bury in a prison cell. They don’t care if you are a young child or an old grandmother, and you better believe they are and have been recruiting our own people to be snitches and traitors. They will look to the drunks, the addicts, and child molesters, those who prey on our old and our children; they look for the weak-minded individuals. You must remember to be very cautious about falsely accusing people based more on personal opinion than on evidence. Be smart.
I call on all my supporters and allies to join the struggle at Standing Rock in the spirit of peaceful spiritual resistance and to work together to protect Unci Maka, Grandmother Earth. I also call upon my supporters and all people who share this Earth to join together to insist that the US  complies with and honors the provisions of international law as expressed in the UNDRIP, International Human Rights Treaties and the long-neglected Treaties and trust agreements with the Sioux Nation. I particularly appeal to Jill Stein and the Green Parties of the US and the world to join this struggle by calling for my release and adopting the UNDRIP as the new legal framework for relations with indigenous peoples.
Finally, I also urge my supporters to immediately and urgently call upon President Obama to grant my petition for clemency, to permit me to live my final years on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Scholars, political grassroots leaders, humanitarians and Nobel Peace Laureates have demanded my release for more than four decades. My Clemency Petition asks President Obama to commute, or end, my prison term now in order for our nation to make progress healing its fractured relations with Native communities. By facing and addressing the injustices of the past, together we can build a better future for our children and our children’s children.
Again, my heartfelt thanks to all of you for working together to protect the water. Water is Life.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
Doksha
Leonard Peltier

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lawsuit: Syracuse Jail is Harming Children with Abusive Solitary Confinement Conditions  

September 21, 2016 – The New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed a lawsuit in district court today against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office for locking up children ages 16 and 17, many of whom are mentally ill, in near-complete isolation in solitary confinement for months at a time. The children are sexually harassed by adults, housed in disgusting conditions, denied education and, in some cases, pushed to contemplating suicide. Children are routinely sent to solitary for “offenses” such as speaking loudly, wearing the wrong shoes or for no other reason than the sadistic pleasure of guards. The lawsuit contends that the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office’s use of solitary confinement violates the U.S. Constitution and federal education laws.
 
“Any time you send a child to solitary confinement, you risk damaging them permanently,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director at the NYCLU. “Punishing children with solitary doesn’t improve public safety nor serve any disciplinary value — it is simply torture and has to stop.”
 
“Onondaga County is well aware of the harm they are inflicting on 16- and 17-year-old young members of our community, yet they continue the unconscionable practice of regularly placing them in solitary confinement,” said Josh Cotter, co-lead counsel on the case and a staff attorney at LSCNY. “This practice, combined with the complete lack of meaningful educational or rehabilitative programming offered at the Justice Center, makes it nearly impossible for these children to re-assimilate into the community.”
 
Since October of 2015, the sheriff has placed at least 86 children in shocking and dehumanizing solitary confinement conditions over 250 times, forcing them to spend 23 hours a day locked in tiny cells where, in some instances, there is visible feces and urine on the floor. Young girls in solitary are watched by adult male guards as they are forced to shower without a curtain. One girl,16-year-old Charnasha, described a deputy guard making comments about her naked body and calling her and other girls “little bitches.”
 
”I felt uncomfortable and exposed. I still can’t sleep at night because of the nightmares. I think what happened to me was wrong,” said Charnasha, who wrote her mother a letter saying she was going to take her own life.
 
Because under New York law children starting at age 16 can be housed in adult facilities, the sheriff puts children in solitary cells next to adults who threaten them with violence, sexual harassment, and sometimes throw feces at them or urinate on them. One child described an adult threatening to force him to perform fellatio on him and masturbating while watching the child walk to the shower.
 
“For children, even a short stint in solitary at the Justice Center can alter their entire lives,” said Philip Desgranges, co-lead counsel on the case and staff attorney at the NYCLU. “Their mental health deteriorates and some have thoughts of suicide after just a day in solitary. A justice system that puts anyone, especially vulnerable children, through long periods of abuse for such trivial reasons has forgotten the meaning of justice.”
 
As in many jails, the majority of those at the Justice Center, including the children, have not been convicted of a crime, but are held because they are too poor to afford bail. Nonetheless some wind up with over a hundred days of solitary time during which they are not allowed to talk to other detainees, receive essentially no education or mental health care, and are limited to one-hour of “recreation” in small chain-linked filthy cages.
 
Solitary is dangerous for anyone, causing psychosis, trauma, depression and self-harm. As the tragic suicide of Kalief Browder reminds us, the effects of solitary on a child’s developing brain can be fatal. But at the Justice Center jail officials have deliberately ignored warnings that children are especially vulnerable to solitary. Instead, children who reach their breaking point and want to kill themselves are put on suicide watch for a short period, only to be returned right back to solitary.
 
“You can’t see anything, just black walls closing in. I kept thinking about killing myself,” said Randy, who was 16 when he was sent to solitary for arguing with another kid over a basketball.  Randy later tried to cut his own wrists.
 
“This is child abuse. Parents would be locked up for treating their children the way the Justice Center is treating them every day,” said Walta Williams, Randy’s mother, who put her home up as collateral to remove her son from the center.
 
There is no evidence that putting children in solitary reduces further misbehavior, and the Sheriff’s Office barely bothers justifying its use of the punishment. One child was put in solitary after a deputy told a group of children that if he made a basketball shot, one of the children would be sent to the solitary.
 
Incarceration of children in Syracuse has been a nightmare for years. Previously housed at the Jamesville Correctional Facility, children were transferred to the Justice Center after advocates like the Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse complained that the children were placed in isolation for weeks and months. The county made the transfer under the pretext of ending solitary confinement for youth, only to place the children right back in the same conditions at the Justice Center. At present, the Sheriff’s Office refuses to even acknowledge it is placing children in solitary.
 
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of six Black and Latino children ages 16 and 17 jailed at the Justice Center and a class of similar children.  The named plaintiffs, who are identified only by their initials because they are children, include:
 
·         R.C. is currently in solitary, in part for singing a Whitney Houston song in his cell. In solitary, guards heard the adult above him shout “I’m gonna stab you in the showers” and “I’m gonna make you suck my d**k” at all hours of the night, and they responded by moving the adult directly next to him. Yesterday that same adult used a cup to throw his urine in R.C.’s face during recreation.
 
·         V.W.is currently in solitary, and has not been able to change his clothes since Sept. 8. A pre-trial detainee who has never been convicted of a crime, he nonetheless has spent over 115 days in solitary.
 
·         C.I., currently at the Justice Center, once tried to file a grievance in solitary, and a guard drew a penis on his form before throwing it away. “Being in the box changes you. It makes you do things like think about jumping off your table into the ground,” C.I. said.
 
·         M.R., currently at the jail, has been sent to solitary for reasons including wearing his shower shoes at the wrong time. A deputy once responded to his complaints by threatening to “bash [his] skull in.” After being in solitary, M.R. now finds it hard to even be in a regular cell for any period of time.
 
The suit, filed against officials at the Onondaga Sheriff’s Office and the Syracuse City School District, charges that the use of solitary confinement violates the children’s rights and that the sheriff and school district are denying them an appropriate education in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Eight Amendment and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The lawsuit asks the court to order the Sheriff’s Office to stop using solitary to punish children entirely. 
 
In addition to Desgranges and Cotter, lawyers on the case include Mariko Hirose, Mariana Kovel, Aimee Krause, Aadhithi Padmanabhan and Christopher Dunn from the NYCLU, and Susan Young and Sam Young from LSCNY. 
 
To view the complaint, visit: http://www.nyclu.org/news/lawsuit-syracuse-jail-harming-children-with-abusive-solitary-confinement-conditions
 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Education from the Inside Out Coalition praises SUNY for voting to remove the question about an applicant’s criminal record history off its admissions application, opening the door to the transformational powers of education to criminal justice-involved students everywhere 

NEW YORK – The Board of Trustees at the largest comprehensive public university system in the nation voted TODAY to give potential students with criminal histories a chance by moving its criminal history check box off of its current application process. The move comes after the Board of Trustees heard public testimony from formerly incarcerated students and advocates in May, organized by the Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO), to explain what barriers “the box” presents for applicants with a criminal justice histories.

Momentum has been building across New York State toward Banning the Box in higher education for years. Most recently, hundreds of students spent the spring rallying to make change at NYU, and SUNY campuses. The ground work was laid for these efforts as far back as 2010 by one of EIO’s leadership members, the Center for Community Alternatives. It was this research, along with an updated EIO and CCA 2015 report called “Boxed Out,” that laid the ground work for the federal guidance encouraging colleges and universities to go Beyond the Box. These new guidelines were announced in May by US Education Secretary John King, and both EIO Co-Founder Vivian Nixon and EIO leadership member Marsha Weissman were invited to the press conference at UCLA’s campus for the reveal. After its release, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher released a statement commending the move.
 
“I myself, was boxed out of SUNY Old Westbury when I reapplied to college after getting out of prison, and I am so happy to hear SUNY finally realized that we shouldn’t stop or deter anyone from bettering their life with education,” said Vivian Nixon, EIO’s Co-Founder, and Executive Director for College & Community Fellowship, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated women achieve a higher education. “I was able to finish my degree at SUNY Empire where I had completed a few courses prior to incarceration, and thus could return without reapplying. Others aren’t as lucky. I was so proud to represent EIO next to US Secretary of Education John King when he urged U.S. Universities and Colleges to look Beyond the Box back in May, and even prouder that SUNY has listened to our voices, our experiences, and will now give every potential student a chance to transform their lives with education.”
 
The 2015 study conducted by EIO and CCA showed that nearly two-thirds (62.5%) of SUNY applicants who disclose a prior felony conviction never complete their applications, compared to 21% of applicants with no criminal history across all of its 64 campuses. The study attributed the number to a “chilling effect” caused by a fear of stigma, and a set of complicated, and sometimes impossible, set of supplemental requirements once the box was checked.
 
“The research doesn’t lie. There is no empirical evidence that having a criminal history question on an application makes a campus any safer,” said Alan Rosenthal, Advisor on Special Projects for the Center for Community Alternatives, an organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration and mass criminalization. “The bottom-line is that this ‘box’ does nothing but deter qualified applicants in desperate need of a second chance. People who attend college are less likely to have further involvement in the criminal justice system, thus making our communities safer. EIO is proud that SUNY has decided to pave the way for other universities across the country who are still asking this harmful question of its applicants, under the false assumption that it keeps a campus safe.”
 
The Education from the Inside Out Coalition helped write proposed legislation currently in committees of both houses of the New York State Legislature. The Fair Access to Education Bill (S969/A3363) would make it illegal for colleges and universities to ask an applicant whether they have been previously convicted of a criminal offense. EIO is hopeful SUNY’s decision to “move the box” will spur action on the issue and lawmakers will finally pass legislation to ensure every college and university in New York State bans the box in higher education.
 
“Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and EIO applauds SUNY for listening to our EIO members’ firsthand experiences with the box,” said Glenn E. Martin, Co-Founder of EIO and President of JustLeadership USA, which aims to cut the prison population in half by 2030. “We can only hope the news encourages lawmakers to pass current proposed legislation in New York State, which will permanently ban the box once and for all. Education is the key to building stronger communities, families, and future leaders in this country; nowhere should a person’s past solely define their self-worth or future.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Five New York Prison Guards Charged in ’13 Beating of Inmate

By MICHAEL WINERIP and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZSEPT. 21, 2016

On the night three years ago when Kevin Moore’s dreadlocks were ripped out and his ribs and facial bones were broken, a group of New York State corrections officers involved in a confrontation with him said that they were the victims, that Mr. Moore, a 56-year-old inmate, had attacked them.
To make their case, the officers, who worked at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, produced a trove of evidence. There were photos of a back injury one of them had sustained; pages from use-of-force reports; assorted memorandums and entries in a cellblock log book — all of it attesting to the professionalism the officers displayed in subduing Mr. Moore.
In fact, it was all lies, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday as they unsealed charges of civil rights violations and fraud against five of the officers involved in the Nov. 12, 2013, beating.
The back injury? Corrections Officer George Santiago Jr. had actually hit another officer with a baton to make it appear that the inmate had attacked him, the prosecutors said. The stacks of reports? Falsified, the prosecutors said, by several officers who cleaned up Mr. Moore’s blood and then, instead of sending him to the hospital, placed him in solitary confinement overnight.
When the episode was over, Officer Santiago took Mr. Moore’s dreadlocks as a “trophy,” bragging that he wanted them as decoration for his motorcycle, according to the indictment filed by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.
“Excessive use of force in prisons, we believe, has reached crisis proportions in New York State,” Mr. Bharara said.
Officer Santiago, along with another officer, Carson Morris, and a sergeant, Kathy Scott, were arrested by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and charged with depriving Mr. Moore of his civil rights, falsifying records and conspiracy. Officer Morris initiated the beating, striking Mr. Moore with his baton, according to the indictment. Sergeant Scott, who was supposed to be supervising the others, held Mr. Moore down as he begged, “Make it stop.”
Officer Santiago and Sergeant Scott pleaded not guilty in federal court in White Plains on Wednesday; each was released on $300,000 bond. Officer Morris was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and will be arraigned in New York.
Two other officers, Donald Cosman and Andrew Lowery, have already pleaded guilty to the same charges and are cooperating with prosecutors, according to Mr. Bharara
The arrests come as the state prison system faces intense scrutiny from prosecutors and the news media.
Last year, just two miles from Downstate, an inmate at Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, died after an encounter with as many as 20 officers, known by inmates at that prison as the Beat Up Squad.

Document: Charges Against 3 Corrections Officers in Fishkill, N.Y.
And last year, the United States attorney’s office for the Western District of New York opened an investigation into the beating of an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility by three corrections officers, who pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge and resigned.
Mr. Moore was supposed to be at Downstate overnight and was scheduled to be transported to New York City the next day for a court hearing. Instead of putting him in a regular holding cell, officers assigned him to a mental health unit. When he argued that he had no mental health problems, the guards called for backup, forced him to the ground and held him down, according to the indictment.
At no time did Mr. Moore “physically threaten the correction officers,” the indictment says.
While he was on the ground, officers kicked and punched him in the face, head and body and beat him with their wooden batons.
“When Moore’s pants fell down during the beating, two correction officers, punched and kicked Moore in his exposed groin as he lay on the floor,” the indictment said.
Officer Santiago appeared to be the ringleader. “At one point Santiago reared back and kicked Moore in the face and then laughed,” the indictment says.
When the beating was over, according to the indictment, the officers “lifted him from the ground where he was lying in a pool of his own blood.” Mr. Moore had five broken ribs and a collapsed lung and his face was shattered. But instead of taking him to the hospital, officers dragged him to a solitary confinement cell.
Later, Officer Santiago returned to the cellblock and collected a clump of Mr. Moore’s dreadlocks from the floor, the indictment said.
To justify the beating, the officers needed to explain why, if Mr. Moore had attacked them, none of them had been injured. So they created an injury, according to the indictment. Officer Santiago hit another guard across the back with his baton and Officer Morris then rubbed the wounded area with his hands to make the injury look more serious. Sergeant Scott took several photographs for the official record.
The next morning, New York City correction officers transported Mr. Moore to the Rikers Island jail complex before his scheduled court appearance. But supervisors were so shocked by his injuries that they had him taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, according to city officials. There, investigators from the city’s Correction Department interviewed him, photographed his injuries and sent the information to state investigators.
Mr. Moore spent 17 days in the hospital, according to the indictment.
Officer Cosman and Officer Morris were suspended and eventually resigned, though Officer Cosman stayed on the job until last month.
Though Sergeant Scott and Officer Santiago were fired in September 2014, they fought back. In a federal lawsuit, they claimed they had been terminated only because they were minorities — Sergeant Scott because she is a white woman, the complaint said, and Mr. Santiago because he is Hispanic.
In April, the two agreed to suspend their suit until the F.B.I. had finished its investigation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

False Hope and a Needless Death Behind Bars

By JESSE WEGMAN SEPT. 6, 2016

On July 26, John MacKenzie went before the parole board at the
Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, N.Y., and made the case,
once again, for his freedom. He had been locked up since 1975 for
shooting and killing a Long Island police officer, Matthew Giglio,
during a bungled robbery attempt. His sentence was 25 years to life —
the maximum under state law.

On Aug. 2, he learned that the board had voted 2 to 1 against him. It
was the 10th time in 16 years that he had been denied parole.

Later that day, he sent a handwritten letter to his daughter Denise,
saying that “they’re hell bent on keeping me in prison” and “I don’t
believe I’ll last much longer.”

On Aug. 4, another inmate found Mr. MacKenzie hanging by the neck from
a bedsheet tied to the window bars of his cell. He was 70.

John MacKenzie was no ordinary prisoner. In the more than 40 years he
spent behind bars, he became one of the most respected inmates in the
state’s penal system. He had a spotless disciplinary record. He took
full responsibility for the murder of Mr. Giglio. He earned degrees in
business and the arts. He started a program to give victims the
opportunity to speak directly to inmates about the impact of their
crimes. The state’s own risk-assessment program found that he posed
little to no risk of re-offending. Prison guards, judges, clergy
members and prosecutors wrote letters supporting him.

None of this seemed to matter to the parole board. Because of the
seriousness of his crime, one denial said, his release would
“undermine respect for the law.” Another referred to “significant
community opposition.” The wording would vary, but the message was
always the same: Mr. MacKenzie’s sentence, which appeared to give him
a real chance at freedom after 25 years, was a sham. No matter what he
did to atone for his crime, he was never getting out.

Some see this as a just result, particularly law enforcement groups,
which steadfastly opposed Mr. MacKenzie’s release. But New York
criminal law provides for the possibility of parole, which is based on
the idea that people can change.

Under state law, the parole board is required to weigh a prisoner’s
entire history: his degree of remorse, his behavior behind bars and
the likelihood that he will be able to live lawfully outside prison.
Those factors never got more than a cursory mention, at best, when the
board denied Mr. MacKenzie’s requests. In May, a State Supreme Court
justice, Maria Rosa, held the board in contempt for failing to give
any reason for denying Mr. MacKenzie parole other than the nature of
his crime. Justice Rosa wrote that “if parole isn’t granted to this
petitioner, when and under what circumstances would it be granted?”
She ordered the board to hold a new hearing, with different board
members. The state appealed that order. The case was still pending
when Mr. MacKenzie killed himself.

Certainly crime victims and police officers should have a voice in the
parole process, but they should not have a veto. Otherwise, parole is
a meaningless promise.

Some years ago, Mr. MacKenzie wrote an essay about the frustrations of
living at the whim of parole commissioners. “If society wishes to
rehabilitate as well as punish wrongdoers through imprisonment,” he
wrote, then “society — through its lawmakers — must bear the
responsibility of tempering justice with mercy. Giving a man
legitimate hope is a laudable goal; giving him false hope is utterly
inhuman.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment