Author Archive: Prison Books Collective

Re-Entry in Alabama

In this article from Alabama Public Radio, the author talks about how hard it is for people leaving Alabama prisons, and efforts to assist them with re-entry. It mentions several of the prisons we receive requests from. We need to recognize that most of the people currently in prison will be getting released. What are we as society and individuals doing to help them integrate back into society and life on the outside? Ban the box is certainly a good start. But so much more needs to be done!

A note about language in this piece: this article refers to people as ex-convicts. This is dehumanizing language that identifies someone by something they have done, rather than by who they are as a human. In fact, the U.S. Office of Justice Programs committed to ending their use of that term earlier this year. So read this article just for the mentions of some of the places we serve in Alabama.

Prison Reform: “Re-entering Society”

 

For many prisoners at the Limestone Correctional Facility, the heavy bang of a steel gate is the first thing they hear when they enter the Alabama prison system. It’s also the last thing when they come out.

 “They give you a bus ticket and a check for ten dollars and they say “Have a nice life.”

That’s Brenda Lee Kennedy. She was incarcerated in the Montgomery Work Release Center for nearly five and half years before being released in November of last year.

Why should Alabama care? [Joyce White Vance, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama] says because a lot of Alabamians have done jail time…

 “The numbers that come out of the Alabama Department of Corrections say that one in four adults in Alabama has had either a felony or misdemeanor conviction.”

That’s a lot of job application forms with the little check box that asks if you’ve been convicted. Many businesses shy away from hiring people who check that box with a  yes…

Joyce Vance’s office is unusual because it’s the first in the nation to hire an attorney specifically to get inmates back into the work force when they get out of prison. The private sector is trying to help too.

Read the full article on the Alabama Public Radio website, or listen to the audio.

Over 130 Organizations Challenge EPA to Consider Prisoners in Environmental Justice Action Plan

For immediate release: July 29, 2016

EPA Must Consider Prisoners in EJ Action Plan

From our comrades at the Prison Ecology Project. We are one of the signatories to the letter to the EPA.

The full letter to the EPA.

from PrisonEcology.org

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submitted a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday that provides input on the agency’s final draft of the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, highlighting the lack of consideration for environmental justice among the millions of prisoners in the United States. The comment was co-signed by 138 social justice, environmental and prisoners’ rights organizations from across the country.

Last year, HRDC submitted a 10-page comment signed by 93 organizations during the comment period for outlining the initial “framework” for EJ 2020, and later joined with the Sierra Club to generate over 12,000 emails of support for their position. Despite this advocacy, the EPA failed to include any mention of prisoners in the EJ 2020 final draft.

As a result, HRDC has further built on its efforts to make this a priority for the EPA by adding new heavy-hitting national organizations such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as prominent individuals including Sylvia Hood Washington, editor-in-chief of the Environmental Justice Journal, and Dr. Robert Bullard, considered to be the “Father of Environmental Justice.”

HRDC’s updated comment elaborates on problems nationwide which illustrate a clear need to protect prisoners as a population that faces extreme environmental justice impacts. For example, prisons and jails built on or near landfills, toxic waste dumps, Superfund cleanup sites and coal mining sites, or that are vulnerable to natural disasters such as flooding and environmental hazards like contaminated water. Additions made in the updated comment include references to the recent Flint water crisis, a federal judge’s ruling condemning arsenic in Texas prison water, and impacts of Valley Fever on Hawaiian prisoners in Arizona, indicating that this is an ongoing issue.

The updated comment filed with the EPA can be found online here.

“It’s encouraging to see the EPA attempting to increase the effectiveness of protecting vulnerable communities that have been overburdened by industrial pollution, but a significant component is missing when impacts on millions of prisoners and their families are ignored,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, coordinator of HRDC’s Prison Ecology Project.

According to the comment submitted by HRDC, there is overwhelming evidence that the population of people in prison represents one of the most vulnerable and uniquely-overburdened demographics in our nation. The comment notes that prison populations are almost entirely low-income and that black, Hispanic/Latino and Native Americans areconsistently overrepresented in all 50 states.

Environmental permits that fail to meet the environmental justice standards set in place 20 years ago under Executive Order 12898 may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the Act explicitly prohibits discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds; if an agency is found in violation of Title VI, it may lose its federal funding. The prison sector should not be an exception.

“Those unfamiliar with the conditions in America’s prisons may balk at our allegations but the EPA cannot claim to be among the uninformed,” Tsolkas stated.

On February 5, 2015, Tsolkas conducted an interview with an EPA representative from Region III who explicitly stated that environmental justice guidelines have not been applied to prisoners for the purpose of reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, because the EPA uses data that fails to take prisoner populations into account.

EPA Region III, which encompasses the Mid-Atlantic, conducted an initiative in which numerous prison inspections by the agency resulted in enforcement actions between 1999 and 2011, ranging from issues involving the disposal of hazardous waste to violations of air and water standards, primarily due to prison overcrowding. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has also cited various violations of health, safety and environmental laws, regulations and Bureau of Prisons policies related to industrial operations within federal prisons.

Yet the EPA has never cited the health and safety of prisoners exposed to such environmental conditions as a factor in prison inspections or in the permitting of new facilities. It has also failed to note the blatant discrimination that is inherent in toxic prison conditions, despite the fact that Title VI provides a mandate for addressing such discrimination which other agencies have recognized.

As Dr. Robert Bullard, a signatory to HRDC’s comment, stated in a recent listening session directed at the EPA, “It is incredible that in 45 years, EPA never met a case of environmental discrimination—not even in the southern region of the country … in a region that was notorious for practicing discrimination under ’Jim Crow’ segregation[.]”

HRDC executive director Paul Wright observed, “Ironically, prisoners are frequently counted for the purpose of gerrymandering voting districts. So why are we missing the mark in terms of environmental protections for those forced to live inside toxic prisons, such as facilities built on coal mining sites or waste dumps?”

A map showing various examples of prison-related environmental issues, created through collaboration between the Prison Ecology Project and Humboldt State University, can be found online here.

 


About HRDC:  The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues, and operates the website www.prisonlegalnews.org

Update from Alabama: 3-Part Plan of Action

Full article

Re-posted on

Free Alabama Movement is planning activities around our Three-Point Plan of Action for the remainder of 2016. We will be promoting this plan in conjunction with preparations for the September 9 Attica Anniversary Protest events around the country.

The three points derive from some of the main issues that are contributing factors to mass incarceration and the Industrialized Prison Complex that promotes neo-slavery in America. In Alabama, we are seeking action on these three issues:

1) Excessive overcrowding and the need for an immediate mass release. Alabama’s prison population must be reduced down to design capacity ;

2) Revisions and fundamental changes to Alabama’s habitual felony offender act;

3) Establishing “automatic” or mandatory parole criteria that will remove discretion from the parole board in parole decisions for  qualified individuals.

20160612213929-FreeAlabama-Sept9

It is essential to the effective  implementation of these objectives that we step up our organizing and activism, esp. around the State of Alabama. This will include participation in the FREEDOM TOUR 2016 protests that are being scheduled and lead by Mothers And F.A.M.ilies, Inc., as well as the event being scheduled in Dothan, Alabama on August 27, 2016, by The Ordinary People Society.

The FREEDOM TOUR 2016 will be conducting protests statewide and conducting at least one demonstration at EVERY prison in the state of Alabama, to organize and then mobilize families and to bring awareness to the problems plaguing the Alabama prison system and the solution to these problems.

Join us today in this struggle for freedom and justice mobilize Alabama and join the National Freedom Movement to End Mass Incarceration and Prison Slavery.

Settlement Reached in Shoatz vs. Wetzel

http://www.russellmaroonshoatz.com/

July 11, 2016: Pittsburgh PA —A settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged the 22-year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. This brings an end to litigation begun in 2013. In February 2014, following an international campaign on behalf of Shoatz, he was released from solitary confinement.

In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.

Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: “I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, said: “This settlement is a major contribution to the quest to outlaw prolonged solitary confinement in the US and around the world. I congratulate Mr. Shoatz and his family for not giving up and his team of lawyers for a committed and highly professional approach to justice.”
Shoatz had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.

The case challenged the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz also challenged violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights.

As noted by Judge Eddy in her February 2016 decision ordering a trial in the case, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) – which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”

The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:
“The conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.”

Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).
Shoatz was represented in this case by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Harold J. Engel; and Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt.

Contact:
Russell Shoatz III rshoatz@gmail.com 347-697-5390
Theresa Shoatz tiye1120@gmail.com 267-456-7882
Bret Grote bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org 412-654-9070