Imprisoned People Facing Medical Neglect and Violence, Family Members and Organizers Speak Out

Monday, November 23, 2015
by Dolores Canales, Family Unity Network, and Hannah McFaull, Justice Now

Sacramento – On November 11th, an imprisoned person at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), faced extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. Stacy Rojas and three others were detained, physically abused, sexually harassed, strip searched in the presence of ma le guards, and were kept without water, food or restrooms for eleven hours. The group was illegally kept in administrative segregation without a lock up order and have been denied health care support for the injuries caused by these officers. Requests to speak with members of the prison’s Investigative Services Unit have so far been ignored.

“I just want to let them know that we have been physically abused, sexually harassed,” said Stacy Rojas, “and that this was just wrong. They used excessive force, totally used excessive force against us and we need help.”

The public acknowledgment of excessive use of force and deadly use of force by police has increased throughout the nation. Video recordings of interactions between the police and the public have increased significantly in recent years as technology has improved and the number of distribution channels has expanded. This is not an option open to people experiencing violence from guards behind prison walls and any attempt to speak out is often met with retaliation and increased force.

“Our communities in and out of lock up have lived experiences with biased policing — ranging from racial profiling, to excessive, and sometimes lethal, use of force”, stated Patrisse Cullors co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. “We hear about it more and more in the communities we live in, but rarely hear about the traumatic ways that it manifests in the California prison system. Stories like Stacy’s are happening everyday inside of California prisons and jails with little to no measures taken by authorities to keep people safe and hold law enforcement, such as prison guards accountable.”

Advocacy organizations working with people in women’s prisons are familiar with reports of abuse and violence, like that experienced at CCWF last week. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, the Family Unity Network, the TGI Justice Project and others regularly provide legal and medical advocacy support following incidents of violence perpetrated by correctional officers at women’s prisons.

This group of organizations and Stacy’s family members are requesting an independent investigation of the violence and excessive use of force used. They are requesting medical care and safe housing for Stacy and all those involved. The group also demands an end to the violence imposed on women, transgender people, gender nonconforming people, and communities of color within the California prison system.

“My sister is at the end of a fourteen year sentence and it seems as though some would wish to take that away. This has never happened [to Stacy] before. We have never had fear for my sister’s life”, said Adriana Rojas. “My sister Stacy Rojas’ constitutional rights have been violated by being stripped searched by male guards, assaulted by means of kicking and stomping, taken outdoors in near 40 degree weather, threatened with rape, humiliated, placed in holding cages for nearly 12 hours, and deprived of food and water.” Albert Jacob Rojas added, “They were denied medical attention and denied the right to speak to internal affairs. We ask that anybody who cares about human rights and women’s rights please join us in demanding justice for all.”

Family members and advocates are calling for:

  • An immediate independent investigation into the violence and excessive force used by guards in this incident.
  • Suspension of guards involved pending investigation.
  • Comprehensive medical treatment for injuries sustained during the incident.
  • No retaliation for speaking out against this abuse.

For more information: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeNowOrg/ or @justicenoworg. Join Team Abolition! Join Justice Now in building a movement among people in women’s prisons and local communities to build a safe, compassionate world without prisons.

McCrory brokered meeting on contract for friend and campaign donor

From News & Observer/ By Joseph Neff

Last fall, Gov. Pat McCrory personally intervened on behalf of a friend and major political donor who wanted to renew $3 million in private prison contracts over the objections of McCrory’s top prison officials, records and interviews show.

Graeme Keith Sr., a Charlotte developer and retired banker once known as “Billy Graham’s banker,” has aggressively pursued private maintenance contracts in state prisons since 1999. Keith’s contracts at two prisons were set to expire Dec. 31, 2014; a third would have ended four months later.

The governor convened an October 2014 meeting in Charlotte, where, according to a Department of Public Safety memo, Keith told prison officials and McCrory that “he had been working on this project ‘private prison maintenance’ for over ten (10) years and during that time had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and it was now time for him to get something in return.”

After prison officials said they were uncomfortable with the tenor of the meeting, McCrory ended the meeting and referred the matter to his state budget director. Lee Roberts then worked out an 11th-hour extension that culminated in an exchange of testy text messages among the governor’s top appointees the night of Dec. 30, one day before the contract was to expire.


ACLU sues Mississippi city over ‘debtors’ prisons’

via jursit.org

by Emelina Perez

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] filed a federal class action lawsuit [complaint] on Wednesday against the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, the Biloxi Police Chief, a Municipal Court judge and Judicial Correction Services, Inc. for allegedly arresting and jailing poor people illegally in debtor’s prisons. The plaintiffs were arrested [press release] for failing to pay traffic fines and held in jail for up to seven days without a hearing and were not informed of their right to counsel. The ACLU argues that the detentions violate citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and the Fourteenth Amendment right to hearings on the ability to pay, which was granted by the Supreme Court in 1983.

Although the US Supreme Court [official website] outlawed the practice of incarcerating people for court-imposed debts over 30 years ago, many local and state governments are still accused of jailing poor people in “debtors’ prisons.” The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Benton County [press release] in Washington earlier this month, claiming it unconstitutionally collects court-imposed debts. In March the ACLU filed a similar suit[press release] against DeKalb County in Georgia. In 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio [official website] warned state judges to end the policy [JURIST report] of imprisoning people who are unable to pay court fines. The ACLU of Ohio had released a report [JURIST report] the previous year urging the Ohio Supreme Court to bring an end to the debtors’ prisons.

54 Hunger Strike Ends; Day 3 of LaSalle14 Hunger Strike; Retaliation against strikers continues

Via ppnews at freedomarchives.org

October 21st, 2015

54 South Asian detainees, From Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (known as the “ElPaso54”) at the El Paso Processing/Detention Center started a hunger strike at breakfast time on October 14, and ended their hunger stike last night (7 days). All of the strikers were asylum seekers, and have been held for up to 9 or 11 months. The hunger strikers were engaged in a full hunger strike, meaning no food and no water. As of Monday, another hunger strike was launched in LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, by 4 Indian and 10 Bangladeshi detainees (known as the “LaSalle14”).

Yesterday, ICE brought the Bangladeshi Consular Minister Shamsul Alam Chowdhury into the detention facility to pressure the ‪#‎ElPaso54 to break their hunger strike. The Consular spent over 10 hours in the facility pressuring and intimidating the hunger strikers, including threatening that if didn’t “eat now, or I will get your birth certificates from Bangladesh so we can get your travel documents to send you back.” DRUM firmly believes that ICE allowing the Consular to visit asylum seeking detainees is in violation of federal laws (8 CFR 208.6), and further endangers lives by exposing asylum seekers to representatives of the very same government they are seeking asylum from.

DRUM will continue to support the organizing of the hunger strikers and detainees, and uplift their demands and decisions. ICE continues to target those strikers and detainees it believes are isolated. Lead organizer, Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877), who provided interpretation for other strikers, has been moved to solitary confinement again.
There is an online petition by the Not1More Campaign to bring attention to the issue:

Follow regular updates at: https://www.facebook.com/DesisRising

54 South Asian Hunger Strikers at El Paso Immigrant Detention Center

via freedomarchives.org

October 19th, 2015

Day 6 of 54 South Asian Hunger Strikers at El Paso Immigrant Detention Center

14 Detainees Launch Hunger Strike in Lasalle Detention Center
Since strike began, 11 detainees released, 6 in critical medical condition, and 1 organizer released from solitary confinement

54 South Asian detainees, From Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (known as the “ElPaso54”) at the El Paso Processing/Detention Center started a hunger strike at breakfast time on October 14. All of the strikers are asylum seekers. Some detainees have been held for up to 9 or 11 months. The hunger strikers are engaged in a full hunger strike, meaning no food AND no water. (Sign the petition to support the strikers)

They have been joined by the launch of a hunger strike in Lasalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, where 4 Indian and 10 Bangladeshi are on hunger strike (known as the “LaSalle14”). The LaSalle14 are coordinating their efforts with the ElPaso54.

The detainees are demanding an immediate halt to deportations, investigations into unfair hearings and interference with their legal cases, release from detention for those granted parole.

As a result of the hunger strike, 11 detainees (6 hunger strikers, and 5 non-striking detainees) were released on Friday night from El Paso.

As a result of calls from concerned community members into the facility and local ICE office, one of the co-lead organizers, Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877), who was beaten up in front of other detainees and kept in solitary confinement for 2 days, was released back to the other hunger strikers.

6 strikers are in critical medical condition, Shamsuddin (A# 202-849-636), Md. Mahbubur Rahman (A# 202-156-816), Delwar Hussain (A# 202-156-197), Md. Aminul Islam (A# 202-155-398), Mohammad Shahjahan (A# 202-155-399), Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877)

The detainees are coordinating their efforts with DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving, a South Asian immigrant rights organization in New York City. DRUM organizer Kazi Fouzia said “these hunger strikers are strong and well organized. We need to hear their stories and voices and see how this country treats refugees at our borders and in detention centers.”

There is an online petition by the Not1More Campaign to bring attention to the issue:

Prisoners participating in Bard College initiative to provide them a liberal arts education beat Ivy League students who won national title only months ago

From The Guardian/ By Lauren Gambino

The debating team from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, lost to a group of New York prisoners. Photograph: Lisa Poole/AP

Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York prison inmates.

The showdown took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.

A three-judge panel concluded that the Bard team had raised strong arguments that the Harvard team had failed to consider and declared the team of inmates victorious.

“Debate helps students master arguments that they don’t necessarily agree with,” Max Kenner, the founder and executive director of the Bard prison initiative, told the Guardian. “It also pushes people to learn to be not just better litigators but to become more empathetic people, and that’s what really speaks to us as an institution about the debate union.”

The inmates were asked to argue that public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students, a position the team opposed.

One of the judges, Mary Nugent, told the Wall Street Journal that the Bard team effectively made the case that the schools which serve undocumented children often underperformed. The debaters proposed that if these so-called dropout factories refuse to enroll the children, then nonprofits and wealthier schools might intercede, offering the students better educations. She told the paper that Harvard’s debaters did not respond to all aspects of the argument.

The Harvard team directed requests for comment to a post on its Facebook page that commended the prison team for its achievements and complimented the work done by the Bard initiative.

“There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend, and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event,” the debate team wrote days after their loss.


Political Prisoner Birthday Poster For October 2015 Is Now Available


Hello Friends and Comrades,

1) Here is the political prisoner birthday poster for October. As always, please post this poster publicly and/or use it to start a card writing night of your own.

2) Be sure to check out the latest Political Prisoner/Prisoner Of War every-other week update by the  NYC-Anarchist Black Cross. There are lots of important updates on many political prisoners. This one includes updates on Eric King, Marius Mason, and Albert Woodfox.

Until Every Cage Is Empty,

The Prison Books Collective

Books kept me alive in prison

The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

2,000 cases may be overturned because police used secret Stingray surveillance

A motion filed Friday says the State’s Attorney’s office colluded with police to withhold ‘discovery’ material obtained via Stingrays from defendants

From The Guardian/ by Nicky Woolf

More than 2,000 cases could be overturned in Baltimore as the first motion for a retrial is filed accusing the state’s attorney’s office and the police of “deliberate and willful misrepresentation” of the use of the secret surveillance equipment known as Stingrays.

The motion, which was filed on behalf of defendant Shemar Taylor by attorney Josh Insley in the Baltimore city circuit court on Friday, says the state’s attorney’s office colluded with the police department to withhold “discovery” material from the defendants and the courts about the use of the Stingray device. Taylor was convicted of assault, robbery and firearm possession.

Manufactured by the Harris corporation and around the size of a briefcase, Stingrays are one of a class of surveillance devices known as “cell-site simulators”, which pretend to be cellphone towers in order to extract metadata, location information, and in some cases content from phones that connect to it.

Prosecutors are required to reveal the evidence against defendants in the “discovery” phase of a criminal trial.

However, a Guardian investigation in April revealed a non-disclosure agreement that local police and prosecutors were forced to sign with the FBI before using the Stingray devices, which mandated them to withdraw or even drop cases rather than risk revealing Stingray use. (more…)

2 Men Awarded $750,000 for Wrongful Convictions in 1983 Murder


From The New York Times

DURHAM, N.C. — One year to the day after a North Carolina judge threw out their wrongful murder convictions, a state commission awarded $750,000 each as compensation to two half-brothers who spent three decades in prison, much of it on death row.

Patrick M. Megaro, the recently hired lawyer for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 51, and Leon Brown, 47, announced the settlement. Mr. Megaro also filed a federal lawsuit against government and law enforcement officials of Robeson County, N.C., for obtaining their convictions through “fraud, perjury, coercion, the willful failure or refusal to investigate exculpatory evidence.”

A pardon by Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina in June made each man eligible for $50,000 a year in compensation from the state, up to $750,000 each. (Without a cap, the compensation for their full 31 years in prison would be more than double that amount.) The maximum was granted to each man on Wednesday by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which oversees workers’ compensation and tort claims. (more…)