Tag Archive: California

Two Years After Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, What’s Changed for People Inside the Prison?

pelican bay

From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

Two years have passed since people confined in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison initiated a 60-day hunger strike to protest the conditions associated with the prison’s “security housing unit,” or SHU.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to claim that “there is no ‘solitary confinement’ in California’s prisons and the SHU is not ‘solitary confinement,'” but people inside the Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit say they remain locked in for at least 23 hours per day.

Meanwhile, in June 2015, the CDCR released proposed new regulations around its use of the security housing unit and administrative segregation – regulations that may, in part, curb participation in future strikes and other prison protests.

Among the proposed changes is a new subsection increasing the penalty for active participation in acts like a mass hunger strike. Noting that disturbances have “become an increasingly serious problem, often resulting in the serious injury of others,” the new regulations increase security housing unit sentences: Active participation in a disturbance, strike or riot, which currently carries two to six months in the security housing unit, will increase to three to nine months. (The penalty for leading a disturbance, strike or riot remains six to 18 months.) (more…)

Reproductive Health Care in Women’s Prisons “Painful” and “Traumatic”

specuFrom Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

It was Kim Dadou’s second day at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. As part of the prison’s intake process, she was brought to the prison’s medical unit for a gynecological exam and pap smear.

“We were brought down three or five at a time,” she told Truthout. It’s like an assembly line. They rush you in and rush you out. That in itself is degrading.”

To add to that feeling, the gynecologist did not explain what he was doing or why. “He didn’t talk to you except ‘Open your legs’ or ‘Scoot down,’ ” she recalled. As he examined her, however, he commented, “You have a very nice aroma.”

“I wanted to die,” Dadou said nearly 24 years later. “I was like, ‘This is prison? This is what I have to look forward to?'”

Nearly 5 percent of people who enter women’s jails and prisons are pregnant. While incarcerated, they face a host of challenges to safe and healthy pregnancies, including inadequate prenatal care, lack of food and vitamins, and, in many states, the threat of being shackled during childbirth, sometimes despite protective legislation.

But what about the 95 percent who are not pregnant? As Dadou’s experience demonstrates, women routinely face reproductive health care that is inadequate and dehumanizing. A recent report by the Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy and advocacy organization, charged that “reproductive health care for women in New York State prisons is woefully substandard, with women routinely facing poor-quality care and assaults on their basic human dignity and reproductive rights.” But poor quality is not limited to New York – across the country, incarcerated women have reported “care” that ranges from ignored complaints to sexual violations during exams. In an egregious example of what passes for reproductive health “care” in prisons, several hundred people in California’s women’s prisons were coerced or tricked into some form of sterilization between 2006 and 2010. (more…)

“Operation Streamline”: The New Prison Boom

Efrain Alejandro, a Mexican who has twice served prison time in the United States for illegally crossing the border, at the Kino Border Initiative shelter in Nogales, Mexico, January 28, 2014. Migrants like Alejandro are meant to be discouraged by the special courts known as Operation Streamline, but the resulting mass deportations have led to accusations of assembly-line justice.

Efrain Alejandro, a Mexican who has twice served prison time in the United States for illegally crossing the border, at the Kino Border Initiative shelter in Nogales, Mexico, January 28, 2014. Migrants like Alejandro are meant to be discouraged by the special courts known as Operation Streamline, but the resulting mass deportations have led to accusations of assembly-line justice.

From Truth Out/ By Leticia Cortez

What is “Operation Streamline”? It’s a U.S. Border Patrol Operation that began in 2005 under G. W. Bush. This law makes jail time mandatory for people convicted of illegal entry or re-entry into the United States. The plan was designed to get tough on illegal immigration by arresting and prosecuting those crossing the border, instead of simply deporting them or placing them in a civil detention center. This made the private prison industry a very profitable sector since they started incarcerating these immigrants. According to a report released last year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 80 percent of immigration defendants convicted in federal court since 2010 received a prison sentence. This has had a dramatic effect on the makeup of the criminal justice system.

The immigration issue in this country is complex on many levels from the personal, political and economical. If one looks at it from the perspective of a woman, man or child caught crossing illegally, then held in jail up to 15 months, one must ask what is going on with the new prison industrial system. The war on immigrants is replacing the previous war on drugs that filled the jails and made obscene profits for private prisons. This new prison boom is foremost in states along the border with Mexico such as Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In Texas it costs the state $266/day to house a person not including food. That’s $97,090 per year paid for by taxpayers.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced reforms to the nation’s drug sentencing laws in an attempt to reduce the number of federal inmates held on non-violent drug charges. “It’s great that Eric Holder is talking about over-incarceration, but the actions he’s taking are not tackling the full scope of the problem,” said Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “There’s this whole other population that’s looming in the background, and growing.”

Advocates for reducing incarceration say that true reform of the prison system must also address the criminalization of immigration since reducing punishment for drug offenders is unlikely to affect the private prison industry.

(more…)

California Tells Court It Can’t Release Inmates Early Because It Would Lose Cheap Prison Labor

jailbreak!From Think Progress/ by Nicole Flatow

Out of California’s years-long litigation over reducing the population of prisons deemed unconstitutionally overcrowded by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, another obstacle to addressing the U.S. epidemic of mass incarceration has emerged: The utility of cheap prison labor.

In recent filings, lawyers for the state have resisted court orders that they expand parole programs, reasoning not that releasing inmates early is logistically impossible or would threaten public safety, but instead that prisons won’t have enough minimum security inmates left to perform inmate jobs.

The dispute culminated Friday, when a three-judge federal panel ordered California to expand an early parole program. California now has no choice but to broaden a program known as 2-for-1 credits that gives inmates who meet certain milestones the opportunity to have their sentences reduced. But California’s objections raise troubling questions about whether prison labor creates perverse incentives to keep inmates in prison even when they don’t need to be there. (more…)

Stop the regulations that would ban the Bay View from California prisons

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

“Censorship” – Art: Michael D. Russell, C-90473, PBSP D7-217, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

From San Francisco Bay View

The public comment period is open now; it closes Nov. 10, 2014, at 5 p.m. See here for the text of the changes as revised (on Oct. 20) and here for the regs as originally proposed

Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons. We called for your help in June, and we’re calling for it again.

The CDCR promised to go back to the drawing board, saying the public had misunderstood its intent. Yet, the revisions recently made by the department are superficial and fail to address the serious concerns so many of us raised in our public comments.On Oct. 20, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued revisions to its proposed “obscene materials” or censorship regulations published earlier this year. This was in response to hundreds of public comments submitted to the department.

If the proposed regulations are approved, CDCR will be able to permanently ban any publications it considers contraband, including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights. (Banning the Bay View, which CDCR blames for instigating the hunger strikes, seems to be a major objective. – ed.)

The proposed regulations are designed to (1) censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, (2) stifle the intellectual, personal and political education and development of those incarcerated, (3) stifle efforts by prisoners to nonviolently organize, and (4) expand the CDCR’s ability to arbitrarily cut off its wards from direly needed contact and support coming from outside, thus further isolating them. (more…)

How Can The Atlantic Give Us 5,000 Words on Prison Life Without Interviewing Prisoners?

solitary_630_2From Mother Jones/ by Shane Bauer

As someone who writes about prisons, and who two spent years behind bars, I devour nearly everything written about it, especially the long-form stuff. So I was excited when I saw that The Atlantic’s latest issue had a major story called “How Gangs Took Over Prison.”

Then I read it. Anyone who has ever survived anything traumatic—domestic abuse, rape, torture, war—knows the particular jolt that happens in the body when someone makes light of that thing that you once thought could destroy you. I am a former prisoner—I was held captive in Iran from 2009-2011—and a survivor of solitary confinement. In my experience as a reporter who writes about prisons, it is surprisingly rare that I come across people outside of the prison system who justify long-term solitary confinement. Even within the world of prison administrators many are against it. The last two times I’ve attended the American Correctional Association conferences, there have been large, well attended symposiums on the need to curb the use of isolation.

Graeme Wood, the writer of the Atlantic story, gives a different impression of the practice. He visits Pelican Bay State prison, which probably has more people in solitary confinement for longer periods than any other prison in the world. He goes to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, where people are kept in solitary confinement or, as he gently puts it, are “living without cellmates.” When he enters, he says it’s “like walking into a sacred space” where the silence is “sepulchral.” The hallways “radiate” and the prisoners are celled in the “branches of (a) snowflake.” Beautiful.

It’s difficult to understand why Wood does not find it worth mentioning that the cells in those snowflakes are each 7×11 feet and windowless. Men literally spend decades in those cells, alone. I’ve been to Pelican Bay, and wrote a story about it in 2012. I met a man there who hadn’t seen a tree in 12 years. Wood tells us categorically that everyone there is a hard-core gang member. This is what the California Department of Corrections consistently claims, but if Wood did a little digging, he would find that number of the prisoners locked away in the SHU are jailhouse lawyers. (more…)

A Year After Mass Hunger Strike in California Prisons, What’s Changed?

hungerstrikeFrom Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 8, 2013, 30,000 California prisoners launched what became a 60-day mass hunger strike. One year later, however, Luis Esquivel is still sitting in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in solitary confinement in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. “Right now, my uncle is in his cell with no windows,” said his niece, Maribel Herrera. “It’s like sitting in a bathroom – your sink is there, your toilet is there, your bed is there. And you’re just sitting there. I can only think about that for so long because it hurts.”

Herrera’s uncle has been in solitary confinement for 15 years. “I hadn’t seen my uncle since I was a child,” said Herrera. “I can’t even remember hugging him.” When she visited him in 2012, her first-ever visit to Pelican Bay, more than 850 miles away from her family’s home in San Diego, hers was the first visit Esquivel had received in seven years. (more…)

Censored and ‘Obscene’ in Solitary

After a huge hunger strike to protest the state prison system’s inhuman conditions, California is threatening to ban any written material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”
Last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed sweeping new regulations for mail going both into and out of the state’s prisons and jails. Coined “obscenity regulations,” on face value they appear to ban material that “depicts or describes sexual misconduct.” Yet, if you scroll further down the long, technical parameters laid out on CDCR’s website you’ll find they’re casting a much broader net—such as censorship of any material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”“There’s a lot of non-sexual speech that will be banned if these regulations are put into effect,” says Paul Wright, Director of Prison Legal News. “This isn’t a new tactic, for hundreds of years the guise of ‘obscenity’ has been used to crush political speech, not just among prisoners, originally it was used to punish criticism of the church.”

It’s no coincidence that these enhanced restrictions are coming from California, where 29,000 prisoners went on hunger strike for 60 days last year in a historically unprecedented protest against inhumane prison conditions—namely prolonged solitary confinement. A large part of the hunger strike’s success in capturing international attention had to do with the ability of activists, lawyers and family members to get out the voices and opinions of the men inside who initiated the strike, at least in part through written correspondence. Under these new regulations, letters like those might not make it through next time. (more…)

Fight new prison censorship rules in California

“They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.” -Prisoner in Corcoran State Prison SHU

“They want to be free to pursue the maintenance of the SHU torture units and the expansion of the prison industrial complex (and the ever-growing portion of the public’s tax dollars) without the prospect of legitimate criticism and the voice of opposition.”
-Prisoner in Corcoran State Prison SHU

From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

We need your help. Under the guise of “obscenity” regulations, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) has proposed sweeping new political censorship rules for mail going both into and out of the prisons.

If these changes are approved, CDCR will permanently ban any documents it defines as “contraband,” including political publications and correspondence that should be protected by First Amendment constitutional rights.

The proposed regulations are designed with two main purposes: to censor writings that educate the public about what is actually occurring inside the prisons, and to stifle the intellectual and political education and organizing of prisoners themselves.

1.) Please weigh in and speak out against these regulations. The public comment period is open until 5pm on June 17th. Resources to help craft a letter are provided at the action page.

2.) Spread the word on Facebook and ask your friends, family, neighbors, pastor, school class, place of worship, and organizations to write also.

Thank you for everything you do.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition

The Final Straw: Luke O’Donovan; Police Murders from coast to coast

acabnewerFrom The Final Straw

This week’s episode features three, that’s right, three whopping conversations. Firstly, we hear from Luke O’Donovan about his case. Luke is an Anarchist in the Atlanta area who defended himself against a queer bashing last New Years at a party. Luke suffered multiple wounds inflicted by knives as well as beating which sent him to the hospital. He’s facing 5 charges of aggrivated assault with a deadly weapon for injuring the people attacking him, who’d earlier called him a faggot repeatedly. Each of those 5 charges could carry a twenty year sentence.

After that, we’ll hear from Rafi, an organizer in Durham North Carolina, about the spate of police murders of young men of color in that city. Particularly we’ll talk about the case of Jesus Chuy Huerta, a 17 year old latino man shot in the back of a patrol car while handcuffed that the police are claiming was self-inflicted.

Finally, we’ll hear from Jess who’s been organizing alongside youth in Santa Rosa, california since the shooting death by Sheriff’s there of 13 year old Andy Lopez for having a toy gun. The fatal shooting of Andy Lopez fell on October 22nd of this year. For those who don’t know, October 22nd is a day when many people in the United States remember those killed and imprisoned by police and protest against police violence. (more…)