Tag Archive: victoria law

Two Years After Hunger Strike, California Settlement May Release 2,000 Prisoners From Solitary

2015_0902solitary2

From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

Attorneys and family members announced on September 1 what they called a “landmark settlement” in the class-action lawsuit Ashker v. Governor of California. The settlement, stated lead attorney Jules Lobel, “is an important step in the growing movement to end solitary confinement.”

The settlement comes after months of negotiations between advocates and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). It also comes after years of agitation, including a lawsuit and three mass prison hunger strikes, aimed at ending California’s practice of placing prisoners in isolation for indeterminate periods of time. Advocates predict that between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be released from isolation in the coming months.

At issue is California’s security housing units (or SHU) and its practice of placing those accused of gang affiliation within these units for an indeterminate time period. Within the SHU, they are locked into windowless cells for at least 23 hours per day. When taken out of their cells – for a shower, a visit or an hour of recreation alone in an exercise pen – they are handcuffed and ankle chained. Two categories of people are placed in the SHU. Those who break prison rules are temporarily sent to the SHU for up to five years. The other category includes those who have been placed in isolation on accusations of gang involvement. For them, there is no fixed end date. Until recently, accusations that have landed them in the SHU often relied on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or associations with others. Until recently, one of the few ways to be released from the SHU was to “debrief” or provide information incriminating others, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. They are the ones who have written manifestoes, filed lawsuits and repeatedly gone on hunger strike to protest their conditions of confinement.

In California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, 1,134 of its 1,181 prisoners were held in the SHU as of June 2015. Although CDCR insists that solitary confinement does not exist within its prison system, those within the SHU argue otherwise and, in 2012, went to court to prove it. (more…)

Alabama Case Illustrates Difficulties Women Behind Bars Face When Seeking Abortion

janedoe

From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

Should sheriffs and other jail staff be allowed to decide whether a woman can obtain an abortion? When a woman is arrested and incarcerated, should her reproductive rights be stripped from her? Based on their actions against a woman in custody this past month, Rick Singleton, the sheriff of Lauderdale County Jail in Florence, Alabama, and district attorney Chris Connolly seem to think so. They may also have set a precedent for any other law enforcement seeking to prevent women from seeking abortions—throw up enough obstacles and she’ll decide to carry the pregnancy to term.

Last month, 29-year-old “Jane Doe” entered the Lauderdale County Jail. She already knew that she was pregnant. So did the authorities—accused of exposing her embryo to drugs, she had been arrested under Alabama’s chemical endangerment law. Shortly after her arrival, on July 10, she requested a medical furlough, which is a temporary release for medical reasons, to obtain an abortion. The nearest abortion provider is approximately 75 miles away in Huntsville, Alabama, which provides abortions up to 21.6 weeks. According to the suit she filed, Jane Doe was not requesting that the jail pay for the procedure; she would pay for both the abortion and transportation to the clinic on her own.

Nonetheless, three days later, the sheriff denied her request. According to court documents, his response read, “It is the policy of this office that all non-emergency services are provided through our medical staff at the jail. Your request cannot be handled by our staff and on its face, it does not constitute a medical emergency.” If she wanted an abortion, he concluded, “a Court Order will be required directing the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department to transport you to Huntsville, Alabama, for the stated purpose.” So, Jane Doe, whose current release date is unknown, requested just that. With the assistance of the ACLU in Alabama, she filed a lawsuit in federal court. On Monday, July 29, Jane Doe had a hearing as to whether being in jail should restrict her right to an abortion. Then she had to wait even longer—the judge stated that he would issue his ruling on Friday, July 31. (more…)

Time to Speak Up: Women’s Prison Resistance in Alabama

tutwilerBy Victoria Law

Both incarcerated women and the U.S. Department of Justice agree: The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., is a hellish place. In a 36-page letter that the DOJ issued to the Alabama State Governor Robert Brentley in January, the agency declared, “The State of Alabama violates the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution by failing to protect women prisoners at Tutwiler from harm due to sexual abuse and harassment from correctional staff.”

Federal investigators found that, for nearly two decades, staff members at Tutwiler have sexually assaulted women and compelled them into sex to obtain necessities, such as feminine hygiene products and laundry service. Women who report sexual abuse are placed in solitary confinement, where they are given lie detector tests and are frequently threatened by other staff.

But while the DOJ’s letter — and conditions in Tutwiler — made headlines, less attention has been paid to the activism and organizing by women inside Alabama’s prisons. During the department’s investigation, for example, it received 233 letters from women currently incarcerated at Tutwiler detailing a host of concerns about the sexual abuse they’ve either personally experienced or witnessed. This figure does not include the letters that women have been sending to the Department of Justice and other government entities for years before the investigation was launched. When incarcerated, sending testimony letters is a potentially dangerous action. Women risked prison staff opening their letters and reading their complaints — and retaliating against them. Two hundred thirty-three women decided to take that risk. (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…)