Tag Archive: Vikki Law

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

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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

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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…)

After Obama Clemencies, Activists Question Scope of Bipartisan Prison “Reform”

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From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 13, President Barack Obama granted commutations to 46 people, including 13 serving life sentences, in federal prisons for nonviolent drug offenses. More than 35,000 people, or 17 percent of the federal prison population, have applied for early release since his administration announced its Clemency Project for people in federal prisons for nonviolent drug offenses in 2014.

“We’re at a moment where some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks across the country, are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter, make it work better,” the president said in a Facebook video posted July 13.

Less than three weeks earlier, on June 25, 2015, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act. The bill calls for allowing sentence reductions for federal drug war prisoners, a move which could potentially affect half of the current federal prison population.

The latest in bipartisan criminal legal reforms, the act has been championed by organizations from the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union to the Koch brothers, the Police Foundation and Right on Crime. But, notes Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which also supports the act, “The bill does not repeal any federal mandatory minimum sentences or reduce drug mandatory minimum sentences across the board, but instead limits the application of federal mandatory minimum drug sentences to the highest-level offenders, as Congress originally intended.” (more…)

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

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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…)