[Pnews] Glenn Dyer Jail hunger strike: ‘We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month’
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 8 11:33:23 EST 2017
‘We have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month’
November 7, 2017
*/by /**/Lucas Guilkey/* <https://oaklandnorth.net/author/lucas-guilkey/>
In mid-October, 125 prisoners at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in
downtown Oakland – over 30 percent of the prisoners housed there –
participated in a five-day hunger strike to protest what they say are
abusive conditions of isolation and poor healthcare in Alameda County jails.
“I am on hunger strike, as well as many, many others here at Glenn Dyer
Detention Facility,” reads a letter sent from the jail dated Oct. 17,
the third day of the hunger strike, and signed “Prisoners United,” a
group formed for purposes of the hunger strike.
“We are locked in our cells all day,” the letter states, saying that
“out of cell time” is insufficient and “boils down to [the assigned
housing deputies’] decisions, which are mostly arbitrary and
capricious.” The letter also outlines grievances alleging inadequate
access to courts and attorneys, telephone calls, a variety of healthy
food and recreation time, which are all required under California’s
minimum standards codes for local detention centers.
The same day, over 30 supporters rallied outside of the Alameda County
administrative building, where the county supervisors’ offices are
located, to draw attention to the striking prisoners. “They are mothers
and fathers in there, our parents, our siblings, our children,” said
Yolanda Triana, who used to work as a reserve deputy at Santa Rita Jail
in the 1970s before quitting and becoming an advocate for reform. “They
are human. Give them basic dignity.”
“We’re out here to make sure [the sheriff and county supervisors] know
that we’re paying attention and we’re listening,” said Marlene Sanchez,
associate director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice
(CURYJ), an Oakland organization that works with young people affected
by the criminal justice system.
Speakers drew attention to both detention facilities run by the Alameda
County Sheriff’s Department – Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita Jail, in Dublin.
They stressed the five allegations that are being made by prisoners, who
are calling for an end to the use of indefinite solitary confinement,
subjective practices for addressing grievances, and overuse of lockdown,
which is when prisoners are confined to their cell when there is a
disturbance in the facility. The prisoners also say that they are being
provided with insufficient food and unsanitary clothing.
“I am on hunger strike, as well as many, many others here at Glenn
Dyer Detention Facility,” reads a letter sent from the jail dated
Oct. 17, the third day of the hunger strike, and signed “Prisoners
United,” a group formed for purposes of the hunger strike.
“I [know] a young man in Santa Rita who has been there for five years,
and has been in isolation for four, and that is unacceptable,” said
Sheri Costa, the director of AL Costa Community Development Center, an
East Bay organization dedicated to helping families with detained and
incarcerated loved ones. She has been doing this work for 18 years. “We
have people that are only getting out of cell twice a month,” she said.
After rallying, advocates marched two blocks down the street to the
sheriff’s offices, where they delivered a letter listing the five
demands to Internal Affairs Capt. Emmanuel Christy.
Twenty percent of prisoners in Glenn Dyer – or 83 people – are held in
“administrative segregation,” in which prisoners are held alone, in
cells separate from general population, for a minimum of 23 hours per
day, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. That number
is 243 at Santa Rita, or 12 percent of the prisoners currently held there.
“We’re out here to make sure [the sheriff and county supervisors]
know that we’re paying attention and we’re listening,” said
Marlene Sanchez, associate director of Communities United for
Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ).
Last week’s strike comes four years after 30,000 California prisoners
participated in a massive statewide hunger strike protesting indefinite
solitary confinement. At that time, California prisons held over 3,000
prisoners indefinitely – sometimes for decades – in concrete cells
called the Security Housing Unit (SHU), where prisoners were confined
for a minimum of 22.5 hours per day.
That strike turned into a class action lawsuit, Ashker v Brown, after
the Center for Constitutional Rights took over the case in 2012 from
Todd Ashker, a long-term California SHU prisoner who had initially filed
the suit against the state in 2009. The 2015 settlement ended the use of
indefinite SHU terms in California state prisons and limited SHU
confinement to a maximum of 10 years.
Throughout the lawsuit, California Department of Corrections officials
maintained that the SHU was not solitary confinement because prisoners
had access to a larger cell with a partial opening to the sky for 90
minutes per day.
While there is no strict definition of solitary confinement in
California law, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on
torture from 2010 to 2016, has defined solitary confinement
<http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40097> as “any regime
where an inmate is held in isolation from others, except guards, for at
least 22 hours a day.” More than 15 days of solitary confinement, he
believes, is prolonged isolation and should be banned by governments.
Alameda County Sheriff’s department officials say that the county
doesn’t practice solitary confinement in its jails. This is because
prisoners are able to have verbal communication with nearby prisoners,
and because they have access to a telephone, shower, laundry,
television, and exercise when they are out of their cell for one hour
per day, said Public Information Officer Sgt. Ray Kelly.
Alameda County Sheriff’s department officials say that the county
doesn’t practice solitary confinement in its jails.
Kelly said that administrative segregation is used for prisoners who are
high-profile, have mental health issues, are highly assaultive, or are
at risk when in spaces with other prisoners. A system of checks and
balances is employed when deciding to keep someone in administrative
segregation, he said, but there are no maximum time limits on how long
someone can be kept there.
Responding to the prisoners’ other complaints, Kelly said that the
jails’ food is “not a home cooked good meal” but that “it will sustain
you and keep you healthy.” Referring to both the food and clothing
offered, Kelly said, “We go above state and federal law.” He states that
inmates are able to submit grievances to officers in the Grievance Unit
and that the jails are accredited by the American Correctional
Association and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement.
“We’re kind of surprised,” Kelly said of the hunger strike, speaking
last week as it began its third day. “We obviously have to monitor [the
hunger strike] and respect their right to protest,” he added.
The advocates supporting the striking prisoners disagree with Kelly’s
assertions that solitary confinement doesn’t exist in Alameda County
jails. Based on her communications with prisoners and their families,
Costa said she believes the conditions Kelly described are not being
practiced on at least one floor of Glenn Dyer.
Sanchez said she believes that “they are using solitary confinement for
everything,” including to try to break up the hunger strike organizing.
The advocates supporting the striking prisoners disagree with
Kelly’s assertions that solitary confinement doesn’t exist in
Alameda County jails.
In addition to 23-hours-per-day isolation, the advocates also allege
that prisoners are not getting sufficient healthcare. Costa’s nephew,
Mario Martinez, died in Santa Rita in July 2015. His family is currently
suing Corizon, the healthcare provider in the jails at the time, and
Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern for wrongful death. The suit
alleges medical negligence regarding untreated nasal growths that,
combined with Martinez’s asthma, made it very hard for him to breathe.
Sanchez, who has been in touch with prisoners and their family members,
has been filing grievances and incident reports on behalf of those
incarcerated at Glenn Dyer. She recently filed an incident report with
the sheriff’s office alleging that a prisoner in Glenn Dyer had been
denied access to water for three days.
“To deny a human being water is inhumane treatment,” she wrote. He was
allegedly denied medical care, she added, after being bitten by a
spider, and it “wasn’t until he could not walk and was about to undergo
cardiac arrest” that he was “rushed to the hospital,” she wrote.
Kelly declined to comment on these allegations.
Sanchez, who has been in touch with prisoners and their family
members, has been filing grievances and incident reports on behalf
of those incarcerated at Glenn Dyer.
Currently, the sheriff, along with Corizon and the county, is facing
litigation in two other suits alleging wrongful deaths at Santa Rita:
those on behalf of Bryan Steicher, who died in June 2014, and Gary
Oldham, who died on March 3, 2015, according to lawsuits. Steicher’s
suit is brought by his mother and daughter, who allege that he died
after multiple requests for his sleep apnea machine were denied.
Oldham’s suit is brought by his mother, who alleges that he was found
hanging from a bedsheet after his jailers failed to follow proper
protocols for monitoring a mentally disabled prisoner who was
In all three suits, the sheriff denies the allegations, according to
In a legal filing for the case of Mario Martinez, the defendants’
lawyers, Nancy E. Hudgins and Matthew M. Grigg, “admit that the decedent
was a Santa Rita inmate, and that the jail is in Alameda County and is
operated via the County’s sheriff’s office,” but refute all allegations
that Martinez was untreated or treated negligently.
In a legal filing for the case of Bryan Steicher, the defendants’
lawyers, Hudgins and Grigg, deny that Steicher made repeated requests
for his sleep apnea machine and all other allegations.
In a legal filing for the case of Gary Oldham, the defendants’ lawyer,
Timothy Murphy, writes that his client will “admit that [deputy
sheriffs] discovered decedent hanging in his cell by a sheet” but denied
that defendants “failed to engage in adequate welfare checks or
Kelly did not comment on the suits, referring questions to Alameda
County Counsel Donna Ziegler. Ziegler said she was familiar with the
case of Mario Martinez but not the other two, and could not offer
comment at this time.
Monthly reports – which were obtained by Costa through a public records
request as part of the family’s research into Martinez’s death – written
by Calvin Benton, a doctor and medical consultant to Alameda County
jails, show that at least 24 people died in Alameda County jails between
the beginning of 2013 and the end of 2015. The causes of death are not
stated in these reports, which are monthly medical “quality assurance
reports” Benton delivers to the Alameda County Sheriff’s office.
Last week’s Glenn Dyer hunger strike was followed this week by a similar
one in Santa Clara County jails, which themselves were a continuation of
strikes from 2016.
Advocates and supporters plan to bring the issues raised by the hunger
strike to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Public Protection
meeting on Nov. 9.
/Lucas Guilkey is an Oakland-based reporter and video journalist who is
working on a feature documentary on the California hunger strikes, the
largest in history. Visit his website, //LucasGuilkey.com/
<http://lucasguilkey.com/>/, and email him at //lucasguilkey at gmail.com/
<mailto:lucasguilkey at gmail.com>/. This story first appeared on Oakland
North, headlined “//Nearly one third of Glenn Dyer prisoners wrap up
on Oct. 27, 2017. /
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