[Pnews] A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets New Life In A Different State

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 22 10:36:00 EDT 2018


https://theappeal.org/a-troubled-federal-prison-unit-gets-new-life-in-a-different-state/ 



  A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets New Life In A Different State

Victoria Law - Aug 21, 2018
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On Feb. 3, 2011, staff at Pennsylvania federal prison USP Lewisburg’s 
Special Management Unit told Sebastian Richardson to “cuff up” and 
accept a new cellmate. Richardson was terrified; the man with whom he 
was about to share the cell, known as “The Prophet,” had attacked over 
20 cellmates. The Prophet had just been released from hard restraints, a 
combination of metal handcuffs, ankle shackles, and a chain that 
encircled his chest. He was also, according to Richardson, ”rocking back 
and forth in agitation as he waited outside” the cell door.

Richardson refused to submit to being placed in handcuffs or accept his 
new cellmate. So a lieutenant and a Use of Force team member took him to 
a laundry area where he was stripped, put into paper clothes, and placed 
in hard restraints that made him scream in pain. He was then placed in a 
cell with another man who was also in hard restraints.

Three days later, Richardson was moved to another cell, again with 
another man in restraints. That man, Richardson later said, “was 
pleading for help because of the pain caused by the restraints. He 
stated that he could not breathe because of the chest chain and he could 
not feel his hands because of the tight handcuffs.”

On Feb. 10, Richardson was placed in four-point restraints, in which a 
person is shackled to a bed. He spent over eight hours this way and his 
requests to use the bathroom were denied, causing him to urinate on 
himself. Richardson was then placed in hard restraints for another 13 days.

By Feb. 23, Richardson had spent 20 days in restraints. He was allowed a 
shower, his first in weeks. Then, staff attempted to give him another 
dangerous cellmate. Richardson refused and was once again placed in 
restraints. Richardson spent a total of 28 days in restraints, with 15 
different cellmates, all in hard restraints “applied in the same painful 
and torturous manner.”

Since its opening in 2008, USP Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit—or 
SMU—has been hit with civil rights lawsuits challenging its treatment of 
people with mental illnesses and its use of restraints as punishment. In 
2011, Richardson sued the Bureau of Prisons 
<http://files.courthousenews.com/2016/07/18/richardson%20complaint.pdf>, 
which operates USP Lewisburg, over his conditions of confinement. In 
2017, SMU prisoners Jusamuel Rodriguez McCreary, Richard C. Anamanya, 
and Joseph R. Coppola sued 
<http://www.washlaw.org/pdf/lewisburg_complaint.PDF>the Bureau of 
Prisons alleging that they were among dozens of men with serious mental 
illnesses who were denied adequate mental health care. “Men bang on the 
walls of their cells” in the SMU, according to the lawsuit, “they refuse 
to leave their cells for months, even for a shower; some men mutilate 
their bodies with whatever objects they can obtain; others carry on 
delusional conversations with voices they hear in their heads.” That 
same year, the Office of the Inspector General sharply criticized the 
prison’s mental health treatment 
<https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/e1705.pdf#page=1>as well as its 
deteriorating physical condition. (It was was built in 1931.) SMU cells, 
for example, are about 58 square feet 
<https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/e1705.pdf#page=1>, far smaller 
than the 80 square foot minimum recommended by the American Correctional 
Association. Also in 2017, the District of Columbia Corrections 
Information Council, a prison monitoring organization, visited Lewisburg 
and found that staff continued to userestraints 
<https://cic.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/cic/publication/attachments/USP%20Lewisburg%20SMU%20Report%20FINAL%204.6.18_0.pdf>, 
resulting in injuries to incarcerated people as well as a lack of access 
to emergency call buttons, programming, and mental health services.

As of August 20th, Lewisburg’s SMU houses approximately 830 people 
<https://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_shu.jsp>who are 
there due to a history of violence or participation in gangs. They are 
expected to complete three levels of programming within one year, all as 
they are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day.

Solitary confinement is typically defined as the practice of isolating 
people in cells for 22 to 24 hours per day. According to statistics 
compiled by Solitary Watch <http://solitarywatch.com/facts/faq/>, 
  80,000 to 100,000 incarcerated persons are held in some form of 
isolated confinement. Though SMU prisoners are locked down all but one 
hour of the day, the Bureau of Prisons claims that “solitary confinement 
does not exist 
<https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/federal-prison-solitary-confinement-mental-illness_us_59664623e4b005b0fdca5f85>” 
in the federal prison system and considers placement in the SMU to be 
“non-punitive.” <https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5217_02.pdf>It’s a 
rosy characterization roundly rejected by criminal justice advocates, 
incarcerated people, and reporters alike; “USP Lewisburg might be the 
worst place in the federal prison system,” Justin Peters wrote 
<http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2013/11/20/usp_lewisburg_special_management_unit_how_america_s_model_prison_became.html>in/Slate/in 
2013, “so bad that some inmates there actually dream of being 
transferred to the famously isolating Supermax facility in Florence, 
Colorado.”

But instead of changing the conditions and practices of the Lewisburg 
SMU, the Bureau of Prisons announced in June that it will simply move it 
to a “state of the art maximum-security prison” 
<https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-quinn-announce-sale-of-thomson-correctional-center-to-the-federal-government>in 
Thomson, Illinois. The Bureau of Prisons purchased the facility from the 
state of Illinois 
<http://solitarywatch.com/2015/01/15/new-federal-supermax-prison-will-double-capacity-for-extreme-solitary-confinement/>in 
2012; state budget cuts have kept the nearly 20-year-old Thomson largely 
empty. “The Special Management Unit (SMU) at AUSP Thomson will operate 
in accordance with BOP Program Statement 5217.02 ‘Special Management 
Units <https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5217_02.pdf>,’” a BOP 
spokesperson wrote in an email to /The Appeal/. (The BOP declined to 
comment on the Richardson lawsuit.)

But advocates say that it’s the SMU model—not its location—that’s the 
problem.

Dave Sprout, a paralegal with the Lewisburg Prison Project 
<http://www.lewisburgprisonproject.org/>, an advocacy organization 
focused on Central Pennsylvania’s prisons, says that the 23-hour daily 
lockdown in the SMU is detrimental to the mental health of prisoners and 
dangerous. He notes that the men spend their one hour out of cell in a 
recreation cage and they  can be alone or among others, which increases 
the risk of attack and assault. As a result, many decline their one hour 
out of cell.

Back in their cells, many of the SMU’s prisoners are placed with 
cellmates, a practice known as double-celling. “Most of the problems 
we’ve seen [at Lewisburg] comes from being double-celled,” Sprout told 
/The Appeal/. Double-celling has led to fights, attacks and even deaths. 
>From 2008 until July 2011, Lewisburg’s SMU had 272 reported incidents of 
violence. Between 2010 and 2017, at least four men at Lewisburg were 
killed by their cellmates. A culture of violence inside the Bureau of 
Prisons also means that many prisoners end up facing the federal death 
penalty. In June, two federal prisoners were sentenced to death 
<https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/white-supremacists-sentenced-death-murdering-fellow-inmate-texas-prison>for 
murdering another prisoner at USP Beaumont in East Texas. It appears 
that the practice of double-celling will continue at Thomson; a BOP 
spokesperson told /The Appeal/that two beds are provided in each cell 
there.

The opening of Thomson as an SMU has been applauded by U.S. Senator Dick 
Durbin, a Democrat, as a job creator 
<https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-statement-on-new-job-openings-for-thomson-prison>for 
the northern part of Illinois. Durbin’s support contrasts sharply with 
his prior stances on solitary confinement, including leading the first 
Congressional hearing on solitary 
<https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-chairs-first-ever-congressional-hearing-on-solitary-confinement>in 
2012. In April, Durbin introduced a federal bill 
<https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-democratic-senators-introduce-bill-to-limit-use-of-solitary-confinement>to 
limit the use of solitary confinement. Durbin’s office did not respond 
to /The Appeal/’s request for comment.

By the end of the year, the BOP will begin transferring people from 
Lewisburg to Thomson with warden Donald Hudson 
<https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/20140829_thomson.jsp>, who was the 
associate warden at USP Lewisburg, at the helm. Richardson’s lawsuit 
names Hudson as one of the defendants, alleging that Hudson was 
“responsible for custody and security at the institution, including 
decisions involving cellmate and recreation cage placements and the use 
of restraints.” Advocates and attorneys say the move will merely shift 
the SMU’s problems to another state. “History has shown that supermaxes 
are destructive failures, torturing everyone housed in them,” Deborah 
Golden, who represented Richardson in his 2011 lawsuit and is now an 
attorney at the Human Rights Defense Center,told /The Appeal/. “Housing 
people in unconstitutional conditions is unconstitutional, no matter the 
state.”

Prisoners across the country are launching a strike today, on the 
anniversary of the death of incarcerated activist George Jackson. 
Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party and a prison activist, was 
a leading voice and theorist in the 1970s prison movement — a time that 
saw over 300 uprisings 
<http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/2011/07/27/attica-1971-setting-the-stage-for-a-prison-revolt/>behind 
bars. On April 24, prisoners in South Carolina announced the strike, 
which is expected to last for 19 days and ends on the anniversary of the 
Attica prison uprising in New York.

The call to action—created by members of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), 
a group of people incarcerated in South Carolina that organizes for 
prisoners’ rights—lists a variety of ways prisoners can get involved, 
including work strikes, sit-in protests, boycotts and hunger strikes. 
Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the protests, said outside organizers 
have heard of plans or wishes to strike in 17 states (but out of fear of 
retaliation, the states will not be named until after Aug. 21). Over 150 
<http://sawarimi.org/groups-organizations-in-solidarity>organizations 
have expressed solidarity with the strike, including BYP-100 and the NYC 
Jericho Movement and solidarity rallies outside prisons have been 
planned in at least 10 cities.

With the announcement of the strike, prisoners also released a list of 
10 demands that included improving the conditions of prisons 
immediately, rescinding the Prison Litigation Reform Act,  restoring the 
voting rights of all confined citizens, an immediate end to racist gang 
enhancement laws, ending death by incarceration, and rehabilitation 
services for all prisoners, including violent offenders.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act, a law passed under President Bill 
Clinton in 1996, places barriers and restrictions on prisoners trying to 
file a federal lawsuit including requiring prisoners to go through all 
administrative grievance processes within their prison before filing a 
case, not waiving court fees, limiting litigation costs that can be paid 
to the prisoner’s attorney after a successful lawsuit, and restricting 
court cases that allege only emotional or mental harm. The result, is a 
lack of access to the courts for prisoners when their constitutional 
rights are violated. JLS is calling for the law to be rescinded.

Their second demand, which reads: “an immediate end to prison slavery. 
All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States 
jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or 
territory for their labor,” has been a theme in work strikes over the 
past five years and speaks to a JLS slogan, “#Abolishthe13th,” 
referencing the 13th Amendment of the constitution.

In an interview with /Shadowproof/ 
<https://shadowproof.com/2018/08/16/im-for-disruption-interview-with-prison-strike-organizer-from-jailhouse-lawyers-speak/>, 
a JLS representative incarcerated in South Carolina described prison as 
a continuation of slavery. “I can remember my great-granddaddy and them, 
they were talking about it. Prison is slavery. They never really 
referred to it as prison or as jail, they referred to it as being forced 
back onto the plantations again. This is something we’ve always 
understood. Of course, as things evolved more, the system evolved, it’s 
a little more sophisticated, and you know people tried to change the 
language and there was a disconnect.”

Another demand, ending death by incarceration, targets lengthy prison 
sentences. Death by incarceration is “any exorbitant amount of time that 
a person is given behind bars, assuming that they’ll die behind bars 
based on the length of that sentence,” Sawari explained. Life without 
parole is one example of death by incarceration—but it can also include 
sentences like 50 years behind bars. In 2017, over 200,000 people were 
serving life sentences or “virtual” life sentences (50 years or more), 
according to The Sentencing Project 
<https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Still-Life.pdf>. 
50,000 of those people were serving life without the possibility of parole.

“There’s no way that you can look at someone when they’re being 
sentenced and decide when they’re gonna finish their process of 
rehabilitation,” Sawari argued. “Especially [when it’s] a young person. 
A 17-year-old or a 16-year-old being sentenced to life in prison is 
absolutely ridiculous. So prisoners are calling that no person ever be 
sentenced to death by incarceration.”

A week before the strike was announced, Lee County Correctional Facility 
in South Carolina made national headlines when a prison riot left seven 
people dead—Raymond Scott, Eddie Gaskins, Cornelius McClary, Corey 
Scott, Damonte Rivera, Joshua Jenkins, and Michael Milledge—all of them 
prisoners. The Department of Corrections blamed 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/us/south-carolina-prison-riot.html>the 
riot on contraband; saying that opposing gang members were fighting over 
territory, money*,*and prohibited cell phones. The solution, the DOC 
asserted, was to block all cell phone signals in the prison system. But 
prisoners painted a more complicated picture 
<https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/28/opinion/how-a-south-carolina-prison-riot-really-went-down.html>, 
saying that the overcrowding has made prison conditions unbearable and 
guards waiting hours to intervene resulted in the high body count. While 
the DOC is trying to blame cell phones for the violence, it’s those same 
phones that allow prisoners to organize, speak to the outside world and 
the media, and keep in touch with family amid exorbitant prison phone fees.

South Carolina prisoners and members of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, decided 
to announce the national prison strike in response to this deadly riot. 
“Prisons can’t function without prisoners doing the work that needs to 
be done. Prisoners [are] the ones that work in the kitchen, that do the 
cleaning. They manage so many different aspects of the prison,” Sawari 
told /The Appeal/.

Since the riot on April 15, Sawari reported that units at Lee County 
Correctional Institution have been on lockdown. During lockdown, 
prisoners are allowed out of their cell for only one hour a day, a 
practice that has labeled solitary confinement, and often must eat in 
their cells.

The strike set to begin today is just the latest protest in a trail of 
strikes that have been organized inside prisons over the last five 
years. In 2013, 30,000 prisoners went on hunger strike in the California 
prison system to protest indefinite, long-term solitary confinement. Two 
years later, the state agreed to limit its use of indefinite 
solitary—with mixed results. In 2016, prisoners in Alabama coordinated a 
national labor strike on Sept. 9, after conducting multiple work strikes 
within their state prison systems. The strike was to protest prison 
labor and the low wages paid to prisoners; work stoppages occurred in 
Alabama, Florida and Michigan. Prisoners in Texas, Alabama, and Florida 
were thrown into solitary confinement for mentioning that national strike.

“Let this nationwide strike be a wake up; Prisoners will destroy the 
crops,” read a statement 
<https://twitter.com/JailLawSpeak/status/1027912494487150592>about 
today’s strike that JLS released on Aug. 10. “We will not comply. We 
will not allow you to exploit our families’ hard earned dollars anymore. 
Striking the match let it go up in a blaze. We are humans!”

In the statement 
<https://twitter.com/JailLawSpeak/status/1027912494487150592>, JLS said 
that influential prisoners have already faced repression for aligning 
with the strike and that other prisoners say they are being threatened 
by guards not to participate in the strike. In Ohio, Imam Siddique 
Abdullah Hasan was sent to solitary confinement on July 27 because of 
correspondence about the strike. According to Ohio’s Incarcerated 
Workers Organizing Committee, Hasan’s conduct report listed five 
violations including rioting or causing others to riot and “engaging in 
or encouraging a group demonstration or work stoppage.”

But JLS says the strike will go on. “Fundamentally, it’s a human rights 
issue. Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know 
that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be 
avoided if prison policy makers actually gave a damn,” the statement 
said. “Prisons in America are a war zone. Every day prisoners are harmed 
due to conditions of confinement. For some of us, it’s as if we are 
already dead, so what do we have to lose?”

In May, a group of prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, known 
as Angola, laid down and refused to work 
<https://theappeal.org/louisiana-prisoners-demand-an-end-to-modern-day-slavery/>. 
After the work stoppage, they continued organizing in anticipation of a 
nationwide prison strike 
<https://incarceratedworkers.org/campaigns/prison-strike-2018>planned 
for Aug. 21. But one of the movement’s leaders was abruptly transferred 
to a new facility after two decades in Angola in what his family claims 
was a retaliatory measure.

On June 20, Ronald Brooks recorded a Facebook Live 
<https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=310282476174390&id=100015779203681>video 
with a contraband cell phone, his face obscured by fabric. The post 
explained the purpose and goals of the group he had been helping to 
build, Decarcerate Louisiana. The group was also organizing the inmates 
to take part in the nationwide prison protests, planned to coincide with 
the 47thanniversary of the death of George Jackson, a Black Panther, 
while he was incarcerated in San Quentin. “Decarcerate Louisiana is a 
human rights movement advocating for human rights and human dignity of 
people inside and outside of the prison,” he said in the video. “We are 
anti-slavery and are organizing to transform our ghettos into 
communities and our jails and prisons into places of human redemption.”

He argued that the loophole in the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery for 
all but those convicted of a crime “must go.” Prisoners across the 
country are sometimes paid nothing 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2017/04/10/wages/>for their work, and 
in Louisiana the Prison Policy Initiative reports 
<https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/wage_policies.html>that they are 
paid 4 cents to $1 an hour for jobs both supporting the prison facility 
and work that gets sold to outside agencies and businesses, much of it 
heavy field labor.

“Please join us in our organizing to change the laws to abolish slavery 
in the jails and prisons and to tear down ghettos that serve as a 
pipeline to prison,” Brooks said, leaving information for how to donate 
and support the organization’s work.

A few days later, his family said, he was transferred out of Angola to 
the David Wade Correctional Center, a notorious facility in North 
Louisiana that has faced more than 200 federal lawsuits from inmates 
since it opened in 1980. 
<https://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/crime/2018/02/20/lawsuit-louisiana-prison-brutally-punishes-suicidal-inmates/356195002/> Brooks 
had been held at Angola since he was incarcerated at age 19; he turns 40 
this year.

Brooks’s mother and sister say that Jerry Goodwin, a warden at David 
Wade, told them Brooks was transferred as punishment for having the cell 
phone and because he had been organizing his fellow prisoners to take 
part in the nationwide protest. Goodwin did not return multiple requests 
for comment.

The Department of Corrections “transferred him out to kind of break up 
anything that’s going on, any communication or things like that to try 
to stop them from moving forward with their rights,” his mother, 
Margrette Peppers Ray, said.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections confirmed to 
/The Appeal /that Brooks had been moved, but disputed that the transfer 
was in retaliation for his organizing work or for having a cell phone. 
“Any offender sentenced to the Department of Public Safety and 
Corrections may be transferred at any time to any appropriate 
facility,” communications director Ken Pastorick said in an email. 
“Transfers are not punitive in nature and are not part of the 
disciplinary process.”

Ray said her son had been caught with a cell phone in the past, which 
typically resulted in its confiscation and the loss of some privileges. 
“They don’t just take you out,” she said. “To be moved totally from a 
facility [has] to do with the fact that they knew that Ronald was being 
a human rights advocate. … What they wanted to do was to move him away … 
because he was an organizer.”

It also wouldn’t be the first time that the Department of Corrections 
was accused of transferring a prisoner in retaliation. William Kissinger 
was transferred 
<https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_4a68a70a-928e-11e7-a2a9-7710bcdb9bf0.html>from 
Angola to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center for 20 months before being 
returned to Angola in September. He had previously been at Angola for 27 
years. The abrupt transfer came after Kissinger started corresponding 
with a reporter at /The Advocate/for a series of articles on Angola. The 
DOC ended up settling a lawsuit by agreeing to return him to Angola and 
reinstate him in his former job at his previous pay rate.

The impact of being moved to a new and unfamiliar facility has taken a 
toll on Brooks and his family. “It’s a huge change, it’s a huge shock,” 
Brooks’s sister, Key, said. “To just uproot him from a place that he’s 
been for over 20 years.”

His family members haven’t been told whether and when he might return to 
Angola, and the DOC didn’t respond to repeated inquiries.

But the transfer hasn’t discouraged Brooks from organizing. He sent his 
mother a declaration that he and 10 other prisoners signed, and she 
shared it with /The Appeal/. In it, they accuse the Department of 
Corrections of subjecting them to “inhumane conditions” at David Wade, 
including temperatures of 100 or more degrees without air conditioning, 
enough fans, or ice. To cool off, the declaration says they have to lie 
on the concrete floor or put their feet in toilet water. It also alleges 
that they are made to wear “thick, hot jumpsuits” all day in that 
weather, all of which has led to heat exhaustion.

The DOC didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment on the allegations.

Since Brooks entered Angola, he has been concerned about the conditions 
he has witnessed, Ray said. “He’s been an organizer going on something 
like years and years,” she said, and noted that social media and access 
to cell phones in recent years allowed him to do it on a larger scale.

“The thing about Ronald …  even though he’s incarcerated, he’s always 
concerned about what he can do to help the conditions,” Ray said. “He’s 
really trying to help and bring attention and shed light on what’s going 
on.”

-- 
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