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Aug 10, 2018

A Discussion About Violence

Rallie Murray

keywords: violence, abuse

From Prison Focus Issue 56

Philip Zimbardo, the psychiatrist behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in which a group of students took on the roles of “guard” and “prisoner”, which quickly developed into an abusive nightmare. Zimardo described the abusive conditions in prisons and jails as part of “The Lucifer Effect” in which a group of people with power over another group of people will exercise that control in increasingly violent and abusive ways the longer such behavior goes unchecked. Guards who otherwise are sympathetic to incarcerated people might join in violent acts of physical abuse against those people so that they do not become “outcasts” or suspected of disloyalty amongst the other guards. These testimonies show that the idea that a group of guards with complete authority over someone who they see as lesser than them would engage in physical abuse simply because they can, is not some kind of “myth” as pro-prison pundits might claim, but rather a demonstrable fact.

One thing that should be added to the discussion on guard culture and violence in California prisons and jails is that the violence is not isolated to within the facilities. According to ?, “Common police training skills such as knowledge of weapons, exercise of authority, and command presence and control techniques can become embedded in officers’ behavior, and ‘spill over’ into their home lives. When used to control family members and intimate partners at home, these techniques are humiliating, abusive, and dangerous.”

While reports estimate that 10% of families in the United States experience domestic abuse, for the families of prison guards and police officers it is much higher. In a study conducted by faculty at Florida State University it was found that out of 710 correctional officers who participated in the study approximately 33% knew of co-workers or other guards who had committed unreported domestic violence, while 11% admitted to having been physically violent with their spouse or domestic partner. Further, 30% reported having experienced domestic violence as children. The same “thin blue line” that keeps guards from reporting physical abuse and humiliation perpetrated by their co-workers against prisoners affects their willingness to speak up about domestic abuse.

Inside and outside the prison guards feel comfortable perpetrating acts of physical violence and humiliation. This culture of violence influences state politics, as California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is one of the most powerful unions in the state at least as far as political lobbying is concerned that has consistently fought to keep prisons as spaces of punishment rather than of rehabilitation. It is used to force people who are incarcerated to behave according to their interpretation of rules and to retaliate against people who speak out against abuses. In allowing these abuses to go unchecked and ignoring people who are incarcerated when they submit 602s, the CDCr demonstrates that when it claims to value respect and the rehabilitation of those who it holds in custody is just a cunning lie to make the public feel better about what goes on behind bars.

Aug 10, 2018

Judge Rules in Favor of Ashker Class Members Still Waiting For Relief

Kim Pollak

keywords: ashker, shu

From Prison Focus Issue 56

Relief finally granted to California prisoners experiencing ongoing isolation

On July 3, a critical ruling issued in Ashker v. Brown (aka Ashker v. Governor, Docket No. 4:09-cv-09-5796 CW (N.D. Cal.)), the federal class-action lawsuit challenging indefinite solitary confinement in California. The ruling, issued by Presiding Judge Claudia Wilken, granted Plaintiffs’ appeal on a motion challenging the ongoing conditions of extreme isolation endured by many class members.

The motion was initially filed with the court on Oct. 13, 2017. Plaintiffs argued that, contrary to the terms of the settlement agreement, many class members effectively remain isolated in restrictive housing facilities.

Oral argument on the motion was heard by Magistrate Judge Illman on Feb. 23, 2018, in a courtroom packed with human rights advocates and activists. On March 29 he issued an order denying the motion, prompting Plaintiffs’ legal team to move for a de novo determination (new decision) before Presiding Judge Claudia Wilken.

On July 3, Presiding Judge Claudia Wilken issued an order stating in part: “Having considered the papers, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs’ motion to the extent that Plaintiffs must receive more out-of-cell time than they received in the Pelican Bay SHU. They should receive out-of-cell time consistent with the CDCR’s regulations and practices with respect to Level IV general population inmates, as well as its constitutional obligations." And: “Defendants are hereby ordered to meet and confer with Plaintiffs’ representatives and their counsel with the goal of presenting a proposed remedial plan for Court approval. The matter is referred to Magistrate Judge Illman to mediate the meet and confer. Absent agreement, the parties shall present their own respective proposed remedial plans.”

Source: San Francisco Bayview Article by Kim Rohrbach titled: SHU-shifting update: Relief finally granted to California prisoners experiencing ongoing isolation, published on July 21, 2018

The SF Bay View is a free newspaper dedicated to the liberation of Black people and all oppressed people throughout the world. To learn more about how you can support the SF, visit San Francisco Bay View 4917 Third St., San Francisco CA 94124

Aug 10, 2018

Nothing New


keywords: agreement to end hostilities, violence

From Prison Focus Issue 56

“An End To Hostilities” is an agreement/document that was brought forth to build Peace amongst the Prison Class, which means that strong communication between the groups will have to be used to end any problems that may surface within prisons.

We prisoners had to come to terms with the realization that our inactions have allowed prison officials to suppress us under their Social Tyranny, where we have been held hostage in what we call ‘protracted violence.’ From 1979 to 2009, prison violence would devastate prisoners throughout cdcr, and sadly would do the same to our communities, where we would also be conditioned to this violence inside of California prisons. Based on gathered intelligence, there has never been an impartial nor thorough investigation into how prison officials allowed such violence to occur as well as spread into our communities.

Prisons, no matter what their classification levels, I, II, III or IV, are very dangerous environments. They house mostly young people; those who suffer from drugs and alcoholism. Least we cannot forget those undeveloped minds, which have yet to become rational thinking men and women. Therefore, it’s relatively easy to socially engineer prisoners under social tyranny by manipulating conflicts that lead to their destruction.
Prison officials have total control over all prisoners held in cdcr and this affords them the power to impose their will upon prisoners as they try to see fit.

So, prisons and citizens of this country should not be surprised to see that cdcr is managing prisoners with violence in order to secure their best interest: Higher Pay and Job Security. Peaceful prisons go against cdcr agenda, and therefore, violence has to be its trademark.

This explains why cdcr would want to disturb the current peace achieved by more experienced prisoners who have built solidarity around our “Agreement to End All Hostilities” (AEH). CDCr needs to ‘come clean’ and take responsibility for their role in fueling so much of the violence between prisoners.
The million dollar question for all tax payers is: Why disturb such a Peace???

Case and Point:
1.) It was cdcr who manipulated the racial violence between prisoners by putting them against one another, favoring one group over the other, in respects to Jobs, etc. I been in Calipatria three (3) years, and there have been countless incidents where staff attempted to instigate or agitate violence amongst prisoners, but due to our AEH we have been able to counter these attacks through Sound Communication, rooted in respect for what is right!!!
2.) It was cdcr who created the debriefing program that put prisoners against prisoners that led to thousands of prisoners becoming informants (i.e., snitches) and this was done by torturing each of these prisoners held in solitary confinement units, that forced many of them into being informants.
3.) It was cdcr who created the indeterminate SHU program that held men and women indefinitely inside of solitary confinement units, through a gang validation process that allowed them to remove all the “unfavorable” prisoners off general population, where prisoners where held for decades; the longest up to 44 years.
4.) It was cdcr who created the Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY), which is one third (1/3) of the prison population today… SNY prisoners who are, or were, “keep aways” from general population prisoners for various reasons such as: informants, child molesters, rapists, Elderly, etc., all of whom requested to be placed in protected custody.
5.) It was cdcr who set up the Gladiator Fights inside Corcoran State Prison Security Housing Unit – CSP-SHU in the 1980s, that led to seven (7) prisoners being murdered in cold blood and thousands of prisoners being wounded and beat on in these conflicts instigated and agitated by cdcr officials.
6.) It was cdcr who did away with all the positive incentive programs that led to the hopelessness that we see throughout cdcr today.
7.) It was cdcr who did away with nutritious foods and went to non-nutritious foods, starting in 1997, that is today having an adverse effect on prisoners health and behavior.

These failures on cdcr’s, part led to deadly consequences for prisoners. The senseless violence we experienced in the past is now being introduced again by cdcr, who continue to find ways to socially engineer prisoners under Social Tyranny… The claim that they (cdcr) will be able to determine if prisoners want to go home or not is total BS, by integrating SNYs and GP prisoners who should’ve never been separated in the first place.

Those of us who were manipulated into this violence have first-hand experience on how it works, and we are doing what we can to educate those prisoners who don’t see the un-seen hand of cdcr. Because, unlike our past, we are today very mature thinking men and women who have taken responsibility for our roles inside the manmade madness, by coming together and establishing An End To All Hostilities, whereas the Four (4) Principle Groups agreed on their word alone to end this prison violence amongst the races, which has saved countless lives thus far today.

What is cdcr’s objective to off-set the many positive programs/ policies that s affording prisoners the opportunity to go home? CDCR’s objective, as always, is that Peace goes against their bottom line: Profiting off Prisoners.

So, as long as cdcr officials want to use violence in order to secure their income, there will be violence in prisons. (See recent article by Nashelly Chavez, May 27, 2018, titled: California Prisons Phase out ‘Sensitive Needs Yards’ Critics See A Rough Transition.)

We are an expendable source, therefore, our lives have no value to our keepers. It is us who put value in our lives and this is where our power comes from, Reclaiming our Humanity. The violence is Nothing New.
One Love
One Struggle

A partially blurred image of five claustrophobia-inducing cages arranged in a tight semicircle, the cover emblazoned on Dr. Terry Allen Kupers’ 2017 book Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It suspends readers in a moment of collective confinement. It is only later in the book that Kupers captions the cover’s image: a group of “prisoners participating in group therapy in the administrative segregation unit at San Quentin Prison” (pp. 58-59). The (perhaps accidental) cognitive dissonance between a so-called “group therapy” session and euphemistically-labeled “therapy cubicles” or “programming nodules” –in which incarcerated individuals appear barely able to stand up in much less physically interact with others in a “group” setting– highlights a painful irony at the center of issues of solitary confinement, one that sets the tone for the book.

Indeed, the image seems an appropriate introduction to the text’s material and trajectory. A thoroughly documented book that not only traces the historical trajectory of solitary confinement but also offers strategies towards abolitionist futures, Solitary offers incarcerated folks, abolitionists, and scholars alike a concise look into the uses and abuses of solitary confinement.

With a career as a psychiatrist spanning decades, Kupers began his journey into research on solitary confinement and its effects on incarcerated individuals in the 1980’s when he began working as a licensed physician at the Black Panther-run Bunch Carter Free Clinic in South Central Los Angeles (pp. 3-5). Part of his work included visiting his incarcerated patients in the jail ward of the Los Angeles County Hospital where he was met with “a horrifying scene” that catalyzed his move to researching solitary confinement.

Solitary begins with a brief history of solitary confinement, starting with Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail in 1773: three years before the founding of the United States of America as a nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Already a facet of early criminological thinking by the time of the nation’s founding, solitary confinement began as a Quaker-influenced attempt at more humane method of rehabilitation to facilitate “penitence: the origin of the term “penitentiary”. However, the “humane” alternative of solitary confinement showed itself to be a cruel style of punishment and social isolation for individuals already facing social death.

From this introduction, Kupers documents the normalization of both solitary confinement and supermax prisons before describing the racial disparities inside U.S. prison walls, a topic not often accounted for in mainstream media narratives of the criminal (in)justice system. Kupers, for instance, highlights an often ignored fact of life in prison: that when people of color are incarcerated, troubles with racism do not end. Rather, incarcerated people of color confront similar, if not more pronounced, racism inside prisons (pp. 77-84), which are highly segregated spaces.

A recurrent thread throughout Solitary also underscores the futility (in addition to the inhumanity) of methods of solitary confinement, which are often renamed as an effort to rebrand a patently torturous method (pp. 35-38). Not only do these methods not reduce gang violence –a justification for the measures– they often do lasting psychic damage to incarcerated individuals. Specifically in Part Two of Solitary, Kupers details the symptoms of what he calls “SHU [secure housing unit] syndrome”: a general term to describe the panoply of symptoms associated with time spent in solitary confinement (p. 54). SHU Syndrome –described in detail in Chapter 8 (pp. 151-167)– can affect incarcerated individuals in a range of ways and at a range of time frames after initial exposure to solitary confinement: from an immediate reaction to the confinement to post-release emotional issues. In this context, Kupers draws comparisons between SHU Syndrome and PTSD, while keeping a formal distinction between the two (pp. 162-163). On a related note, it is noteworthy that scholars who investigate the psychological consequences of torture point to a laundry list of afflictions suffered by survivors of torture, and many of these same symptoms are experienced by prisoners who spent time in solitary: “anxiety, fear, depression, irritability, introversion, difficulties in concentration, chronic fatigue, lethargy, restlessness, communication difficulties, especially in the expression of emotion, memory and concentration loss, loss of a sense of identity, insomnia, nightmares, hallucinations, visual disturbances, headaches, and suicidal crises” (p. 100).

Indeed, many of the symptoms associated with how prison officials carry out solitary confinement parallel torture methods used by CIA and FBI officials. Kupers draws out a clear connection between these methods of torture in U.S. prisons and the labored efforts by the Bush administration to contort the definition of torture of the Geneva Conventions, subsequently leading to the well-known scandal of Abu Ghraib (pp. 97-101). For example, keeping prisoners from sleeping for extended periods of time (p. 54) and the use of “stress positions” appear to be staples not only of CIA torture methodology, but also of solitary confinement strategy. In drawing these comparisons, Kupers critiques this “culture of punishment” in the United States, highlighting the direct consequences it has on the psyche of prisoners as well as on all Americans. For as Fyodor Dostoevsky presciently claimed, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Writing in third and final part of Solitary towards an abolitionist’s praxis (actions taken to put one’s knowledge to work towards real change), Kupers offers a five-step guideline towards a “rehabilitative attitude” and away from the “culture of punishment” inside prison walls: end the cycle of hostility, create mutual respect, foster a sense of agency, expand connection with the outside world, and sustain a vision of a better future (pp. 172-184). Chapters 10 and 11 act as an advocacy text for the humane treatment of prisoners, calling for investment in mental health care and a novel, managed treatment plan for incarcerated folks labeled “disruptive” or violent. With a short Chapter 12, Kupers echoes the calls of well-known abolitionists to redirect energy away from imprisonment and towards education and health resources. “The supermax experiment has failed,” he proclaims; the “foolhardy attempt to “disappear” the most troublesome of our social problems” led us to “[create] the monsters we love to dread” (pp. 239-240). With this conclusion, Kupers leaves readers with tools not only to argue against the ineffective supermax prison, but also to continue dismantling the prison industrial complex.

Jun 01, 2018

Ongoing Isolation in CA Prisons Not Governed by Settlement, Judge Rules

Center for Constitutional Rights

keywords: ashker, shu

From Prison Focus Issue 55

Ongoing Isolation in CA Prisons Not Governed by Settlement, Judge Rules
Activism Needed to Remedy Solitary Conditions in Prisons, Civil Rights Attorneys Say

March 28, 2018, Oakland, CA – Today, a federal judge declined to order the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to move prisoners previously held in Security Housing Units (SHU) into legitimate general population conditions. Under a landmark class action settlement that was intended to effectively end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, nearly 1500 prisoners were released into the general prison population, many to Level IV prisons, which is the highest security level in general population. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that, because these facilities are so restrictive, transfer to highly restrictive conditions in Level IV prisons does not satisfy requirements under the settlement that the prisoners be moved to the general population.

“The court did not dispute the extent of the restriction and isolation in Level IV facilities, but did conclude that the matter is not governed by the settlement agreement,” said lead counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights Jules Lobel. “Fortunately, there is a powerful coalition in California working to end solitary confinement and unconstitutional prison conditions. The court may have declined to intervene. Now the people must get the job done.”

Prisoners report that the conditions in Level IV prisons mirror those in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) from which they were released, with comparably restricted social interaction, outdoor time, programming, and contact with family and friends. Many prisoners transferred to Level IV facilities spend the same or even more time isolated in their cells than they did in the SHU—often 22-24 hours per day. The men have also reported similar levels of anxiety, insomnia, and other psychological conditions. According to expert witness and former Secretary for the Washington State Department of Corrections Eldon Vail, many prisoners who were transferred out of the SHU into Level IV “general population” units receive the “lowest amount of out-of-cell time [Vail has] seen in [his] career as a corrections administrator and as a consultant/expert witness.”
CCR and co-counsel also have asked the court to extend the terms of the settlement agreement by an additional year because substantial reforms are still needed and the CDCR continues to violate the constitutional rights of class members. The requested extension came concurrently with the release of the first-ever in-depth report, by researchers from the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Lab at Stanford University, detailing the ongoing negative health consequences prisoners have suffered following their release from long-term solitary confinement. Argument on the extension request will be held in the summer.
For more information, visit CCR’s case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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