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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.

Apr 30, 2018

Letter to Prisoner Class Supporters

Todd Ashker (A Prisoner Class Representative)

keywords: ashker

In our collective October 2017 “Statement of Prisoner Representatives on Second Anniversary of Ashker v. Brown Settlement,” we stressed the importance that "prisoners and our families will have to re-energize the human rights movement, to fight against the continuing violations of our rights"… reminding all involved, “we must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to.”

As many are aware, our current collective movement began in the bowels of Pelican Bay State Prison – SHU – Short Corridor, wherein prisoners of all races and various geographical areas, became openly conscious of what we had in common, rather than what was different (divisive), we recognized we’d all been subjected to the same adversary’s boots on our necks; all members of a prisoner class, subjected to decades of solitary confinement torture.
We became aware of the fact that those of us serving “term-to-life” sentences, were all akin to the living dead, our existence being that of a mind numbing, spirit destroying, endless nightmare. I believe coming together in the “short corridor” wherein we witnessed the toll of our slow decay, together with the prisoncrats progressively punitive, oppressive provocations, was one cause of our awakening, leading to us coming together as “The PBSP – SHU- Short Corridor Collective.”

Our struggle was focused on ending long-term solitary confinement, and improvements to conditions therein. We stood up together and collectively we educated our loved ones, and general public, about what had been in society’s shadow for far too long. We publicly “drew the line” and said, “No More!”
As a committed collective of fellow human beings, a large majority hailing from working class, poor communities, we lead our struggle -- from behind the walls – putting our lives in the balance, at that point, our lives being all we had, we demanded an end to our torture, based on our “inherent right as human beings, to humane treatment, inclusive of dignity and respect for our loved ones, and the unfortunate generations to follow.

Notably, our collective membership had been the subject of the states’ decades long “war against the working-class poor, tough-on-crime” (focused and applied mainly upon the poor), politicized, vilified and branded as “the worst of the worst” in order to justify our subjection to endless torture (lasting more than 30 years)!

In this climate, we came together and utilized non-violent, peaceful protest actions, mass hunger strikes and work stoppages, which, together with the support of our awakened loved ones, and countless other people of conscience outside the walls (while all along, suffering with us), exposed our plight to the world community.

In 2012, we introduced our collective “Agreement to End Race-based Hostilities,” making clear our united intent to no longer be the source of our mutual adversary’s manipulation tactics, centered on keeping us divided and violent towards one another, which was thereby used to justify our adversaries agenda – supermax, indefinite warehousing, and thereby demonstrating our humanity in the face of the provocations of our oppressive torturers. We pointed out the fact that, in the absence of race-based violence, our mutual adversary/s would be forced to end their policy of warehousing us in the small cells indefinitely, and open the prison up for meaningful programming and privileges, beneficial to the prisoner class.

Reflecting on the above, as well as our historic, collective group mass hunger strike protests across the California system, of 2011-2013, brings to mind an often quoted phrase (as a sort of benchmark of what’s wrong with society) that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, reflecting on his own incarceration, famously said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our collective coming together in the context of having been demonized – tortured over 3 decades – composed of working class poor – facing extreme adversity for a powerful, well-funded adversary toppled (to an extent, losing their supermax jewel – PBSP – SHU) by our peaceful protests, and related global condemnation (and litigation), epitomizes a great side of our society! I hope it’s an example of a growing social revolutionary process.
From Zinn’s Reader “The Optimism of Uncertainty” (1993 book, “Failure to Quit”, page 642) “The struggle for ‘justice’ should never be abandoned because of the apparent over-whelming power of those who have the guns and money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power, has, again and again, proven vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs, dollars, moral fervor, determination, unity organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by Blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
I greatly appreciate your time, attention, courage and dedicated, supportive commitment to our collective struggle. Our strength and power come from our unity! And I am certain we can and will continue to make positive impacts upon the system; forcing real changes; beneficial to all.

I hope we all continue to move forward, confident our fight is a worthy and just cause; working together in imaginative, strategic ways. It would be great if people will share, promote and build on the subject. Examples are in my “Open Letter…” possibly adding a supporting petition, signed by as many as possible, even if such is presented, after publicly presenting the “Open Letter” to the named parties.

There are more innovative, imaginative ideas that I’m working on, and will share for your consideration soon. In the meanwhile, stay strong and have a Happy Holiday Season and New Year. In Solidarity and Respect, Todd ●

Todd Ashker, C58191
KVSP – ASU- 2/194, Box 5106 Delano CA 93216

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Realignment: A Cruel Recipe for Disaster


keywords: prisoner letter, realignment, AB109

The manner in which society has dealt with mass incarceration in California can be compared to how someone deals with cleaning a dirty room. When someone is expecting company and doesn’t want their guests to view them critically, they abruptly stuff all their mess of disorganization and neglect into a closet. This is always just a quick fix. The problem doesn’t go away, it’s just temporarily out of view. By doing this, society creates an illusion that we are dealing with issues pertaining to mass incarceration. The truth, however, is that all we’re doing is putting the problem out of view. We’re beating around the bush instead of addressing it head on. Rather than dealing with the social issues that have brought us to this ever flowing cup of misery, we exacerbate the problem.

Through the realignment program, California sends non-violent offenders to serve their time at local jails instead of state prisons. Places like the L.A. county jail have become a type of closet where society is attempting to hide from view its giant mess of social injustice. Here, we’ve attempted to deal with the overpopulation of California’s massive prison system by merely shifting the burden from state to local law agencies. By doing this we shoot ourselves in the foot.

When we implement policy like that of the realignment policy, it brings to light the effects of a program where non-violent offenders do state time in local jails. We deny not only the person who is incarcerated, but society as a whole, the opportunity to heal and progress.

When we acknowledge that we’ve taken a wrong step, we’ve taken our first step in the right direction. The illegitimacy of the realignment policy brings to light the broader problem of a greater lack of access to things that would work to rehabilitate a person in the LA County jail system. We must acknowledge that the majority of people who find themselves in the county jail system are there for grasping for something that was out of their reach. Whether they’re reaching for stability or comfort, almost all of the people who pass through these doors are in a desperate need of help.

In a place like the LA County jail system, with so many people trapped in a perpetual merry-go-round through its doors, Los Angeles has a huge opportunity to heal and to grow. Instead of embracing fear politics and our knee-jerk reaction to punish, let’s exercise compassion and work toward certain understanding on a social problem that affects us all. At the local level we can take the initiative to provide rehabilitation to those who most need it. If we’re taking on the burdens of the state, we might as well make the best of it. Instead of waiting for the state to take action, the community of Los Angeles must take the initiative to reform. This issue is interrelated to many other pressing social issues, like homelessness. Let us not simply stuff all these issues in a closet. If we do, we’ll regret it once we smell the stench of our indifference.

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Doing Prison Time in a County Jail

Fabio Soto, El Dorado County Jail

keywords: prisoner letter, realignment, AB109

Good afternoon. I'm doing an 11 year AB109 sentence in the county jail of El Dorado. Due to my classification I'm segregated in there. Max-pod, where I'm not allowed to work or participate in any educational programs, depriving me of my equal protections of the federal and state constitutions; of my conduct credits, milestones, my rehabilitation, work, unlimited visitations, all things that keep an inmate focused on his or her rehabilitation. Without these things it cruel and unusual punishment and mental abuse.

Some of the many issues are noted below:

1.Downgrading of mental health diagnosis after meeting for only minutes with no records.
2. Discontinuation of medication by a doctor who does not know the prisoner's diagnosis, and has not obtained their medical records but only read a summary.
3. Seeing the mental health doctor through a computer screen instead of in person.
4. Not allowing northern Hispanics to work but all other races can.

Overcrowding. Facility is too small for AB109 cases. This is just the start of many violations.

Thank you! Just trying to be heard.

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: Conditions of CCWF Administrative-Segregation


keywords: prisoner letter, administrative segregation, ASU, womens' prisons, conditions, misconduct, abuse, guard assault

I am writing to inform you of the conditions of CCF Administrative-Segregation and the mental stress it has on inmates that are placed there...For starters, I have a court order for 100% cotton blankets due to my medical condition asthma and skin irritation... nothing was done... I was made to sleep with two thin sheets with all my clothes while the air-conditioners were on during record temperatures (freezing)... we are to get two hot meals a day meeting the 2200 cal diet. We have not received two hot meals, the portions are made smaller than the regular portions and they are on dirty trays and we have no choice or voice in the matter... African Americans are made to use butter for their hair to prevent breakage. We are allowed $55 shopping a month, but no grease, stating “someone could slip the cuffs off or make the officers slip;" Natural mayo, butter and any other (permitted items) can also, yet we black people leave hairless and embarrassed as if we were in slavery; saddest ever!

Lastly, of many more - over half of Ad-Seg are here for enemy concerns and/or the Investigation Security Unit uses informants to provide them information that’s not true, when in reality the institution as a whole has changed over to a programming place based on prop 57. Yet, accommodate their informants to prompt cases drugs/PREA and it sticks - when today, you might get in a cat fight here and there, they release people to the yard to get hurt and to fulfill their verbal contracts made with their informants and literally write up the inmates who they feel don’t have enemies or safety concerns. Sadly inmates come back battered, hurt and still placed back into population. Within the last four months because of poor slavery conditions there have been two girls that passed. One girl’s body set uncovered for nine hours until the inmates repeatedly asked to cover her since she was just in the middle of the floor dead. They did but she laid there until the next morning came. The second girl had a mental problem. The night before the C/Os pepper sprayed her and never gave her a shower, but you could tell she was not all there mentally. So they moved her to another room but again she was pepper sprayed. They put her on suicide watch with one mental person watching her and the psych-tech was so engaged with her coworkers, C/Os act that the lady died from the pepper spray giving her complications to breathe. She had been dead so long that the CPR was too late – they were going to leave that body on the floor until we complained (not again). They put her body outside in the cold until the coroner came. Again she was being watched by a one on one and the staff walk around and do a check every 15 minutes.

We are allowed to shower and smelly dirty showers three times a week never clean. We are given two rolls of tissue and for pads every 2 1/2 days. If you run out and if you need more pads for your womanly, it is not granted. I suffer from fibroids and bleed almost daily. They take the extra pads sometimes leaving me with none.

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