Letter from Pelican Bay Prisoner Representatives to Members of the California State Assembly & Senate

LETTER FROM PELICAN BAY PRISONER REPRESENTATIVES TO MEMBERS OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY & SENATE

 

Todd Ashker – CDCR # C58191

Arturo Castellano – CDCR # C17275

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry – CDCR # C35671

Antonio Guillen – CDCR # P81948

May 1, 2014

Dear Members of the California State Assembly and Senate:

We are writing to offer our position on the two bills pending before the Assembly and the Senate (SB 892 and AB 1652) dealing with the solitary confinement and gang validation policies of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

We are California inmates who have been in solitary confinement for long periods of time, based on validation as alleged associates and members of prison gangs, rather than based on violent behavior. We undertook hunger strikes in 2011 and in 2013 in opposition of the CDCR’s solitary confinement and gang validation practices as well as the inhumane conditions of CDCR’s Security Housing Units (SHUs). Together with thousands of inmates, we expressed the following five core demands:

1) Individual accountability, rather than group punishment, indefinite SHU status, and restricted privileges;

2) Abolish debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;

3) Comply with U.S. Commission 2006 Recommendations regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement;

4) Provide adequate food; and,

5) Expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.

Having carefully reviewed and considered Assembly Bill 1652, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano on February 11, 2014 as amended on April 3, 2014, and Senate Bill 892, introduced by Senate member Loni Hancock on January 13, 2014, as amended on March 18 and April 2, we wish to offer the following comments:

I. Discussion of Ammiano AB 1652:

AB 1652 addresses the very narrow but critical issue of eliminating CDCR’s policy of placing prisoners in solitary confinement for gang validation, rather than for commission of a serious offense. We support AB 1652. At the same time, we recommend that the bill be amended to include the following three additional provisions:

a. During assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source before being relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

b. An attorney-advocate should be made available (at no cost to the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

c. AB 1652 should implement provisions for increased oversight, studies, data collection, and reporting back to the Legislature on the SHU classification process, the mental and physical wellbeing of inmates in SHUs, and the reasons why SHU inmates are denied reentry into the general population. Senate member Hancock’s SB 892 contains these provisions, which we recommend be included in AB 1652. Collecting and considering this data can lay the foundation for a future more comprehensive legislative evaluation of solitary confinement practices in California.

II. Discussion of Hancock SB 892:

Although SB 892 appears to seek to achieve comprehensive CDCR reform on the issue of solitary confinement, there are several provisions of the bill that will adopt inhumane and widely condemned practices into state law. We will only support SB 892 if it is amended to include three critically important items:

A) The bill should incorporate the language of AB 1652 (or similar language) which eliminates the use of gang validation and minor rule violations as a justification for placing inmates in SHUs. As it stands currently, SB 892 does not eliminate SHU assignment for mere gang association and it does not eliminate indeterminate SHU terms. This is a critical issue and one of our core demands. The nationwide trend is clearly not to place prisoners in segregated housing units for alleged gang association without accompanying serious rule violations. Numerous states have moved in this direction for public safety reasons, for humane reasons, and to cut costs. California should not move in the opposite direction.

B) As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that during assessment for SHU placement, the use of testimony (whether or not confidential) of an in-custody informant should be corroborated by an independent source before being relied upon to place someone in a SHU. Corroboration cannot be based upon the testimony of another in-custody informant unless such in-custody informant obtained the information independently from the first in-custody informant and the information is not based on hearsay. This is essentially the same principle now applied in criminal court cases since 2011 (see Cal. Penal Code §1111.5).

C) As mentioned above, we recommend that language be added so that an attorney-advocate should be made available (at no cost too the State) to inmates facing a sentence of more than 30 days in a SHU.

We do not believe that the range of provisions in SB 892 related to review by the Office of the Inspector General of cases in which SHU placement is based on the testimony of a confidential informant, the appointment of ombudsmen, the requirement for a daily face-to-face encounter with CDCR employees, the appointment of an “advocate” for an inmate being processed for SHU placement, or the Step Down Program in the bill will make any measurable difference in CDCR solitary confinement practices. The Inspector General is unlikely based upon review of a file to reverse decisions based on confidential informants. Ombudsmen will be of little value as long as inmates can be placed in SHUs for alleged gang association when they have engaged in no wrong-doing. “Face-to-face” encounters already happen almost every day when our food is served or a psych tech walks past our cells. Allowing an “advocate” to assist in the SHU assignment process will mean assignment of a guard who could care less about the result. And the proposed step-down program focuses on forcing prisoners to disavow alleged gang association or activities rather than on a behavior-based model considering whether the prisoner has violated rules while in the SHU. Despite these misguided and costly provisions in SB 892, we would support the bill if it is amended to include the provisions identified above.

However, the narrower and more focused (and less costly) AB 1652, particularly if amended as suggested above, would far better serve the public safety, prison security, and the humane treatment of prisoners. It’s a first but critically important step in the direction of a rational and humane policy. Further legislation could be considered in the next legislative session after CDCR data is collected by the legislature. Thank you for considering our comments and suggestions.

Sincerely,

Todd Ashker

Arturo Castellano

Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa R.N. Dewberry

Antonio Guillen

The Call: Hunger strike to begin July 1

Published in the SF Bay View, June 3, 2011

Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison are planning to begin an indefinite hunger strike as of July 1 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment. This hunger strike has the potential to become the most significant event in California prison reform in the last decade. Public support is crucial. A few months ago, Ohio prisoners won all their demands after a petition with 1,200 signatures was given to officials. Record your support by signing the Pelican Bay petition – and ask your friends to sign it too – at http://www.change.org/petitions/support-prisoners-on-hunger-strike-at-pelican-bay-state-prison.

by Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford)

 

This is a call for all prisoners in security housing units (SHUs), administrative segregation (ad-seg), and general populations (GP), as well as the free oppressed and non-oppressed people, to support the indefinite July 1 peaceful hunger strike in protest of the violation of our civil and human rights here at Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (PBSP-SHU), short corridor D1 through D4 and its overflow, D5 through D10.

It should be clear to everyone that none of the hunger strike participants want to die, but we are taking this dire action due to our circumstances: The state of California has sentenced all of us on indeterminate SHU program to a “civil death” merely on the word of a prison informer – a snitch.

The purpose of the hunger strike is to combat both the psychological and physical torture in ad-seg and the SHU, as well as the justifications used to support treatment of the type that leads to prisoners being subjected to a civil death. Those subjected to indeterminate SHU programs are neglected and deprived of the basic human necessities while withering away in a very isolated and hostile environment.

Prison officials have utilized the assassination of prisoners’ character by each other as well as the general public in order to justify their inhumane treatment of prisoners. The guards’ “code of silence” allows them the freedom to use everything at their disposal in order to break those prisoners who prison officials and correctional officers (COs) believe cannot be broken.

It is this mentality that set in motion the establishing of the short corridor, D1 through D4 and its D5 though D10 overflow. This mentality has created the current atmosphere in which COs and prison officials have agreed upon their plan to break indeterminate SHU prisoners.

This protracted attack on SHU prisoners cuts across every aspect of the prison’s function: food, mail, visiting, medical, yard, hot/cold temperatures, privileges (canteen, packages, property etc.), isolation, cell searches, family and friends, and socio-culture, economic and political deprivation. This is nothing short of the psychological and physical torture of SHU and ad-seg prisoners. It takes place day in and day out, without a break or rest.

The prison’s gang intelligence unit was extremely angered at the fact that prisoners who had been held in SHU under inhuman conditions for anywhere from 10 to 40 years had not been broken. So the gang intelligence unit created the “short corridor” and intensified the pressure of their attacks on the prisoners housed there. The object was to use blanket pressure to encourage these particular isolated prisoners to debrief – i.e. snitch – in order to be released from SHU.

The COs and administrative officials are all in agreement and all do their part in depriving prisoners in the short corridor and its overflow of their basic civil and human rights. None of the deliberate attacks are a figment of anyone’s imagination. These continuous attacks are carried out against prisoners to a science by all of them. They are deliberate and conscious acts against essentially defenseless prisoners.

It is these ongoing attacks that have led the short corridor and overflow SHU prisoners to organize ourselves around an indefinite hunger strike in an effort to combat the dehumanizing treatment we prisoners of all races are subjected to on a daily basis.

Therefore, on July 1, 2011, we ask that all prisoners throughout the state of California who have been suffering injustices in general population, administrative segregation and solitary confinement to join in our peaceful strike to put a stop to the blatant violations of prisoners’ civil and human rights. As you know, prison gang investigators have used threats of validation and other means to get prisoners to engage in a protracted war against each other in order to serve their narrow interests. If you cannot participate in the hunger strike, then support it in principle by not eating for the first 24 hours of the strike.

I say that those of you who carry yourselves as principled human beings, no matter your housing status, must fight to right this and other egregious wrongs. Although it is “us” today – united New Afrikans, Whites, Northern and Southern Mexicans and others – it will be you all tomorrow. It is in your interests to peacefully support us in this protest today and to beware of agitators, provocateurs and obstructionists, because they are the ones who put 90 percent of us back here because they could not remain principled even within themselves.

The following demands are all similar to what is allowed in other supermax prisons (e.g. federal Florence, Colorado, Ohio and Indiana State Penitentiaries). The claim by CDCR and PBSP that implementing the practices of the federal prison system or that of other states would be a threat to safety and security are exaggerations.

This call is co-signed by D. Troxell, B-76578; T. Ashker, C-58191; S.N. Jamaa-Dewberry, C-35671; A. Castellanos, C-17275; and G. Franco, D-46556. They, along with the call’s author, Mutope Duguma (s/n James Crawford, C-35671), can be contacted by writing to them at PBSP-SHU, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532.

Hunger strikers’ five core demands

Prisoners in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit D-Facility Corridor will begin an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011, in order to draw attention to and to peacefully protest 25 years of torture via the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s arbitrary, illegal and progressively more punitive policies and practices, as summarized in our “Formal Complaint,” which can be read at www.prisons.org/hungerstrike.htm. PBSP-SHU inmates’ hunger strike protest is to continue indefinitely until the following changes are made:

1. Individual Accountability: This is in response to PBSP’s application of “group punishment” as a means to address individual inmates’ rule violations. This includes the administration’s abusive, pretextual use of “safety and concern” to justify what are unnecessary punitive acts. This policy has been applied in the context of justifying indefinite SHU status and progressively restricting our programming and privileges.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria: The debriefing policy is illegal and redundant, as pointed out in the Formal Complaint on page 7, section IV-A. The active/inactive gang status criteria must be modified in order to comply with state law and applicable CDC rules and regulations – e.g., see Formal Complaint, page 7, section IV-B – as follows:

A) Cease the use of innocuous association to deny an active status.

B) Cease the use of informant and debriefer allegations of illegal gang activity to deny inactive status, unless such allegations are also supported by factual corroborating evidence, in which case CDCR and PBSP staff shall and must follow the regulations by issuing a rule violation report and affording the inmate his due process required by law.

3. Comply with U.S. Commission 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement: CDCR shall implement the findings and recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons’ final 2006 report regarding CDCR SHU facilities as follows:

A) End Conditions of Isolation (page 14): Ensure that prisoners in SHU and ad-seg (administrative segregation) have regular meaningful contact and freedom from extreme physical deprivations that are known to cause lasting harm (pages 52-57).

B) Make Segregation a Last Resort (p. 14): Create a more productive form of confinement in the areas of allowing inmates in SHU and ad-seg the opportunity to engage in meaningful self-help treatment, work, education, religious and other productive activities relating to having a sense of being a part of the community.

C) End Long-Term Solitary Confinement: Release inmates to general prison population who have been warehoused indefinitely in SHU for the last 10 to 40 years (and counting).

D) Provide SHU Inmates Immediate Meaningful Access to:

i) adequate natural sunlight;

ii) quality health care and treatment, including the mandate of transferring all PBSP-SHU inmates with chronic health care problems to the New Folsom Medical SHU facility.

4. Provide Adequate Food: Cease the practice of denying adequate food, provide wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and allow inmates to purchase additional vitamin supplements.

A) PBSP staff must cease their use of food as a tool to punish SHU inmates.

B) Provide a sergeant/lieutenant to independently observe the serving of each meal, and ensure each tray has the complete issue of food on it.

C) Feed the inmates whose job it is to serve SHU meals with meals that are separate from the pans of food sent from kitchen for SHU meals.

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates. Examples include:

A) Expand visiting regarding amount of time and adding one day per week.

B) Allow one photo per year.

C) Allow a weekly phone call.

D) Allow two annual packages per year. Base a 30-pound package on “item” weight and not packaging and box weight.

E) Expand canteen and package items allowed. Allow us to have the items in their original packaging. The cost for cosmetics, stationary and envelopes should not count towards the max draw limit.

F) Allow more TV channels.

G) Allow TV-radio combinations or TV and a small battery operated radio.

H) Allow hobby craft items – art paper, colored pens, small pieces of colored pencils, watercolors, chalk etc.

I) Allow sweat suits and watch caps.

J) Allow wall calendars.

K) Install pull-up/dip bars on SHU yards.

L) Allow correspondence courses that require proctored exams.

For more information and ongoing updates about the hunger strike, check the California Prison Focus website,www.prisons.org/hungerstrike.htm. To reach two of the coordinators, email Ed Mead at mead@prisonart.org or Marilyn McMahon of California Prison Focus at marilyn@prisons.org.