Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pelican Bay Inmates to Begin Hunger Strike on July 1st

Prisoners to Begin Hunger Strike on July 1st in Pelican Bay State Prison (from
Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California announced that they are beginning an indefinite hunger strike on July 1st to protest the conditions of their imprisonment, which they say are cruel and inhumane. An online petition has been started by supporters of the strikers. While noting that the hunger strike is being "organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity," five key demands are listed by California Prison Focus: (

1) Eliminate group punishments; 2) Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; 3) Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement; 4) Provide adequate food; 5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

The CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prides itself on Pelican Bay being "the end of the line," and is part of a continuation since the 1960s of prisons using solitary confinement as a main tactic to crush rebellion and resistance.

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity states, "As anti-authoritarians and anarchists, this is a crucial moment to show our solidarity with those on the inside who are ready to die in their fight for dignity and the most basic necessities of life that the state continues to deny. This will be the third major hunger strike in a US prison in the past year and those of us fighting on the outside need to make a visible show of support for this wave of prisoner-led organizing."


A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Vowing to die, if necessary, inmates at the dreaded “SHU” section of California’s Pelican Bay prison begin a hunger strike on July 1. “Like the strike by inmates in Georgia’s prison system late last year, the Pelican Bay protest cuts across racial lines.” The core issue: a brutal, soul-killing policy of solitary confinement and other deprivations aimed at turning every inmate into a snitch on everyone else.

Pelican Bay: Hunger Strike in Super-Max

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Inmate organizers say prisoners have been subjected to solitary and a whole range of deprivations for ten, twenty, even forty years.”

On Friday, July 1st, between 50 and 100 men at the Security Housing Unit of California’s infamous Pelican Bay prison go on hunger strike to protest cruel and unusual punishment. It is a punishment inflicted, primarily, on their minds. At the heart of the protest is solitary confinement, the barbaric torture that deprives prisoners of contact with fellow human beings, condemning them to a kind of “social death” – some for decades.

This is the “dark side” of the American repressive arsenal that Vice President Dick Cheney was so happy to unleash as a weapon in the so-called War on Terror: the stripping down of captive people through methodical deprivation of everything that makes them human. Yet these excruciating mind-destruction techniques are routinely deployed on the domestic front, in the American prison gulag, at places like Pelican Bay.

Inmate organizers say prisoners have been subjected to solitary and a whole range of deprivations for ten, twenty, even forty years. They are most incensed at the policy euphemistically called “debriefing,” in which inmates are pressured to confess to every crime they have ever committed in life. They are then expected to inform on other prisoners, their crimes, conversations and gang affiliations. This information – whether true or false – is then used to throw fellow inmates into the special Hell of solitary confinement. It is a brutal, sadistic cycle of degradation, a bizarre world in which everyone is compelled to “snitch” on everyone else. Prisoners are routinely given indeterminate solitary on the mere word of an informer. The worst section of the SHU is called the “short corridor,” where 200 men languish in the deepest isolation. These are the men at the center of the hunger strike.

It is a brutal, sadistic cycle of degradation, a bizarre world in which everyone is compelled to ‘snitch’ on everyone else.”

One of them is named Mutope Duguma, formerly known as James Crawford. The “call” for the hunger strike was put out under Duguma's signature. It asks that “all prisoners throughout the State of California who have been suffering injustices in General Population, Administrative Segregation and solitary confinement…join in our peaceful strike to put a stop to the blatant violations of prisoners’ civil/human rights.” Like the strike by inmates in Georgia’s prison system late last year, the Pelican Bay protest cuts across racial lines, involving, in the prisoners’ words, “united New Afrikans, Whites, Northern and Southern Mexicans, and others.” The organizers warn inmates to “beware of agitators, provocateurs, and obstructionists” among the prisoner population.

The Pelican Bay hunger strikers vow to die, if necessary, in a struggle against dehumanization. In the San Francisco Bay area, supporters from the outside have formed Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (, to let the inmates know that they are not alone, and “to make sure their voices are heard outside of prison.”

From the inside, inmate Gabriel Huerta reminds us that “Using indeterminate total lock down to extract confessions is torture by international standards as is the use of prolonged solitary confinement.” This is a global, human rights issue.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Private Prisons Lobby for Punitive Policies

Check out the Justice Policy Institute's report, Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies for fascinating info on how the private incarceration industry is lobbying for policy change at the state level that increases prison time and recidivism. Their press release follows:

Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up

June 22, 2011
Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 /
Jason Fenster – 202.558.7974 x306 /
Private Prison Companies Want You Locked Up
New report highlights political strategies of companies working to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over the past 15 years, the number of people held in all prisons in the United States has increased by 49.6 percent, while private prison populations have increased by 353.7 percent, according to recent federal statistics. Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, had combined revenues of $2.9 billion. According to a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), not only have private prison companies benefitted from this increased incarceration, but they have helped fuel it.
Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, examines how private prison companies are able to wield influence over legislators and criminal justice policy, ultimately resulting in harsher criminal justice policies and the incarceration of more people. The report notes a “triangle of influence” built on campaign contributions, lobbying and relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials. Through this strategy, private prison companies have gained access to local, state, and federal policymakers and have back-channel influence to pass legislation that puts more people behind bars, adds to private prison populations and generates tremendous profits at U.S. taxpayers’ expense.
“For-profit companies exercise their political influence to protect their market share, which in the case of corporations like GEO Group and CCA primarily means the number of people locked up behind bars,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “We need to take a hard look at what the cost of this influence is, both to taxpayers and to the community as a whole, in terms of the policies being lobbied for and the outcomes for people put in private prisons. That their lobbying and political contributions is funded by taxpayers, through their profits on government contracts, makes it all the more important that people understand the role of private prisons in our political system.”
Paul Ashton, principle author of Gaming the System, noted, “This report is built on concrete examples of the political strategies of private prison companies. From noting campaign donations, $835,514 to federal candidates and $6,092,331 to state-level candidates since 2000, to the proposed plan from Ohio Governor John Kasich to privatize five Ohio prisons followed by the appointment of a former CCA employee to run the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Gaming the System shows that private prison companies’ interests lie in promoting their business through maintaining political relationships rather than saving taxpayer dollars and effectively ensuring public safety.”
Other organizations have also investigated the private prison industry and have their own serious concerns about their political influence. “In the South and Southwest, the private prison industry has consistently targeted poor communities,” said Bob Libal the Texas Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership. “We believe that it’s important to fight, particularly in these communities, to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, and ultimately build lasting movements for social justice. This important report helps shed light onto this particularly troubling industry.”
Shakyra Diaz, policy director of ACLU of Ohio added, “Research has shown that private prisons do not save taxpayer dollars and can in fact cost taxpayers more than public prisons. Additionally, privatizing prisons may undermine cost effective sentencing reforms and increase recidivism rates. Despite these well­-documented concerns, private prison companies continue to promote policies that put money in their pockets and people behind bars.”
If states and the federal government are interested in providing cost-effective, proven public safety strategies, investments in private prison companies will not help achieve that goal. Gaming the System includes a number of recommendations for criminal justice policies that are cost-effective and will improve public safety:
  • States and the federal government should look for real solutions to the problem of growing jail and prison populations. A number of states are already utilizing innovative strategies for reducing the number of people behind bars in their state. Reducing the number of people entering the justice system, and the amount of time that they spend there, can lower prison populations, making private, for-profit prisons unnecessary, and improving public safety and the lives of individuals.
  • Invest in front-end treatment and services in the community, whether private or public. Research shows that education, employment, drug treatment, health care, and the availability of affordable housing coincide with better outcomes for all people, whether involved in the criminal justice system or not. Jurisdictions that spend more money on these services are likely to experience lower crime rates and lower incarceration rates. An increase in spending on education, employment and other services not only would improve public safety, but also would enhance and enrich communities and individual life outcomes.
  • Additional research is needed to effectively evaluate the cost and recidivism reduction claims of the private prison industry. With conflicting research on both the cost savings and recidivism reduction of private prisons, additional research is needed to determine the accuracy of such claims. Moreover, a clearer dialogue surrounding the difficulties of comparative research between private and public facilities would also be beneficial in providing a better understanding of the implications of prison privatization.
“Private prison companies have been very successful in their effort to promote harsher sentencing policies and the privatization of correctional systems, and when they win, we all lose,” added Velázquez. “Taxpayers lose when their money is used to generate profits for shareholders and to promote policies that increase incarceration; communities lose when policies proven to be ineffective for public safety are pushed through state legislatures, and people involved in the criminal justice system lose when they are locked up in underfunded and sometimes unsafe facilities.”
To read Gaming the System CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at (202) 558-7974 x308 or For more JPI reports on the criminal justice system, please visit our website at
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Haney on Psychological Consequences of Imprisonment in California

Today I attended a compelling lecture by Dr. Craig Haney of UC-Santa Cruz on the individual psychological consequences of imprisonment in California. His talk was especially well-timed after Dr. Haney was cited six times by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Brown v Plata. You may also recognize Dr. Haney as the lead author of the famous Stanford prison study from 1973, in which twenty healthy males, evenly divided into groups of "inmates" and "guards," acted so brutally that the 2-week experiment was suspended after 6 days.

Since then, Dr. Haney has spent over 30 years touring and studying prisons and prisoners. He began with an overview of the recent expansion of the U.S. prison system, because overincarceration has led to Plata and "prisonization" (stay with me here). The U.S. rate of imprisonment stayed stable around 200,000 from World War I to the mid-1970s, when the War on Drugs sentencing mentality started. From 1973-1993, the CA crime rate hovered around 100 per 100,000, but the incarceration rate increased from 100/100,000 to 350/100,000.

Dr. Haney pointed out that, being a generation older than me, he could still remember a time when prisoners had their own cells. Cellmates, or double-celling, was still seen as an abomination in the mid-1970s. His archives include letters from the prison wardens of 40 years ago, decrying this inhumane practice. Now, of course, prison cells house at least two inmates as a matter of course.

Prison used to aim to rehabilitate prisoners. Through work assignments, education, and other programs, inmates were taught useful skills or conditioned for better lives. In the mid-1970s, states began to veer away from this century-old aim: Haney referred us to Cal. Penal Code § 1170(a)(1), passed in 1976, which begins: "The Legislature finds and declares that the purpose of imprisonment for crime is punishment." Half of CA prisoners released in 2006 had had no assignment whatsoever: no program, no job, no education. All those years, wasted. In 1973, prisoners averaged a 6th-grade reading level, and this is still the same today.

As recently as the 1970s, people suffering from serious mental health conditions were usually committed to mental hospitals for in-patient treatment. Nowadays, mental health patients are more commonly imprisoned. In the U.S., the rate of hospitalization of mental health patients has fallen from 450 per 100,000 residents over 15 years old in 1950, to only 50/100,000 in 1990. People who would be hospitalized in 1950-1980 are more commonly incarcerated in 1980-2010.

Dr. Haney used this background to discuss institutional history as social history. By taking over so many people's lives, for so long, commonly at such young ages, the state has become not only a parent, but an abusive parent. Imprisonment retraumatizes inmates who have already experienced the trauma that led to their incarceration in the first place. Prisoners suffer tremendous institutional risk factors: abuse, maltreatment, neglect, an impoverished environment, diminished opportunities, exposure to violence, abandonment, instability, and exposure to criminogenic role models.

Haney's last slide explained "prisonization" as a set of normal psychological responses to abnormal situations. Prisons create dependence on institutional structures and procedures: newly-released people may suffer a lack of volition and independence as they are separated from these strict regimens. Prisons damage interpersonal skills or even prevent future relationships, by engendering interpersonal distrust, "hypervigilance," suspicion, emotional overcontrol, alienation, psychological distancing, social withdrawal, and isolation. Prisons diminish self-worth and personal value, and can result in Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- PTSD inflicted by slow, continuing trauma as opposed to a discrete event.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Death Penalty Costs CA $184mil/yr

L.A. Times story here on the new report by Loyola Prof. Paula Mitchell & 9th Circ. Judge Alarcon. $4 billion since 1978...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Women's Institutions: Health Issues and Overcrowding

This weekend's Huffington Post featured an extremely distressing story about California's women institutions and the health and sanitation conditions in them.

The Human Rights Council report cited in the post provides some further distressing information but fails to properly state which of the facts relate to California prisons and which relate to federal facilities or those in other state. It seems like the particularly horrifying report about male staff members incurring sexual favors in exchange for providing basic sanitation products is from a 2009 report on federal inmates.

Here, however, is the bit that clearly identifies California inmates and institutions:

A number of additional challenges often result in tension and conflict among inmates and with prison staff. These include inadequate access to basic hygiene products, the high costs of telephone calls and, the inadequacy and sufficiency of the food served. This was a particular concern at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) where interlocutors pointed out persistent deficiencies in terms of services and the hostility with which some guards respond to inmates. These challenges are further intensified by the overcrowding in the facility which was designed to hold 2,004 inmates but currently holds 3,686 people.

I wonder - nowhere in Brown v. Plata does the decision explicitly limit itself to men's institutions. The number of inmates, I believe, is an assessment of ALL state institutions, not just men's prisons. This week's population report indicates that, at 168.9% capacity, women's institutions suffer from an overcrowding problem that also exceeds the 137.5% established by Plata. I assume, therefore, that the population reduction will include these three facilities, and particularly CCWF, which is at 185.7% capacity.