Medical Neglect at SCI Muncy

The Human Rights Coalition received reports from Stacey Detwiler, a prisoner housed at SCI Muncy, who is experiencing health problems and deliberate indifference from medical staff at the prison . Two months after being admitted to SCI Muncy and prescribed 9 new medications, Detwiler lost regular leg function and has trouble walking or standing without collapsing. She suspects her medication is not correct and has tried meeting with medical staff to resolve the issue. Staff refuse to intervene, saying she must wait until she is released in two years.  Detwiler’s laundry job pays $12 a month making it impossible for her to meet the $5 charge per sick call to get appropriate care.  Staff refuse to grant Detwiler any privileges offered to prisoners with similar health problems, claiming that she is not old enough to qualify for privileges, such as obtaining a white card to move to the front of the medication line.

In December of last year, Detwiler and other women reported to prison officials, racial comments made by Guard Wolfe.  Wolfe was removed from line duty for a short time, but then came back. Shortly after, Wolfe accused Detwiler of cutting the med line and charged her with 30 days in the hole for being in an unauthorized area. Detwiler reported being freezing in the RHU in February and having trouble doing breathing treatments in the cold cell. Juan Mendez, the U.S. Special Rapporteur on torture suggests 15 days in solitary confinement as a psychological limit for punishing people, yet the DOC doles out 30 days commonly, often in retaliation for filing grievances.

Additionally, Detwiler reports being denied food by Guards McElroy and Cramer. After collapsing on the way to the chow hall because of leg problems, Detwiler was sent to the infirmary. When attempting to get her meal later, expecting a peanut butter sandwich, CO Cramer told her he would think about it. After an hour and a half she alerted Sgt McElroy who informed her that there was no food left. Detwiler reports that other women have been denied food by McElroy and Cramer.  In addition to being a human rights violation, denying a prisoner food is against DOC policy.

Detwiler was convicted of 3.5 to 7 years for witness intimidation, after stopping over a neighbor’s house to see if she was going to go court for her son’s case.  Detwiler knew the women and had helped take care of her when the neighbor was a teen, but believe the court inflated the story to get a conviction.  Detwiler fears that she will not regain regular leg function and will have become disabled due to her lengthy prison sentence and lack of medical treatment.


Update: Federal Court Denies Motion to Dismiss and Grants Motion to Amend Complaint in Human Rights Coalition’s Censorship Lawsuit

A challenge to prison censorship of political and human rights literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has seen two favorable developments in the past month.

On Thursday, May 15, United States Federal District court ruled that a lawsuit challenging censorship of political literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will go forward. The court denied the defense’s request to dismiss some of the censorship claims and all of the supervisory officials named as defendants.

On June 13, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend and supplement the original complaint, adding new claims for relief and one new defendant: DOC Secretary John Wetzel. The new complaint adds due process challenges claiming that prison officials failed to provide non-prisoners with notice and an opportunity to challenge when prison staff censor their mail. Additional claims challenge the criteria used by the DOC to justify censorship as being impermissibly vague, permitting prison staff to impose arbitrary standards when making censorship decisions.

Plaintiffs are seeking monetary and injunctive relief.
The lawsuit, _Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al_., was filed in January on behalf of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the DOC for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC who is currently held at SCI Coal Township.

The suit details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor, scholarly essays from the anthology If They Come in the Morning, a Black history book, and a newsletter published by HRC, The Movementwhich focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system.

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by the Abolitionist Law Center, and David Shapiro, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law.

Dining Hall Protest: Prisoners Challenge Food Cutbacks at SCI Coal Township

On June 16, 2014 prisoners at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Coal Township in central Pennsylvania are embarking on a peaceful protest of the dining hall by refusing to go to eat due to the administration’s cutback to their food portions and rations.
Prisoners are once again taking the lead in the struggle for human rights. Support them today by calling the officials below and advocating for their demands.
On May 26, prisoners were told that the cutbacks were related to budget concerns and that their morning meal portions would be severely reduced. Prisoners are now served half a cup of cream of wheat or oatmeal, 2 pieces of toast and 2 sugar packets at the minimum 3 times per week. Rations such as syrup have been cut in half.
The budget cuts have not, however, had any effect on staff dining options. The administration has not made any cutbacks in portions provided to the Staff Dining Room, where staff have multiple menu selections and food options, salad bars, and multiple desert entries that drain from the prison food budget.
Prisoners are requesting that:
  1. The food portions and sugar rations be returned to levels prior to the May 26 memo from Superintendent Mooney authorizing cutbacks to food portions and rations.

  1. The Staff Dining Room’s unjustified and expansive entitlements be eliminated and staff be required to eat from the same Department of Corrections Master Menu, receiving the same menu as prisoners with the same portions and rations. No multiple menus, optional deserts, salad bars or other entitlements. Eliminating staff entitlements would save sufficient money from the DOC’s food budget and not require cutbacks to prisoners’ food.

  1. If the DOC continues to authorize cutbacks to prisoners nutritional needs then prisoners request that the DOC authorize policy and procedures allowing prisoners to receive monthly 60-pound food packages from family and friends as prisoners in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio are allowed to receive. If the DOC places the budget over our nutritional needs we request a means to provide for our own nutritional needs.
Food is a human right and the government must provide prisoners with adequate amounts of nutritional food to maintain physical and mental health. At a time when Governor Corbett and the DOC are seeking a record amount of money to warehouse people in prisons – more than $2 billion – there is no justification for forcing people to go hungry.
How you can help: Please contact the DOC officials below and inform them of the above requests by prisoners at SCI Coal Township:
DOC Secretary John Wetzel – 717-728-4901
SCI Coal Township Superintendent Vincent Mooney – 570-644-7890

Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson Rally in Harrisburg

Family and supporters of Lorenzo Johnson, a Pennsylvania prisoner framed for a homicide, will rally at the Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Thursday, May 29 at 2pm. Supporters demand that the Attorney General’s office drop its case against Lorenzo, which was built on police and prosecutor misconduct.

Although Johnson was not accused of participating in the shooting, only of allegedly being near the alley where the murder took place, he was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1996 at the age of 22. According to new evidence, Lorenzo was not in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the night of the murder of Tarajay Williams. He was 170 miles away, at home in New York, when the murder occurred.



Johnson has been released from prison once before, when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in 2011 due to insufficient evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision in May 2012, sending Johnson back to prison without following the usual process of allowing his lawyers the opportunity to file briefs or make oral arguments.

On August 5, 2013, Johnson’s attorney Michael Wiseman filed a motion (PCRA) seeking a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence. The filing contains new sworn affidavits from people who had knowledge of the murder and of the real killer(s), information that discredits key prosecution witness Carla Brown, and evidence that Johnson was in New York at the time of the murder and could not possibly have been involved.

The newly discovered evidence contains numerous instances of unconstitutional conduct on the part of the police and prosecution in Johnson’s case. Johnson and his trial counsel were never told that the prosecution’s star witness, Carla Brown, was questioned on the night of the shooting and had to be worked on for months in order to get her to implicate Johnson.

Suquan Ripply Boyd also provided an affidavit to Johnson, revealing for the first time that he was coerced by Detective Duffin into providing a false statement. Boyd and Johnson were in New York City on December 14-15, 1995, the same date the murder occurred. Prior to the trial, Boyd signed a statement that he could not recall the exact date after Duffin threatened him with a longer prison sentence than the one he was serving at the time.

On March 5, 2014, yet more evidence of state misconduct was filed in a supplemental petition, exposing that the lead detective in the case, Kevin Duffin, has a close, family-like relationship with witness Victoria Doubs and “looked out for her” in her encounters with other police on robbery and drug charges. Doubs was used by the prosecution to establish the fabricated motive for the murder despite the fact that she was with Lorenzo Johnson in New York City at the time of the shooting.

The Attorney General’s office has refused to consider the newly discovered evidence and is continuing the frame-up with the intention of forcing Johnson to spend the rest of his life in prison.



Lorenzo’s wife Tazza spoke at a press conference called by the Families of the Wrongfully Convicted in NYC on April 9, 2014:

“Greetings and support from my husband Lorenzo Johnson, an innocent man, sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania for a murder he did not commit eighteen years ago. He fought and won his freedom. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. The court said there was insufficient evidence. Lorenzo was home for four months. But the state of PA appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and ordered him back to prison. My husband along with his friend Jeff Deskovic drove himself back to prison—to a sentence of life without parole. He had the courage to do that, to fight for his exoneration and freedom.

“I am pleading to our “Justice System” to do what’s right and free Lorenzo Johnson today!!! Bring our nightmare to an end!!"

This rally, “Call to Free the Innocent! Free Lorenzo Johnson!” is supported by the Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted from Western PA, Families of the Wrongfully Convicted in NYC, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice (NYC), HRC-FedUp (Pittsburgh), the Abolitionist Law Center and others. Join Us!! Sign the petition to Free Lorenzo Johnson.

Federal Court Rules that Human Rights Coalition’s Censorship Lawsuit can Go Forward

On Thursday, May 15, United States Federal District court ruled that a lawsuit challenging censorship of political literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) can go forward. The court denied the defense’s request to dismiss some of the censorship claims and all of the supervisory officials named as defendants.

The lawsuit, _Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al_., was filed in January on behalf of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), politicized prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the (PA DOC) for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC who is currently held at SCI Coal Township.

The suit details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor, issues of The Movement, essays written by Angela Y. Davis and James Baldwin, and a newsletter published by HRC which focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system. The content of the materials censored by SCI Coal Township and Central Office officials touch on the most vital issues of the operation of the prison system in Pennsylvania: juveniles sentenced to die in prison, deaths in solitary confinement, repression of human rights defenders inside prisons, advocacy efforts by families of prisoners, and the pervasive racism that defines the criminal legal system in Pennsylvania and the United States.

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by the Abolitionist Law Center and Necia Hobbes of the firm Jones Day.

Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison

Listen to Book Discussion:

Download

Joshua Dubler discusses his recent book "Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison" that takes place about 35 miles outside of Philadelphia at Graterford Prison.  The book explores seven days in the religious life of the prison, focusing on the history of Islam, and the internal social structures that once unified prisoners that have since decayed.  The book talk held at the Big Idea Bookstore in Pittsburgh, touches on historical trends that got us to this moment of mass incarceration and the absurd necessity to struggle for prison abolition.

Quotes from the book and talk:

Graterford I would say is the cultural flagship of the system. It's a prison where people are serving really long amounts of time.  Of the 3500 - 4000 men who live at Graterford, maybe a quarter are serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Prior to the 1990s there was a robust commutation system, which went away in the 90s.  What I want to read to you will in part describe that transition. It was a transition locally that mapped onto law and administration shifts nation wide.

There are 15 men who work in the chapel as janitors and clerks, and with the exception of one of these people, they are all serving the sentence of life without parole.  So those are the central characters of the book.

Within this monument to American unfreedom, you actually find this earnest commitment to the protection of peoples first amendment right to free religious exercise.

The spirit of the prison is not what you would be led to believe by television.  The spirit of the prison is more like the DMV.  Where everyone is lax and in various ways trying to do as little as they can. But there are all these rules on the books. And what that means in practice is, the rules aren't enforced, and everyone is in violation of the rules at all times.  At any point, if the administration wants to crack down, they are in their right to do so.  Or if I'm a prisoner and you're a prisoner, and you have something I want, I can drop a slip on you that you have too many books in your cell and you can be punished for that too.

Back then the administration's reliance on prisoner leadership for the maintenance of social order was undisguised.  But a decade into the crack epidemic, violent crime was up, conservative social theorists warned of a new generation of super predators and even democratic politicians couldn't be tough enough on crime.  Corrections was the new master category and control it's lynch pin. In institutions across the country, prisoner movements were restricted and surveillance heightened. Educational and psychological resources were gutted.  The nominal purpose of prisons ceased to be about rehabilitating prisoners.  Prisons were now for punishment.

In '60, when King would talk about law, he would talk about law as standing in some kind of tension with justice.  And justice was this horizon that he thought that, as a kind of liberal protestant, he wanted us to bring the law in line with justice. Justice being something that belongs to god and it's perfect.  By 1964, Goldwater loses, but first articulates what's going to be the standard doctrine of the conservative movement controlling the rest of the 20th century.  Justice has fallen out.  And what law becomes about is essentially one follows the law. Ones obligation is to follow the law. And following the law means obeying the law and the law is about protecting essentially property rights and what contemporary property rights are. This framework of thinking about law in that way as opposed to law in relationship to higher justice (which I think is a religious construct) works well for evangelicals for whom justice will arrive at the end of time, and secularists who are uncomfortable with those kind of abstractions.  Some of the work I think that we might have in front of us if we are going to organize around this stuff is to develop a language that posits a horizon of justice beyond that law.

I felt as though it had to be in the present tense, because I believe that on some level the present is all there is.  And it had to be in the present tense because the present is the tense when the status quo is perpetually reproduced. And I want to hail the reader into recognizing his or her position in that present where which we receive a lot of things that seem to be fixed but that we can trouble and change.

HRC FedUp! Delivers Petitions to Drop Case against SCI Dallas Prisoners


On December 2nd, members of HRC FedUp! traveled to the Luzerne County Courthouse to deliver 250 petition signatures to District Attorney Salavantis asking her to drop riot charges against 5 PA prisoners colloquially named the Dallas 5.  FedUp! members held signs and handed out flyers for a few hours and then delivered petitions to the DA's secretary.  Members were asked to move from the steps and told by court security that there were rules governing picketing during trials.  The trial for the Dallas 5 is set to begin next Monday.  

This week, Shandre Delaney is interviewed on the Legacy of a Nation radio show about the case.
Listen Here!







The District Attorney would not meet with us.