THE CA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE COMMENCES
Monday was the first day of a 30,000 CA prisoner hunger strike against the conditions of Secure Housing Units (SHUs) and the policies that determine what inmates get put into solitary confinement and how long they remain there—among other things.
LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:
Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.
The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.
KPCC’s Julie Small also has coverage of the strike.
(We’ll keep you updated as we know more.)
ALMOST 150 WOMEN STERILIZED IN CA PRISONS WITHOUT NECESSARY STATE APPROVAL
Doctors working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) performed 148 tubal ligations (or “tube tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law between 2006 and 2010, the Center for Investigative Reporting found.
Here’s a clip from this story, which is starting to get a lot of coverage:
At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.
From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.
The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.
Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.
Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis.
Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries, said Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp. Barnett, 65, has led the Health Care Review Committee since joining the prison receiver’s office in 2008.
“When we heard about the tubal ligations, it made us all feel slightly queasy,” Barnett said. “It wasn’t so much that people were conspiratorial or coercive or sloppy. It concerns me that people never took a step back to project what they would feel if they were in the inmate’s shoes and what the inmate’s future might hold should they do this.”
COLORADO PRISONS CHIEF’S DEATH LINKED TO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene superbly depicts the story of Tom Clements, the director of the Colorado Corrections Dept. who, in his brief two-year tenure, cut solitary confinement numbers nearly in half. Clements was widely known for advocating for effective reentry programs, rather than releasing prisoners directly onto the streets from solitary confinement (or “ad-seg”).
Tragically, in March of 2013, Clements was shot in his home by a man who, released directly from ad-seg two months earlier, demonstrated exactly what the prisons chief was working so hard to prevent.
Greene’s story is lengthy, but definitely worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a large clip from the opening:
To have known Tom Clements during his first year in Colorado meant hearing a statistic, sometimes over and over again, that haunted him as director of the state’s Corrections Department.
He mentioned it the day we met, shortly after shaking my hand.
“Did you know that 47 percent of offenders in ad-seg are walking directly out onto the streets?” he said.
Ad-seg, short for administrative segregation, the department’s term for solitary confinement, originally was meant to house the most violent prisoners, the so-called worst of the worst, to separate them from general population. In practice, it also has been used for gang leaders, convicts with gang affiliations and those who, for various reasons, aren’t considered compliant inmates.
Ad-seg involves locking prisoners down 23 hours a day alone in a cement cell about the size of two queen-sized mattresses. It means limiting human interactions to the small slot through which guards pass food, mail and toilet paper. It means shackling them for the short walk to and from an indoor exercise cage where their 24th hour is spent, also alone, without sunlight or fresh air.
In Colorado, ad-seg has meant spending months, years and sometimes decades without normal social contact. For many prisoners, it means marinating in numbing boredom, loneliness and the untreated mental illnesses that either landed them in solitary or that developed as a result of isolation.
“Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,” Clements told me in 2011. “Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.”
In slightly more than two years on the job, Clements cut the use of ad-seg by more than 40 percent, and the prison system saw no uptick in prison violence during that time. Clements closed Colorado State Penitentiary II, the state’s brand new supermax prison in Cañon City designed exclusively for solitary confinement. And by reintegrating isolated prisoners into social environments before setting them free, he managed to lower the 47 percent statistic that preoccupied him to 23 percent. His goal was to drive that percentage down to zero.
He didn’t get the chance.
On March 19 of this year, a man dressed in a pizza delivery uniform rang the doorbell at his home in Monument, fatally shot him and fled. Rumors spread instantly fueled by mainstream-media reports, that the murder was a hit orchestrated by a white supremacist prison gang, or by a prisoner with ties to the Saudi Arabian government, or both.
But those were just conspiracy theories.
The truth about Clements’ murder is rooted in the statistical reality that kept him up at night – that it’s a public safety risk to let any percentage of prisoners walk directly out of solitary confinement without helping them adjust to being around people. As it turns out, his fears were justified. Evan Ebel, the Colorado Department of Corrections parolee who killed Clements, had walked directly out of solitary into society and struggled with the transition for less than two months before he killed Nathan Leon, a pizza deliverer in Denver, gunned down Clements and then led police on a high-speed chase in Texas that ended in a shootout and his death.
“Evan Ebel was exactly what Tom warned us about every single day,” said Roxane White, chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“Here you had two people, one who suffered significantly from solitary confinement and the other who was trying to do something about it,” added Paul Herman, Clements’ longtime friend and colleague. “If what happened to Tom isn’t the ultimate irony, I don’t know what is.”
Photo Credit: Bill Hackwell