June Newsletter

This month the IAHR newsletter features the following articles:

  • An op-ed by Imam Ali Siddiqui in response to the massacre in Orlando, Florida
  • An appeal for your support for Bill 21-463 in the District of Columbia to support returning citizens
  • Part one of a series on stories from Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State prisons in Wise County, Virginia
  • A feature on Moya Atkinson, the founder of Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement
  • Links to recent articles on solitary confinement and anti-Muslim bigotry

A Human Rights Response to the Massacre in Orlando

By Imam Ali Siddiqui

June 2016

We mourn with Orlando, Florida. We mourn as witnesses of one of the worst massacres by gun violence on this continent since Wounded Knee in 1890 when 250 Sioux men, women, and children were killed.

I am proud that many Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and other faith organization stand in solidarity with the victims and mourning with the LGBTQ community. The Chief Executive Director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Florida quickly visited the scene. Muslim organizations led by CAIR, Florida established a fund to help the victims of this senseless and horrific act. Not because it is our responsibility, but because it is the right thing to do. This is what Muslims do. Islamic Relief helped Katrina victims, distributed clean water in Flint, MI to protect human life from polluted water. It is done for no political agenda. Almost every state has free medical clinics established and run by Muslims which provide healthcare to residents in underserved areas.  They are located in South Central Los Angeles, in San Bernardino, CA; Sacramento, CA; Chicago, IL; Sterling, VA; and Baltimore, MD; to name a few.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Tariq Rasheed, Imam of the Islamic Center of Orlando, condemned the nightclub shooter while speaking to worshippers at the Friday Congregation right after the massacre). After hearing the shooting, I immediately condemned the shooting on my Facebook page. Almost all Muslim organizations and Muslim leaders in the US condemned the shooting and killing of 49 innocent people.

Muslims stand by the human rights of all Americans. For instance, a majority of Muslims supported the California Prop 8: the right of same sex couples to marry which was on the California ballot. Similarly, a majority of Muslim opposed the California Prop 187: to establish a state run citizenship screening system, calling it xenophobic. Many Muslims work as volunteers with many organizations for human rights, civil rights, economic justice, and gender equity.

Muslims, against the popular belief, have been in the forefront in protecting fellow Americans. After the 9-11 attack, a first respondent was a Muslim, Mohammad Salman Hamdani. In Orlando, a Muslim and a former US Marine Sergeant of Indian origin, Imran Yousuf, a bouncer at the Pulse nightclub, saved about 70 people by getting them out of the nightclub to safety by jeopardizing his own life. Following Hurricane Katrina, Muslim organizations mobilized Muslim communities and rushed to the aid of victims.

As the story unfolds, two Muslims, one Omar Mateen, allegedly killed 49 human beings; the other a decorated Afghanistan Veteran, Sgt. Imran Yousuf saved about 70 human beings by putting his own life in harm’s way and brought them to safety. What a story of good and evil. Both manifested the Quranic Commandment, “If any one kills a person, unless it is for murder or for spreading mischief on the earth, it would be as if killing the whole humanity; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if one saved the life of the whole humanity.” (Quran 5:32

أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا ۚ 

Muslims and Islamic organizations were outraged by this violence and condemnations were issued by individual leaders and Islamic organizations of all magnitudes. Muslims also responded to the needs of the victims including counselling. The Chief Executive Director of CAIR-FL, Hassan Shibly, an attorney by profession, mobilized his organization and he himself temporarily moved to Orlando to coordinate efforts and become available in the area. CAIR-FL right away established a fund to help the victim’s families and started raising donations among the Muslim community. Another important person, Wilfred Amr Ruiz, from Puerto Rico, an attorney with CAIR-FL, a trained chaplain, and a Navy veteran, also became available in the area.

The story is still unfolding and the investigation is still ongoing; however, it has affected the Muslim community, once again, and they have to bear the collective responsibility of the act one lone mentally disturbed Muslim who was struggling with his own sexuality. As we learned later, it was revenge! Pure and simple! He is responsible for his deeds and not the entire Muslim community. Attacks on the Muslim Institutions and persons have started again. Islamophobia is on the rise again by a well-funded Islamophobia industry in an amount of $42+ million.

The problem of violence and especially gun violence is not the problem of Muslims alone, it is an American issue. It is American problem. It is our problem. By scapegoating Muslims, we cannot solve the issue and provide safety and security to our nation. We have too many horrific cases such as Sandy Hook Elementary School, New Town, CT; Columbine High School, Littleton, CO; a movie theater in Aurora, CO; and the AME Church, Charleston, SC to name a few of so many. What can we do to curb gun violence? Throwing up the Second Amendment into our face or hiding behind it will not solve the terrible destruction of human life. 

It is a real problem! We Americans have easy access to guns, and have little to no access to well-funded mental health programs. What gives? The mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has provoked more debate about gun violence, mental health, and Islamophobia. Election year politics do not help the situation. Scapegoating Muslims, Mexicans, refugees, or stigmatizing undocumented immigrants and the LGBTQ community will not solve the crisis of gun violence in America. We need a compassionate approach which consists of sensible gun control, adequate funding of mental health programs and after school programs.

We must always remember that saving a human life means saving the life of all of humanity.   

Help Returning Citizens by Supporting DC Bill 21-463

Interfaith Action for Human Rights is asking your support of Bill 21-463, "District of Columbia IncarceratiotIncorporation Entrepreneurship Program (IIEPAct of 2015.

Bill 21-463 offers an opportunity for individuals with criminal records to acquire comprehensive business training to qualify to start their own business. This bill is a successful model of social entrepreneurship that creates opportunities for self-sufficiency, improves lives, and strengthensfamilies.

A review of such programs generally shows a return on investment (ROI) that yields significant social and economic outcomes, including financial benefits for society, savings for taxpayers, and positive impacts on the families of returning citizens.

Bill 21-463 requires the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES) to collaboratively formulate a business development program for returning citizens, and then administer the program. The IIEP would also establish a revolving fund to manage the program. Revenue for the fund would come from several sources, i.e., appropriated funds, public donations, private sector donations, and program sponsors.

IAHR believes that the government has a moral responsibility to help prepare those who have paid their debt to society by providing substantive opportunities after incarceration. More importantly, we believe entrepreneurship offers a chance for our returning citizens to build their own prosperity while uplifting their communities.

We are asking that you join us in getting Bill 21-463 passed. Please sign a petition, by clicking here.  For more information about the bill and the entrepreneurship program, click here.  To take action by writing to DC Council members, click here.  

The returning citizen community and its advocates appreciate your support in this most important piece of legislation.

This month, the IAHR Newsletter is initiating a series entitled, “Stories from Red Onion and Wallens Ridge.” Gay Gardner, the Secretary of the IAHR Board, has been corresponding with more than 30 inmates at these prisons in Wise County, VA, over the last 18 months. This month we will be reporting on stories that exemplify the indefinite and excessive duration of segregation at these prisons.

Stories from Red Onion and Wallens Ridge: Length and Indefinite Nature of Segregation

Indefinite periods of isolated confinement lasting more than 15 consecutive days are specifically contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, as revised in December 2015 (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”). There is a growing body of scientific evidence of permanent neurological damage resulting from longer periods of isolation.

Indefinite periods of administrative segregation, lasting from one to many months, seem to frequently follow disciplinary infractions at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge, even though disciplinary segregation itself is explicitly limited to 30 days. Inmates allege that the disciplinary charges themselves are sometimes inflated or false and that administrative segregation is not limited to situations in which it is essential for the safety and security of the prison, its staff, and/or inmates.

The length and uncertain duration of segregation are especially stressful for individuals with serious mental illness and are very likely to exacerbate the underlying disorder. There is mounting evidence that segregation is especially inappropriate for mentally ill and youthful offenders.

Section IX.A.2 of Operating Procedure 861.3 states:  “Offenders may only be assigned to Segregation by the ICA [Institutional Classification Authority] after a due process hearing held in accordance with OP 830.1.” Section IX.A.5 states: “During the assignment to Segregation, the offender status will be formally reviewed by the ICA at least once every 90 days.” Section IV.A.2.b.ii of OP 830.1 requires a formal due process hearing for “segregation assignment, review, and release” and “segregation reviews resulting in no status change.” There are many instances in which these provisions appear not to have been followed as written, exacerbating the indefinite nature of the segregation assignment.

Here are some accounts that exemplify the indefinite and excessively long periods of isolation. 

Khalif Abdul-Mateen was in segregation at Wallens Ridge for 93 days (May 15-August 15, 2015) after a disciplinary charge of “inciting a riot” (103) when, along with several other prisoners, he refused to lockdown as a protest of repeated denial of recreation. He says none of them had any intention of inciting a riot and believes they should have been charged with the lesser offense of failure to obey a direct order. Mr. Abdul-Mateen states that at no time during this period was he given the opportunity to be present at a hearing, nor did he receive any documentation of his assignment to administrative segregation.

Bradley Maxwell was placed in segregation following a July 19, 2015, disciplinary charge for allegedly using gang hand signals, which he strongly denies. The only documentation relating to his placement in segregation was his Disciplinary Offense Report, which showed a resulting penalty of 25 days in disciplinary segregation, but he remained in segregation for 53 days. Mr. Maxwell has spent extremely long periods in segregation, including more than 10 years for refusing to cut his hair for religious reasons, 2 years from 2013 to 2015 following the dismissal of a disciplinary charge against him, and most recently continuously since October 4, 2015, for failing to stand for count and having a weapon in his cell, which he strongly asserts was planted. He claims to have been repeatedly denied any formal review of his status since that date and any documentation of decisions to continue holding him in segregation.

Inmate X clearly is suffering from mental illness. He told IAHR that he takes psychotropic drugs twice a day and has attempted suicide several times. He said that he was placed in segregation more than a year ago for refusing to comply with the grooming policy, but IAHR was not able to determine how long he remained in segregation. He also said that he had been placed in a stripped cell for 6 months. At the time he contacted IAHR, he said he had not had recreation or a shower in more than a month. He believed his treatment was retaliation for complaints he filed against three officers for sexual harassment and assault.

IAHR officers and leaders of allied organizations plan to meet with the Virginia Secretary of Corrections and his deputies. We plan to make these recommendations:

  • Ensure that segregation is used only when absolutely essential to address a threat to the safety and security of the facility, staff, or inmates.
  • Ensure that prisoners are consistently allowed to be present, to speak, and to be represented at hearings regarding their placement or continuation in administrative segregation.
  • Create a record of the hearing with a transcript that would be available to the prisoner so that there would be no dispute about whether the hearing had taken place.
  • Ensure that the reasons for placement or continuation in segregation are fully and timely explained to the prisoner.
  • Shorten the interval (currently 90 days) between formal reviews of the need to keep a prisoner in segregation. 
  • Ensure that individuals with serious mental illness are not held in segregation for more than 15 days at a time.

Next month, the IAHR newsletter will report on stories of abusive behavior by Corrections Officers and the lack of accountability for their actions.   

Moya Atkinson: Leading Social Workers to End Solitary

Moya_Atkinson-uncropped_taken_by_Bill_Cook_2012_(2)-1.jpg

 

Moya Atkinson was born in 1934 of a German mother and a Northern Irish father. Moya’s experiences during WWII and after have defined her deep concern about torture, and more recently about the abuse of solitary confinement.

As a former member of the Interfaith Action for Human Rights Steering Committee, as well as a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Moya learned about the horrors of solitary confinement. As a retired social worker Moya happened to read social worker Mary E. Buser’s Op-ed in the Washington Post in April, 2014 “Solitary’s mockery of human rights,” which galvanized her to become an activist to end the abuse of solitary confinement. Ms. Buser described the consequences of the use of solitary confinement on the lives of many inmates under her care at Rikers Jail, NYC. She felt beaten down by the daily debasement of human life, as she attempted to juggle her ethical principles with the demands of her job — to intervene before the “breaking point” of prisoners’ lives in solitary. Ms. Buser resigned in 2000 because she felt that she was being a monitor of human suffering, not a healer

By October, 2014, Moya and Mary had gathered a small group of like-minded social workers by phone and in-person for a first meeting. They quickly became a viable group – the Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC) Task Force, thanks to the help and advice given by members of IAHR, NRCAT and other supporters, including our members. According to Juan Mendez, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, solitary confinement amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and on a prolonged basis (over 15 days) can amount to torture. His experience as a torture survivor, his moral courage and his teachings and actions guide us.

The goals of SWASC are education, advocacy, legislation and outreach. The greatest challenge of SWASC for now is to end the conflict of dual loyalty between health professionals and the criminal justice system. They have been working with the National Association of Social Workers, with over 130,000 members nationwide and with global influence, to accept institutional responsibility for social workers working in solitary confinement units. 

They have also been working with New York State advocates and legislators to pass A.4489 (Gottfried)/S. 104 (Hoylman) which prohibits participation in torture and improper treatment of prisoners by health care professionals, and requires health care professionals to report torture and improper treatment.

SWASC promotes speakers and information on solitary confinement with national, regional, statewide and local social work organizations around the country as well as major advocates, such as ACLU, AFSC, CCR, Solitary Watch etc.; as well as following up on recent legislation and actions in Maryland and Virginia.

Moya invites you to join her and to tell others about the work of SWASC! Please check out SWASC’s web site - www.SocialWorkerasc.org. You can reach Moya by email atmoyaatk@yahoo.com or you can call her at 703-941-3707.

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