This month we are highlighting an important action you can take on behalf of an inmate at Red Onion State Prison, two upcoming programs, and a report on human rights legislation at this year's recently concluded Maryland legislative session.
Action Alert: Ask Virginia Corrections Authorities to Investigate Allegations
Interfaith Action for Human Rights is concerned about Michael Lawrence, who is incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison. Please contact the officials listed below and share this with others you know. It would be helpful to have a mixture of letters, emails, and phone calls.
Michael Lawrence (#1023287) has been in solitary confinement ("segregation") for more than 16 years. He is 60 years old and is serving a life sentence at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, VA. Virginia has a "step-down" program to help people transition out of long-term segregation, but Michael Lawrence has been unable to complete the program. Mr. Lawrence states that, each time he has a status review, he is told he has received too many “poor” ratings, but no one has told him what exactly he scored poorly on. (The Department of Corrections has confirmed to IAHR that prisoners are not allowed to see these ratings, which are the basis for their progress or lack of progress within the "step-down" program.) When he tried to file a grievance about his failure to advance in the "step-down" program, he was told this is not grievable.
Mr. Lawrence states that staff has harassed him with racist epithets, has tampered with his food, and told him he will be given negative ratings at each status review so that he will never get out of segregation. He names other prisoners who have witnessed these statements.
Mr. Lawrence also claims to have serious medical problems for which he is not receiving appropriate treatment.
Please Urge Virginia Prison Authorities to Conduct a Serious Investigation of Michael Lawrence’s Allegations. You may include any of the following points.
- Keeping someone in segregation for 16 years is not consistent with international human rights norms, including the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Urge the VDOC to take immediate steps to increase Michael Lawrence's time outside of his cell, to establish a written plan and timeline for moving him out of segregation, and to make this plan available to Mr. Lawrence and his family.
- All individuals in segregation/restrictive housing should be given detailed written explanations for their retention in segregation at the end of each review period. The explanations should cite specific reasons why the individual cannot be safely housed in the general prison population.
- Urge the VDOC to ensure that Michael Lawrence is not subjected to harassment or retaliation of any kind; that his allegations are thoroughly and impartially investigated; and that anyone found responsible for such treatment is held accountable.
- Urge the VDOC to ensure that Michael Lawrence receives appropriate medical diagnosis and treatment promptly.
PLEASE WRITE TO OR PHONE THE FOLLOWING VDOC OFFICIALS:
- Warden Jeffery Kiser, Red Onion State Prison, 10800 H. Jack Rose Highway, Pound, VA 24279, firstname.lastname@example.org, 276-796-7510
- Henry Ponton, Regional Operations Chief for the Western Region, Virginia Department of Corrections, 5427 Peters Creek Road #250, Roanoke, VA 24019, Department of Corrections, email@example.com, 540-561-7050
- Marcus Elam, Western Regional Administrator, Virginia Department of Corrections, 5427 Peters Creek Road #250, Roanoke, VA 24019, firstname.lastname@example.org, 540-561-7050
- David Robinson, Chief of Corrections Operations, Virginia Department of Corrections, 6900 Altmore Drive, Richmond, VA 23225, email@example.com, 804-674-3000
- Harold Clarke, Director of Corrections, 6900 Altmore Drive, Richmond, VA 23225, Director.Clarke@vadoc.virginia.gov, 804-674-3000
IAHR will be offering its next online pen pal orientation on Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. All you have to do is register by clicking this link. If you have been unable to attend the in-person orientations, here is an opportunity to become a pen pal in the comfort of your home or office! Just sign up and we will do the rest.
IAHR’S Pen Pal Program is designed to link members of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to District residents in BOP facilities. We are asking volunteers from each religious community to sign up to correspond with one imprisoned D.C. resident at least once a month for one year. We will be starting with ten Bureau of Prison facilities and will expand beyond these to residents in other facilities based on our initial success. Here's a link to a Google map of the Pen Pal prisons, their addresses, and DC population: Prison Map. (For a larger map, click on the square bracket in the map's upper right.)
Over 170 men and women in the BOP have already signed up for a pen pal. They are looking for someone who will reach out to them on a regular basis.
As of the end of March, over a hundred people from various walks of life have signed up to be a pen pal with someone in prison. Yet we still need at least another 70 pen pals!
Sign up for the next online orientation on Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. by clicking here.
At this orientation, we will go over guidelines which will be sent to you in advance. We will also give you the name and address of a prisoner to write to. We will address any questions you may have.
We also plan to bring volunteers together periodically to reflect on their experiences and nurture the community of people who have come together to provide support and encouragement to this important segment of our community.
Be part of our effort to be a supportive presence for our incarcerated neighbors by joining this Pen Pal Program. We hope you will find it a rewarding and an enlightening experience.
For More Information Contact Rabbi Charles Feinberg at Iahrpenpal@Gmail.Com or by calling 202-669-7700
Screening of the 2016 HBO documentary, "Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison:'
followed by a panel discussion moderated by Rabbi Charles Feinberg
|Sunday, May 6,2018||12:30 to 3:30 p.m.|
|Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington||4444 Arlington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22204|
A light lunch will be served in the Center at 12:30 p.m. The
screening of "Solitary" will start at 1:10 p.m. in the Activity
Room, followed by the panel discussion from 2:30-3:30 pm.
Sponsored by Amnesty International of Northern Virginia, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Johnny Perez is the Director of the U.S. Prison Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. He adds value, insight, and leadership to existing campaign efforts working to end the torture of solitary confinement, while building the capacity of religious leaders and directly impacted communities to engage in education and advocacy in the United States.
Drawing on the wisdom of thirteen years of direct involvement with the criminal justice system, Johnny also works to change unjust policies and practices in the criminal justice system through his participation as a newly appointed member of the NY Advisory Committee to The US Civil Rights Commission. Johnny is also a member of the NYC Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee and is on the board of directors of both Space on Ryder Farm and the Juvenile Law Center.
Kimberly Jenkins- Snodgrass is the
Throughout her partnership with the late justice warrior, Joyce Ann Brown, and her
When Ms. Jenkins-Snodgrass experienced the injustice of the system firsthand with her son's wrongful incarceration, her faith in the system was lost. However, her
Charles M. Feinberg is the executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights. He was a congregational rabbi for 42 years. He served and led congregations in Wisconsin, New York, British Columbia, and Washington, DC. During his career, Rabbi Feinberg has been an advocate for Central American Refugees, the poor and the homeless, for interfaith dialogue and cooperation, and for respecting the human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. Rabbi Feinberg received his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He has been the executive director of IAHR since 2015.
Although we experienced mixed results in IAHR’s efforts in Maryland during this legislative session, we thank the many supporters who came out for Limiting Solitary Confinement Advocacy Day, called legislators and emailed them, who testified in support of legislation to limit isolated confinement in Maryland prisons and especially our lead sponsors, Delegate Jazz Lewis of Prince George’s County and Senator Susan Lee of Montgomery County.
We appreciate the many partners that joined IAHR in advocacy for fair treatment and human rights for those who are incarcerated: Maryland Prisoners’ Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union-MD (ACLU – Maryland), National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI – Maryland), Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Reproductive Justice Inside, Social Workers Opposed to Solitary Confinement, the many individuals who have experienced incarceration or whose family members have, churches and faith groups, and those who served as nurses and social workers in prisons.
Bills IAHR supported that did not pass:
Limiting the use of restrictive housing/solitary confinement - HB786/SB539 - IAHR’s signature legislation to limit the use of prolonged isolated confinement - requiring that it no longer be the default punishment for what are often even minor infractions. In 2017 more than 50% of inmates in Maryland state prisons spent an average of more than 45 days in isolated confinement according to data provided by Maryland Corrections as mandated by earlier IAHR legislation.
This year’s legislation largely required that State correctional facilities follow the recent standards for restrictive housing produced by the American Correctional Association (ACA), with special provisions for the disabled.
IAHR met with the union (AFSCME) that represents correctional officers. In previous years, the union opposed our efforts and this year would yield similar results. It however became evident that their real opposition was in fact a wedge to get increased funding from the state. IAHR agreed with their need for additional funding and we believed that we could support each other’s efforts. The union neither publicly supported nor opposed our solitary bill.
We had an amazing bill sponsor in Delegate “Jazz Lewis” who was a staunch and effective advocate and he worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Our Senate sponsor Susan Lee and her staff worked collaboratively with advocates and with Delegate Lewis.
Our biggest opposition was from Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS). This was not a surprise to us but the “footprint” of DPSCS became clear as the date for bill to cross over to the Senate approached. We discovered that the Department encouraged their managerial staff to call legislators and urge them to vote NO on our bill. We heard that there were “backroom” meetings between the Secretary of Correction Moyer and the Chairman of Judiciary Vallario from which advocates were excluded.
Unfortunately, the bill was gutted in the House Judiciary Committee, reduced to a single sentence urging DPSCS to try to follow the ACA standards. No accountability. No oversight. No protection for the disabled. For these reasons we asked that the bill be held back in the Senate and not voted on. Better to start anew than try to fix a bad bill. This defeat is a setback, but not the end of our efforts for reform.
Parole reform - HB846 - would have removed the Governor from the parole process for “lifers” who are eligible for parole since currently few if any lifers eligible for parole, despite parole board recommendations, actually are paroled. Keeping the Governor in the process politicizes it. Maryland is one of only three states that leaves the final decision to the Governor. This bill has languished for several years, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, despite this year’s passionate plea from former Governor Glendenning who admitted publicly that this was a bill he had championed and now regretted deeply. (Lead advocate: Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative).
Bills to improve conditions of confinement that IAHR supported that passed:
- Reproductive Justice - HB797 and SB598 - Providing menstrual hygiene products as needed to women incarcerated in Maryland jails and the state prison. (lead advocates: NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and Reproductive Justice Inside)
- Medical care for pregnant females - HB787 and SB629 - requiring a written policy for the care of pregnant women incarcerated in Maryland jails and prison that is shared with the inmates who test positive for pregnancy. (lead advocates: NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and Reproductive Justice Inside)
- Correctional Education - HB291 and SB1137 - identifying the educational needs of prisoners admitted to the state prison system. (lead advocate: Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform)
- Commitment to a mental health facility for defendants found incompetent to stand trial - HB111 - requiring the timely placement of defendants awaiting trial who are declared incompetent in a mental health facility rather than jail. (lead advocate: National Alliance on Mental Illness - Maryland)
Here is legislation that IAHR opposed, with some success:
Omnibus Crime Bill - SB122 - This was complex legislation, with funding for good programs such as Safe Streets in Baltimore, but with very bad provisions, such as doubling mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes, removing discretion from judges. The bill was ultimately broken up into different bills, saving some of the funding, deleting or reducing some but not all of the mandatory minimum sentencing. All advocate organizations opposed this bill that was sponsored by Senator Bobby Zirkin, Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
IAHR will roll out a new strategic campaign beginning in May. We will use the summer and fall to expand our reach across the state through coordinated public awareness efforts. We will continue as always to work in collaboration with new and existing coalition partners, as well as new likely and unlikely allies. We anticipate making announcements about these proposed activities in the upcoming weeks.
The 2019 Maryland legislative session begins Wednesday, January 9, 2019.
Again, many thanks to so many who join IAHR in this work to bring human rights into the criminal justice system. It is daunting but important work, with no quick fixes, but with a growing constituency and the stirrings of reform across many states.