February 2020 Newsletter
This month, we look forward to our Advocacy Day Program in Annapolis this week. It is still not too late to sign up. Additionally, we posted an update on the status of Peter Mukuria at Red Onion Prison, our monthly letter from our correspondent Marqui Clardy, Jr on prison security, and an important article from Prison Policy Initiative on how deaths in state prisons are on the rise. One of the contributing factors is solitary confinement. In our next newsletter we will publish a full report on our bill in the Virginia Legislature HB1284.
Last Call To Sign Up For Advocacy Day in Annapolis
Update on Peter Mukuria at Red Onion
Letter From Prison From MarQui Clardy, Jr.
Death in Prison are on the Rise
Photo from last year's Advocacy Day
When? Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Location: House Building, Room 142 (Anne Arundel County Delegation Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis 21401
Time? 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
HB742/SB1002: to limit the number of consecutive days in a given year that an inmate may be held (15 days is the recommendation from research and Corrections guidelines), sponsored by Senator Susan Lee and Delegate Jazz Lewis.
Parking: Gotts Court Garage (best entrance is 25 Calvert Street, next door to a cash only garage) is the closest.
9 am: Advocacy Day Volunteers arrive for registration. Continental breakfast will be served.
10 am: Briefing on legislation and advocacy training; assignments to small groups for visits.
11 am - 1 pm: Advocacy visits to House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee members.
11:30-12 noon: News Conference with Legislative Sponsors
1 pm: Debriefing - Volunteers share their impressions, information and insight from visits
2 pm: Conclusion of the day (with many thanks!)
Register to volunteer for Advocacy Day by clicking here.
In the "Comments" box, please indicate your district's senator and delegate. You can find your Delegate or Senator at http://mdelect.net/
Closer to the date we will provide summaries of the IAHR bills and the bills themselves, more parking information and a fact sheet on solitary.
If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to contact Kimberly Haven via text or voice at 443-987-3959 or email [email protected] or call Rabbi Feinberg at 202-669-7700
In January, we urged you to write to Operations Chief of the Western Region in Virginia, Henry Ponton, regarding the status of Peter Murkuria.
Peter Mukuria #1197165 is incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Virginia. He has spent years in solitary confinement but had worked his way to less restrictive housing through the prison’s Step-Down Program and was anticipating his move to the general prison population. However, on July 30, 2019, Peter was placed back to the beginning of the Step-Down Program and returned to solitary confinement based on a charge of “inciting a riot.” The charge was later reduced to “inciting a group demonstration,” but that did not soften the consequences for Peter. In addition to returning to solitary confinement, he lost 5 years of good-time credit.
IAHR is concerned that Peter’s placement in solitary is in retaliation for a class action lawsuit as described in the January 22 email. We appreciate that many of you wrote Mr. Ponton urging him to review Peter’s appeal impartially and that relevant security video be included in the review.
Recently, IAHR heard from Peter. He finally received a decision from Mr. Ponton, much later than the 60-day timeframe provided in the procedures. Mr. Ponton upheld the disciplinary charge against Peter, based on his finding that the Warden, Jeffrey Kiser, committed no “procedural error.” We don’t know if Mr. Ponton viewed the security video. The upshot is that Peter still languishes in solitary confinement at Red Onion Prison. He is currently in SM-1 in the Step-Down Program and expects to move up to SM-2 by the end of February. After that, he will move into another building where according to Peter, the “unit manager orchestrated the whole thing.” Peter thinks that he may receive another false charge at that point. We will keep you posted on Peter’s status at Red Onion.
Two months ago, at Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman), an altercation between two gangs erupted, during which four offenders were killed. This incident, which could rightfully be described as a massacre, made national headlines and left a lot of people wondering just how dangerous America's prisons are? How did the prison staff allow four murders to occur at the institution? And what, if any, security policies are in place to prevent such atrocities? It should come as no surprise that violent conflicts are quite common in prison. However, staff responses to these conflicts are often the difference between them being minor / isolated and them becoming major incidents with serious casualties. What may be surprising is that the dissatisfactory staff response at Parchman, which allowed the incident to escalate to the point of lives being lost, is quite common.
Depending on the security level of the institution, there are policies in place designed to make prisons safer, not only for offenders, but also for staff. These policies dictate operational procedures such as how many officers are to be posted in each building and housing unit at all times, how often the floor officers must "make rounds" through the housing units, whether or not the officers will be armed with weapons, and what types of incidents warrant use of force. There are also protocols for how officers should respond to offender altercations, some of which state that they should immediately radio for back-up, lock down the housing unit where the altercation is occurring, and, if need be, radio for emergency medical assistance. On paper, these security policies should, at the very least, prevent the chance of any offender altercation ending in serious harm or death, and at best, stop violent altercations altogether.
However, the effectiveness of those policies is nullified by the staff prisons hire, who, in a lot of instances, are indifferent to offender safety. A good example of this can be seen in another recent inmate killing that happened at a prison in Georgia. After being severely beaten and stabbed by several others, this offender was left crawling around the floor of his housing unit as he bled to death (Details in the news account differ-editor). Several minutes passed with no officers or medical staff arriving to lock down the housing unit or help the inmate. Had they followed the protocols, his life might have been saved.
Throughout my incarceration, I've witnessed several altercations between offenders where the staff did absolutely nothing. Most recently, there was a fight in my housing unit where one offender was swinging a knife at the other. Although the fight lasted about five minutes, the officer in the control booth never saw it, so no backup was called. Luckily, neither of the offenders were seriously injured, and the fight remained isolated. However, not long before that, another fight occurred in the housing unit adjacent to mine, during which members of one gang robbed and assaulted a rival gang member. Again, the entire fight eluded the eyes of the officers, and this offender was beaten so badly, other inmates had to intervene to save him. The lack of awareness of the officers in both situations could very well have cost those inmates their lives.
Even worse are the fights where the officers actually see the altercations, yet still do nothing. A while back, a gang member who had been excommunicated was moved into my housing unit. Two current members of the gang immediately began attacking him in the dayroom. The officers saw the attack, yet instead of following protocol by locking the pod down and radioing for backup, they just stood in the control booth with their arms crossed watching the fight. It was as if they found it entertaining. Just a few weeks ago, as I was returning to my housing unit from the dining hall, another offender was assaulted by two others on the walkway. This attack happened outside in broad daylight with about four officers posted around the walkway, yet none of them moved a muscle to help the offender or even to report the attack. Again, either of these incidents could've ended tragically because of the officers' failure to act.
Staff indifference to safety policies are obviously a major part of the problem; however, a lack of adequate staffing also plays a significant role. Prison operating procedures mandate that each building be staffed with at least one officer in the control booth as well as one officer on the floor to patrol the housing units at all times. There should also be a higher-ranking Sergeant or Lieutenant in each building, "yard officers" to surveil the walkways while offenders are outside the buildings, a Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) or Special Response Team (SRT) on standby to handle serious security threats, and a fully staffed medical department in case of medical emergencies. Again, on paper these operational mandates appear to eliminate the chance of offender altercations going unseen or getting out of hand. The problem is that a large number of prisons are understaffed and cannot follow all the security protocols because they just don't have enough personnel to do so. This has been my experience at each of the five institutions in which I've been housed throughout my incarceration.
Maybe budgetary constraints are to blame. Maybe the stigma of this environment causes problems with hiring and retaining staff to work here. Whatever the case, having insufficient (or incompetent) staff significantly compromises offender safety. The solution to minimizing tragedies like what happened in Mississippi and Georgia doesn't lie in more cookie-cutter legislation or security protocols printed in training manuals; it lies in the PEOPLE who are employed here. That's where corrections administrators should start.
Deaths in state prisons are on the rise, new data shows. What can be done?
Prison systems have shown they are unprepared and unwilling to care for an aging prison population - whether by improving healthcare or expanding compassionate release.
by Emily Widra, February 13, 2020
A new Bureau of Justice Statistics report released yesterday shows that from 2015 to 2016, the number of deaths in U.S. state prisons increased from 296 to 303 per 100,000 people. What accounts for these deaths?
Chronic illnesses continue to be the leading cause of death in state prisons, according to the report — far outpacing drug- and alcohol-related deaths, accidents, suicides, and homicides combined. The number of deaths from chronic illness — including a growing number of deaths from cancer in prison, at a time when overall deaths from cancer are going down — is a testament to the extremely poor healthcare incarcerated people receive. It also highlights the ways that prisons are unable and unwilling to care for their elderly residents, who comprise a growing share of the prison population.
Prison accelerates aging and increases the risk of early death from illness
As we’ve written about previously, each year of time served in prison takes two years off an individual’s life expectancy. Evidence suggests that the reason for this is that incarcerated people experience “accelerated physiological aging.” Prison ages incarcerated people by 10 to 15 years on average, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to chronic health conditions earlier in life than would be expected. As we see in the new prison mortality data, these chronic conditions – cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and respiratory diseases – are among the most frequent causes of death in state prisons.
Researchers have identified a number of reasons why prisons increase the risk of illness and early death (for a concise review, see Novisky 2018). These include, but are not limited to: varying degrees of health literacy and capital among incarcerated people; constraints on transportation to necessary appointments outside the prison; and inadequate healthcare in prisons due to insufficient resources, limited medical providers, restrictions on medication administration, and treatment bias because of stigmas attached to incarcerated patients. And – particularly for older or otherwise more vulnerable people – punitive practices like solitary confinement compound existing physical and mental health concerns and risks.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE.