This month criminal justice advocates celebrate some small successes. Read about how Michael Lawrence was transferred from Red Onion prison and how activists were able to persuade Maryland Correctional leaders to rescind its very restrictive book policy. You will also read about IAHR's forum in Baltimore as well as a call for suggestions for new IAHR board members.
You may recall that IAHR issued an appeal asking for messages to be sent to the Department of Corrections and other officials regarding Michael Lawrence, a man at Red Onion who has been in solitary confinement for 16 years. After our appeal was issued, we learned that Michael had been assaulted by two guards. We followed up with additional urgent appeals for this to be investigated and for the DOC to protect Michael from further retaliation. We subsequently learned that he has been transferred to Sussex I State Prison.
Yesterday Gay Gardner, IAHR Secretary and correspondent with Michael, received a very nice card yesterday from Michael. Included in the card was a note that said,
"By the grace of God and your assistance I was delivered to Sussex I on May 29th! I was so happy I almost cried, but a voice said to me, 'Be thankful and continue to pray to me, and show your gratitude by doing the right thing.' And I am truly thankful to you and all you have done, and by the grace of God, you are to me a Super Human Being and I pray for the best for you, because you are truly one of God's best!"
Although the note was addressed to Gay, it was also meant for each person who contacted the Department of Corrections regarding his treatment. IAHR is trying to find out more about Michael’s current conditions of confinement, but you can see that he is clearly relieved. So many thanks to those of you who took action. You made a difference!
Baltimore Sun: Maryland Prisons Rescind controversial policy that advocates say restricted inmate book access
Maryland prison officials have agreed to rescind a policy introduced in April that inmate advocates said restricted prisoners’ access to books.
In a move to curb smuggling of Suboxone film — a drug commonly used to treat opioid addiction that is sold in thin, easy-to-hide strips — the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in April announced that inmates would only be allowed to receive books from two vendors, Edward Hamilton Books and Books N Things.
The corrections department overturned that decision Monday. Inmates may now accept books from family and online retailers, but only after those books have undergone a rigorous screening process.
Officials targeted book shipments as a source of drug trafficking in Maryland prisons.
“What may appear to be a seemingly harmless novel could be concealing drugs and weapons used to fuel institutional violence and corruption,” wrote Maryland DPSCS Secretary Stephen T. Moyer in a letter to the state’s American Civil Liberties Union.
Maryland DPSCS documented 44 instances in which Suboxone was found in books since 2015, amounting to 660 strips.
But in most cases, inmates just want to read, not smuggle drugs, said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. The state’s ACLU has been at the forefront of the movement against the policy.
The human rights organization penned a seven-page letter to Moyer in May that decried the policy and called it “irrational, arbitrary and an exaggerated response to safety concerns.”
“There are more effective ways to address safety concerns without isolating and dehumanizing the people that are incarcerated,” said Kumar. “What we’ve learned from prisoners and their families is this is part of a broader pattern in the [Department of Corrections] of adopting severe rules that have consequences for inmates and their families in the name of security.” Click here to read the rest of the article.
IAHR thanks its supporters for protesting this policy by writing to your elected officials. We salute the ACLU-MD for its persistent opposition to this misguided policy. While it is possible that some illicit drugs are smuggled in through book orders, many experts suspect that some members of the staff of a prison also bring in this contraband. The smuggled drugs command high prices. Many staff members including correctional officers are poorly paid. The temptation to make some extra money by smuggling in drugs is great.
Over 50 people attended the forum on solitary confinement in Maryland that was held at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore on June 7.
Toni Holness, Public Policy Director of the ACLU-MD, Lauren Young, director of litigation at Disability Rights Maryland, Munib Lohrasbi a research fellow at Disability Rights Maryland, and Marcus Lilly, a returning citizen and member of the Maryland Prisoners’ Rights Coalition addressed the group of over 50 people.
The panelists painted a grim picture of conditions in Maryland state prisons. 50% of the prison population is assigned to solitary at least once during 2017. Seriously mentally ill inmates are in solitary for extended time. During 2016 and 2017 over 500 people were released to the community directly from solitary. (Photo: Rabbi Feinberg opening the meeting. Seated: Toni Holness, Lauren Young, Munib Lahrasbi, and Marcus Lilly)
Marcus Lilly gave the most riveting testimony. He spent thirteen years in Maryland prisons. During that time, he was thrown into “the hole (as solitary is often called)” a number of times. He described the total lack of privacy even when using the toilet. One time he had put up a piece of paper over his cell door in order to create some privacy while he was using the toilet. A correctional officer said that he had to take the paper down immediately. He would not allow Marcus to finish. Following the presentations the audience asked questions or made statements for over an hour. A number of people in the audience volunteered to try to meet with candidates who are running for the Maryland Legislature. (Photo: Marcus Lilly Speaking)
The group agreed that candidates for the Maryland Legislature should be asked what they can do to change conditions of confinement in order to protect public safety.
As the fall election approaches, IAHR will be asking you to attend candidate forums in order to question and challenge the candidates on conditions of confinement in Maryland prisons, especially the abuse of solitary confinement.
The next forum on solitary confinement in Maryland will be held at the Friends Meeting House in Frederick, Maryland on Tuesday, July 23, 2018 at 7 p.m. The Friends Meeting House is located at 723 N Market Street, Frederick, MD 21701. Speakers will be announced soon.
The IAHR Board consists of 11 members and the Executive Director. The Board would like to expand to 12 or 13 members in the near future. As you can see on our website, the board is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. However, the Board also seeks to become more diverse. The Board is missing a person who professes Islam. Other faiths are also not represented. The Board is asking our supporters to suggest possible candidates to be nominated to the Board.
Members of the Board are expected to participate in a committee, attend monthly Board meetings, and support IAHR financially.
If you know of someone whom you think will enrich the diversity of the IAHR Board, please contact Rabbi Feinberg at [email protected]