June 2021 Newsletter
The June newsletter includes a letter from Rabbi Chuck asking you to support IAHR materially with a generous donation, a progress report on IAHR’s work over the last six months, an announcement on an upcoming restorative justice program, an Update on Parole in DC with an appeal to action, our monthly letter from prison from Marqui Clardy, and another call for volunteers in Maryland.
The District will be passing a budget by the end of this month or in July. So, it is now or never for creating a new parole board. You will find a description of the work that a committee of the ReThink Justice DC Coalition has done on parole and a call for action. Mr. Clardy has written an essay on the state of medical care in the prison he is residing in.
This year IAHR has taken a giant step forward this year toward more humane, rehabilitative penal practices in Maryland,Virginia, and DC.
|March 1, 2021. The Senate passed legislation that would end most uses of solitary confinement in Virginia prisons…|
For the first time, the Virginia Senate has voted to ban almost all uses of solitary confinement in state prisons. There is more work to do next session in Virginia and Maryland. But together with our partners, we have again demonstrated that citizen action can make a critical difference in ensuring human rights!
IAHR needs your help to fight all the many unconscionable abuses in our region’s prisons. In addition to ending solitary, it is urgent that we continue the fight to remove inmates from prisons that are hotbeds of Covid-19 and to publicize our discovery of Virginia’s use of attack dogs to terrify and maul prisoners – which has already led to litigation and public outrage from legislators.
I hope that you will consider making a gift to IAHR to help us build on this momentum. Whatever the amount of your gift, we deeply appreciate your support.
Below you will find a summary of IAHR’s substantial impact in recent months -- building on our multi-year legislative success in Maryland and Virginia, raising public awareness of extensive human rights abuses and partnering with leading law firms to significantly enhance our ability to serve more of the urgent needs of individuals suffering in inhumane conditions.
But no part of our efforts speaks to the humanity of incarcerated people more than our rapidly expanding person-to-person Pen Pal Program. Volunteers from across the country are reaching out to persons imprisoned in federal institutions thousands of miles from home – and being told by their incarcerated correspondents:
- “You came into my life when all I was seeing was darkness and you gave me light.”
- “Being in prison this long takes mental strength and stamina…you're the best thing that's happened to me. Nobody outside of my family have been more supportive of me than you.”
- "Yeah, I know our letters go through third parties, but it still don't stop me...Because you have been a shining star in my darkness of times!"
As you can see, we have made great progress. The need clearly remains. Please help us by making your increased contribution, if possible, at https://www.interfaithactionhr.org/donations or send a check to “Interfaith Action for Human Rights, P.O. Box 55802, Washington, DC 20040.” I give generously and pray you will too.
With warm regards,
Rabbi Charles Feinberg
IAHR’s has continued to build its visibility and impact through an extensive set of activities and initiatives. Our professional staff, dedicated volunteers and generous contributors have made all this possible – and laid the foundation for even greater accomplishments in the coming years.
Legislation is a key to IAHR’s campaign to fundamentally end torture in our region’s prisons and jails. In recent months,
- A strong bill supported by IAHR limiting the use of solitary confinement to 48 hours was passed in the Virginia Senate and advanced in committee in the House of Delegates.
- The Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement received a substantial grant from the Unlock the Box Foundation to support our work to end solitary confinement in Virginia. IAHR is a founding member of the coalition and is the administrator of the grant.
- IAHR has become a prominent advocate and leader for bringing parole authority back to the District of Columbia and is a key member of a coalition that envisions a parole authority emphasizing rehabilitation and reentry and not punishment.
Individual Support to those suffering from solitary confinement is another focus for IAHR.
- Pen Pal Program: Due to the leadership of IAHR’s vice-president, John List, our pen pal project has grown to include individual participants and institutions from across the country. The Pen Pal Program increased to 250 correspondents writing to incarcerated people in 29 states.
- Pro Bono Legal Assistance: IAHR continues its work with law firms it has secured to advise us on cases that our work has generated. The law firms are Foley and Lardner, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, and Murphy and McGonigle. The law firms are advising IAHR on how to respond to special cases of abuse and will consider litigation if warranted. In the last months,
- IAHR uncovered the use of attack dogs in VA state prisons; this discovery has led to litigation suing the VADOC for damages; it also has led to calls by prominent legislators to end the practice.
- IAHR uncovered the lack of care for an incarcerated person in Virginia who suffers from sickle cell anemia. IAHR identified a law firm to represent this person which resulted in a major settlement with VADOC that affected all 22 incarcerated people suffering from sickle cell anemia.
Public Awareness of our issues is the foundation for all our progress. Our best ally is a compassionate electorate that is well informed on the conditions of incarceration. Over the last year,
- IAHR has sponsored innovative online programming regarding conditions of confinement -- including interviews with significant authors, progressive practitioners, and returning citizens.
- IAHR has continued to add new partners to its work including Arnold & Porter, Rights Behind Bars, Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, Muslim Advocates, and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
- An Advisory Council of over 20 faith leaders in our region has been formed to help guide and assist IAHR in its work and community outreach.
2nd FORUM ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
Wednesday, June 9 at 12 noon
IAHR is sponsoring two programs on June 2 and 9 at 12 noon on restorative justice. The aim of restorative justice is to hold perpetrators of criminal acts accountable by facilitating a dialogue with their victims. To learn more about this rehabilitative and healing approach, we have invited three members of the DC Attorney General's Restorative Justice Program to speak about their work. We have also invited Heather Thompson, a relative of a victim to speak about her personal experience and her own spiritual journey. Heather will be our featured guest on June 9.
Seema Gajwani is Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform and Chief of the Restorative Justice Program Section at the DC office of the Attorney General.
Lashonia Thompson-El is the Co-Chief of the Violence Reduction Unit at the DC Office of the Attorney General. Lashonia and her team oversee the District's CURE the Streets pilot program.
Ruth Sherman is the legal assistant for theRestorative Justice Program at the DC Office of the Attorney General.
Heather Thompson has worked in the criminal justice field for over a decade and currently volunteers as a restorative justice facilitator with the DC Peace Team. She has participated in victim-offender dialogues in the past and has shared her experience with various audiences.
Transfer of Parole to the District of Columbia
Over the last 10 months, Rabbi Feinberg has participated in the New Visions Committee of the ReThink Justice DC Coalition. The New Visions Committee took it upon itself to envision a totally new way to establish local control over parole. Under the outstanding leadership of Malcolm Young, the committee has come up with a series of documents. These documents include outlining the basic principles by which a DC Parole Board should operate, two reports answering questions and concerns, and a paper titled, “A New Parole Authority for the District of Columbia.”
The New Visions Committee has been in touch with DC Council Member Charles Allen, chair of the DC Council Judiciary Committee and Mr. Allen’s staff. No other group in the District has come up with anything like the comprehensive vision and implementation plan that the New Visions Committee has created.
Here are some of the highlights from the document outlining basic principles:
- The new paroling authority the District will create to replace the USPC (the “paroling authority”) must be local, that is, it must be fully accountable to the electorate of the District of Columbia through its elected officials, who in turn must be accountable to the people themselves. The new D.C. paroling authority ultimately derives its authority from the people of the District, to whom it is accountable.
- The new paroling authority the District will create should embody the humane, equitable approach to criminal justice articulated by the District Task Force on Jails and Justice and the values articulated by the Task Force, including a public health approach to community safety and incarceration, fairness in administration, treating all with dignity and encouraging restorative practices and trauma-informed healing-centered practices.
- The practices and procedures of the new paroling authority must be fully accessible and transparent. All rules and procedures, as well as the proceedings of the new entity, must be available to public review and scrutiny. The entity must make accurate statistical data (e.g., percentages of parole applications granted, release revocation orders, etc.), as well as the fundamental operations of the new entity fully available for public review and comment.
- To assure that the paroling authority reflects the interests of all communities, paroling authority leadership, hearing officers and staff should be drawn from all Wards of the District, including returning citizens and people who reside in Wards in which returning citizens typically reside.
- The District should establish a Citizens’ Oversight Committee or Review Panel to address community concerns and provide authentic public oversight of the paroling authority’s work.
- For parole grant applications, officials of the local paroling authority should presume parole release eligibility for those who have completed their minimum sentences. All parole-eligible D.C. prisoners have served a minimum of 20 years in prison. Absent evidence that an individual parole applicant presents a demonstrated, credible, and ongoing threat to public safety or to individuals upon release, new legislation and regulations should mandate that the paroling authority order his or her release.
- In the event the paroling authority denies a parole grant application, it will schedule subsequent parole grant hearings on an annual basis and provide a statement of goals and conditions for the applicant to meet prior to the next parole hearing. The paroling authority should provide assistance to the prisoner to Principles for the Creation of a New Paroling Authority to secure support from appropriate community resources to prepare for eventual release at a subsequent hearing.
- No arrest should be ordered for an alleged technical violation of parole or supervised release, or following release after a misdemeanor arrest or conviction, pending a revocation hearing. When CSOSA (Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) alleges a technical violation of the terms of parole or supervised release, or when a returning citizen has been charged or convicted of misdemeanor criminal offenses while on supervision, a summons for appearance at a probable cause hearing may be issued. However, arrest may only be ordered in the event a returning citizen fails to appear for a revocation probable cause hearing without appropriate extenuating circumstances.
Click here to read the entire document.
Now is the time for DC residents to act. Please write the Mayor, DC Council Member Charles Allen, and your own Council Member urging them to support the vision and implementation plan that the New Visions Committee has created. Here is a sample letter:
Dear Council Member___________,
As a resident of the District in Ward____, I urge you to create and fund a new DC Parole Authority based on the vision, principles, and implementation plan created by the New Visions Committee of the ReThink Justice DC Coalition. Given the rising concern about racial inequities and abuse in the criminal justice system, DC has an opportunity to create a parole authority whose purpose will be rehabilitative, restorative, and healing. Please seize this opportunity. It can become an important step in reimagining a more just and rehabilitative community.
Sincerely, Your Name
Click here for a list of DC Council Members and their contact information.
Medical “Rights” Essay
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the cruel & unusual punishment of offenders, ensures that we're afforded the "right" to adequate healthcare in prison. In accordance, most prisons have on-site medical departments staffed with healthcare workers 24/7. There are standards of care they must meet, a formal process for us to request appointments for medical treatment, and even an emergency grievance process for us to request emergency care when needed. On paper, it would appear that adequate healthcare wouldn't be an issue behind bars. But what happens when the healthcare workers (and other staff) at institutions don't uphold the policies/standards that are in place to help us?
Last month, I experienced firsthand how our so-called healthcare "right" is nullified when prison staff undermine the medical policies at their whim. It began when I woke up one morning with what I assumed was a sore tooth. Throughout the day, the pain intensified until it became completely unbearable. By that night, I had a fever and the tooth seemed to be throbbing. It was unlike any pain I'd ever felt, and it kept me from getting any sleep that night.
The next morning when I looked in the mirror, I noticed that a small knot had formed on my gums, right where the pain was emanating from. I immediately knew it was a dental abscess. Dental abscesses are considered medical emergencies because they're pockets of infection. If left untreated, they can spread to other parts of your body, burst, and get into your bloodstream (which is highly fatal), or cause permanent damage to your mouth. I knew I needed to get to Medical ASAP, so - as policy requires - I approached an officer and requested an emergency grievance form. After explaining my emergency, I gave the form to the officer and returned to my cell to wait to be called to Medical. However, the entire day passed, and I was never called. According to policy, the officer should've taken the emergency grievance form to Medical, had them sign it, and returned a receipt to me so that I'd know they were aware of my emergency. Instead, the officer simply signed the form herself (unbeknownst to me at that time) and gave me a worthless receipt. Medical didn't call for me because they'd never received the emergency grievance.
IAHR is happy to announce that Linda Gustitus, a founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, has volunteered to assist Gay Gardner, IAHR’s Senior Advisor for Virginia. For the last six years, Gay has been corresponding with many men and some women in several Virginia state prisons. Through this correspondence, many alleged human rights abuses have come to light. Linda will be corresponding to new letters from people incarcerated at Red Onion or Wallens Ridge State Prisons.
(Photo: North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, MD)
However, IAHR would now like to identify a volunteer or volunteers who will begin corresponding with incarcerated men and women in select Maryland State Prisons. The number of hours per week is negotiable. Remuneration comes from God and the satisfaction of helping some of the most marginalized people in our society. If you are interested and would like more information, contact Rabbi Chuck at [email protected] and leave your phone number. Rabbi Chuck will contact you.