This month’s newsletter features two upcoming webinars with authors Laurence Ralph and Dr. Christine Montross, a petition for early release of two women in Fluvanna Women’s Prison, a letter from prison from Marqui Clardy on solitary confinement, and a report on the District of Columbia assuming control of Parole.
Register for IAHR's interview of Laurence Ralph on October 20 at 11:30 a.m.
Register for IAHR's interview of Dr. Christine Montross on November 10 at 11:30 a.m.
Sign Petition for Cynthia Scott and Melissa Atkins
Letter from Prison by Marqui Clardy
Local Control of Parole-Critical Issue Facing DC Residents
Register now for our exciting online book event! On October 20th at 11:30 a.m. IAHR will have the honor of interviewing Professor Ralph Laurence, the author of the book "The Torture Letters." Click the link below to reserve your spot now!
For more than fifty years, police officers who vowed to protect and serve have instead beaten, electrocuted, suffocated, and raped hundreds---perhaps---thousands of Chicago residents. In The Torture Letters, Laurence Ralph chronicles this history, the burgeoning activist movement against police violence, and the American public's complicity in perpetuating torture at home and abroad. Writing meditations on racism in the form of letters, Prof. Ralph offers a collection of open letters written to protestors, victims, students, and others. Through these questioning, engaging letters, Prof. Ralph bears witness to the violence that began in Chicago's Area Two and follows the city's networks of torture to the War on Terror.
Along the way, he amplifies the voices of torture's victims who are still with us and lends a voice to those long dead. The Torture Letters is an indictment of police violence and a fierce challenge to all Americans to demand an end to the systems that support it. (From the book's jacket with a few additions). Laurence Ralph is professor of anthropology at Princeton University. He is the author of Renegade Dreams: Living with Injury in Gangland Chicago, published by the University of Chicago Press.
IAHR proud to present our new Virtual book club!
Join us on November 10 at 11:30 a.m. as we kick off our virtual book club with our first book "Waiting for an Echo: The Madness of American Incarceration" with author Dr. Christine Montross.
Dr. Christine Montross has spent her career treating the most severely ill psychiatric patients. Several years ago, she set out to investigate why so many of her patients got caught up in the legal system when discharged from her care--and what happened to them therein. The stark world of American prisons is shocking for all who enter it. But Dr. Montross's expertise--the mind in crisis--allowed her to reckon with the human stories behind the bars. A father attempting to weigh the impossible calculus of a plea bargain. A bright young woman whose life is derailed by addiction. Boys in a juvenile detention facility who, desperate for human connection, invent a way to communicate with another from cell to cell. Overextended doctors and correctional officers who strive to provide care and security in environments riddled with danger. In these encounters, Montross finds that while our system of correction routinely makes people with mental illness worse, just as routinely it renders mentally stable people psychiatrically unwell. The system is quite literally maddening.
Christine Elaine Montross is an American medical doctor and writer. First a published poet and a high school teacher, she later took up medical studies, and became an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University's Alpert Medical School. She is the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Sign Petition for Early Release for Two Women at Fluvanna Women’s Prison
Gay Gardner, IAHR's Virginia Advisor, has been reporting that there has been a serious outbreak of Covid-19 at the Fluvanna Women's Prison in Virginia. In late September it was reported by the Fluvanna Review that "at least 115 inmates and 10 staff members at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) have tested positive for COVID-19 since early September, and two are currently hospitalized." Needless to say, women with underlying medical conditions are frightened about the prospect of coming down with the virus.
Cynthia Scott and Melissa Atkins are two women with underlying medical conditions at Fluvanna Women's Prison that Gay has been in touch with and has tried to help. They've been going through an especially hard time during the COVID pandemic. They and their families have posted a petition on Change.org urging Governor Northam to grant them immediate release. We urge you to sign their petition and share it with others.
For more information about Covid-19 outbreaks in two of Virginia’s prisons see Chuck’s Blog.
Letter from Prison: The New Solitary Confinement
September 18, 2020
Being placed in solitary confinement was unquestionably the worst experience I've had in my twelve years of incarceration. I spoke in depth of that experience in my essay in IAHR's April 2019 newsletter. 51 days is the total time I spent stuck inside that tiny cell with most of the small "freedoms" I'd previously enjoyed in prison either severely restricted or cut off altogether. Toward the end of my stay, I honestly felt as if I were on the cusp of losing my sanity. But my 51 day punishment was a cakewalk compared to some other offenders I know who have spent as long as a year in solitary confinement. There are even stories of offenders spending decades there.
For most, it's unfathomable how mentally torturous that cell becomes as the days, weeks, and months pass by. Even if there's any ambiguity about whether it constitutes a violation of the eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the long-term psychological damage solitary confinement has on people cannot be questioned. But thanks to the hard work of advocates and advocacy groups, including IAHR, some changes are being made to solitary confinement practices.
Some prisons, including the one at which I'm housed, have ended the practice of holding us in solitary confinement for prolonged periods. After serving the initial penalty (the number of days to be served in segregation), we are promptly released back into general population. By contrast, when I spent my 51 days in solitary confinement in 2011, my initial penalty was only 15 days. The extra 36 days I was held were due to arbitrary - and completely unwarranted - administrative extensions. Barring certain major infractions such as extreme violence, this no longer happens. And even in those instances, the Warden or his designee are required to approve of holding us in segregation longer than 30 days. I see guys being put in Segregation all the time. Thankfully, they're usually out within a week or two.
Click here to read the rest of Marqui’s essay.
Local advocates in DC have been calling for the parole function to be returned to District control for many years. The ReThink Justice DC Coalition’s New Visions Committee (of which Rabbi Feinberg is a member) has been one of the groups deeply involved in this advocacy.
In recent months there have been many developments regarding this issue. The most important was DC Mayor Muriel Bowser making public a letter in July that she sent to Congresswoman Norton in which she requested a two-year extension for the United States Parole Commission and committed the District to assuming control of the parole function in that timeframe.
In addition, the U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution that gave a two year extension to the U.S. Parole Commission. The table is now set for the District to take back control of Parole.
Important advocacy work remains. To support that work and help brief advocates new to the issue, the New Visions Committee prepared this report on the issue: Background and History of Advocacy for the Return of DC’s Parole Function to Local Control.
Click here to read the full report.
Rabbi Feinberg’s Letter to the DC Jails and Justice Task Force-Local Control Committee
Recently, Rabbi Feinberg submitted the letter below to the DC Jails and Justice Task Force, Local Control Committee. The letter supports the Mayor and the DC Council taking back control of parole which has been in the hands of the U.S. Parole Commission for the last 23 years. The President of the United States appoints people to be Commissioners on the U.S. Parole Commission. The Commission is not accountable in any way to the residents of the District. The letter below outlines the important values and principles that should be the basis for a DC Parole Commission.
October 12, 2020
To: DC Jails & Justice Task Force, Local Control Committee
Re: Local Control of the U.S. Parole Commission
Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) supports the District taking control of the U.S. Parole Commission at the end of its 2 year mandate from Congress in 2022.
IAHR has been an active participant in both the DC Reentry Task Force and ReThink Justice DC coalition for the last five years. IAHR participated in the discussions that led to the publication of The Parole Revocation Process in DC: What DC Could Accomplish with Local Control.
IAHR also was involved in the creation of the Report, “Establishing Principles for the Creation of a Local Paroling Authority in Washington, DC.”
IAHR especially supports the following recommendations of these two reports:
- Not allowing the paroling authority to incarcerate an individual for “technical” violations;
- Reduce jail incarceration during the revocation process.
- Minimize reliance on incarceration as a sanction.
- Involve community, advocacy and subject-matter expert participation in revocation hearings.
- Mandate data collection and transparency.
- Reduce time on supervision for parolees and individuals on supervised release.
- Adjust the hearing schedule to reduce jail incarceration and encourage alternatives to revocation and incarceration.
IAHR also strongly believes that the Parole Commissioners should be drawn from the residents of the District of Columbia and appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the DC Council.
Click here to read the rest of Rabbi Feinberg’s letter.
Photos from the "Black Lives Matter" March on October 3, 2020 in Fredericksburg, VA with our Chairperson, Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass