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PA Prison Report - August 6, 2012

In this edition: John Carter Remembered by Fellow Prisoner, Judge Urges Decision in Police Brutality Case, Multiple Suicides in Philadelphia Jails, and more…
 

News from the Inside

Support Letter for John Carter: This week, the Human Rights Coalition received a letter of support for John Carter from S. Muhammed Hyland. Hyland highlighted Carter’s contributions as an outspoken advocate against sentencing juveniles to life without parole, offered condolences to Carter’s family, and called for the people to become educated on the current conditions of the American prison system.
 
“The Amerikan public is ignorant to the on-goings behind prison walls, and that ignorance has plenty of purpose. If the public had knowledge of the injustices taking place inside of these Amerikan torture camps, they would work to destroy this 70 billion-dollar per year industry.
 
The problem is that they don’t know. They don’t know that prisoners are commodities-exactly as slaves were. They don’t know that educational and vocational programming has been eliminated, replaced with service-style jobs in maintenance and plumbing paying prisoners $.19 per hour- a ploy to keep prison operational costs low. They don’t know that if you refuse to be a slave, you’re automatically labeled as a “trouble maker”, and targeted throughout your incarceration- ultimately landing in the Restricted Housing Unit or “hole.” Just like J-Rock was! And the “hole” has one purpose, and one purpose only: to break the minds, bodies, and souls of women, children, and men placed in them! The hope is that a rebellious prisoner can be forced into submission and compliance, through the terroristic tactics that are sanctioned all throughout DOC policy.
 
Some fight back, and live to tell about it.
 
Others end up like my comrade J-Rock.
 
It’s much more common than people think. My little brother, Walter Rushing, was a victim of SCI Rockview’s “no-tolerance” policy, when he was “found” dead in his cell in the “hole”. Of “natural causes”. At age 24. He-like-J-Rock-was unwilling to accept Rockview’s brutality.
This system within the prison reflects a violent societal norm; less subtle; much more intense; and willingly kept out of view of the only people who possess the power, and ability to change it. It reflects capitalism’s need to ride the backs of the under-represented, in order to keep the “fat cats” on Wall Street in positions of power. Without these tentacles of intimidation, the “fat cats” wouldn’t exist. And until we confront this power, everybody will continue to suffer; the incarcerated, and the “free”, but especially the youth. And since the media is part of the conspiracy to keep the public out of the loop, think about this: up until a short while ago-until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole- the only other nation on this planet to sentence juveniles to serve life, was Somalia.
 
It’s time for the public to be educated about the realities of prison and the criminal injustice system. This education will save tons of money, and more importantly, lives."
 
Read Hyland's Entire Letter Here
 

Across Pennsylvania

Suicides in Philadelphia Jails: One attempt and three suicides in Philadelphia jails last month prompted officials and a civil rights lawyer to investigate conditions at the Detention Center and PICC. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that three men in their early 20s died by hanging in the span of one week at the end of July. Civil rights lawyer, David Rudovsky, will seek records of the 4 prisoners to determine whether the men had mental health problems that were being neglected. The Commissioner of the Philadelphia prison system announced that the prison and police are doing an investigation, and that an independent monitor from a behavioral health service was scheduled to tour the prison shortly after the deaths.
 
Lack of access to mental health care, lock up in solitary, retaliation and abuse, and outcomes of sham parole hearings are common reasons for suicide attempts reported to the Human Rights Coalition. Two investigations done by HRC into conditions at SCI Huntingdon and SCI Dallas in 2010 and 2009 respectively, began in response to two men, Timothy Kelley and Matthew Bullock, being incited to commit suicide by guards in the prison. Last week Brandon Palakovic hung himself in a solitary cell at SCI Cresson. Palakovic had a history of mental health needs that were not adequately addressed within the prison walls.

 

Courtroom Beat

Jury Deliberations in the Jordan Miles Case Continue: After a two and a half week trial, the jury in Jordan Miles’ civil suit against the three Pittsburgh city police officers that assaulted him, began deliberations on Thursday, August 2, 2012. As of Tuesday August 7th, the jury is yet to reach a verdict. The jury is deliberating on three claims against each officer. The claims against the officers are excessive force, false arrest, and malicious prosecution. The jury must find the officers guilty by the preponderance of the evidence. This is a less stringent standard than the “by a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal prosecution, and only requires the jury to find the evidence weighs slightly more in Jordan’s favor. In the afternoon of August 7th, Judge Lancaster called the jury in to the court room in response to their difficulty reaching a verdict. The Judge explained that they have everything they need to reach a verdict and that there is no reason to believe a second trial with another jury will have an easier time weighing the evidence. This instruction is known as an Allen instruction, and has been approved by the Supreme Court to be used when a jury is deadlocked. Judge Lancaster seems to be taking every step possible to avoid a hung jury. Members of the Alliance for Police Accountability and other supporters of Miles attended the trial and have been at the court house awaiting a verdict. To learn more about Miles’ assault and the trial visit http://www.justiceforjordanmiles.com/.

 

Across the Nation

U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on rising prison costs: U.S. Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 1, 2012 to address the “enormous strain on federal, state and local budgets” caused by prison costs. The Senator noted in his opening remarks that “Between 1970 and 2010, the number of people incarcerated grew by 700 percent. The United States incarcerates almost a quarter of the prisoners in the entire world, even though we only have 5 percent of the world’s population. There are currently more than 1.6 million people in state and federal prisons and more than 700,000 more in local jails. That means we incarcerate roughly one in every 100 adults.”
 
Leahy, who has a reputation as one of the most liberal members of the Senate, framed the issue almost exclusively in terms of fiscal considerations, noting as a secondary argument that cost-reduction reforms will also improve public safety. This focus reflects a growing trend where issues of crime and incarceration are addressed by politicians, media, and certain advocacy and reform organizations through the lens of costs, ignoring the widespread and systemic nature of human rights violations in the criminal legal system in the U.S.
 
Texas executes man with intellectual disabilities: On Tuesday August 7, 2012, 54-year-old Marvin Lee Wilson, a man with an IQ of 61 was executed in Texas. Wilson was convicted of the 1992 kidnapping and murder of a police informant, in a trial that has been revealed to have had many inconsistencies in witness testimony. As in many other cases involving a intellectually disabled person there was evidence that a more mentally capable co-defendant may have coerced Wilson, or forced him to take the fall for the murder. The 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, made the execution of any person considered to have intellectual disabilities, having an IQ of less than 70 being one of the standards, illegal. In violation of the Supreme Court ruling Texas has established the standard for what the state still refers to as “mental retardation” as being Lennie Small, a fictitious mentally impaired character in John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men. Texas proceedings on capitol punishment also hold that “Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty” based on their “level and degree of mental retardation”. These guidelines are referred to as the Briseño factors in the state, named after another man with intellectually disabilities executed by the state. Neither of these standards are based on legislation passed in the state, but rather on precedent.
 
Before Tuesday’s execution supporters hoped that the Supreme Court would intervene in the case of Marvin Lee Wilson, his lawyer, Lee Kovarsky stating that "If Texas executes Mr. Wilson, then the once-promising Eighth Amendment rule against executing offenders with MR will have been reduced to a capital exemption in name only.” After the execution Kovarsky released the following statement;
_
We are gravely disappointed and profoundly saddened that the United States Supreme Court has refused to intervene to prevent tonight’s scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson, who has an I.Q. of 61, placing him below the first percentile of human intelligence. Ten years ago, this Court categorically barred states from executing people with mental retardation. Yet, tonight Texas will end the life of a man who was diagnosed with mental retardation by a court-appointed, board certified specialist.
 
It is outrageous that the state of Texas continues to utilize unscientific guidelines, called the Briseño factors, to determine which citizens with intellectual disability are exempt from execution. The Briseño factors are not scientific tools, they are the decayed remainder of an uninformed stereotype that has been widely discredited by the nation’s leading groups on intellectual disability, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. That neither the courts nor state officials have stopped this execution is not only a shocking failure of a once-promising constitutional commitment, it is also a reminder that, as a society, we haven’t come quite that far in understanding how so many of those around us live with intellectual disabilities._
 
The execution of Marvin Lee Wilson displays how the United States has failed to progress in its treatment of the mentally disabled and mentally ill, harkening back to the laws allowing compulsory sterilization of mentally disabled citizens that lasted well into the second half of the last century. Also the Supreme Court’s failure to intervene in this case reflects a regression in its recent trend of seeking to defend those in the criminal justice system who cannot display culpability.
 
As the lethal injection filled Mr. Wilson’s veins he told his family he loved them, and that he would see them soon before praying for the Lord to take him to heaven for the fifteen minutes before he died. He is survived by three sisters and a son.
 

Announcements

Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 7-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Wednesday of each month, 5-7pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email: hrc.philly.support@gmail.com, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
 
Pittsburgh area: Write On! – Letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email: hrcfedup@gmail.com or call 412-654-9070.
 
You’ve been reading the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
 
Keep up the fight!