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  • Solidarity Not Solitary

    By Val Kiebala The coronavirus sparked an unprecedented public health crisis in the U.S., hitting prisons and jails especially hard. In the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections alone, 112 incarcerated people have reportedly died from the virus, though advocates believe the number may be even higher. But the response of the PADOC and prison administrators across the country to lock down the incarcerated population in solitary confinement created another national pandemic: a mental health crisis. In 2011, Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture at the time, declared, “Any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, during the past year, departments of corrections across the country inflicted this torturous practice on upwards of 300,000 people often for months at a time, in the name of curbing the pandemic. Public health experts condemned the use of solitary not only because of its harrowing psychological effects but also because the threat of isolation has proven to deter people from reporting symptoms, ultimately exacerbating the spread of sickness. Tyree Little, who spent eight or nine years in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania prisons, said, “Being in solitary can be even more depressing because of what’s going on. You really don’t get access to news media and all that or the TV to watch the news or contact your family, so you’re going to be even more depressed not knowing if your loved ones are catching COVID.” One of the most harmful aspects of the department’s mismanagement of the pandemic, according to Little, is the lack of access to visitation and phone calls. The last in-person visit was on March 11. And while of course, physical contact must be limited with the outside world to contain the virus, Little says that pervasive technical difficulties prevent incarcerated people from communicating with their loved ones. While the PADOC originally used the Zoom application for video visitation, they switched to a telecommunications company called Polycom a few months ago. “It’s bad,” Little said. “Sometimes you can’t even hear them. You can see your folks but you can’t hear them. So y’all trying to do sign language or write on a piece of paper. The quality is bad on this new system they’re using.” JT, who spent a total of 14 years in solitary during his time in prison, said, “I know quite a few people who have been on [video visits through Polycom] and most people say the same thing: that they sit there and waited and waited and waited and nothing happened. They called the prison to try to find out what happened and couldn’t get no answers, so they never got their visit…I don’t know why they would switch it from Zoom to [Polycom].” Contact with family and loved ones on the outside has been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of someone returning to prison. And depriving someone of the right to communicate with loved ones has deeply damaging effects. A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that even just one visit reduced the likelihood of recidivism by 13 percent for new crimes and 25 percent for technical violations. “All in all,” JT said, “I think that the lockdown that the DOC is under means the whole state prison system is in solitary for real because they’re not getting out of their cells. They say sometimes they don’t even get out for their phone calls and stuff…If they say they don’t have enough guards, then you’re not coming out. It’s a really bad situation.” Even long before the pandemic, solitary confinement has been at the crux of mass incarceration, warehousing several tens of thousands of people in squalid conditions. Depriving people of human contact and sensory stimulation has been destroying the minds and bodies of incarcerated people ever since the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia first used the practice in 1790. Since then, the practice has inflicted violence on Black, Brown, indigenous, and poor communities across the country. Tyree Little and JT are both lead organizers of the Solidarity Not Solitary (SNS) campaign, which aims to eliminate the use of solitary for longer than fifteen consecutive days across the state of Pennsylvania. The SNS campaign has developed legislation that would implement this ban on solitary in alignment with international human rights standards. Abundant amounts of research has proven solitary confinement to be an ineffective penological tool that causes lasting psychological damage to anyone subjected to it. People held in solitary confinement are already more likely to harm themselves or even kill themselves. In January 2020, the PADOC reported holding 2,500 people in solitary confinement in state prisons. And people in solitary are nearly seven times more likely to self-harm than people held in general population. Half of youth suicides in custody occurred in solitary confinement. Additionally, 95 percent of people in prison are eventually released back to society. And between 2008 and 2014, the PADOC released over 400 people directly from solitary back into the community. “Even with myself, being in solitary so long,” Little said, “when they released me back to population, I couldn’t walk too close to people. I didn’t want people walking too close to me. I ain’t used to no human contact…So imagine, I seen people in the RHU released straight home after 20 years of being in solitary confinement. How can you release some-one like that straight back to society? It’s like they’re doomed to fail. No counseling. No nothing. It’s like taking a wild lion out the zoo and just releasing him into the woods.” In addition to making communities more dangerous, holding someone in solitary confinement for a year costs significantly more than holding someone in general population. Eliminating the use of solitary confinement would save the state $75 million a year. JT says that money should be used for “programs that are open to everybody. Programs that actually get you ready for society, as opposed to some of those BS programs they run now. Programs that would actually help people’s skills. Giving people training for differ-ent occupations. Preparing people for when they’re re-leased.” Ultimately, the goal of the SNS campaign is to eliminate solitary confinement across the state of Pennsylvania and replace it with humane, effective practices that keep incarcerated people, correctional officers, and our communities safe and healthy. Anyone interested in becoming involved with the Solidarity Not Solitary campaign through the Inside Advocacy Project, please write to the Human Rights Coalition, attn.: Solitary; PO Box 34580, Philadelphia, PA 19101.

  • The Big Bad Fraud Wolf

    By Folami Irvine An elder told me this story once. One day at an auto manufacturer in Detroit, a guy drove his car up and said “I just purchased this car and it’s not working!” All the top men came down to check it out, the engine, the wiring, the radiator, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, they turned to Mr. Willie, an African American man with little education who had a knack for cars. They said “Mr. Willie, something’s not right with this car but we checked everything! What’s the matter?” He got in the car, turned the ignition and the gas pan-el needle was on “E”. “This car ain’t got no gas in it!” Sometimes it’s just common sense. During this past year, we’ve lost a lot of lives. The root of this problem is the big bad fraud, Governor Wolf. He definitely doesn’t care about people. He is able to release over 1,000 incarcerated citizens through reprieve and commutation - people who are ill or vulnerable to illness considering our prisons are overcrowded, poorly cleaned, and lack proper quality healthcare. Governor Wolf had commutation applications sitting on his desk, but because he didn’t move them fast enough. And Bruce Norris died from COVID in the meantime. He’s able to release them but he’s made the choice not to. I can only as-sume it’s because he does not care about our incarcerated family members or the families who are suffering from his lack of action. We’ve lost a lot of loved ones. But to someone like Governor Wolf, our pain is probably insignificant. He doesn’t have family members in prison dying of COVID. But we do, our loved ones are dying. Not because of the crime they supposedly committed, but because of the lack of COVID precautions. Due to overcrowding and guards coming in out of the prisons getting them sick, everyone is at risk. It’s chemical warfare. Many guards come into these prisons without masks, yet families are told WE can’t come visit because we might carry the virus. Governor Wolf is blind to the struggles of real people. His wealth allows him to feel invincible and hide behind a veil of privilege. Which is ironic considering that a portion of the wealth he benefits from is directly sourced from private prisons and similar institutions that are actively endangering our families lives. We get caught up in a lot of data and numbers. I want to deal with the basics of life for a minute. There’s so much emphasis on “evidence-based,” but at the end of the day, some things are beyond evidence. In the hood, we don’t just see what’s “evidence-based,” we see the real deal. We see our family members dying, we see that the GUARDS are bringing this virus into the prison. And we see that politicians like Wolf don’t seem to care. We’re tired of “evidence-based.” We’re dealing with raw, with real “it is what it is” basic outcome. And the outcome is detrimental when dealing with COVID. The outcome is bad for the general population out here. But for those incarcerated, it’s an atrocity. There are so many family members at HRC, alone, that have lost someone. Governor Wolf finally signed 13 commutations. That’s not enough. When there’s a possibility to get people out who are ill or vulnerable or have done 30, 40, 50 years, he should do it. Governor Wolf, take the opportunity to reform your past transgressions and do the right thing. Because while we continue to lose so many people like Bruce Norris, all you had to do was LIFT YOUR FINGER and empathize with the citizens who you are supposed to serve. Governor Wolf, this is year 5. Your karma’s coming. Do the right thing – it’s common sense.

  • Protesting in tribute to George Floyd whose death has sparked protest across the entire US

    On June 7th approximately a thousand people gathered at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly and march to Gov. Wolf's office in Center City. Over a dozen people were on a hunger strike demanding that Gov Wolf keep his promise and release the elderly and sick from prison during this COVID19 Pandemic. In addition to changing a prison system that does not hold value to or respect for the lives they hold, the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) demand that prison guards be held accountable for wrongful deaths and abuse of the men and women held in their custody. INCARCERATED LIVES MATTER! View more images from protests here.

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  • PRISON ABUSE REPORT | HumanRightsCoalition

    Line separator PRISON ABUSE LOG APRIL 2021 REPORT Summary here Listen to the news report below.

  • JOIN US | HumanRightsCoalition

    Line separator JOIN HRC TODAY WAYS TO GET INVOLVED . We are a movement of people. Each time a new person joins the Human Rights Coalition, we become more powerful and our shouts are louder in our efforts to abolish the human rights violations of American prisoners; i.e., abuse, torture, and above-the-law attitudes of prison administrations. We welcome everyone to join us in this movement! Sign up here! VOLUNTEER If you support our fight against abuse and torture in prisons, we ask you to join us. Our network of volunteers help out with our several campaigns through phone banking, writing letters, organizing groups to respond to a crisis, running HRC's social media, and leading lobbying efforts. You can volunteer with our campaigns to stop solitary confinement, end toxic prisons, and free lifers and long-termers from prison. JOIN THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE NETWORK The Emergency Response Network (ERN) is a collective method of addressing issues of abuse or torture happening inside prisons. HRC alerts ERN members of reported and confirmed prisoner abuses and/or violations of human rights. To stand up against such violations, we bring public awareness by sharing on social media, calling or writing to the prison, newspapers, radio, or legislators. FUND OUR MOVEMENT! You can donate using the link below or by sending a check or money order to: HRC's work is made possible with your donations. ​ Human Rights Coalition PO Box 34580 Philadelphia, PA 19101 Donate

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Human Rights Coalition

PO Box 34580
Philadelphia, PA 19101

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The Human Rights Coalition is a group of incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their family members and supporters who fight for prisoners' rights and lives.rg