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July 29, 2015

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Endorsement by Imprisoned Women´s Rights Watch of the Grey-Haired Witnesses for Justice

Sunday, June 20, 2010
Endorsement by Imprisoned Women´s Rights Watch of the Gray-Haired Witnesses for Justice

We here at the blog of Imprisoned Women´s Rights Watch, together with our friends, supporters and coworkers at all Prison Watch Project Blogs, as well as the Prison Watch Community Center, endorse the actions and beliefs of the Gray-Haired Witnesses for Justice. We wish their Fast and Demonstration in DC on June 21st for The Scott Sisters will reach the hearts of everyone everywhere, and that justice will be heard and acted upon.

For the Scott Sisters, and all people, women, men, children, living in prisons under deplorable circumstances, without hope, without decent care, without dignity or human rights. May justice and hope free them all!

The women and men of the Imprisoned Women´s Rights Watch and Prison Watch Project.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Evidence of National Reduction in Solitary Confinement

No Evidence of National Reduction in Solitary Confinement

June 15, 2010
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

An article in yesterday’s USA Today suggests that there’s been a widespread reduction in the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. Its author, Kevin Johnson, has done excellent reporting on solitary confinement in the past. And everything in this article is factually correct. But some of its generalizations and especially its headline (for which the author cannot be blamed) could prove misleading–which is too bad, since the piece appears to quickly be making its way around the web, and will convince some readers of a trend that doesn’t exist.

Under the headline “States Start Reducing Solitary Confinement to Help Budgets,” the article begins:

State prison officials are reducing the number of offenders in solitary confinement — once among the fastest-growing conditions of detention — as budget pressures, legal challenges and concerns about the punishment’s effectiveness mount. States such as Mississippi, Texas and Illinois have decreased the number of inmates in solitary confinement, a dramatic acknowledgement, analysts say, that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies.

After providing some quotes about the pros and cons of letting prisoners out of solitary, the article gives examples from the three states mentioned in the opening paragraph.

As we wrote earlier this week, Mississippi did see a dramatic reduction in the number of prisoners in its supermax unit–from more than 1,000 to about 150. It is to our knowledge a unique case, and the changes were not made for the purpose of saving money. The were (as the article does acknowledge) “spurred by lawsuits”–to be exact, a decade of suits brought by the ACLU. The state Corrections commissioner said the changes had “saved about $6 million and has not resulted in safety problems.”

The second example is Texas, where “A plan for 6,000 drug rehabilitation beds designed to divert offenders from prison had a side benefit, Republican state Rep. Jerry Madden said: a reduction in the solitary confinement population, from 9,343 in 2007 to 8,627 this year.” This is a significant reduction in a single year–though as Grits for Breakfast points out, “the number of offenders in isolation declined more or less organically when Texas diverted relatively low-level offenders from the system. To my knowledge there was no concerted effort to reduce it.”

The third example is Illinois, where “A state prison review reduced the number of segregated offenders from 2,347 to 2,266, spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said.” This is a decrease of less than 4 percent, and it’s not clear why it happened. It’s possible the reduction had something to do with the concerted activist efforts against the notorious Tamms supermax, which were supported in the past year by a scathing expose in the local press, protests from international human rights groups, and hearings in the U.S. Senate.

In any case, there’s really no evidence that budgetary considerations played a significant role, even in these three states. (And again, the author isn’t responsible for the misleading headline.) On the other hand, we do know that in Colorado, amidst deep budget cuts to education and social services, the state managed to come up with more than $9 million to open one wing of a new supermax prison, adding 300 more solitary confinement cells.

In fact, it’s too bad our prison policies aren’t driven primarily by considerations of cost and effectiveness. If they were, we’d probably have half as many people in prison as we do now (with some of them in drug or mental health treatment instead), and a tiny fraction of the current numbers in solitary confinement. (It costs over $90,000 a year to keep a prisoner in Tamms.)

It is encouraging to see any prisoners moved out of solitary–on a large scale in Mississippi, and on a smaller scale in Texas, Illinois, Oregon, New York, and elsewhere. If there’s any lesson at all emerging from these scattered examples, it’s that years of activism and court challenges sometimes do have an effect. But these efforts are scattered, and it’s far too soon to call this a national trend.

We do not know whether the use of solitary confinement has diminished, grown, or changed at all in the last decade, because there are no reliable statistics on the subject. Existing statistics are ten years old, and far from reliable. The USA Today story, like many others on solitary confinement, cites statistics that appeared in a 2006 report by a nonpartisan commission that studied U.S. prisons and jails:

Read more here: No Evidence of National Reduction in Solitary Confinement

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

20 inmates shot dead during Mexico prison battle

MEXICO CITY - Twenty inmates were shot to death Monday when a group of prisoners attacked another gang inside a prison in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, authorities said. Two policemen guarding the prison were wounded.
The lock-up in the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan was quickly brought under control and investigators found two pistols and an assault rifle inside, said Martin Gastelum, a spokesman for the Sinaloa state prosecutors' office.

Gastelum said all the dead inmates were killed by other prisoners. He did not say whether police fired any shots while restoring order.
Sinaloa state Public Safety Secretary Josefina Garcia told Radio Formula that one of the two police officers wounded was in serious condition.
Garcia said 17 of the dead were among the inmates attacked and three were with the attackers.

Local media said those attacked were apparently members of the Zetas drug gang, which is battling the powerful Sinaloa cartel, but officials were unable to confirm that.

Many of Mexico's most powerful drug traffickers hail from Sinaloa, a key smuggling corridor and cultivation area for marijuana and opiates. The northwestern state, and Mazatlan in particular, are rife with turf battles among drug gangs.
Mexico's drug gangs frequently try to break their members out of prison, by staging attacks from the outside or buying off prison officials. But there was no immediate confirmation Monday's shootings involved a prison-break attempt.

Young Palestinians in Israeli Jails

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Echoes of Mengele: Medical Experiments, Torture and Continuity in the American Gulag

Chris Floyd

This is the language of power – unfiltered, unadorned, dispassionate, professional – discussing how best to inflict tortures on helpless captives without causing "long-term" damage that might be visible later:

But as we understand the experience involving the combination of various techniques, the OMS medical and psychological personnel have not observed any such increase in susceptibility. Other than the waterboard, the specific techniques under consideration in this memorandum— including sleep deprivation—have been applied to more than 25 detainees.… No apparent increase in susceptibility to severe pain has been observed either when techniques are used sequentially or when they are used simultaneously—for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing. Nor does experience show that, even apart from changes in susceptibility to pain, combinations of these techniques cause the techniques to operate differently so as to cause severe pain. OMS doctors and psychologists, moreover, confirm that they expect that the techniques, when combined… would not operate in a different manner from the way they do individually, so as to cause severe pain.
Further reading.

See also: Truthdig (JUne 9th 2010)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

al Jazeera English: Dying inside: Elderly in Prison

Part 2:

This was aired on Al Jazeera English, from June 5th 2010:

The US' massive prison population is getting older.

Long sentences that were handed out decades ago are catching up with the American justice system.

Prisons across the country are dedicating entire units just to house the elderly.

During difficult economic times, the issue has hit a crisis point. Estimates are that locking up an older inmate costs three times as much as a younger one.

How are prisons dealing with this issue? Who are the prisoners that are turning gray behind bars?

Josh Rushing gains exclusive and unprecedented access to jails and prisons across the country to tell the story.

Monday, June 7, 2010

CCR Endorses New Report Showing Evidence of Bush Administration Human Experimentation on Men in CIA Secret Detention

Center for Constitutional Rights Press Release:

Violations of Nuremburg Code and Role of Health Professionals in Secret Torture Program Require Criminal Investigation

CCR Demands New Intra-Agency Interrogation Unit Disclose Nature of “Scientific Research” Into Questioning of Suspects

Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

June 7, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program. Download the report at http://phrtorturepapers.org/.

Physicians for Human Rights has produced a powerful analysis of declassified documents which provide evidence that doctors and officials performed human experimentation and research on individuals in CIA detention, in violation of the Nuremberg Code. From calibrating sleep deprivation to refining waterboarding practices, the released documents indicate that health professionals illegally experimented on individuals in CIA secret detention. Looking at the evidence through this lens opens new and important avenues for the prosecution of torturers, particularly health professionals implicated in the creation of the torture program.

The health professionals monitored and adjusted various methods such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the combined use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques as interrogators performed them repeatedly on individuals in the CIA’s secret detention program. Part of the health professionals’ work appears to have been researching the individuals’ susceptibility to severe pain. By doing so, the health professionals appear to have used their medical expertise to attempt to immunize interrogators from future criminal liability by allowing interrogators to claim they did not to cross the line of "severe physical and mental pain." The health professionals helped in the effort to provide legal cover for U.S. torture practices.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents a number of men who are or were detained by the United States, including men who died in the custody of the Department of Defense at Guantánamo under suspicious circumstances and whose families have brought an action against in the United States in al Zahrani v. Obama.

CCR has long called for accountability for torture. CCR joins PHR's call for the Attorney General to engage in a criminal investigation of illegal human experimentation and research on men in CIA detention, and further calls for investigation into possible experiments performed on men in military detention at Guantánamo and elsewhere, as well.

CCR also demands that the new intra-agency interrogation unit that was disclosed in February 2010 explain the nature of the "scientific research" it is conducting to improve the questioning of suspects. The current government may attempt to take advantage of ambiguity in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, added by the Bush administration and left in place by the Obama administration, to justify the ongoing use of some “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation in the new interrogation guidelines. Any ongoing unlawful human experimentation to “perfect” such techniques must immediately cease.

It is critical that we scrutinize forwarding-looking practices and policies as well as those of the recent past.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with an individual transferred from CIA “ghost detention” to Guantanamo. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 30 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Buried in the Bureau of Prisons

David C. Fathi 

Director, ACLU National Prison Project

Posted: June 4, 2010 04:31 PM 

Imagine a country in which prisoners can be denied visits, and even telephone calls, with family members for years at a time. Imagine a country in which government officials can prevent prisoners from telling news reporters about mistreatment or abuse. Imagine a country in which prisoners who are foreign citizens can be denied their right, guaranteed by international treaty, to meet with consular officials from their nation of origin. Unfortunately, that country is not some totalitarian state in the 1950s, but the United States in 2010.
Since 2006, the federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly operated a "Communications Management Unit" (CMU) at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. A second CMU was opened in Marion, Illinois, in 2008. Prisoners in these units face strict limits on visiting and telephone contact with the outside world.

The government has so far been operating these units without regulatory authority, but in April of this year, it belatedly published proposed rules that would authorize their operation. These rules make clear just what the government has in mind: a regime even more draconian than currently exists in the CMUs. Prisoners would be allowed only one 15-minute telephone call per month, with "immediate family members only" (defined to include only parents, spouses, children and siblings); one one-hour noncontact visit per month, with immediate family members; and one letter per week, limited to three pieces of paper, to and from a single recipient, "at the discretion of the Warden."

When the CMUs were first established, the government justified them as necessary to monitor the communications of convicted or suspected terrorists. But in a classic case of mission creep, the new regulations provide that a prisoner can be transferred to a CMU if there is "any … evidence of a potential threat to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of prison facilities, or protection of the public, as a result of the inmate's communication with persons in the community." Given that most people in BOP custody are already accused or convicted of criminal activity, this standard imposes no meaningful limits; virtually any of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners could be sent to a CMU. In fact the CMUs have already been used to house prisoners who have not been convicted, or even accused, of terrorist activity. And because the CMU transfer decision is made solely by the Bureau of Prisons, with no external review or oversight, prisoners lack a meaningful way to challenge their placement.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Andy Worthington Explores what New Habeas Corpus Decision Means for US Prison at Bragram Airbase in Afghanistan


From Andy Worthington

On Friday, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. delivered a genuinely disturbing ruling regarding prisoners in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.
This ruling has turned the clock back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, before prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” had any recourse to justice if they claimed they had been seized by mistake.
Ruling in the case of three foreign prisoners — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003, and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 — who were seized outside Afghanistan and transferred to Bagram via a number of secret CIA prisons, the Court of Appeals reversed a ruling last March by District Judge John D. Bates, granting the men the right to ask a US court why they were being held.
In January 2009, during a hearing before he delivered his final ruling, Judge Bates had recognized that Bagram was “a ‘black hole’ for detainees in a ‘law-free zone,’” and in his ruling he concluded — correctly — that the habeas rights granted by the Supreme Court to the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush, also extended to foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to Bagram, because, as he explained succinctly, “the detainees themselves as well as the rationale for detention are essentially the same.”
My own understanding was that it was only an administrative accident — or some as yet unknown decision that involved keeping a handful of foreign prisoners in Bagram, instead of sending them all to Guantánamo — that prevented these three men (and several dozen other foreign prisoners) from joining the 779 men in the offshore prison in Cuba.
This should have been the end of the story, especially as Judge Bates made no suggestion that similar rights should extend to foreign prisoners captured in Afghanistan, and also because, in June 2009, he accepted that a fourth man who had submitted a habeas petition — Haji Wazir, an Afghan seized in the United Arab Emirates — had no right to access a US court.
Although there was undoubtedly a case to be made that an Afghan rendered to Afghanistan from another country was in same position as a foreigner when it came to asking why they were being held, Judge Bates accepted the government’s argument that granting habeas rights to any Afghan would cause “friction” with the Afghan government, because of ongoing negotiations regarding the transfer of Afghan prisoners to the custody of their own government, and refused to grant Haji Wazir’s habeas petition.
However, this was not the end of the story. As soon as Judge Bates delivered his ruling last March, the government announced that it would appeal, and, in September, submitted a 76-page argument (PDF), which, as a sweetener to the Court of Appeals, also addressed a problem that Judge Bates had highlighted, even though it was beyond his remit to suggest any remedy.