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July 29, 2015

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unlikely Coalition Agrees: Prison is a Beast

For Immediate Release: Aug 30, 2012

Contact: Joshua Busch, Communications Director
(o) 310.204.0448 x225, (c) 310.991-2503


Diverse Group of Partners Endorses New Animated Video Illustrating Damage to Communities from Overspending on Prisons

A new racially and politically disparate partnership has burst onto the national scene with the aim of reducing runaway prison growth. Coming at a time of sharp budget cuts nationwide, and uniting around the theme of fiscal sensibility, the coalition has pulled together actors from across the political sphere, with such unlikely bedfellows as civil libertarians, African Americans, law enforcement officials, and conservative evangelicals.

The catalyst for the partnership comes from a new campaign, “Beyond Bars” – launched by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation – and the release of their animated video, “The Beast.” The video focuses on the financial resources gobbled up by the prison system, depriving communities of revenue for vital services such as education and drug treatment. Watch it HERE.

“In a time of hyperpolarization in our politics, conservatives and progressives alike are seeing the disastrous impact that the prison system has on communities,” said Beyond Bars’ Campaign Director Jesse Lava. “Every dollar spent on an excessive prison sentence is a dollar that a community can’t use to promote rehabilitation, crime prevention and education opportunities.”

Indeed, with the country pausing to reflect on national priorities during party conventions, the video shares that the U.S. spends $228 billion per year on the criminal justice system overall. And the U.S. now locks up 2.3 million people, with a higher incarceration rate and more absolute number than any other country in the world (surpassing China and Russia). More than half of all people behind bars are there for non-violent offenses.

“We’re wasting so much human potential and money on a system that is not making us safer,” said Founder and President of Brave New Foundation, Robert Greenwald. “Our coalition is saying we’re tired of waiting for change, and we’re going to join together to make it happen.”

Partners who have endorsed Beyond Bars’ “The Beast” video include: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Drug Policy Alliance, Justice Policy Institute, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Equal Justice Initiative, All of Us or None, A New Way of Life, Partnership for Safety & Justice, United Methodist Church, NAACP, Justice Fellowship.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Building the Anti-Mass Incarceration Movement: Sept. 14th 2012, New York, Riverside Church

Mumia Abu-Jamal urges us to build the ANTI-MASS INCARCERATION MOVEMENT and come to Riverside Church on SEPT 14TH AT 7 pm.

For info go to: FREEMUMIA.COM OR CALL 212 330-8029


Monday, August 13, 2012

Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

From: Al-Jazeera, Aug 10th 2012
An estimated 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US prisons.

With: Kanya D'Almeida and Bret Grote

"The torture technicians who developed the paradigm used in (prisons') 'control units' realised that they not only had to separate those with leadership qualities, but also break those individuals' minds and bodies and keep them separated until they are dead." - Russell "Maroon" Shoats

Russell "Maroon" Shoats has been kept in solitary confinement in the state of Pennsylvania for 30 years after being elected president of the prison-approved Lifers' Association. He was initially convicted for his alleged role in an attack authorities claim was carried out by militant black activists on the Fairmont Park Police Station in Philadelphia that left a park sergeant dead.

Despite not having violated prison rules in more than two decades, state prison officials refuse to release him into the general prison population.

Russell's family and supporters claim that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) has unlawfully altered the consequences of his criminal conviction, sentencing him to die in solitary confinement - a death imposed by decades of no-touch torture.

The severity of the conditions he is subjected to and the extraordinary length of time they have been imposed for has sparked an international campaign to release him from solitary confinement - a campaign that has quickly attracted the support of leading human rights legal organisations, such as the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild.

Less than two months after the campaign was formally launched with events in New York City and London, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, agreed to make an official inquiry into Shoats' 21 years of solitary confinement, sending a communication to the US State Department representative in Geneva, Switzerland.

[video: Whistleblower 'isolated' in US jail]

What the liberals won't tell you

While the state of Pennsylvania has remained unmoved in this matter so far, some in the US government are finally catching on. Decades after rights activists first began to refer to the practice of solitary confinement as "torture", the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights and human rights held a hearing on June 19 to "reassess" the fiscal, security and human costs of locking prisoners into tiny, windowless cells for 23 hours a day.

Needless to say, the hearing echoed in a whisper what human rights defenders have been shouting for nearly an entire generation: that sensory deprivation, lack of social contact, a near total absence of zeitgebers and restricted access to all intellectual and emotional stimuli are an evil and unproductive combination.

The hearing opened a spate of debate: with newspapers in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Ohio and elsewhere seizing the occasion to denounce the practice as "torture" and call for a reversal of a 30-year trend that has shattered - at a minimum - tens of thousands of people's lives inside the vast US prison archipelago.

But as happens with virtually all prison-related stories in the US mainstream media, the two most important words were left unprinted, unuttered: race and revolution.

Any discussion on solitary confinement begins and ends with a number: a prisoner is kept in his or her cell 23 or 24 hours per day, allowed three showers every week and served three meals a day. According to a report by UN torture rapporteur Mendez, prisoners should not be held in isolation for more than 15 days at a stretch. But in the US, it is typical for hundreds of thousands of prisoners to pass in and out of solitary confinement for 30 or 60 days at a time each year.

Human Rights Watch estimated that there were approximately 20,000 prisoners being held in Supermax prisons, which are entire facilities dedicated to solitary confinement or near-solitary. It is estimated that at least 80,000 men, women and even children are being held in solitary confinement on any given day in US jails and prisons.

Unknown thousands have spent years and, in some cases, decades in such isolation, including more than 500 prisoners held in California's Pelican Bay state prison for ten years or more.

Perhaps the most notorious case of all is that of the Angola 3, three Black Panthers who have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana for more than 100 years between the three of them. While Robert King was released after 29 years in solitary, his comrades - Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace - recently began their 40th years in solitary confinement, despite an ongoing lawsuit challenging their isolation and a growing international movement for their freedom that has been supported by Amnesty International.

But all these numbers fail to mention what Robert Saleem Holbrook, who was sentenced to life without parole as a 16-year-old juvenile and has now spent the majority of his life behind bars, pointed out: "Given the control units' track record in driving men crazy, it is not surprising that the majority of prisoners sent into it are either politically conscious prisoners, prison lawyers, or rebellious young prisoners. It is this class of prisoners that occupies the control units in prison systems across the United States."

Holbrook's observation is anything but surprising to those familiar with the routine violations of prisoners' human rights within US jails and prisons. The Prison discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in US prisons conducted in 1989, concluded that "solitary confinement, loss of privileges, physical beatings" and other forms of deprivation and harassment were "common disciplinary practices" that were "rendered routinely, capriciously and brutally" in maximum-security US prisons.

The study also noted receiving "hundreds of comments from prisoners" explaining that jailhouse lawyers who file grievances and lawsuits about abuse and poor conditions were the most frequently targeted. Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment. This "pattern of guard brutality" was "consistent with the vast and varied body of post-war literature, demonstrating that guard use of physical coercion is highly structured and deeply entrenched in the guard subculture".

Race and revolution

But while broad patterns can be discerned, these are the numbers that are missing: how many of those in solitary confinement are black? How many are self-taught lawyers, educators or political activists? How many initiated hunger strikes, which have long been anathema to the prison administration? How many were caught up in the FBI-organised dragnet that hauled thousands of community leaders, activists and thinkers into the maws of the US "justice" system during the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s?

Former Warden of United States Penitentiary Marion, the prototype of modern supermax-style solitary confinement, Ralph Arons, has stated: "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large."

One of these revolutionaries is Russell "Maroon" Shoats, the founder of the Black Unity Council, which later merged with the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. He was first jailed in early 1970.

Read the rest here:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AFSC Releases [new] “Survivors Manual” By and For Prisoners in Solitary Confinement

From: SolitaryWatch, July 31st, 2012
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

The American Friends Service Committee has put out a new edition of the vital publication Survivors Manual: Surviving in Solitary -- A Manual Written By and For People Living in Control Units. The volume is a collection of letters, stories, poetry, and practical advice on surviving solitary confinement in prisons. AFSC released the following announcement last week:
Solitary confinement, characterized by 23-hour a day lockout with minimal exercise and lack of human contact, affects an estimated 100,000 prisoners in federal and state prisons in almost every state. Thus the need for "Survivors Manual," which was first issued in 1998, is even more vital.

In this powerful collection of voices from solitary, people currently or formerly held in isolation vividly describe their conditions and their daily lives. They also write about how they struggle to keep mind, body, and soul together in an environment that is designed to break them down. Many also analyze the political, economic, and social forces that shape their torturous situation. The collection also includes some stunning artwork and poetry.
A PDF of the manual is available online at the following link:


Copies can also be purchased for $3 each at the following site: