Solitary confinement: Torture chambers for black revolutionaries

From Aljazeera:

“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.

Full story at Aljazeera

Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement: Short Corridor Collecitve’s Counter-Proposal to CDCR

From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Modern-Management Control Unit (MMCU)

This proposal starts by looking at concrete programs that have been implemented by CDCR and functioned effectively, and by examining how they can be immediately adapted to the present-day PBSP and all 180 prison structures.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Max-B management control unit programs, such as Chino, DVI, and San Quentin Max-B, afforded as much programming as the General Population (GP) prisoners had, and held individual prisoners accountable, who failed to program within the MCU setting.

Today (2012) there are still some small Max-B type programs functioning in a few CDCR facilities under different names, but segregated with the same objectives.

The new 180 design prison complexes are perfectly structured for the necessary control setting and for meeting all the security requirements needed to make this modern (Max-B MCU) type of unti(s) more durable and cost-effective to operate for the California tax payers. Continue reading

The New Boss Looks a Lot Like the Old Boss

From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity


By Ed Mead

“[T]he goals we are currently pursuing are objectively incorrect. To reform the validation process is good, but as an ultimate objective it is not a resolution. It’s a peripheral manifestation of the SHU’s themselves. It’s secondary, like bed sores on a cancer patient. Bandages and topical treatment are necessary, as a reformation of the validation process, to cure the bed sores, which are peripheral to the cancer, but the patient needs to be cured of the cancer. We are not going to be cured of perpetual isolation with Band-Aids, by reformation of the process, but only by dealing with the principle source of this illness—the SHU itself.” – A SHU prisoner

In an apparent response to CA hunger strikes one and two the CDCR has proposed new regulations with respect to gang management and SHU placement. As you’d expect, there is very little velvet glove and a lot of iron fist—lots of stick but little carrot. The essence of their draft rules is to do away with gang status as a means of SHU or ASU placement, and to replace it with some sort of threat model or designation, like the feds do. In other words, instead of them saying you are somehow related to a gang, a classification the courts have held requires some measure of proof; they now change the name of “gang” to “Security Threat Group.” If you should (god forbid) be one of those people who might write about or verbally communicate something to the effect of how messed up it is to be a slave in 2012 America, then you are a “threat.” My friend Bill Dunne has been perpetually locked down in the federal system under just such a designation. But more to the point, how does this proposed new policy meet the five core demands?


The name has changed but the game is the same

The CDCR plans to no longer utilize the terms “Prison Gangs” or “Disruptive Groups” and instead will use a “Security Threat Group” designation or STG. STGs are divided into two groups, STG-I and STG-II, what used to be gang members and gang associates or affiliates, respectively. What is a STG? It is defined as “[a]ny group or organization of two or more members, either formal or informal (including traditional prison gangs) that may have a common name or identifying sign or symbol, whose members engage in activities that include, but are not limited to … acts or violations of the department’s written rules and regulations” or any law or attempting, planning, soliciting, etc. to do such things. How is one assessed to be an STG? The list is too long to detail here, suffice it to say two or more people who the cops feel might represent “a potential threat to the safe and secure environment of the institution … such activities as group disturbances [like a peaceful hunger strike?].” Continue reading

How Many Prisoners Are in Solitary Confinement in the United States?

From SolitaryWatch

The number of inmates held in solitary confinement in the United States has been notoriously difficult to determine. Most states do not publish the relevant data, and many do not even collect it. Attempts to come up with a figure have been denounced as imperfect, based on state-by-state variances and shortcomings in data-gathering and in conceptions of what constitutes solitary confinement.

A widely accepted 2005 study found that some 25,000 prisoners were being held in supermax prisons around the country. And in the last year, that figure seems to dominate in the mainstream press. The Washington Post, in a recent front-page article on solitary confinement in Virginia, noted that “44 states…use solitary confinement,” and cited an “estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.” The problem here is that the 25,000 figure (as well as the 44) applies to supermax prisons only. It does not claim to account for the tens of thousands of additional prisoners held in the Secure Housing Units, Restricted Housing Units, Special Management Units and other isolation cells in prisons and jails around the country. Yet it is being cited as a total for the nation’s overall use of solitary confinement.

Pelican Bay is not Enough!! Continuing the Struggle Against Extreme Isolation and Sensory Deprivation

By Victoria Law,

Last month, prisoners across California ended a nearly three-week hunger strike. The strikers, who numbered 12,000 at the strike’s peak, had five core demands:

1) Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations;
2) Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria;
3) Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long term solitary confinement;
4) Provide adequate food;
5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

The strike, the second three-week hunger strike to rock California’s prison system this year alone, was called by men in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. The SHU is explicitly designed to keep prisoners in long-term solitary confinement under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Men are locked into their cells for at least 22 hours a day. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. Continue reading

New Study: Solitary Confinement Overused in Colorado

new report on solitary confinement in Colorado’s state prisons concluded that there are far too many inmates in round-the-clock lockdown. A series of relatively modest changes in its classification, review, and mental health treatment practices would “significantly reduce” the number of prisoners in administrative segregation, the report found. The report was funded by the National Institute of Corrections, and its authors, James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman, were involved in the dramatic reduction of solitary confinement in Mississippi’s prisons.

Alan Prendergast, who has spent more than a decade reporting on Colorado prisons for Denver’s weekly Westword, reviewed the report and provided the following summary:

A study by researchers at the National Institute of Corrections has found that Colorado’s approach to locking down its most unruly prisoners in 23-hour-a-day isolation is “basically sound” — but could be used a lot less. Instead, even as the state’s prison population is declining slightly, the use of “administrative segregation,” or solitary confinement, continues to increase.

The Colorado Department of Corrections houses close to 1,500 prisoners in “ad-seg,” about 7 percent of the entire state prison population. That’s significantly above the national average of 2 percent or less — and if you factor in the additional 670 prisoners who are in “punitive segregation” as a result of disciplinary actions, the CDOC figure is closer to 10 percent. And four out of ten of the prisoners in solitary have a diagnosed mental illness, roughly double the proportion in 1999. The state’s heavy reliance on ad-seg, including building a second supermax prison to house the overload, has put Colorado in the center of a growing national controversy over whether isolating prisoners creates more problems in the long run.

NIC researchers James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman were invited by DOC to prepare an external review of its ad-seg policies and classification system. Among other points, the pair found that the decision to send prisoners to lockdown has little review by headquarters; that “there is considerable confusion in the operational memorandums and regulations on how the administrative segregation units are to function;” that the average length of stay in isolation is about two years; and that 40 percent of the ad-seg prisoners are released directly to the community from lockdown, with no time spent in general population first.

Austin and Sparkman urge the DOC to require a mental health review before a prisoner is placed in ad-seg and to simplify the programs and phases inmates are required to complete before returning to a less restrictive prison. Even modest administrative changes would “significantly reduce” the state’s lockdown population, they claim, freeing up cells for other uses and saving the state money, since supermax prisons are more costly to operate than lower-security facilities.

For more on solitary confinement in Colorado, read our article Fortresses of Solitude.

Video: Release Leonard Peltier From Solitary Confinement

Leonard Peltier continues to be held in solitary confinement on bogus charges, despite his precarious health.

Tell the BOP that the world is watching and we’re horrified by its inhumane treatment of prisoners, in general, and Leonard Peltier, in particular.

Call, email or write to Dr. Thomas Kane, Acting Director Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)

Phone: (202) 307-3250 (Director) (202) 307-3198 (Switchboard)
Fax: (202) 514-6620
Address: 320 1st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Action Alert!: Call and Demand Leonard Peltier Be Taken Out of Solitary

On June 27, Leonard Peltier was removed from the general population at USP-Lewisburg and thrown in the hole.He has been struggling with his bad kidneys and diabetes and is now in an even more precarious situation because of his placement in solitary confinement.  We urge everyone to call in to Federal Bureau of Prisons to demand he be returned to general population.


Call Thomas Kane, Acting Director Federal Bureau of Prisons 202-307-3198

 Sample Phone Script

Caller: Hi, can I please speak with Mr. Thomas Kane?

Prison: May I ask who is calling.

Caller: My name is ______ and I am calling in regards to Leonard Peltier.  He is a prisoner and his prison number is 89637 – 132.

Prison:  Just one moment.

(Or more likely) He is not available. Can I take a message?

Caller: Hello Mr. Kane.  I am calling to strongly encourage you to move prisoner Leonard Peltier from solitary confinement and back into the general population.  He is in bad health due to kidney problems and diabetes and being in solitary confinement will only worsen these conditions.  There has been no explanation for why he was placed there and under the Eighth Amendment prisoners are entitled to adequate medical care.  I think moving him back into general population is without a doubt the just and right thing to do and I hope you take immediate action to ensure his well being.  Thank you for your time.

Excellent Interview with the Journalists at Solitary Watch

Angola 3 News just conducted a great interview with James Ridgeway and Jean Casella at Solitary Watch. It comes during the lead up to a major hunger strike being organized to start on July 1st by prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the notorious Pelican Bay Prison (which also houses political prisoner Hugo Pinell who has been held in long-term solitary confinement for over 40 years, the longest of any political prisoner in the US).

The interview does a great job of describing the history of long-term solitary confinement and how we have reached the insane point in which

“there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”

Here in Colorado the government is keeping captive thousands of these prisoners held in solitary confinement, including political prisoners Dr. Mutulu Shakur and Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin at the Federal Supermax in Florence, CO.

Support Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Pelican Bay State Prison



Prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (California) are going on an indefinite hunger strike as of July 1, 2011 to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions of their imprisonment.  The hunger strike was organized by prisoners in an unusual show of racial unity.  The hunger strikers developed five core demands.  Briefly they are:

1. Eliminate group punishments.  Instead, practice individual accountability.
When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race.  This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement.  This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.”  Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up.  Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.  

4. Provide adequate food.  Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations.  There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.  The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…”  Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves.
Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.)  All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).

For more information and continuing updates, visit


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,599 other followers