Aletho News


Inmate in California hunger strike dies


Press TV – July 28, 2013

One of the California inmates who have for weeks been on a hunger strike has died in solitary confinement, according to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

Billy Sell died on Monday, July 22, at the Corcoran State Prison in central California.

Sell‘s fellow inmates say he had been requesting medical attention for days before his death.

Saturday marks the 20th day of the hunger strike which started in protest against solitary confinement practices in the state’s prisons.

“Advocates are outraged at Sell’s death, noting that it could have been prevented if (prison officials) had negotiated with strikers,” the coalition said in its statement.

Prison officials have launched an investigation into the death which they claim is a suicide.

“It’s irresponsible and inflammatory for hunger strike supporters to say this inmate, whose death is being investigated as a suicide, died as a result of the hunger strike,” said Deborah Hoffman, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in a statement.

Reports say more than 30,000 inmates have joined the hunger strike in California where there are some 132,000 prisoners.

Inmate advocates put the number of state prisoners confined in extreme isolation at nearly 12,000.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 2 Comments

End Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, Prepare to Back Hunger Strikers

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | May 8, 2013

Another prison hunger strike is looming in California, where more than 200 inmates at the Pelican Bay supermax have been in solitary confinement for between five and ten years and nearly 100 have been shut off from most human contact for 20 years or more. Across the nation, on any given day, more than 100,000 inmates suffer in solitary – about 25,000 in the federal system and another 80,000 or so in state facilities. That’s the equivalent of locking up every man, woman and child in Charleston, South Carolina, in their own little 8 by 12 foot box – for an eternity. Nothing like this American form of mass human torment has ever existed on the face of the earth: systematic, industrial strength torture, multiplied 100,000 times per day. Solitary confinement as a form of routine, mass punishment is beyond barbarity. Nowhere in human history do we find barbarians who tortured hundreds of thousands of people every day for decades at a time. Only in America.

Solitary confinement, by its very nature, is designed to ensure that no one but the torturers hears the cries of the tormented. However, knowledge of such monstrous evil compels decent men and women to action, in solidarity with those who have been wronged. The prisoners of Pelican Bay, who went on hunger strike in 2011, have sent word that they will do so again, on July 8, if the state of California does not meet their core demands. One demand is fundamental: that inmates not be confined to solitary unless they have been charged, “and found guilty of, committing a serious offense… a felony!” Instead, inmates are consigned to a life of oblivion based on anonymous allegations that they are affiliated with a gang, or for exhibiting the slightest hint of political thought – or for no discernable reason, at all. Not only is lengthy solitary confinement unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, and a form of torture under international law, it is totally arbitrary and capricious.

In California, alone, more than 14,000 prisoners are held in isolation. The Pelican Bay inmates anticipate many of them will join the hunger strike, as thousands did in 2011, when 13 prisons were involved in the protest, and three inmates committed suicide. This time around, prison organizers have invited the participation of “all male and female prisoners across the U.S. prison systems,” both state and federal. Inmates in Georgia went on hunger strike in 2011 and again last year, pressing a range of demands.

If the California prisoners are forced to put their lives on the line again, on July 8, support networks need to be in place, beforehand. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is putting out the call, so that the inmates at Pelican Bay and throughout the vast U.S. prison gulag will know that folks on the outside have their back. June 21, 22 and 23 have been designated as Days of Solidarity With the Struggle to End Prison Torture, and to immediately disband the torture chambers. You can sign up by going to

Glen Ford can be contacted at

For more information, contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at:, or by calling (347) 979-SMIN (7646)

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Microcosm of the Nation–Control Unit Prisons

By RON JACOBS | CounterPunch | March 15, 2013

In the late 1990s and early part of this century I worked as a researcher and writer for the journal Southland Prison News.  This small journal usually ran about thirty pages and was sent out to prisoners incarcerated primarily in the US South.  Edited by an inmate in Virginia, each issue contained a digest of articles concerning prisoners and prisons along with a feature or two, some book reviews, some prisoner poetry and art.  I stopped working for the journal when the funding dried up.  Before that work, I had never spent much time working on prison-related issues.  Sure, I had attended forums and rallies supporting various political prisoners and prisoner rights ever since the uprising and massacre at Attica prison in 1971, but my political work usually did not involve prison issues.  Perhaps this came from a distaste acquired through various brushes with the law and the subsequent days spent in jail here and there.

The same cannot be said for Nancy Kurshan and the people whose work she so artfully chronicles in the recently released book Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.  Kurshan, a lifelong political activist, (among other things, she is one of the founders of the Yippies) is an ardent opponent of the US prison system, especially those prisons known as control unit prisons.  Her book tells of the genesis and growth of these units throughout the United States and of the battle to oppose them.

It is not a tale with a happy ending.  According to the text’s introduction, over 80,000 prisoners are currently locked away in control unit prisons in the United States.  What this means is that over 80,000 prisoners exist in a world controlled almost completely by prison architecture and the guards those prisons employ.  Living in cells smaller than many suburban bathrooms, the walls are painted white, lights are on most of the day, no windows or even bars, hardly any exercise, no reading materials and no visitors; that is the life of most prisoners in these units.  Sometimes there are even further restrictions.  Rarely are there fewer. These units are constantly watched by prison video feeds and prisoners are often beaten at will by the guards. If this doesn’t bother you, then you probably shouldn’t bother reading the rest of this review.

There are over 2,000,000 people locked up in the United States.  That is more than any other nation in the world.  Furthermore, the rate of incarceration in the United States is higher than that of any other nation.  According to the NAACP, African American and Latinos comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though they make up approximately one quarter of the US population.  This is not because Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be criminals.  It is because US laws and the police that enforce those laws target these demographic groups.  This fact alone lends credence to the argument made by the activists in Out of Control that there is a calculated plan to imprison black and Latino men in the US.  The history of the US is one that required control of its Black population, even after slavery.  Indeed, even more so after slavery.  Prisons are part of that plan.  It is with this as a fundamental part of that understanding that Kurshan tells her story of a movement (Movement to End the Marion Lockdown) built to oppose that calculation.

The reader is presented with detailed descriptions of the meetings, protests, legal campaigns, and other work the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown undertook over the fifteen years of its existence.  This group was composed of leftists, religious clergy and laity, families of prisoners and other concerned humans. There are small victories and many defeats, primarily because of the complete lack of regard for prisoners’ humanity displayed by the Bureau of Prisons, most politicians and other officials.  There are also the small victories.  After years of demanding a new water source be built for the Marion prison, headway was finally made.  Occasionally, even a prisoner gets freed.  Throughout, the narrative is told with a warmth and humanity that exists in direct contrast to the tales being told.  Her description of the development of a friendship between her family and the Reverend Bruce Wright, whose book Black Robes, White Justice was one of the first books to discuss in plain terms the role the US justice system plays in continuing the racism of US society, is the story of a friendship between unsung warriors.

Many of the procedures used in control unit prisons began in the 1960s when the United States government started locking up leftist revolutionaries and others as part of its COINTELPRO program.  This time period is also when leftists began to consciously focus on prisoner rights, in part because their leaders were being locked up.  This work helped them to understand that prisons are the final point of confrontation between the state and those who act against it.  Indeed, this is precisely why prisoner struggles for human rights are components of the greater struggle for those rights.

As pointed out before, there are now over 2,000,000 people incarcerated in the United States.  Prison construction and maintenance is often one of the larger elements of government budgets.  This is despite the fact that crime has consistently gone down in the past decade.  These facts make it clear that prisons are not so much about fighting crime as they are about controlling segments of the population.  As austerity takes a greater hold on the US economy, one can be certain that more working and poor men and women will be sent to prison while the real thieves run the country further into the ground.

Besides being a detailed and inspiring account of a group of human rights activists, Nancy Kurshan’s Out of Control is a useful resource for discussing the realities of prison in the twenty-first century United States. It is also the tale of a particular part of the movement opposed to that reality.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the forthcoming novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at:

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Book Review, Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mahmoud Sarsak – Palestinian International Footballer

Free Gaza Scotland | January 29, 2013

On Wednesday 23rd of January I with other members of our group had the pleasure and honour to meet Mahmoud Sarsak in our appartment. He is a slight, quietly spoken young man, with a gentle manner and his good humour and patience with our questioning betray none of the pain he has suffered over the last 3 and a half years. When he begins to speak about his experience of imprisonment he tells his story with a matter of fact, quiet sincerity that is striking and makes the horror of his experience all the more shocking.

262793_503572486339823_1300969775_nMahmoud was 21 years old, at the start of a playing career which had already seen him being recognised as one of the best young prospects in Palestine, already a regular for the Palestinian National side. He had an invitation to play for a football team in Nablus in the West Bank. This meant that he had to ask for permission from the Israelis to cross from Gaza through Erez crossing into Israel in order to travel on to the West Bank. This did not worry him as it was a trip he had already done twice before and when he recieved his permission he went to the crossing looking forward to the opportunity of playing in Nablus. However when he got to Erez at 9am on the 22nd July 2009 his whole world changed, instead of being allowed to cross he was arrested and taken to a Police Station, from here his family were called and informed that he was being taken to Ashkelon Jail.

He was made to take off his clothes and change into overalls, an ‘under investigation uniform’. He describes how for the first 18 days he was tied to a chair with his eyes covered, the only times he was untied was when he was given food and they untied his hands or when he was allowed to go to the toilet when his legs were untied. He explains that during this time he was kept awake, not fed properly and questioned daily, every 4 days he was taken to a court where a judge gave permission for him to be held for a further 4 days. This treatment he says ‘wasn’t so bad’ in comparison with what was to come although I think that most people would call it torture.

At the end of that 18 days he was taken to a Military Jail in the South where he was kept for 6 days and his treatment became much worse. He was beaten regularly and was put in what he described as a fridge, he also had very hot and very cold water put under his feet. During all of this time in both places he was questioned, his interrogators were wanting him to say that he had been involved in ‘activities against Israel’. He didn’t understand what they meant by this, he was a footballer, he had not been involved in anything else and so refused to make things up to make his interrogators happy. He had no idea why he had been arrested.

At the end of these 6 days he was taken back to a civilian jail for another 11 days where suddenly things got much better. He was fed and allowed to sleep properly, his captors became very friendly offering him his freedom, a new house, a salary, a car, access to proper training facilities to help his playing career and foreign travel. All he had to do was become a collaborator. He refused, which provoked many serious threats from his Israeli interrogators. They told him that they would burn his family home down, attack his family and kill his brothers. Despite the pressures upon him and his ordeal so far, he continued to refuse to collaborate.

Except for short visits to court when his lawyer was present, during this initial 35 days of incarceration he had absolutely no contact with anyone but his jailors and interrogators. His lawyer told him that he was going to be all right, the court had said he was going to be released. Instead he was told by a Military Officer that he was now being held under ‘The Law of An Illegal Fighter’ and that they no longer needed to go to court to ask permission to keep him. He was then taken to Kitseot Jail near Bersheva where at least he could see other prisoners and his time of interrogation was over. He asked the other prisoners what this ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ meant but none of them had ever heard of it. When he was finally allowed access to his lawyer and was able to ask him he was told that it was a law that the Israeli authorities use when they have nothing against you but they want to hold onto you. He then asked his lawyer what rights he had under this law and was told that he had none, he could now be held in jail for as long as the Israeli Military wanted to keep him.

Mahmoud was the first Palestinian who had been held under this law, the only other people he knows of who had previously been held under it were 2 Hizbollah members from Lebanon who were arrested in 1982. He thinks that because he had no rights he was put in a cell which was 2m x 1m for his time in Kitseot, this cell had only a matress and toilet in it and he developed chest, skin and back problems while there. He was not taken to a hospital while there, and was only seen briefly by a prison doctor for these problems. He was allowed out of his cell for 1 hour a day for exercise with his fellow prisoners when he played football with them.

On the 22nd of February 2010 Mahmoud was taken to Tel Aviv for a court hearing to extend his imprisonment and then to another court hearing for the decision in Jerusalem two weeks later. The journey to court and between jails is in what the prisoners call a ‘post bus’ which is metal bus with steel compartments in which you are jostled and hit off the steel walls. He knew before he was taken to the second hearing that he was going to be held for another six months. After this hearing he was also barred from playing football with his fellow prisoners for that precious hour in the mornings and was told that this was due to his back being too bad. At this time they also started to move him between prisons every 2 months and he was still taken to court every 6 months in order to have his stay in prison extended.

On the 23rd of August 2011 he was told that he was going to be released, he was happy and said goodbye to the other prisoners. He was taken by ‘post bus’ to Erez, his hands and legs were not tied as they usually were, the window was open and when he got there they opened the door of the prison van and the guards moved away talking among themselves. He stayed where he was as he didn’t know what was happening and he didn’t want to be shot if they thought he was trying to escape. He called to the guards to ask what was happening and they told him they were taking him back to jail, he wasn’t being released. He was taken to a different jail for 2 weeks with only the clothes he had on when they took him to Erez. He said that he was later told about another prisoner who had been taken to Erez and left in an open ‘post bus’ with his legs untied in the same way. He had gone to the door to look out and been instantly shot in the leg and accused of trying to escape. After this 2 week period he was taken back to the jail he had originally been in when first imprisoned, here his other clothes and small number of belongings were finally brought to him.

When he was taken to this jail he was given another 6 months but his lawyer was promised that he would be released when this time ended on the 23rd of February 2012. The 23rd of February came and went, 10 days after this he was taken back to court, he had decided that this time if he wasn’t released he would go on hunger strike and stay on hunger strike until they promised in writing that he would be released. So when he was told that he was going to be imprisoned for another 6 months he prepared himself for 10 days, eating less each day and gradually reducing his physical activity. On the 15th of March 2012 he started his hunger strike. He only took water and sometimes a little salt in order to prevent his stomach from beginning to rot.

7 days after he started they began to move him from jail to jail before putting him in Nafha Jail which meant he was put in with the Israeli criminal population. Then he was put into isolation for a spell followed by hospital in Bersheva for 2 days tied to his bed then back to Nafha. From here he was sent to Eshel jail where he was put in isolation again and became very sick. This time they wouldn’t take him to hospital but would only allow him to see the Doctor in Eshel. After 35 days of this the Doctor in Eshel refused to continue to be responsible for him and he was taken to the Prison hospital in Ramle jail where he was with another 5 Palestinian prisoners who were also on hunger strike. He refused treatment here and was put back into isolation, this time his isolation cell had no windows so he was in darkness. After 47 days on hunger strike he bagan to have serious problems with his stomach, he couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. First white then black then brown vomit. They took him back to Ramle Prison hospital then and gave him antibiotics.

Along with the other hunger strikers he was asked regularly to break his hunger strike, on the 15th of May he was told that if he would break his hunger strike he would be released on the 23rd of August and the other hunger strikers were also told that they would have their demands met if they broke theirs. 3 of them accepted but along with 1 of the others Akram Al Rihawy he refused, he had heard promises of release before and he insisted that he have the promise in writing signed by a senior Judge and a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. He was also told that he would not be allowed to return to Gaza, he had to choose between Germany, France or Norway which he also refused to accept. At this time he finally began to get International Committee of the Red Cross visits twice a week and he was asked daily to break his hunger strike, he continued to refuse until he got it in writing that he would be released back to Gaza and that he would be properly monitored by a committee of doctors when he started eating again.

Eventually on the 18th of June 2012 on the 96th day of his hunger strike a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior came to see him with the signed paper that he had been asking for stating in writing that he would be released on the 20th of July 2012. The Minister asked him if he would now please give up his hunger strike and he agreed. The Minister asked him to drink a glass of milk in front of him so that he could confirm and report that he had indeed broken his hunger strike which he did alathough he immediately vomited this back up. His stomach couldn’t cope even with milk after such a long time with no more than water going into it. He said that even though his stomach rejected this cup of milk his whole body felt as though it had drunk and felt relieved.

For 14 days he had to build up to eating again with first intravenous vitamins and nutrition, followed by nutritional drinks, before finally eating his first bit of bread after this 14 day period, which he still vomited back up. During the time of his hunger strike he was only allowed 2 visits from his lawyer, on the 40th day and on the last day. I asked if he was allowed any visits from his family during his time in jail. He replied that because he was given no rights under the ‘Law of An Illegal fighter’ he was not only denied visits from family but was not even allowed the 6 monthly letters delivered to his fellow prisoners by the Red Cross. He wasn’t able to write to them either, not even one short note.

At no time during Mahmoud’s entire incarceration was he actually accused of anything other than being asked to admit to the vague term ‘activities against Israel’ and he was never charged with anything. He was very clear that he had no idea why he was arrested. He was a footballer. The court appearances he attended were simply formalities under Military Law which say that every 6 months any detention order must be renewed.

All Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are arrested by Israel are dealt with under Military Law not Israeli Criminal Law and therefore it is not necessary for Israel to ever bring charges against them. Many who are prosecuted are those who have signed false confessions under torture and are not able to retract them afterwards. Mahmoud’s case was slightly worse than normal Military law, under which there are a few rights which at least give some protection in prison. Mahmoud had none of these rights under this so called ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ by which he was held.

I asked Mahmoud if he was back in training for football and if he thought that it would be possible for him to return to his playing career. He said that finally he had managed to attend 3 training sessions and was hoping to be able to return to the team at some point in the future once he was back to full fitness. I sincerely wish him luck with this and hope that he will reach that stage very soon.

This has to be one of the clearest examples of why the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign should be supported by everyone and why Israel should be barred from participating in International Sporting events. Currently the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship is scheduled to be played in Israel. How can this be allowed when they can treat a Palestinian International Player like this? Not to mention that they bombed the only 2 football pitches in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as destroying many local playing areas in the West Bank over the years. I saw several during my visit there in 2004 including one in Ramallah which had been bulldozed.

Mahmoud told us that the other prisoner who had stayed on hunger strike with him, Akram Al Rihawy, had spent his whole sentence in hospital due to his medical problems. His reason for being on hunger strike was not for release but for proper medical treatment. He stopped his hunger strike after being told that he was going to be released on Wednesday the 23rd of January 2013. Yesterday, on the 25th of January 2013 we were told that he was not released as promised and that he is now back on hunger strike.

To join the campaign against Israel hosting the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship go to the following link and get involved:

January 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years

By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway | Solitary Watch | August 30, 2012

We’ve written at length about the case of Troy Anderson, a prisoner with mental illness who has spent more than ten years in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. This past April, a Federal District Court in Denver heard a case brought on Anderson behalf by students at the University of Denver Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic. As we wrote, “it was his untreated mental illness that first landed him at CSP, Anderson contends, and now the same symptoms are keeping him there indefinitely. Without proper treatment, he is unable to convince corrections officials that he’s fit for the general prison population. This catch-22, his lawyers say, condemns him to an effective life sentence under conditions that are increasingly being denounced as a form of torture—particularly when applied to mentally ill prisoners.” The suit claimed that Anderson’s treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and its guarantee of due process. Among other things, his lawyers pointed out that it has been more than a decade since Anderson had “felt the sun on his back.”

Westword‘s Alan Prendergast, who has also followed the case closely, reported earlier this week on the judge’s ruling in the case:

In what amounts to a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute “a paradigm of inhumane treatment” and must change — notably, so that inmates locked down in their cells 23 hours a day can have at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. “The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does forbid inhumane conditions,” U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson wrote in an order issued last Friday.

CSP has an interior courtyard that could be modified to permit outdoor exercise for inmates, Jackson notes. But since it opened in 1993, the state supermax has permitted its high-security inmates only to exercise in an odd-shaped room on each tier equipped with a chin-up bar; small holes allow some fresh air from outside to reach the room. Calling CSP “out of step with the rest of the nation” — even the notorious federal supermax in Florence allows its inmates outdoor recreation in individual cages — Jackson declared that prison officials must provide its charges with “meaningful exposure” to natural light and air.

Jackson’s ruling came in the case of Troy Anderson, 42, a mentally ill inmate serving an 83-year sentence stemming from two shootouts with police. He’s one of ten inmates who have been at CSP for ten years or more with hardly any exposure to the outdoors (except during transport to court) during that time. His lawsuit, filed with the aid of student lawyers from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, challenged several aspects of life at CSP, from mental health treatment to the policies that have kept him from progressing to a less restrictive prison, as unconstitutional…

On other issues, the judge ordered a fresh look at Anderson’s medication issues and mental health treatment. He adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward new policies that are supposed to address other inmate concerns about how inmates receive bad behavior reports, known as “negative chrons,” that can prolong their stay in solitary confinement without a clear appeal process.

At Anderson’s trial, other inmates testified about suicidal thoughts brought on by the severe isolation and being deprived of any exposure to the outdoors. “I go to bed crying sometimes because I feel I have no hope of being outside of that cell any more,” one said.

A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: Troy Anderson v. Colorado DOC

August 31, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | Comments Off on Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years

Why Do We Keep Building Needless Prisons?

By Amy Fettig, ACLU National Prison Project | June 26, 2012

Why are the Feds spending $250 million in taxpayer dollars to build an unnecessary and counter-productive prison for women in rural Aliceville, Alabama?

As the New York Times pointed out recently, most women in federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) custody are incarcerated for non-violent offenses; over half of them have minor children. Many of these women do not need to be incarcerated in order to protect public safety. Locking them up hundreds of miles away from their families, children and communities is exactly the wrong step to take if we want them to re-enter society successfully. Decades of research demonstrates the success of policies that keep prisoners near their homes – and for women especially, concern for their children is most often cited as a prime motivator for successful rehabilitation.

But visits to remote Aliceville by most prisoners’ family members and children will be difficult, if not impossible. And the increased recidivism and negative effects this will have on the women prisoners, their children, and the community will be devastating.

What could possibly justify a decision with such a predictably bad result? The BOP claims that its overcrowding problems continue to justify prison expansion, such as the Aliceville facility, but it’s hard to credit these claims – especially since the BOP has continually failed to implement sentencing reduction measures that would help alleviate overcrowding and lower the federal prison population at great savings to the taxpayer.

Here are just a few examples:

•    BOP does not allow prisoners to take full advantage of its community corrections programs, so that prisoners now serve an average of only four of the available 12 months in the community authorized by the Second Chance Act.

•    The Residential Drug Abuse Program incentive for nonviolent offenders is underutilized so that successful participants rarely receive the 12 month sentence reduction to which they are legally entitled.

•    BOP rarely uses its authority to request sentence modifications for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” often referred to as “compassionate release,” which deprives sentencing judges of the opportunity to shorten the terms of deserving prisoners, especially the elderly and infirm whose continued imprisonment involves some of the highest prison costs.
These management failures lead to both over-incarceration and overcrowding and they waste millions: just by increasing home confinement by three months, the BOP could save up to $111.4 million each year.

In condemning the Aliceville facility as an example of misguided and costly policy, the New York Times noted that in contrast to the BOP, state corrections systems are scaling back incarceration due to its crushing costs. A recent report by the ACLU, Smart Reform is Possible, highlighted reform efforts in several states, including New York and Texas, which were both able to stop building prisons, save money and lower crime rates by implementing sensible alternatives to incarceration.

It’s time for BOP leadership to look to the states for new ideas and approaches. Based on the successful reforms being implemented around the country it’s clear that we don’t need another federal prison for women in a remote corner of Alabama. We need leadership dedicated to producing the best, most cost-effective outcomes for women, their children and the community.

June 27, 2012 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 5 Comments

US: The Shameful Index of Prison Rape

Action on PREA Can End the Violence

By Amy Fettig & Jennifer Wedekind, ACLU National Prison Project | May 17, 2012

Today the Department of Justice released the long-awaited Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations, representing the first time that the federal government has issued national standards to help end sexual abuse in correctional facilities. The regulations are two years late and a lot of harm has been done in their absence, but now that they’ve finally been released they can help us protect important constitutional and human rights and ensure safe and fair correctional facilities that assist prisoners in rehabilitation rather than needlessly brutalizing them. The ACLU supports the Department’s efforts to protect and prevent sexual abuse in places of detention, although we regret that immigration facilities are not yet included in these standards.

Sadly, the problem of prison rape is just as pressing now as it was when Congress passed PREA in 2003. Below is the shameful index of prison rape in prisons, jails and youth detention centers across the country. These numbers reflect a national tragedy. But PREA gives us the critical tools to stop rape in our corrections facilities. Now, federal, state and local governments and the public must take strong and continued action to ensure that the promise of PREA becomes a safe and secure reality.

Number of people imprisoned in the United States: 2.3 million

Number of victims of rape or sexual abuse in U.S. prison, jails and juvenile detention facilities in the past year according to the Justice Department: 216,600 (the DOJ admitted it was likely “underestimating the extent of the problem”)

Number of victims of rape or sexual abuse in U.S. prison, jails and juvenile detention facilities since the initial PREA legislation as signed into law (Sept. 4, 2003): 1,884,909

Number of days past the Department of Justice’s deadline (June 23, 2010) for establishing the final standards: 717

Number of victims of rape or sexual abuse in U.S. prison, jails and juvenile detention facilities since the Department of Justice missed its deadline to establish regulations: 411,332

Percentage of youth in state juvenile facilities and large non-state facilities who experienced one or more incidents of sexual victimization in the past 12 months: 12%

Percentage of youth sexually victimized by a corrections staff member: 10.3%

Percentage of former state prisoners reporting one or more incidents of sexual victimization while in jail, prison or post-release community treatment facilities: 9.6%

Percentage of male former state prisoners who identified as homosexual or gay who reported being sexually victimized by another inmate: 39%

Percentage of male bisexual former state prisoners who reported being sexually victimized by another inmate: 34%

Percentage of transgender prisoners reporting being sexually assaulted in prison or jail according to a national survey: 15%

Percentage of black transgender prisoners reporting being sexually assaulted in prison or jail according to a national survey: 34%

Percentage of former state prisoners who experience retaliation in the form of disciplinary charges after reporting sexual victimization by a staff member: 46.3%

Percentage of former state prisoners who reported no facility response at all, after reporting sexual victimization by another prisoner: 37%

Number of states which allow cross-gender pat downs: 30

Number of reported incidents of sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities since 2007: 185

Number of organizations which urged President Obama to instruct the Department of Justice to extend PREA coverage to immigration detention facilities: 38

Number of members of the National Sheriff’s Association, which called on the Department of Justice to extend its PREA regulations to Department of Homeland Security detention centers: 18,000

May 18, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Until Freedom or Martyrdom: Thaer Halahleh on 60 Days of Hunger Strike

By Dylan Collins | Palestine Monitor | April 28, 2012

Kharas, occupied West Bank—Two year old Lamar Halahleh has never met her father outside of a prison cell. In fact, she wasn’t able to lay eyes upon him until she was nearly half a year old.

Thaer Halahleh, Lamar’s father, has not only spent the last two years in the Israeli prison system, the 33 year-old has actually been detained for the majority of the past nine years due to Israel’s exploitive practice of administrative detention.

“The only way she [Lamar] knows her father is through pictures,” says Lamar’s mother and Thaer’s wife, Shireen. “She has hundreds of pictures of Thaer. When she goes to sleep at night, she tucks his picture into bed with her.”

Always held without charge or trial, Thaer’s only officially stated wrongdoing has been his affiliation to Islamic Jihad, a political party officially outlawed by Israel.

Thaer’s most recent arrest came on 26 June 2010 during a midnight raid on his home in the small village of Kharras, near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. Nearly 50 Israeli soldiers stormed the Halahleh’s home. Without knocking, the armed forces kicked down the door, made the women and children go outside in their bedclothes, and proceeded to search the house with two dogs for nearly an hour.

After a thorough search of the house, the troops then told the family they had an order to arrest Thaer. When asked why, the officer in charge responded that Thaer was a “threat to the public.”

Thaer had only just recently ended a year long stretch in administrative detention. He was home for all of about 14 days before being re-arrested and presented, yet again, with a three- month administrative detention order.

Like all other administrative detainees, Thaer is being held on ‘secret evidence’ and has never been officially charged nor convicted of anything.

Cyclical and ambiguous arrests have plagued the lives of Thaer and his family. Every one of his four brothers, and even his father, has been held in administrative detention at some point. Thaer himself has been arrested 8 times and spent a collective six and half years total in administrative detention.

Thaer’s most recent administrative detention order has been renewed every three-months. The uncertainty of his detention’s length has been nerve racking to say the least. Thaer’s wife, Shireen, argues neither she nor Thaer, nor Thaer’s lawyer know whether the order will be renewed until the day it concludes. Shireen reveals that several times, Thaer has been directed to collect his belongings and prepare to go home only to be turned back at the gates of the prison with a renewed three-month detention order.

How to Fight Ambiguous Detentions

Thaer’s detention was most recently extended in January for a period of six-months. Left with few other options and encouraged by Sheikh Khader Adnan’s recent 66-day feat in protest of administrative detention, the exact same directive that has controlled Thaer’s life for the past nine years, he too entered into his own open-ended hunger strike on 28 February while in Al-Naqab prison.

Saturday 27 April 2012, Thaer entered into his 60th day with out food.

“He is determined,” said Thaer’s older brother Mohammed. “He will either be set free or become a martyr.”

When asked if they thought Thaer would be willing to accept an exile deal similar to the one Israel reached with hunger striker Hana Shalabi, through which she had been exiled to Gaza for the following three years, his family responded with a resounding no. “It was good for Hana,” says Thaer’s Uncle Wahib, “but Thaer would never agree to anything of the sort.”

On 28 March, Thaer was transferred to Israel’s Ramleh medical prison along with another hunger striking prisoner, Bilal Diab. According to Addameer, both men have been held in isolated cells in the general prison section. Despite numerous requests, Addameer lawyers have been denied access to Thaer and Bilal since their transfer.

Despite his rapidly deteriorating condition, Thaer Halaleh’s appeal against his administrative detention was rejected by an Israeli military judge at the Ofer military court on Monday 23 April.

Thaer’s wife Shireen has little faith in receiving justice from the Israeli military court system. “How can we have any faith in the court hearings. How can we believe that a just verdict will be reached when we are barred from even attending the trial, when the entire trial is conducted in Hebrew, and when the only people present are the Israeli judge, the Israeli translator, the Israeli prosecutor, and the mukhabarat [Israeli secret service]?”

Power in Numbers

Approximately 1,200 Palestinian prisoners from all political factions began a unified open-ended hunger strike on 17 April 2012 in commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day and in protest of Israel’s exploitative use of administrative detention as well as its poor treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

Since its beginning, the movement has only been getting stronger.

In an April 25th update published by Addameer the estimated total number of prisoners on hunger strike had risen to nearly 2,000, a number which has most certainly risen since and has plans to increase in the coming days.

In Hasharon prison, six female prisoners have announced they will enter into the open-ended hunger strike on 1 May 2012. An additional 120 prisoners in Ofer prison are expected to join the hunger strike on 29 April.

The movement—“The War of Empty Stomachs”—has been effectively launched. It is, perhaps, a last resort by Palestinian prisoners to finally obtain just and fair treatment.

Thaer Halahleh, having reached his 60th day without food along with his compatriot Bilal Diab, is at the movement’s forefront.

Their demands, as well as those of the other active “Empty Stomach Warriors,” are neither absurd nor inappropriate. They are simply demanding a fair judicial process and improved living conditions but are risking their lives in the process.

Photo by Dylan Collins

April 29, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Until Freedom or Martyrdom: Thaer Halahleh on 60 Days of Hunger Strike