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Late Friday, a federal judge found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is systemically violating the due process rights of prisoners. The judge ruled that CDCR is violating the Constitution by repeatedly relying on unreliable and even fabricated confidential information to send California prisoners to solitary confinement. The court also found CDCR is using constitutionally flawed gang validations to deny people in prison a fair opportunity for parole.
In 2017, Cheri Honkala, the founder of the Poor People’s Campaign for Economic Human Rights, ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Philadelphia’s District 197. I spoke to her about what happened. It was a special election last year for a representative to the Pennsylvania State House. On the night of the election, there were literally hundreds of calls to our campaign headquarters and the district attorney’s office about election fraud.
On April 21, I finally got to see Charlie Hinton’s “Solitary Man” play at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley. It was so much more than a cultural experience. The play was gripping, emotional and real, with jazz trumpet sprinkled in. The panel powerfully reflected the layers of pain, survival and resistance in the prison movement. And the event, a benefit for the San Francisco Bay View, was a moving tribute to Mary and Willie Ratcliff’s devotion to their invaluable newspaper.
A federal judge in a March 28 ruling declined to order the CDCR to move prisoners previously held in SHUs into legitimate general population conditions. Under a landmark class action settlement that was intended to effectively end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, nearly 1,500 prisoners were released into the general prison population, many to Level IV prisons, which is the highest security level in general population.
I’m writing this editorial because I want to brag on my husband, Bay View publisher Dr. Willie Ratcliff, and tell you why he and I have faith that a benefactor, someone with deep pockets who cares, will step forward in time to save the Bay View and keep it in print – an angel who understands how much the Bay View means to a prisoner being tortured and a youngster in the hood being framed. Dr. Ratcliff was that angel, that benefactor, to Gladys Knight in 1975, when she ran out of money in the midst of producing a major film in Valdez, Alaska called “Pipe Dreams.”
Supporters of Black liberation fighter and political prisoner Herman Bell held a packed news conference at the Center for Constitutional Rights March 23. They came out to show support for a recent New York State Parole Board decision to free Bell after more than 40 years – much of it spent in torturous solitary confinement. The board’s decision has come under attack from police groups, the corporate media and elected officials, including “liberal” Democrats Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
I begin this six-month update on the activities of CDCR and the CCPOA with my utmost thankfulness and respect for the San Francisco Bay View. I thank your staff and readers for continuing to shine a bright light on the injustices that occur daily behind enemy lines, as it pertains to human beings who are marginalized as prisoners, defined as slaves by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but yet full citizens of this country! I have now been housed in Pelican Bay Level II SHU for six months, and the situation has not progressed but has rapidly deteriorated.
Don’t miss the highly acclaimed play, ‘Solitary Man: My Visit to Pelican Bay State Prison,’ performed by Charlie Hinton and Fred Johnson. Fred and Charlie launched the new two-person version in September 2017 and return now, on Feb. 10 and 14, for two performances as benefits for the SF Bay View newspaper: Saturday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m., at ANSWER, 2969 Mission St., San Francisco and Wednesday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m., at Freedom Archives, 518 Valencia, San Francisco – Show the Bay View some love on Valentine’s Day!
Two years after the historic settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California marked the end of indefinite solitary confinement in California, the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel filed a motion to extend the terms of the settlement by one year, noting that substantial reforms are still needed and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to violate the constitutional rights of Ashker class members.
In mid-October, 125 prisoners at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility in downtown Oakland – over 30 percent of the prisoners housed there – participated in a five-day hunger strike to protest what they say are abusive conditions of isolation and poor healthcare in Alameda County jails. On Oct. 17, over 30 supporters rallied outside of the Alameda County administrative building, where the county supervisors’ offices are located, to draw attention to the striking prisoners.
I left CDCr wondering how PBSP could remain in shambles after 22 years of court oversight. As I started educating myself about prison reform, I stumbled upon Keramet Reiter’s 2016 book, “23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement.” Within those pages, I found validation and some disturbing answers. I wish this book had been available to me before I started working in CDCr.
“Administrative segregation” is prison bureaucratese for solitary confinement. On Thursday, prisoners in solitary at California’s Old Folsom State Prison went on hunger strike for their Eighth Amendment right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. I spoke to Raquel Estrada, wife of Anthony Estrada, a prisoner writing for the strikers in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, who elaborated on the conditions of her husband’s confinement.
When you find yourself in a suddenly darkened room, what do you do? Some rush blindly to where they think the door might be. Others stand still, let their eyes adjust to the different environment, re-orient themselves, then, cautiously and sensitively, move forward. Some search out people who might be able to show the way. Post-election, a lot of people are re-assessing and searching for the best way forward. Here are some ideas from experienced, thoughtful people who are organizing on the front lines.
More than 100 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl 50 Sunday night. In addition to seeing the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, viewers also witnessed one of the most political halftime shows in the Super Bowl’s history as the legendary singer Beyoncé paid tribute to the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter movement. Her dancers posted a photo on Instagram holding a sign reading “Justice for Mario Woods.”
On Tuesday, federal Judge Claudia Wilken approved the final agreement to end indefinite solitary confinement in California, calling it humane, innovative and fair. Prisoners celebrated the settlement agreement, whose terms were agreed on last September, claiming it as a victory that bolstered their struggle for human rights. Anne Weills pointed out that “what was missing from the courtroom were all the prisoners who risked their lives in the hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013.”
When Ashker v. Brown (Governor of California) was filed as a class action in 2012, California held thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement, in Security Housing Units (SHU). In September 2015, the case was settled, and far-reaching reforms were ordered. These reforms are expected to dramatically reduce the number of prisoners currently detained in the SHU and limit the way SHU confinement is used going forward.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris is nothing if not ambitious. Not content with being the Golden State’s top law enforcement officer – a position she has held since 2011, after serving seven years as San Francisco County’s district attorney – she’s currently running for the U.S. Senate and is the clear favorite to replace Barbara Boxer, who is retiring in November 2016. Harris must not miss this historic opportunity to end solitary confinement in California.
Last week, men incarcerated at Ohio’s supermax prison brought a month-long hunger strike to a close. Between 30 and 40 men had refused all meals since March 16 to protest new restrictions placed on already severely limited recreation and programming for those in solitary confinement. On April 15, all but one of the men agreed to suspend the hunger strike after a meeting with the warden at which the prison agreed to lifting some, but not all, of the new restrictions.
Departments of corrections and state legislatures are putting into place chilling bans on free speech and expression by prisoners, formerly incarcerated persons, family members, friends, journalists, advocates and activists. Pack the courtroom for the hearing on Abu-Jamal v. Kane, challenging Prisoner Gag Law SB 508, on Thursday, Feb. 26, 10 a.m., in U.S. Courthouse, 228 Walnut St., Courtroom 2, Harrisburg, Penn.
A federal judge tentatively granted a motion by the Center for Constitutional Rights to file a supplementary complaint to its class action on behalf of hundreds of prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison. The supplementary complaint will cover prisoners recently transferred under the state’s Step Down Program from solitary confinement at Pelican Bay to solitary confinement at the state prison at Tehachapi.