Prison policies lead
to explosion of inmate anger
Saul Kanowitz San Francisco
Feb. 23 guards at Pelican Bay State Prison used deadly force against prisoners
who were fighting in the B yard facility of the prison. According to the
prison administration, one prisoner was killed, 15 were injured by gunshots
and 32 injured in the fighting.
groups have called for an independent investigation into the use of deadly
force. At a news conference held on the steps of the new State Office Building
in San Francisco, Richard Becker of the National Peoples Campaign charged that
the community cannot trust the prison system to investigate itself.
recalled the 1971 Attica Rebellion when inmates in that New York State prison
took it over. During the takeover a number of guards were held by prisoners to
insure their safety and to force the prison administration to listen to their
State Troopers, on the orders of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, stormed Attica and
took back control of the prison, they killed 43 inmates and guards. To justify
the violence used to retake the prison, phony stories of guards being castrated
and killed by prisoners were released to the media. After an independent
investigation led by prisoner advocates and other community organizations, it
was revealed that all the guards who had died during the takeover had been
killed by the
the press conference here, former Pelican Bay prisoner Dorsey Nunn of Legal
Services for Prisoners with Children said it was not a coincidence that the day
the riot took place, two guards from Pelican Bay were being indicted for
arranging assaults on prisoners by other prisoners. Nunn suggested the fights
were facilitated by the prison system as an effort to deflect attention from
reminded the media of the well-documented gladiator fights between prisoners set
up by guards at Corcoran state
Talamantez, a former political prisoner and member of the San Quentin Six, spoke
of the need to end the cycle of violence and reiterated the call to shut down
Pelican Bay State Prison
DiBenidetto-Skopek of the California Prison Focus spoke of a recent
investigative trip made by CPF on Feb. 11 and 12 to Pelican Bay to document the
conditions under which prisoners
Workers World reporter also spoke as a member of a 10-person delegation of
lawyers and activists who had interviewed over 60 prisoners in a two-day visit
at Pelican Bay indicates human rights violations
part of this investigative visit to PBSP, interviews had been conducted under
the protection of attorney-client privilege. For the prisoners, however, the
very act of meeting with interviewers was an act of defiance against the prison
told stories of delays in medication refills, arbitrary reward and punishment,
mentally ill patients kept in the harsh Security Housing Unit, and revocation of
Law Library privileges at times coinciding with court appearances. The picture
painted was that of a prison administration that carries out random reward and
punishment and divide-and-conquer polices by pitting prisoners against each
other based on ethnicity, geography and other differences.
prisoners interviewed explained that the lack of programs and the isolation
create an environment where violence is not an unexpected outcome of prisoner
in the Security Housing Unit and the general population were interviewed.
Prisoners in the SHU are kept in cells 23.5 hours a day. In the remaining
30-minute period they are released alone into the "yard," a sunless space twice
the size of a cell, for exercise.
are placed in the SHU either for violent acts while in prison or for being
labeled gang members. The label of gang member is often made by the prison
administration on the basis of information from unidentified "confidential
policy allows only three ways to leave the SHU: "snitch, parole or die." This
means a prisoner either tells information, real or fabricated, about other
prisoners, officially called debriefing, is paroled, or dies. Any prisoner who
returns to the general population is therefore labeled a snitch by the other
prisoners and is targeted for violence.
underground regulations were successfully challenged by jailhouse lawyer Steve
Castillo. The resulting change in policy requires all prisoners who have been
"gang free" for six years while in the SHU to be considered for release into the
general population without the need to debrief.
the course of the two days' investigation, the team learned there are prisoners
with over six years of gang-free activity who have not been before the review
board. As the investigative team left the prison, we all felt the sense of
tension behind the walls. The only way to stop the violence is to shut down
Pelican Bay State Prison altogether.
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