(en)The State of the US prison system

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 16:35:50 +0000 (GMT)


Subject: The State of the US prison system
Date: Dec 7, 1996
From: Noelle Hanrahan <ejuswest@sirius.com>

(note: The state of the US prison system grows worse daily. The US now has a
higher percentage of its population in prison than any other country. I thought
that the Maximum mental torture facility in Lexington KY had been shut down,
but apparently building of such places continues with the help of the public
officials/media of Pennsylvania and the compliance/ignorance of the populace.
The "Public" radio network in the US has become a whore to the corporate dollar
playing "nice" "intelligent" music to soothe the souls of the gentry and keep
those pledge dollars coming. DB)

In Defense of the First Amendment:
Equal Justice USA and The Prison Radio Project

-- Prison Radio Project Record Mumia Radio Commentaries Days before Ban
-- PA Prison Officials eliminate media visits with all PA prisoners
-- $2 million dollar National Public Radio Censorship Suit Continues

)From Death Row: This is Mumia Abu-Jamal (copyright Noelle Hanrahan)

The promise of death is not enough; the state of Pennsylvania wants to
still Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice and enforce his silence. On November 11th,
the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, in what prisoners have labeled
the "Mumia Rule", has banned journalists access to the entire prison
population. A prolific writer and author of a searing compilation of essays
Live From Death Row, for 15 years Mumia has not only been fighting to stay
alive, he has been waging a battle for the freedom to write and speak. In
August of 1995 he came within 10 days of being executed, by lethal
injection.

The stark reality of a place where men and women wait for death is a
secluded and secretive world. What happens behind these walls is
restricted, censored, and supressed. Over 3.046 men and women live under a
death sentence in 38 American states. 40% of America's death row
inhabitants are Black.

As America gears up for assembly line executions, it must dehumanize
its
victims. A key component of this strategy is to make these men and women
invisible. In an ominous trend, in December 1995, the California Department
of Corrections (the largest prison system in the U.S.), eliminated all media
access to prisoners. The public's right to know was sacrificed to protect
California's 3 billion dollar a year, and ever expanding, prison industry.

It is our job as journalists to reach behind the iron curtain as it
falls across the American landscape so we may hear prisoners' voices; voices of
dissent and voices of those we condemn.

On October 31st, just days before the Pennsylvania press ban went into
effect, the Prison Radio Project on assignment from Index Magazine on
Censorship (England) secured an hour and fifteen minute interview with
Mumia. Armed with a Digital Audio Tape machine and cameras, recording
engineer Janice Leber and photographer Nolen Edmonston came away with what
could prove to be the very last images and recordings of Mumia in prison.

Looking tired and emotionally spent, fifteen years of desolate solitary
confinement is taking its toll on Mumia. "The guiding theme of this jail",
remarked Mumia, "is an attack on the life of the mind. To isolate people.
To make it easier to kill people. And for some, like Keith Zettlemeyor,
this place creates a desire to leave this life." [Zettlemeyor begged to be
executed rather than suffer.]

The State Correctional Institute at Greene (SCIG), a new supermaximum
security, control unit prison, is designed to eliminate human contact.
Isolated in the farthest reaches of rural southwestern Pennsylvania it is
eight hours from the homes and families of 85% of its captives. Men are
held in solitary confinement, allowed out of their cells 1 hour a day, five
days a week, to exercise in a small barren wire cage.

Prisoners on death row are allowed just one, two-hour non contact visit
per week, and two strictly timed ten minute phone calls a month. If
prisoners are under investigation for a disciplinary infraction, such as
"engaging in the profession of journalism" all visits and phone calls are
denied. A date with death in the form of a death warrant means complete
isolation as well.

As they entered, Leber and Edmonston passed electrified gates topped
with coiled layers of gleaming concertina razor wire. Once inside this ultra
modern control unit prison, the antiseptic sterility and bright white lights
presage a regimen of psychological and physical torture.

At the guard station, Janice Leber had to remove layers of her clothing
to pass through the metal detector. The visiting area for death row, just
outside the "D" pod housing unit holding eight cells, is recessed deep in
the complex. In the non contact visiting cubicles, they are separated from
Mumia by a thick wall of plexiglass.

Guards admonish Leber and Edmonston not to speak to Mumia until "that
woman" as the guards refer to a prison administrator is present. Negotiating
with bored, yet nervous redneck guards revolves around the guards constant
internal calculation "will granting this request cost me my job". The
prison administrator arrives, and remains in the cramped 4 by 5 foot cubicle
to monitor every word.

Intimidation and humiliation are used to discourage visits. Mumia is
forced to submit to a full cavity strip search before and after each,
completely non contact visit. There is a price exacted to see and talk with
another human being. During the interview Mumia remains handcuffed, at
times he is also shackled to his waist.

Mumia's deep baritone voice, palpable humanity, and wry laugh,
illuminates his surroundings and the lives of the men with whom he shares his
life. Images give us a glimpse of a man whose humanity remains intact, having
endured 15 years of brutal solitary confinement.

In May 1994 Mumia's battle to be heard intensified when Robert Dole
(former presidential candidate and senator) and the National Fraternal Order
of Police, forced National Public Radio to censor Mumia's regularly=
scheduled commentaries on All Things Considered/NPR. These essays would have
reached 7-10 million people in Canada, Mexico, the US, Europe, and South
Africa.

The state has eliminated new prison recordings and and has been able to
compel NPR to keep from being heard. 10 unique and irreplaceable essays,
some of the last recordings of Mumia remain under lock and key. Although
under great pressure, NPR has refused to air or release them.

"The state would rather give me an Uzi, than a microphone", commented
Mumia. And the major network journalists are complicit in this censorship.
No recordings of Mumia's voice have ever been aired on a national network
news broadcast. "My offense is painting an uncomplimentary picture of a
prison system that eats hundreds of millions of dollars a year to torture
and maim, tens of thousands of men and women, a system that teaches
bitterness and hones hatred". Why is the simple truth of life in prison
perceived as such a threat? The answer lies in the fact that Mumia words,
spoken in the King's English, if heard, would threaten the smooth and
orderly function of both state sanctioned murder and modern slavery.

Mumia Abu-Jamal's perspective is a serious threat to the hegemony of
the "corrections industry". He humanizes over one and a half million prisoners
in American. Disclosure of torture and human rights abuses would slow
productivity and expansion in one of the U.S.'s largest growth industries;
human storage and slave labor.

5.1 million American citizens under correctional control; the highest
per capita rate of imprisonment in the world. Unbeknownst to many, slavery in
the U.S. was never completely abolished. In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the
US constitution bared slavery, except for "those duly convicted of a crime".
At the current rate of incarceration, by 2010, the majority of all African
American men between the ages 18 - 40 will be in prison: the state their
captor and their labor on the auction block.

Whether Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice will reach the airwaves, and ultimately
whether he lives or dies, will be a true test of whether freedom of the
press exists. It will also depend on our independence, the depth of our
courage, and our will to organize.

NPR Tapes Suppressed $2 million dollar Lawsuit Continues!

Ten unique and irreplaceable commentaries written and read by Mumia
Abu-Jamal remain under lock and key at National Public Radio (NPR). These
recordings were produced by the Prison Radio Project in April 1994 for
broadcast on All Things Considered. But NPR canceled the series in May
1994, just a day before the first recording was scheduled to air.

Last March, the Washington, DC-based law firm, Bernabei & Katz,
filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of Mumia and the Prison Radio Project to
challenge this censorship. Also assisting in the $2 million suit is
Georgetown Law School Professor Gary Peller. Represented by former White
House counsel Lloyd Cutler, NPR filed a motion to dismiss the suit in
September. Our response was filed on November 1. A hearing date has yet to
be set.

The lawsuit charges that in pressuring NPR to pull the commentaries,
"government actors" - including former Senator Robert Dole - and members of
the Philadelphia police department violated NPR's and Mumia's First
Amendment rights. Given the heightened climate of prison censorship, NPR's
release of these rare recordings is increasingly important.

Pennsylvania Bans Media Visits to All PA Prisoners

A new order* from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC),
effective November 11, eliminates media visits with prisoners. Most
importantly, the policy bans cameras and audio and video equipment -
essential tools of the journalistic trade - in prisons.

Prior DOC policy permitted members of the press to call or visit a
prisoner via special arrangement with the Superintendent's office at a given
facility. Under the new regulations, a journalist can only enter a prison
as a social visitor.

For prisoners on death row and those held in restrictive confinement,
only one two-hour social visit is allowed per week. Phone calls are limited to
two 10-minute phone calls a month. Before visiting, a journalist must ask
a prisoner to put his or her name on an institutionally-approved social
visitors list. Changes to a prisoner's list, which is limited to 40 names,
can only be made once a month, and one can be on the list of only one
prisoner at any given time. Those journalists who do visit will displace
visits from members of a prisoner's family.

Prisoners who have been found guilty of a disciplinary infraction are
allowed no visits or phone calls. Prisoners under a death warrant are
totally cut off from the press since they are allowed no visits except from
their attorney, immediate family, and an institutionally-recognized
religious advisor.

In theory, First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press
survive incarceration. In a key ruling, Procunier v. Martinez, the U.S.
Supreme Court balances the guarantees of the First Amendment with the need
for "institutional considerations, such as security." The high court
insisted that "reasonable and effective means of communication remain open,
and no discrimination in terms of content be involved."

The DOC's new policy violates the First Amendment. Mumia's long battle
for such rights intensified in May 1994 when National Public Radio suppressed
10 of his recorded commentaries. Angered by the resulting publicity, the
prison denied requests to interview Mumia for radio and television.

When a New York Times article announced the imminent release of
Mumia's book, Live From Death Row, in February 1995, the DOC forbade all
press interviews. Officials justified the ban by arguing that Mumia was
under investigation for violating a prison rule that prohibited "engaging in
the profession of journalism." That ban was lifted by the DOC in September
1995 when a hearing in federal court on a civil suit challenging the press
ban (filed by Pittsburgh attorney Jere Krakoff) embarrassed prison=
officials.

As a result of this suit, a federal district judge ruled in
September 1996 that prison officials could not deny the press visits with
Mumia in retaliation for writing and publishing. But the decision was
narrow. The court made clear that it was "not prepared to restrict the
ability of the prison administration in determining when a legitimate threat
to security exists which would justify limiting media interviews for all
inmates."

It is important to note that the DOC has provided no security
justifications for its new ban on press access. Rather, it appears that the
new order comes in direct retaliation for the press attention that Mumia's
case has brought to bear on the Pennsylvania's prisons. The success of Live
)From Death Row has resulted in regular interview requests from the media.
Press access to Mumia has had a major impact in humanizing those on death
row. Via the radio commentaries recorded and distributed by the Prison
Radio Project, Mumia - in deep baritones - illuminates the inhuman
conditions inside a super-maximum security prison. On camera interviews -
like the one featured in HBO's Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?
- portray a man of considerable compassion and intellect, reminding us of
the human cost of the death penalty.

Pennsylvania's actions come one year after the California DOC - the
U.S.'s largest prison system - banned all face-to-face press interviews with
prisoners. California's policy has recently come under scrutiny by the
state's Office of Administrative Law, which is charged with reviewing the
policies of all state agencies. The office found that the DOC provided no
justification for such a far-reaching ban. Media visits in California have
yet to resume.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ACTION ALERT!

Media access helps protect the human rights of prisoners. Help
keep prison doors open to journalists!

1) Demand that the PA DOC lift the ban on press cameras and
audio and video recorders. Insist that they rewrite their policy to
insure the media unencumbered access to prisoners. Ask the
DOC what they have to hide! Call/fax/mail your protests to:
Commissioner Martin Horn, PA Department of Corrections,
P.O. Box 598, Camp Hill, PA 17001; 717-975-4860, 717-787-
0132 (fax).

2. Write or visit people in prison in your area, especially
prisoners isolated in super-maximum security facilities and on
death row. In Pennsylvania, you can join the Pennsylvania
Prison Society (PPS), which by the state constitution, has access
to all state prisons. For more information, contact PPS at 2000
Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, PA 19130; 215-564-6005.

3. Contact the media and let them know that you want to hear
prisoners' voices. Urge your local radio stations to air Mumia=FEs
commentaries (available from the Prison Radio Project, 415-
648-4505). Help them identify prisoners who are willing to be
interviewed.

Don't Let Silence=3DDeath

Equal Justice USA Quixote Center P.O. Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782;=
email:
quixote@igc.apc.org (301) 699-0042 (voice); (301) 864-2182 (fax); Mumia
Hotline: (301) 699-5007

Prison Radio Project Equal Justice USA/West, 558 Capp St., San Francisco, CA
94110 (415) 648-4505 (voice); (415) 285-5066 (fax); ejuswest@sirius.com

In order to get a new mailing on the censorship and Equal Justice USA's
campaigns, and action component send your snail mail address to
ejuswest@sirius.com.

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