Surviving Hepatitis C in AZ Jails, State Prisons, and Federal Detention Centers.

Surviving Hepatitis C in AZ Jails, State Prisons, and Federal Detention Centers.
The "Hard Time" blogspot is a volunteer-run site for the political organization of people with Hepatitis C behind and beyond prison walls, their loved ones, and whomever cares to join us. We are neither legal nor medical professionals. Some of us may organize for support, but this site is primarily dedicated to education and activism; we are fighting for prevention, detection, treatment, and a cure for Hepatitis C, particularly down in the trenches where most people are dying - in prison or on the street... Join us.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Request a CRIPA Investigation.

Wrote this letter to the section head at the DOJ in their Civil Rights Division in response to concerns about Jamie Scott, a dialysis patient in Mississippi whose health is deteriorating quickly. I have evidence that not only is she not receiving adequate medical care, such as the case with other Mississippi prisoners - which makes it a pattern of possible civil rights violations, not just an incident. That measn the DOJ has to investigate. 

Am posting his letter here because we all need to know how to do this when confronted with evidence of a pattern of abuse/medical neglect resulting in the denial of civil rights for institutionalized persons. I also need your back-up: even a post-card to the DOJ echoing the request for a CRIPA investigation of MDOC could help.

Access to health care is a constitutionally guaranteed right for prisoners; the problem is that the health care they end up getting, if any at all, is always on the cheap, saving the state money or profiting private industry. So, the standards are what we will really end up fighting for.

Anyway, in response to the SOS from Jamie's mom, I called the warden's and governor's offices in Mississippi this weekend, then yesterday put together a packet of current reports from Jamie's prison to send off with this to the Department of Justice, requesting a CRIPA (Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons) investigation complaining about health care, using both Jamie's and a few other documented examples of neglect/extreme indifference to prisoner health and welfare. It seems I did that once already, but may not have done so quite so officially. 

So, here's how to request a CRIPA investigation, as far as I know. The more people who do this and the more sources of information we have about conditions, the more likely it is that the DOJ will follow up and clean house at the MDOC.

Send the Free The Scott Sisters campaign emails with copies of letters you write on Jamie's behalf for their records. Following the CRIPA request letter is the info from Jamie's mom that went into my packet, regarding prison conditions and retaliation.

Margaret J. Plews
Arizona Prison Watch
1809 East Willetta Street
Phoenix, AZ  850o6

April 20, 2010

Judy Preston, Chief
US Department of Justice
Special Litigation Section
950 Pennsylvania Ave NW  PHB
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Chief Preston;

Enclosed is some documentation regarding health care in Mississippi’s state prison system. The dramatic change in inmate mortality alone should have alerted your office and triggered an investigation – please don’t delay starting one any longer. The conditions are horrendous, people are dying for lack of adequate medical care, and patients seem to be completely left in the dark about their own illnesses, treatment, prognosis, etc. I believe their civil rights are being violated routinely with grave consequence. The enclosed account of retaliatory behavior on the part of the prison for Mrs. Rasco’s activism troubles me, too. We need you folks in there ASAP or her daughter, Jamie, is going to die before she’s exonerated.

A wealth of additional documentation about the medical services in the CMCF can be found at , or . The welfare of Mississippi’s most vulnerable population – their prisoners, including Mrs. Rasco’s girls – is in your hands. Please at least read up on the blogs and see what we’re seeing; I don’t know how you all could not know what’s going on there. I’m getting mail from other women complaining about medical services in that particular facility, too, and expect more within the next couple of weeks. They are resisting their shoddy treatment, and writing and talking about it – there’s no better time than now to go in there…

Please let me know if your office will be following up on this complaint with a CRIPA investigation, or referring it to a more appropriate department for follow-up. Without question, though, we need some kind of federal intervention in Mississippi now. I may be asking for help in Arizona, next, but first things first.

Thank you for your time and attention.


Margaret J. Plews
Prison Abolitionist

The mold on the walls and leaking in the units of Mississippi's prisons

Jamie Scott called her mother this morning and informed  her that Warden Holman woke her from sleep, demanding to know what her mother was posting on the internet regarding mold on the walls and leaking in her unit. She got up and showed him the mold all over the walls as well as sewage that was coming up out of the toilets and the spiders overrunning the unit.

The warden then told Jamie (who only has the use of one arm) to scrub down the walls, to which she refused! Jamie told him that her mother is posting the truth and would continue to post about the disgusting conditions of the unit and how it was making her sicker and more prone to infection, and that all of those years of mold would need more than scrubbing anyway. She told him if she was
allowed to lay there and die that he hasn't seen anything yet and would never hear the last of her mother!

The other women were awakened by the Warden and told to scrub the mold off of the walls and they also refused! They told the Warden that they were glad that everybody is finding out about their horrible living conditions and that the building needs to be torn down! No matter how the prison tries to hide it, the truth will continue to be told!

One prison doctor has diagnosed Jamie with an infection and another has not, but she has the discoloration that is a hallmark of recurrent infection. She clarified that it was determined that she was only on Heparin while in the hospital and that it had been discontinued.

PLEASE PARTICIPATE in e-mailing our press release to at least three press contacts as often as possible! It's at:

Many newspapers can be reached by e-mail or contact form at - please also contact other forms of media that you can easily find info for. We need a whole lot of help to attract as much attention to this case as possible to truly make a difference!

Thank you all, don't let up!!

Visit and LINK to:
Subscribe to our group: Send a blank e-mail to and share information!
Facebook Group: Free The Scott Sisters
Facebook Fan Page: Free The Scott Sisters
Free the Scott Sisters Petition:
Press Release:
Case Summary:
Free the Scott Sisters Flyer:
Legal Transcripts:

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Quality of Mercy: Compassionate Release in America

Medical Parole: Politics vs. Compassion

By Nina Quinn

Dostoevsky reminds us that society can be measured by how it treats its prisoners. And part of that measure must surely be the degree of compassion we show toward the dying. Yet compassionate release, or medical parole, is an under-used and too rarely granted option for terminally ill inmates in our U.S. prisons. 

While some form of medical parole legislation is in place in federal and state jurisdictions, it is often overly restrictive, narrowly interpreted, and muddied by political interests. Unfortunately, a lack of political will affects bureaucratic will and ultimately the number of dying released from prison.

Barry Holman of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives sardonically states, "There is not much of a constituency for criminals in the United States." With overtones of Dostoevsky, he adds, "There is a lack of political and bureaucratic will to see dying in prison as a negative marker for what a prison system should be and society as a whole,"

Jack Beck; who has done a careful study of medical parole in New York State reports that not only are few people getting out, there is a downward trend. Both applications and releases are dropping. In 2000, out of 170 New York state prison deaths – most from medical reasons – 81 applied for compassionate release and only 12 were granted.

In New York, the current administration is against parole generally and this spills over to medical parole. This negative influence in not confined to New York. California and other states are facing the same antagonism and similar low release numbers.

Apart from negative political influence, there are other related obstacles. The eligibility criteria can be overly restrictive eliminating, people who are clearly terminally ill. The process can be convoluted and delayed resulting in many inmates dying in prison before their review is completed. In New York, the 2000 statistics show more than twice as many inmates died during the review process than were granted release.

When these three barriers of politics, criteria and process come together they virtually guarantee a fourth: lack of incentive to initiate applications.

While there can be various factors contributing to this, Beck points to a common theme of frustration and futility. The paper burden on the medical providers can be both excessive and judged a waste of medical time when so few are granted parole. Similarly, many prison staff with compassion for the dying, do not want to raise the inmates hopes and put them through the stress of a long waiting period only to have them die in the process or be refused.

Also, the establishing of Regional Medical Units (RMUs) and hospice programs make for a simpler alternative – transfer the inmate. The RMUs run on a fixed DOC's budget and there is incentive to keep the beds full. Plus it is quicker, less complicated, and does not require the additional work involved in a discharge plan.

Another obstacle Beck articulates is the failure to educate the staff and inmates about the program and the process. This is particularly important in states like New York where correctional staff can initiate but the prime responsibility is placed on the inmate. Beck notes that there are prisons and infirmaries within the state that do not, for whatever reasons; file any applications for their terminally ill inmates.

Other than holding our politicians to a higher standard, what else is required for effective compassionate release policy?

A first requirement is clear legislation that is free from murky political bias, compromise, and overly restrictive criteria. A clearly defined medical prognosis is required. One that includes all terminally ill inmates. It should be clear and factual enough that inmates and their doctors know if they meet the criteria. And it should be fair. 

In New York, where an incapacitation standard is used, some terminally ill are excluded because they can walk-they may die tomorrow but they are excluded because of the legislative restriction on self-ambulation.

Rather than an incapacitation model where the prime emphasis is on risk, Beck makes the case for a terminal illness diagnosis with a one-year life expectancy. Studies show that when a six months diagnosis is used, the median length of stay in hospice is roughly 30 days. One year would increase the possibility of the review process being completed before the applicant dies. Also, it would allow time for the patient to adjust and relate to his family or new surroundings.

Another requirement is that there be a clear separation between the medical prognosis and the assessment of risk upon, release. Medical staff should not be asked to assess risk but solely address the medical status and prognosis of the inmate. Risk assessment is the pervue of the criminal justice system.

It is at this stage that the process generally gets cumbersome and protracted. So many arms and voices within the criminal justice system are included that the inmate may be dead before a decision is reached. The political temptation to spread the risk and decision-making as broadly as possible needs to be reined in and the process streamlined. Maryland has a process that appears to run smoothly. What makes it particularly efficient is not only that they have kept steps to the necessary minimum, they have also mandated short timelines at each stage of the process. Any inmate applying for compassionate release knows that he or she will receive a decision no later than 30 days from the start of the process. In urgent cases, decisions have been made as quickly as one day.

Maryland also meets another requirement by mandating discharge planning as soon as the inmate is given a terminal diagnosis. This ensures that when the decision is made, everything is in place for the inmate's release.

Communication is also important. The system could benefit from staff being well educated on all aspects of the process and this information should be made available to inmates and their families, including language translation when necessary.

Finally, a key and critical requirement, is that when a doctor makes a terminal diagnosis a mandatory application for release is submitted and the process is started including discharge planning. This standardized application should be as simple and straightforward as possible.
accessed january 29, 2010

Saturday, April 17, 2010

ARPAIO's Jail Health Care Crisis Continues.

When Bertha Oropeza was arrested last summer for marijuana possession, she didn't expect it to nearly cost her life.

But after 10 hours in Maricopa County's Fourth Avenue jail, Oropeza was unconscious, in cardiogenic shock with acute kidney failure at Good Samaritan Hospital. Meanwhile, no one at the jail could tell her family where she was. "She's been released" was their refrain.

Oropeza, 45, had been straightforward with jail personnel about needing medication, which is reflected in jail and hospital records, as well as in Oropeza's recollection.

When she was arrested, she tells New Times, she clearly remembers telling the officer who took her purse that she would need to take her pills again in an hour.

He told her to wait until she got to the jail.

As Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's guards took her through the intake process "they asked me when I last took it, and I told them," Oropeza says. "I'm thinking, 'Okay, they're gonna give me my medication.'"

They didn't, so she tried again, telling the guard checking her into the jail that she needed her pills.
"Well, you don't need them right now," he told her. "It's your own fault. What do you think this is, a hospital?"

Oropeza's medical history is summarized in Good Samaritan Hospital records, released by Oropeza to New Times: She was in a car accident in west Phoenix in 2005 that left her disabled and with chronic back and leg pain.

Oropeza says she spent a month in a coma and five months in the hospital after she was thrown from the passenger's side of a car. Her hip "came completely out of socket," she says, and she suffered extensive head trauma after hitting the pavement.

She regularly takes the painkillers morphine and oxycodone as well as the muscle relaxant carisoprodal, according to hospital records.

Jail employees definitely knew about her condition, county records show. At 9:49 a.m. — about the time Oropeza was booked into the jail — a note was entered in her file recording that she was on medication for chronic pain in her legs and back due to a car accident.

Still, she didn't get help.

Oropeza knew what would happen next: The pain in her legs would come back, her stomach would reject anything in it, her muscles would seize up, and her lungs would tighten.

"If I don't take my medication, then I get a withdrawal right away," she says.

She had no power to stop it from coming. It did.

In the first holding cell, waiting to be fingerprinted, Oropeza asked for a bag to throw up in. A guard handed her one.

She sat on the concrete floor in the corner of the cell, vomiting into the bag until it was full, unable to move as the pain in her legs crept back and the painkillers wore off.

When she asked for a second bag, a guard told her to use the trash can on the other side of the cell. But she couldn't get up to walk over to it.

"Just don't throw up on the floor," he told her.

She was struggling to breathe and still throwing up when another woman in the cell began to kick the door to get the guard's attention. Oropeza, afraid of angering the guard, begged her not to.
"No," the woman said. "You need help. You need help now."

When the guard finally came, he walked Oropeza down a long hall and told another guard on duty there to "take her down to medical," Oropeza remembers.

Standing at the end of the hall with the new guard, Oropeza felt increasingly dizzy. She grabbed a nearby chair because she felt like she was going to faint.

"Don't touch that chair," the guard yelled.

"You don't need nothing to hold on to. You just stand there," Oropeza remembers him saying.
She asked him whether she could hold onto the wall. He told her no.

"All you're doing is putting on a show to get out of here. We get it all the time," he said.

When he took her out of the hallway, it was to yet another cell — this one right outside the medical unit, where she could see the nurses through a window.

Oropeza begged the nurses for help, miming that she couldn't breathe. She says Arpaio's guard just laughed at her. The nurses didn't come.

By about 1:30 p.m., after at least three hours of vomiting and dry heaving in a cement jail cell, Arpaio's guards finally turned her over to Correctional Health Services, the medical unit of the jail, according to records.

She was handcuffed to a gurney. When she complained of being cold, "they threw paper over me," she says.

At a few minutes before 7 p.m. on June 2, CHS staff called an ambulance to come for Bertha Oropeza. It arrived at 7:30 p.m., according to records, a full six hours after she had entered the medical unit
Healthcare in the Maricopa County jails has been the subject of a series of lawsuits, studies, and reports that have concluded the same thing: Inmates get grossly inadequate healthcare.

In September 2008, the jails' healthcare system lost its accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. It has not been reinstated.

In an order issued just last week, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake gave a devastating assessment of the conditions: inadequate record-keeping, medication management, staffing and mental health treatment threaten the lives and well-being of thousands of inmates every day.

Saying that the level of healthcare is unconstitutional and puts detainees in real danger, Wake ordered the sheriff and Correctional Health Services, the county agency that administers healthcare in the jails, to fix the problems by the end of this year.

The order came on the heels of a lawsuit that alleged violations of inmates' constitutional rights, and worked its way through the court system for years. The sheriff lost that suit, Graves v. Arpaio, in October 2008. And Wake ruled that the sheriff and the county Board of Supervisors, which runs CHS, must make massive improvements to jail healthcare.

Nearly 18 months later, problems remain.

In fact, Oropeza would likely get no better care today than she did nearly a year ago — despite the court's demand for improvements. She entered jail with one of the most common serious medical conditions doctors and nurses see in the jails: dependence on drugs or alcohol. (In her case, prescribed medication.)

A court-ordered report issued last month assessing improvements — or lack thereof — at the jails, found that nearly 15 percent of patients don't get their medications as prescribed, including those who are carrying them. Oropeza says her prescription medications were in her purse when she was picked up.

But the problem is bigger than that — sometimes patients don't get the right dosage, they have adverse reactions to medications, or face other complications. Many experience withdrawal symptoms that can be "life-threatening or extremely painful," according to the report, which was written by a medical doctor assigned to monitor the jails' progress after Judge Wake's ruling.

"Maricopa County jails are not alone," says Peggy Winter, the associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project and lead counsel on Graves v. Arpaio. Especially in the largest urban jails, officials inevitably struggle with the overwhelming medical and mental health needs of many detainees, she says.

A big part of the problem in Maricopa County is that doctors don't get timely information because the jails' medical records system is inadequate.

With so many inmates, CHS is likely unable to manage medical records or track inmates with medical needs without an electronic system, the report says. The system now is almost entirely manual, often relying on handwritten records.

CHS Director Betty Adams says her department is working to improve the records system. "If I could wave a magic wand, I would hope for some additional technology," she says.
But that is only one deficiency on a long list of things that need improvement. "I have, like, 16 top priorities," she says.

Deputy Chief Mary Ellen Sheppard of the Sheriff's Office says CHS needs to make better record-keeping its top priority. "It boils down to the lack of a tracking system that measures the care being provided and the quality of that care," she says. "It's hard to fix something that you don't have a handle on."

Hard doesn't begin to describe it.

Fixing all the problems in the jails would be a tall order for any government agency. But in Maricopa County, it's even tougher. Here, the sheriff and members of the Board of Supervisors are embroiled in an endless legal battle over seemingly every aspect of the jails — their healthcare system included.

The Sheriff's Office insists that it should have control over healthcare in the jails it runs. But that duty resides with CHS, which has been running healthcare services in the county's jails for decades.

The dispute ended up in Maricopa County Superior Court last year, with Arpaio attempting to wrest power over CHS from the county Board of Supervisors. He claimed that the board is inept and the Sheriff's Office would do a better job of providing healthcare in the jails.

The judge ruled otherwise, throwing out the case last week.

Arpaio's claims came just when evidence began to show that CHS, though far from being a model of correctional healthcare, is actually improving.

Eric Balaban, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project who toured the jails in September, says he saw progress.

"There certainly is movement in the right direction," he says. "But they were starting from ground zero."

The court-ordered report released in March also makes it clear that CHS employees are making some improvements: They are doing their best with an inadequate records system; more patients are getting healthcare assessments within two weeks of entering the jail, and those with chronic diseases are getting better care.

But, according to Judge Wake, the only real improvements that have been made are the ones that have cost the county little or no money.

CHS is a huge operation, with a $49 million annual budget. Imagine a constant stream of potential new patients — hundreds every day — each of whom is more than likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol and less than likely to have seen a doctor in the past year.

On any given day, there are about 9,000 inmates in the Maricopa County jails, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. According to CHS documents, 130,000 people were admitted into the jails last year alone. The jails take in 350 new inmates on an average day.

That means CHS has about $6.39 to spend on each inmate's healthcare per day, according to the March report.

Now, imagine trying to take care of that constant stream of patients, while they are being processed and packed into concrete cells, in poor shape and facing worse conditions.

Add a healthcare system that has been plagued by problems for years, and you've got the Maricopa County jails. It's a dangerous situation for medically fragile inmates.

"We're talking about life and death here," says Winter. "So a jail stay for some offense that may be very minor, and for which you might not even have been convicted, can result in a life sentence or some terrible lifelong injury because you didn't get the access to care that you should have."

Before her eight-day stay at Good Sam, Bertha Oropeza had spent just 10 hours in jail.

Her condition that first night didn't seem critical, according to medical records. She must have appeared to be just another narcotics-addicted inmate from Fourth Avenue.

But one day later, Oropeza was rushed to the ICU, intubated, and treated for cardiogenic shock, a life-threatening condition that occurs right before your heart fails completely.

Doctors inserted a balloon pump in her throat to keep her breathing. Her kidneys failed, and she stopped producing urine because of dehydration, according to medical records.

It wasn't until close to midnight on the day she was arrested that her family tracked her down at the hospital.

"We were really worried," Bertha's eldest daughter, Blanca Oropeza, says. "And then we find out her heart's crashing and that she might not make it through the night."

Two days later, Oropeza was out of danger. It was a surprise.

"The heart doctor told us she had a 40 percent chance of living through the night," Blanca says.

Both CHS and Good Samaritan records cite withdrawal from pain medications as possible causes of her near-death. But, at least one thing wasn't the cause: Oropeza's "social history," as doctors call it.
Medical records show that she smokes a pack of cigarettes each day and smokes marijuana — the very offense that landed her in jail.

But the records state: "Social History: Noncontributory."

In other words, it wasn't anything Oropeza had done to herself that brought her so close to death.

Oropeza plans to file a lawsuit against the county but doesn't know where to begin.

"The thing is, if I wouldn't have been in jail and something like that would have happened to me, I would have started straight to the hospital," she says.
"I could have been dead."

In fact, the court-ordered report released this month makes that even more apparent. "The Fourth Avenue jail intake facility is not medically suitable," the doctor writes, for people "prone to instability due to complex acute or chronic diseases" or "those with significant physical or functional disabilities."

Clearly, the Fourth Avenue jail intake facility was not medically suitable for Bertha Oropeza.


Romley appointed new Maricopa County Attorney

Congratulations, Mr. Romley. We will be in touch, and look forward to working with you.

Peggy Plews

Rick Romley to Replace Andrew Thomas as New Maricopa County Attorney

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Releasing our Elders; Health Care Reform and Prisoners.

From the list-serve/newsletter of (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants)

-------New Vera Report Shows Difference between Geriatric Release Policy and Practice-------

Harsh sentencing policies have made correctional facilities throughout the United States home to a growing number of older adults. Yet most states with provisions for releasing older prisoners rarely use them, despite the relatively low risk eligible inmates would pose to public safety and the opportunity for potential cost savings.

It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release” examines statutes related to geriatric release in 15 states and the District of Columbia, identifies factors that help explain the discrepancy, and offers recommendations for those who would address it.

“The upshot is that there’s a difference between what states would like to do—save money by releasing older prisoners—and what actually happens,” says the report’s author, Tina Chiu. “If states want the result of geriatric release policies to be consistent with that objective, they should review the release process to address potential and existing obstacles.”

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.

------------------------------ Health Care Reform and Prisoners------------------------

Thirteen million people are incarcerated in jails annually.

Three and a half million of this 13 million are incarcerated more than once during the year.

 The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act (together referred to as "the health reform law" expands health insurance coverage by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low income people, to cover everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). For uninsured individuals above 133 FPL the bill sets up state-based "health insurance exchanges" or regulated insurance marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can compare and purchase private health insurance policies. (They will function something like websites like Travelocity or Orbitz, but for health insurance.) Lower income individuals will be eligible for tax subsidies to buy insurance on the exchanges.

The health reform law does not change the current inmate exclusion for Medicaid and other federal health programs. Convicted inmates are also ineligible for insurance from the exchanges. However, pre-conviction inmates remain eligible and they also remain subject to the individual mandate to carry health insurance.

Regardless of the insurance arrangements covering prisoners, jails will still have a legal obligation based on the /Gamble /decision by the Supreme Court to provide medical care for all prisoners regardless of conviction status. How this obligation will be satisfied or impacted by the health reform legislation has not been addressed.

 There are two additional references to the criminal justice system in the health care bill. First, "conviction for a relevant crime of patient or resident abuse" disqualifies a person from being hired
as a health care worker, and second, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is specifically included in the Interagency Working Group on Health Care quality.

The Legal Action Center reports that the final health care bill incorporates many key elements on addiction and mental health services, as follows:

Includes substance use disorder and mental health (SUD/MH) services as required benefits in the basic benefit package for individual and small business health plans;

Requires that all plans in the health insurance exchange comply with the Wellstone/Domenici Parity Act in providing SUD/MH benefits in the same way as all other covered medical and surgical benefits;

Expands Medicaid eligibility for all Americans up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level and require newly eligible parents and childless adults receive coverage that includes SUD/MH services provided at parity;

Includes SUD and MH prevention strategies and efforts in the bill's chronic disease initiatives;

Includes the capacity of the mental and behavioral health workforce as high-priority topics in the bill's National Workforce Strategy section; and

Includes insurance reforms and consumer protections critical for individuals seeking or in recovery, including prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, charging higher premiums based on health status, and placing annual or lifetime caps on insurance coverage.

Solidarity with our South Bay Boston Sisters! RESIST!!

From: NEFAC-New England <>
Date: Sun, Apr 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM
Subject: Women in House of Correction in Boston resisting! Call in this week!


Women at South Bay are being served bug-infested food, are forced to live  in flooded cells, and daily face unsanitary and dangerous conditions.  Women are refusing meals and demanding that the situation immediately be  put to rights.

Grievances have been filed about food infested with maggots*; rat  droppings have also been found in prisoners' food.  The late rain may have been an annoyance to some of us, but it was flooding the women's cells in the tower where they are held.  One woman was given a plastic trash bag to deal with the leaks, which bag was soon filled with water.  Another woman took to using her personal property, blankets, towels, sheets, and clothing to stuff up the leaks, all of which was soaked almost
immediately.  Even the ceiling of the visiting room was severely damaged by recent rain.

The facility is fewer than 20 years old.  In response to the complaints, the institutional grievance coordinator declared the food and flooding situations “resolved,” despite the fact that the leaks have not been fixed and the food sanitation situation is merely being “investigated.”

Hidden in plain sight, this Boston facility is right off Mass Ave by Boston Medical Center.  The repulsive conditions at South Bay are bad enough in their own right, but consider that the captive population is much more likely to have compromised immune systems, whether because of
hepatitis C, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or an array of other conditions.  For people suffering from chronic medical issues, South Bay's filth is nothing short of a threat on their lives.

Call Sheriff Andrea J.Cabral this week at 617.635.1000, ext. 2100 and tell her that she is responsible for the health and wellbeing of those in her custody.  An effective public relations machine is not enough.  Demand that meaningful changes are made immediately with input from those women
most suffering from the issues at hand.  The two most important issues to the women inside right now are 1. the food and 2. the leaky cells.  We encourage people to leave call back numbers and demand a response from the administration.  We also encourage you to write and tell how your call went!

A woman wrote, “I just need some help.  No one helps the women here.” Please prove her wrong!

*When one prisoner complained to a guard about the maggots in her food, the guard retorted that it was “protein.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Experiment in Solitary: National Geographic

This show will air This Sunday, April 11 at 7pm Eastern Time on the National Geographic Channel.


As we wrote earlier, it’s hard to say whether the National Geographic Channel’s treatment of solitary confinement will do more harm than good. In addition to an upcoming episode of “Explorer” on the subject, the NG Channel is hosting an ”experiment” that promises to provide a “live window into the solitary experience,” in which three subjects spend a week in faux lockdown cells (unless they want to leave earlier), with cameras streaming live video to the public and the “prisoners” providing updates on Twitter.

The potential good comes from the evidence of psychological damage that will probably surface even in the fresh-faced young volunteers who spend a mere week in the pristine “cells.” (And to its credit, the NG Channel’s site makes an effort to put their experience in broader context.)

The potential harm comes from the audience thinking what they watch on the live video stream bears any resemblance to the actual experience of prisoners in solitary confinement–which is far worse, in ways too numerous to count. After observing the NG experiment for a week, viewers could easily conclude that solitary confinement is extremely unpleasant, but falls short of constituting cruel and unusual punishment–and is far from the torture some critics say it is.  If so, they would be basing their conclusions on faulty evidence.

First of all, hardly anyone spends just a week in solitary. Used for “disciplinary” purposes, spells in solitary can last anywhere from several weeks to several years. Many of the inmates who end up in solitary are mentally ill; others (including many children) are there for their own “protection,” but nonetheless endure the same cruel conditions.

In addition, some 25,000 American prisoners live in long-term or permanent lockdown, which often stretches to decades: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, of the Angola 3, have spent most of the past 37 years in solitary; Tommy Silverstein has spent an uninterrupted 27 years in solitary under a “no human contact” order; Syed Fahad Hashmi, who is accused of offering material support (in the form of clothing) to terrorists, has spent nearly three years in ultra-isolation under “Special Administrative Measures,” though he has yet to be convicted of a crime...

(Worth the rest of the article to follow this back )

Sunday, April 4, 2010

HOUSING is a Right, Not a Privilege.

This link seemed both timely and appropriate, since so many people with HEP C are also co-infected with HIV, and the issues of stigma and discrimination are similar. The Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act apply to them, however, even if they are in prison or on parole.

It's tough to tell why people may discriminate, though, when they have plenty of other legitimate reasons to do so. In Ann Arbor, a lot of the folks we saw who ended up going back to jail or prison repeatedly (when I worked with people who were homeless) gave up because the odds that they could establish themselves in a sustainable job or live on disability income which might even allow them to support their family were seemingly insurmountable. Being a felon alone is a perfectly legal reason to get the door closed in your face.

Emerging from a total institutionalized experience after 5 or 10 years with an under-treated, chronic mental illness, overlying PTSD from incarceration, and the label you carry with your particular offense (I've broken my hand twice punching walls instead of people, which could have made me a violent criminal in the wrong company when that happened. Never mind that both cases were related to agitation secondary to medications needing adjustment, not an indication that I'm predisposed to violence) - has a multitude of challenges. There's not only the stigma and huge mountain of fear out here people have to climb to "get their lives together" - convincing others to employ, them, rent to their family, extend them credit, and cut them a break on the petty stuff if they're trying to live right by them selves and their community; but there's also the nagging doubts from within that one can "make it". Prison doesn't tend to reinforce one's sense of social competence; there are different norms, nuances, languages even, inside. Once one is institutionalized (I was as a kid), it's hard to know how to get by out here again, except to revert to what you always did before to survive.

Some of the folks I knew who put themselves back into the custody of the state - via criminal or probate/mental health courts - wanted and knew they needed treatment, or some kind of protective setting that could help them get clean and be safe for awhile - but couldn't get it without being criminalized or involuntarily committed because that was the only way a funding source wold be available to cover their stay.

Unfortunately, once criminalized or hospitalized and adjudicated as criminal or incompetent (God forbid, both), it's up to others and community resources what happens to you - many people just get incarcerated and detox cold turkey (some die that way) with no therapeutic intervention or even comprehensive psychiatric assessment. They fall back into similar types of relationships in prison as they had on the street - forced to by the need to survive yet another hostile environment.

How does that change anything they're going to do once free again? If you're too focused on the nuts and bolts of daily survival, you may not organize revolution against your captors, but you also can't meet your other human needs sufficiently enough to thoughtfully build relationships, critically assess your circumstances, grow, transcend the impulse to retaliate if what you're experiencing is injustice.

Women especially need to have an opportunity within the context of their confinement to exercise agency, to organize their collective voice, to assert their rights meaningfully, since as many as 80% were victims of violent crime to begin with, invisible until criminalized ourselves, then brutally silenced, shamed, and secreted away in prison for as long as possible. Our rehabilitation as "law-abiding citizens" necessitates that our trauma be transformed into a source of power, that our compulsions to self-medicate with illegal substances be medically evaluated and appropriately treated (be it with a 12-step program, legal medications, or both), that our relationships with our families remain intact and nurtured by the support systems our children have, that we have the opportunity to still be a source of support and nurturing for our families - not an economic and emotional drain through the course of our incarceration.

Our rehabilitation requires that you keep our kids safe, if you take us from them. We know that once they are in foster care - or God forbid end up in the juvenile justice system here - they're much more likely to be molested, physically abused, neglected, impoverished, drop-out, and grow up emotionally damaged due to our incarceration than if we had remained at home (unless we were their abuser or enabled their access, of course, in which case, keep them safe from us). We cannot simply "trust god, clean house, and help others" if our child is being punished so brutally for what we did too. The guilt is paralyzing, and only breeds rage for the suffering of one's kid - which in turn justifies vengeance - that's what the state breathes into our kids. Then the cycle of violence begins again.

According to the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Chalres Ryan, Prison IS the punishment - it is not the place to get be punished by further abusive and humiliating and traumatizing conditions. This was his partial response to what happened to Marcia Powell, anyway, and the outrageous suggestion that those cages were routinely used to "punish" people - torture them, really - which the investigation revealed they were.

I'm glad to know that's not a practice consistent with his philosophy or departmental policy, at least.
While I do recognize the need for internal order and discipline, so to speak, I have problems with the lack of appropriate policies and due process for prisoners to protect themselves once inside. I hope the sentiment referenced above of Director Ryan's is sincere and goes deeper than the politics here.

Prison should not be a place where your mother or sister or daughter - or son or husband or father - should have to worry about being raped or sexually exploited, assaulted by prisoners or guards, trapped in an inferno because of decades of ignoring code violations, infected with a fatal virus, or die from medical neglect after begging guards for three days, three months - or even three hours - for help.

Anyway, I found in my work over the years that advocates and tenants alike need to know their rights - and people hitting the street after prison are at the biggest disadvantage. This guide book applies to protections under federal law; state laws enumerate other rights and responsibilities of tenants, and can usually be found on the Secretary of State's
website (that's the AZ tenant/landlord link) .

The tip on this new guide came over the UNSHACKLE list-serve, by the way, a fabulous resource on everything HIV, prison, health care, PIC, etc. It's run by the folks at CHAMP (Community AIDS Mobilization Program) in New York. It's worth getting on their list to stay up on the latest news about incarceration, health care in prison, unshackling pregnant women, and of course HIV/AIDS and HCV (Hep C).

The network itself is also a great resource - there are some very skilled and experienced AIDS and prisoner rights' activists on it, and people seek each other out there for support and ideas all the's a task-oriented, working community, though, not a support group. These folks are kicking ass every day. What they do on behalf of prisoners with AIDS, they do for us all.

I'll have a permanent widget for them soon so it's easy to find, but in the meantime, here's a good new guide to download if you hit this page.

Housing Rights of People Living with HIV/AIDS: A Primer, The Center for HIV Law & Policy

Resource Type
Legal Guides

One in a series of primers on various legal issues as they pertain to people living with HIV/AIDS, this primer on housing law provides guidance on the laws protecting people with HIV from housing discrimination and ensuring their ability to find safe and stable housing. The primer focuses on the Fair Housing Act as it relates to tenants with HIV/AIDS, and provides information on Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) and other federal housing assistance programs. The primer also provides information on the effect of past criminal activity on the ability to secure federal housing assistance. In March 2010, the Primer was updated to include a section on how U.S. advocates can use international human rights law to support a person with HIV's right to safe, stable, and affordable housing.

Click here to download this document [ 1.17 MB ]