www.prisoncensorship.info is a media institution run by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. Here we collect and publicize reports of conditions behind the bars in U.$. prisons. Information about these incidents rarely makes it out of the prison, and when it does it is extremely rare that the reports are taken seriously and published. This historical record is important for documenting patterns of abuse, and also for informing people on the streets about what goes on behind the bars.
In the article "Pennsylvania Digitizing Prisoner Mail" in ULK 65(1) Soso points out that PA's new policy will restrict prisoners to purchasing books directly (after the publication is first approved by the DOC). By enforcing this policy the PA DOC is implementing a state-run monopoly on reading material within its prisons. The obvious reason for this imperialist act is to further censor prisoners' reading material.
Illinois comrades have heard our brothers' cries for help. This policy can be fought, but it will take time and dedication to prevail. Crofton v. Roe, 170 F. 3d 957, 961 (9th Cir. 1999) is a case finding that a regulation that only allowed a prisoner to receive publications he ordered and paid for directly bore no relationship to the interest of screening for contraband. You'll need to Shepardize this case to find cases from your Circuit that support this judgment.
What does this mean? It means that you can combat the current policy denying third parties to order you books. That might seem like a small victory compared to the digitization of your mail and pictures, but any victory against the state is a victory for the people. Unfortunately, due to the security concerns regarding drugs being smuggled into the prisons through the mail, it is unlikely that this policy will be overturned by any court. The only method left for this issue is direct action in protest of the policy which garnishes public attention and support (i.e. the mass hunger strikes in California in protest of the SHU which resulted in the abolishment of indefinite placement in the SHU). In Solidarity!
MIM(Prisons) responds: We hope that this PA mail policy will be challenged in the courts. Although MIM(Prisons) does not have the resources (or lawyers) to do this from the streets, we print this letter to support our jailhouse lawyers who are working on this battle. At the same time, this writer makes a good point that we are unlikely to win these legal battles entirely. We can sometimes gain some small victories, that allow us things like greater access to educational materials in prison. But we need to keep in mind that political power only comes to those who take it. The imperialists and their courts will not give up this power without a fight.
I am in SCI Forest, and have been fighting to get our mail back and this is the outcome of it so far. I am fighting for regular mail to come to us to and I hope soon we start getting the original mail too. So I am sending this to you so you can put it in your ULK.
To: All Inmates
From: Tabb Bickell, Executive Deputy Secretary, Institutional Operations
Date: March 21, 2019
Re: Changes to PA DOC Privileged Correspondence
This notice is to advise you that the Department is implementing a revised Attorney Control Number process for privileged correspondence. With this new process, the way you receive your privileged correspondence is changing. Effective April 6, 2019, you will begin receiving original privileged correspondence. Similar to the current process, you will be present when the privileged correspondence is opened, the privileged correspondence will undergo a security screening and then you shall sign for the privileged correspondence received. Privileged correspondence shall only contain essential, confidential, attorney-client communication.
Failure to comply with the below requirements may result in the rejection of the correspondence:
1. Envelopes do not contain the appropriate identifying information.
2. The correspondence contains non-privileged correspondence.
3. The privileged correspondence contains documents that did not originate from the sending attorney(s). Third party original documentation is prohibited.
If an attorney inquires to you about this new process, please refer them to the Departments public website for all the necessary information (www.cor.pa.gov).
On Sunday, 3 March, 2019, a fellow prisoner passed away in afternoon yard. One minute he was talking with his buddies, going around the track, the next he was on the ground not breathing. Not surprisingly, the COs took their good old time responding to the scene, even though the man dropped not even 100 yards from where they were stationed. It took medical staff 15 minutes to respond after the call went in on the walkie. Since then, I found out several things.
1) DOC staff are not put through CPR training at their academy. Only medical staff are mandated to take this training.
2) Prisoners are not permitted to do CPR on any persyn, even if trained on the streets, or even if they could potentially save a life. Serious consequences can and will result, if a prisoner performs CPR on anyone.
3) Medical staff admit that the man might have lived if the response time was seen the slightest bit faster.
4) DOC staff couldn't give a shit about any persyn other than one of their own.
I, along with many other prisoners, are outraged at this situation. How many more prisoners must suffer and die at the hands of DOC officials and their nonsense rules? I refuse to sit back and do nothing. Awareness is key here. I plan on making other organizations, including several news companies and prisoner organizations, aware of the problem and the tragedy that occurred yesterday. I want the appropriate officials held fully accountable. I want to make it clear that ALL Lives Matter and no oppression will be tolerated. Thanks for giving one a voice. Thanks for giving victims a voice. Together we will fight oppression. We are the true United We Stand!
by a Pennsylvania prisoner February 2019 permalink
Following a fifteen-day lockdown of all Pennsylvania state prisons, new policies were erected for receiving mail. Publications were halted, and hundreds of book packages from free prison book programs were returned to sender. This occurred because several staff members at various Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) prisons claimed to become deathly ill after handling prisoner mail.
DOC officials assumed it was synthetic marijuana, or K-2, being sent in through the mail. However Dr. Lewis Nelson, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and other prominent medical staff called the DOC on their lies and excuses about the lockdown and new policies and procedures dealing with prisoner mail. Dr. Nelson blew the whistle, so to speak, when he pointed out that one must ingest or inhale synthetic marijuana to have any type of effect on individuals.(1) One cannot be affected by merely touching it, or paper soaked in K-2. Furthermore, he stated that synthetic marijuana simply does not have the type of effects that the individuals were having.
So, one might ask, what the real agenda the DOC had in the change in procedure. The DOC has wanted to control what prisoners read and what type of mail they received for quite some time. It goes to show just how much prisons seek to control others. Needless to say, the DOC is currently under investigation due to its frivolous claims. Mail must be sent to a company in Florida, where it is scanned. It is then forwarded to each respective prisoner at whatever prison he/she is confined. Pennsylvania prisoners receive copies of photos, letters and greeting cards, and the originals are eventually destroyed. Even our legal mail is opened in the presence of each prisoner, handled in a biohazard container, then photocopied. The copies are given to the prisoner, and the originals placed in an "evidence" bag, and eventually destroyed, or so the DOC claims.
We are permitted to receive books, magazines and other publications now, as of very recently. They still must be sent to a secure processing center, where they are searched and then forwarded to each respective prisoner.
This is a reminder that we are all being controlled. Unless we get together and do something about it. How long will we allow prison officials to violate our rights and take away freedoms that are promised to us in the U.$. constitution and its amendments? This is a call to arms, and the need to fight the system instead of tearing down one another. I refuse to allow the U.$. prison system to continue violating my rights, and what few freedoms are afforded to me. I will continue to struggle against the wretched machine that seeks to break me. This is a call for comrades to do the same.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We wrote about this Pennsylvania mail policy in ULK 65 and since that time, a new policy to send books and magazines to yet another separate address was implemented.(2) In response to outcry by prisoners and family, the PA DOC did back down on their policy that books could only be ordered through the PA DOC, from their approved vendors. That is no small victory.
We have instances of letters sent to the Florida processing center being returned to us just stamped "return to sender" after being opened and then taped shut. No reason is given. We think it's safe to assume it's the contents of the letter that inspires this censorship, because not all our mail is being returned, and it is being opened at the processing center. In at least one case, our Guide to Fighting Censorship was the item returned to us.
This is an important censorship battle and we join this comrade's call for everyone in Pennsylvania to take up the fight. This is an easy excuse to selectively censor revolutionary material, or selectively censor prisoners who are politically active. We anticipate an increase in denials of our mail. When you are notified of censorship, appeal it, and also let us know what was censored. If you haven't received mail from us in a while, check in and let us know. We always keep up subscriptions for 6 months after your last letter to us. Also follow this comrade's example and keep us informed about changes to the rules and updates on the fight against them. For our part, we will also be appealing when we have evidence of censorship and working with you to fight from the outside.
I am a inmate in the state of Pennsylvania. I am in a state prison in Marionville, PA called Forest. I've been reading Under Lock and Key for some time now.
I would like to know how honest are they really being to you. When you see the state jails reduce their population. Then the county increased the population. How many of them prisoners are waiting to be sentenced for state prison, or even waiting to go to one? Within the past few years, I've seen the state of Pennsylvania close down 3 to 4 jails yet open up two big jails. How is that saving any money? When it will cost more to run them than it did for the 3 to 4 they closed down. I am very confused.
Now they got all our mail going to the state of Florida, blaming it all on drugs, yet you got several guards coming down with food poisoning. That is the same food us prisoners eat. So tell me how many prisoners have food poison, but yet not saying nothing about it?
So let's really be honest with one another. I am just getting sick of reading all of the stories about state prisoners, but yet never really seeing anything really happen. This is all one big money scam. You know it as well as I do so who are we trying to B.S. Like I said, let's be honest with each other. All of us prisoners are in jail for breaking the law at some point.
Yet they do it each and every day, and get away with it.
Yet everyone is always talking about the population of prisoners. Give them something to work for. It will stop a lot of violence in the jails. I do realize I am making a lot of sense. Yet they do not want to do so. Only because that will be taken money from them.
Yet it's okay for them to start an prisoner late in a program. When their time is up, parole will give them a hit only because they are not done with their program. Yet most of the programs can be done on the outside.
The abuse of the mentally ill in Pennsylvania has surely reached epidemic standards. Today (12-31-18) I witnessed brutality by pigs against a severely mentally ill prisoner and I cannot keep quiet about it. A pig on my housing unit here at SC2 Rockview slammed a man up against the wall, tackled him, and smashed his head against the floor for no reason other that the prisoner disagreed with him. Then he lied about it to his superiors saying the prisoner attempted to assault him.
I and several other concerned prisoners witnessed the entire incident, and we all agreed to report it to DOC headquarters, Pennsylvania Prison society and several other prisoner organizations. We are demanding the release of audio and video footage that recorded the incident to the proper authorities and to PA Prison Society and eventually to the public. We demand that the pigs involved lose their jobs and that criminal charges be filed. It's a shame that someone has to get seriously hurt for any type of unity to be accomplished. It's about time someone stands up for what's truly right and just. I expect retaliation but I can't sit back and let this go. My conscious refuses to allow it. Feedback and critique is welcome.
Today at SCI Rockview, a state prison in Pennsylvania, the pigs claim that there is a power outage that will last for days. Meanwhile, we have no water running in our sinks or toilets because the water in the cells runs on electricity. The housing unit I am in is a mental health block, and most of the prisoners in this unit are on psychiatric medications that for the most part demand a lot of water drinking to keep them hydrated. The electricity went out early this morning and has been out all day. Despite many prisoners pleading for water, other than at medication pass this morning, none has been offered or given.
Meanwhile, the phones are ringing and desk computers are working, which must mean the electricity is working. One poor prisoner was caught drinking from the toilet and, as a consequence, was ridiculed and mocked by several prisoners and our captors. This is slow and systematic torture at its finest. And it's sad that the fascists that are responsible for this cruel and unusual punishment will most likely get away with it because no one wants to take a stand and protest. Does anyone have any idea how I can take action? I can't sit here and do nothing. I welcome feedback from fellow comrades.
Pennsylvania DOC has a new mail policy requiring all prisoner mail be sent to Florida, care of Smart Communications (SmartCom).(1) This company scans in all mail and forwards it to PADOC to be printed and delivered on site. No original mail will actually reach prisoners. Prisoners receiving greeting cards or photos are being given shrunk, black and white copies.
Some prisoners in Pennsylvania are circulating a request for legal help to fight this new practice. They list multiple concerns. These changes will dramatically impact the mail PA prisoners can receive including almost certainly denying them access to political books and magazines. SmartCom will keep scanned mail in a searchable database. This will likely be used to profile people who send mail to PA prisoners. Under the pretense of security concerns, this new policy is also about political control.
Prisons are allowed to restrict prisoners' First Amendment rights to free speech, but it is "only valid if it is reasonably related to ligitimate penological interests." (Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)) In this situation, PADOC is citing incidents of "multiple staff members being sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks." In September 2018, it says there were eight staff emergency room trips for drug exposure.(2) It is focusing on mail restrictions because "[i]t's speculated that the majority of contraband enters the facilities through the mail."
PADOC is building a lot of hype on its website about how drugs come in thru the mail and with visitors. Yet in its photographic report, "Examples of Drug Introduction into Facilities," not one example is given of staff bringing drugs in.(3) Anyone familiar with prison culture knows that prison staff are a likely source for smuggling. It's lucrative and relatively easy. PADOC's presentation of the situation is skewed. And according to its FAQ on the new procedures for how it's going to handle this alleged poisoning problem, no additional screening or testing for staff seems to be on the radar.
The new mail procedures imply that subscriptions for magazines and periodicals will continue direct to the prison: "For now, you will continue to receive issues of current subscriptions. If any issue is compromised, it will be confiscated and destroyed. No future subscription orders may be purchased except through the kiosk." The memo given to prisoners made it clear that all future subscriptions must be purchased through PADOC. PADOC will purchase subscriptions in bulk and have magazines shipped in bulk to the facility to deliver to prisoners. The DOC will set the cost and select the vendors.
As a part of this change, PA is banning anyone from sending any books in to prisoners.(4) "Inmates can make a request to purchase any book. The DOC will provide the inmate with the cost of the book. Once the inmate submits a cash slip for the book, the DOC will order the book and have it shipped to the inmate." No independent orders are allowed: "All publications must be purchased through DOC." Books sent any other way will be returned to sender. While outside folks can deposit money in prisoners' accounts so that they can purchase approved books from approved vendors, they will now have to pay 20% more than the cost of the book because that is deducted from incoming money to many prisoners' accounts as costs or restitution.
This is a ridiculous policy change, under the pretense of security. While an argument is being made that preventing all physical mail from entering facilities will cut down contraband, it is an unnecessary obstruction to First Amendment rights of prisoners. The impact on prisoners, whose contact with the outside world is mainly through the mail, will be dramatic. Mail delays will likely increase, but more importantly, many will no longer have access to education. Cutting off books and magazines, limiting people to only content that is pre-approved by the prison, means that organizations like MIM(Prisons) will no longer be able to send literature to prisoners in PA.
This new policy is only serving to impose greater control and isolation on prisoners in PA. The results of cutting prisoners off from outside contact, and denying them educational materials, will just increase the already high recidivism and likely fuel more conflict behind the bars. This is what the prison wants: keeping prisoners fighting one another rather than educating themselves, building ties to the community, and building opposition to the criminal injustice system.
by a Pennsylvania prisoner September 2018 permalink
I am writing this letter to obtain legal advice or help with current matters which are currently taking place in the state of Pennsylvania Prison System. Beginning on August 29, 2018, Pennsylvania declared a statewide state prison lockdown, in which we were not allowed to send or receive mail of any kind. We were just allowed, as of September 6, 2018, to send mail out but will no longer receive mail and the mail they do have will now be sent to some third party in the state of Florida.
On the day of the lockdown, the guards wore gloves and face masks for their protection when passing food to the prisoners. No protection whatsoever was provided for us, the inmates, even though the correctional officers are the only people who reportedly fell ill from alleged contact with drugs. I have been watching "WJAC 6 News" in Clearfield County to stay updated with the current progress of events.
Around September 1st, 2018, the D.O.C. let us out to take one shower and when everyone showered, let us out to use the phone. From my knowledge of watching the local news, no prisoners have fell ill from alleged drugs, only D.O.C. staff, which could possibly be a ploy of some kind on individuals behalf. Around September 3rd or 4th, 2018, the D.O.C. started letting us out one tier at a time for blockout, which is an hour each tier, which holds about 60 inmates on each tier. We, as prisoners, have been mostly kept in the dark about what and why or when. I'm writing asking can you please assist in these matters, but if you write back the jail will not give me any mail.
Recently I was transferred here to SCI Chester and was shocked at the difference in the prisoners here compared to my comrades at SCI Greene, SCI Pittsburgh, and SCI Somerset. This facility is very different. A program was incorporated here called welfare to work which allowed many welfare recipients from the surrounding area to be hired at this prison. Now I'm all for giving the underprivileged opportunities but this prison is so "Ratchet" now it's ridiculous. Staff does not do their jobs here. Grievances are ignored, campaigns challenged, and anyone who speaks out is locked down for "inciting a riot" and promptly transferred. With mostly short-term prisoners at this "program prison" prisoners are afraid to fight for their rights out of fear for negative marks on their record for parole.
I've been putting in non-stop paperwork since arriving and all I've accomplished is gaining the ire of my unit manager and other staff. I have even been threatened. I have succeeded in starting an anti-imperialist study group but am persecuted for it. My unit manager lies and makes up reasons to put me on "cell restrictions" so I can't hold group. But I keep pushing and have gotten some other prisoners to start standing up for themselves. But none of our paperwork is being addressed. 90% of the time we receive no response whatsoever.
I have no idea how they get away with it. You would think these staff members who were underprivileged and grew up in the streets like we did would be more sympathetic to our plights but instead they go on power trips and neglect most of their duties. These types of people are why we can't make classless society work. It seems all our efforts here are in vain. We are sending out a call for help; any assistance or advice will be greatly appreciated. Spirits seem broken here at SCI Chester and comrades are dropping out of the struggle and though it is dissuading I will not quit. I will remain constantly a soldier on the front lines of this war. But I'm calling for backup.
MIM(Prisons) responds: While this writer sees the Welfare to Work program at SCI Chester as the cause of repression, many prisons without this program have similar conditions. We can't speak to the effects of this program specifically, but more generally we know that many prisons are built in communities where job opportunities are limited. And that people generally don't take jobs as prison guards out of a desire to help people; just as with most capitalist jobs, people are working for the money.
More generally this writer's letter raises the question of why so many people working in prison perpetuate oppression rather than being kind and helpful to prisoners. There is evidence that oppressing people is not an inherent characteristic of humyns. Instead, this is a result of the economics of capitalism and our capitalist culture. First there is the economic side of things: the vast majority of people in this imperialist country are getting paid more than the value of their labor. They are basically being bought as supporters of imperialism. So when they get paid well to work in an institution that is based in social control and torture of other humyns, they're ok doing it because that's part of supporting capitalism.
Second we have capitalist culture which trains people to be ok with harming others and exerting power over others. There have been studies that show that even random people put in a situation where someone in charge tells them to hurt another persyn, most will do it because they're told to. Most famously in the United $tates there was the Stanford Prison Experiment back in 1971.
But there also has been huge social experiments such as the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and 70s which showed that even people who formerly were oppressors with great power can be re-educated and become peaceful productive members of society. It's not easy, and we won't win on the re-education front on a mass scale until we have the power to implement a cultural revolution to eradicate a system that values and glorifies power and oppression.
Rather than despair and say that these guards are why we can't make classless society work, we say these guards are exactly why we need socialism and a dictatorship of the proletariat. Clearly we have a lot of work to do to re-train and re-educate people so that they respect all humyns and act kindly towards others. We need a system that is set up to serve the oppressed and forcibly stop those who want power for themselves for persynal gain. The system of socialism will require a long period of cultural revolution, where we transform our culture into one that values humyn life and teaches people to treat others equally rather than valuing power and wealth at any cost to others. It will be a long struggle to reach a society where there is no class, nation or gender oppression. But it is the only path to survival for humynity.