NJ Control Units Violate Court Ruling and Basic Rights
I am a prisoner at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ. I am presently housed in what is called the Management Control Unit (MCU). I have been in this unit since 2008. New Jersey's MCU is basically the equivalent of other states Security Housing Units (SHUs) or Intensive Management Units (IMUs). The reason I'm writing is to alert you of the numerous human and civil rights violations that we have been subjected to here. I also want to bring to your attention the fact that the administration at the prison has intentionally instituted a system designed to violate procedural due process rights of the prisoners in MCU.
Design and intent of the Management Control Program
The MCU program was designed to house the prisoners the administration considered a threat to the daily operations of the prison, to the correctional officer, or those they considered unable to house in general population with the other prisoners. The MCU unit in theory was not supposed to be a punitive unit for punishment since you could be placed there coming directly from the street never having received a disciplinary infraction inside of the prison. The prisoners of the MCU unit were told that the MCU is basically a "population for MCU prisoners." However, the MCU is anything but.
The MCU is supposed to be governed by what's called the New Jersey administrative code 10A. However, the administration does not adhere to it's own rules as put forth in the 10A. The so-called release program of the MCU is a three phase program (levels 1-3, one being the lowest). Completion of the following programs are requisite: Cage your Rage, and Thinking for a Change. The problem with this criteria is that the programs are very seldom offered, or capriciously and arbitrarily offered. This situation has only gotten worse recently. Since April of this year (2011) the administration has had the unit on lock-down. This lock-down is supposedly the result of a couple of random fights between a few prisoners (no correctional officers were involved in either of the situations). Since these random fights, the administration has done the following:
- Canceled all requisite programs needed to be considered for release
- Painted the cell windows so that we can no longer see outside
- Closed down the pantry in the unit where the food is served
- Taken all the jobs from the workers in the unit
- Canceled indoor recreation
- Changed the outdoor recreation schedule from every other day to once every four days
- Changed the amount of people allowed to go to the outdoor recreation. Everybody that was on MCU was able to go to the yard together. Now only six can go at a time.
It is my opinion, which I believe to be firmly grounded, that the couple of fights had nothing at all to do with the draconian measures taken by the administration. On July 2, 2010 the superior court of New Jersey appellate division issued a crushing ruling that the administration of New Jersey thought would never happen! In that ruling the court said that once a prisoner has reached phase three (the highest level in the MCU program) the burden then shifts to the prison to show why the prisoner should be held in MCU. The burden the administration must meet is to show a present identifiable threat that the prisoner presents. Up until this ruling the administration in New Jersey was just throwing prisoners on MCU and leaving them there. The average prisoner in MCU has been there for about a decade.
To circumvent this ruling the administration has canceled the programs preventing prisoners from reaching phase three which would render them eligible for release if the administration is unable to meet it's burden. I have more proof that this is the administration's intention. The court ruling was issued on July 2, 2010. Up until that ruling whenever a MCU prisoner would appeal the Management Control Unit review committees (MCURC) decision to continue his placement in MCU, the administrator would quickly respond to the appeal 99.9% of the time upholding the MCURC decision.
Let me explain. Every three months the prisoners in MCU are given what's called routine review where the committee decides whether or not the prisoner should be released or if his placement in MCU should be continued. Every MCU prisoner is allowed to attend even though you must be phase three to even be considered for release. This is not more than a ceremonial display and out right sham. Again, after these hearings about a week later you receive the MCURC decision on paper which you can appeal to the administrator. The decision from the court was issued July 2, 2010 and since that decision none of the MCU prisoners have received a response back from any of the routine review appeals which would be September 2010, December 2010, March 2011, and the last one June 2011. I do not believe in coincidences. As I said up until that decision from the court we were getting every single one of our appeals back.
There are a few prisoners in the MCU unit right now that are phase three and still the administration have not let them go. Not only have they not let them go, but by not responding to the appeals they are preventing prisoners from taking their case to the court. The court has ruled that before a prisoner can prevail on his complaint s/he must afford the administration the opportunity to make it's final decision. Thus, the administration is violating the MCU prisoners procedural due process rights! If this is not suppose to be a punitive unit and a general population for MCU prisoners, how do you explain the actions taken by the administration?
They have stopped me from being able to finish the programs, they have painted over my cell window so that I can't even see outside! I'm only allowed to go outside every four days and you cover my window. This is treatment one would expect to hear being done at Guantanamo Bay. Before the covering of the window the MCU unit was already a socially and sensory depriving unit. The prisoners are in single cells and the only time they come out in the unit is for a 15 minute shower one at a time. Thus any conversation is carried on by yelling through the crack of the door. The only contact you have with anyone is during recreation every four days. I truly hope that my concerns and suffering, as well as the concerns and suffering of the other prisoners will lead you to pick up our cause and help us fight for and defend our human and civil rights. We are still humans.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Lack of due process and group punishment were two of the main complaints behind the California hunger strike that started in the Pelican Bay SHU and included participation of at least 6600 prisoners across the state. As stated by the author these conditions of long-term isolation are very similar across the United $tates, as are the policies that keep people there. This example also parallels that in California where the courts are ordering the state to make release easier (whether from MCU or prison altogether). But the interests of the Amerikan workers has made sure that in neither case has the state government begun to comply with court orders. While the courts offer a facade of justice, the state continues on as it always has in its efforts to control oppressed people.
Shut Down the Control Units