People’s Tribunal Against Solitary Confinement

People's Tribunal Against Solitary Confinement

People’s Tribunal Against Solitary Confinement

Friday, April 21, 2017
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
Roosevelt University
430 S Michigan Ave,
Chicago, Illinois

“Solitary confinement” is defined by the United Nations Committee Against Torture as incarceration in a cell for 22-24 hours a day. Around 8,000 Illinois prisoners are held in a form of solitary confinement. Some have been held in the box for over a decade. To disguise its use of solitary, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) calls the practice by other names, such as Disciplinary Segregation, Administrative Detention, and Room Restriction. All of these are forms of solitary.

Join us for an evening of testimony and outrage against state-sanctioned torture. State representatives and senators from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs have been invited and will be asked at the tribunal to sign on to support HB259, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which would limit the amount to time people can be held in solitary to 10 days within any 150 period. Call your elected representatives and ask that they be present.

The John Howard Association Opposed Ending Solitary Confinement in Illinois

Earlier this year the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act was introduced in the Illinois legislature. This bill, which was drafted in conjunction with a number of groups who oppose torture and the deplorable conditions in US prisons, would have severely restricted the use of solitary confinement in all prisons, jails, immigrant detention prisons etc in Illinois by reducing the amount of time any person could be held in isolation to 5 days in any 6 month period.

This bill had bipartisan support and a number of torture survivors who spent many years in solitary confinement in Illinois, as well as people with loved ones in solitary confinement, put themselves through significant retraumatization by speaking out about the conditions they faced in solitary confinement, including speaking at hearings at the Capitol in Springfield, IL.

JHA protest megaphoneThe John Howard Association opposed the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act. The John Howard Association, in opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced solitary confinement in Illinois and would have been one of the most restrictive limitations on solitary confinement in the entire country, contacted legislators and organizations to defeat the bill. As if that weren’t bad enough, the John Howard Association used talking points that were identical to frivolous talking points put forward by the Illinois Department of Corrections, who also were vehemently against the restrictions on the use of torture in the form of solitary confinement in Illinois.

The John Howard Association has a long history of collaborating with the Illinois Department of Corrections against the interests of people incarcerated in Illinois. But the John Howard Association’s two-faced backroom machinations opposing a bill that would have drastically reduced the use of solitary confinement in Illinois is beyond reprehensible.

JHA protestThose of us who have spent many years in solitary confinement under conditions that are categorically considered torture under international law, cannot remain silent in the face of this. We cannot allow an organization that collaborates with the Illinois Department of Corrections to continue to farcically misrepresent itself as a “watchdog” and raise money off the misery of men and women who they have no concern for.

Torture Survivors Against Solitary

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JHA protest

JHA protest

Truth About John Howard Association

For years while incarcerated I tried to get assistance from a so-called prison “watchdog” group that claims to help prisoners and is bipartisan. I spent years on a psychological experimental program called the circuit. This group told me year after year there was no such program. After a judge ruled on the conditions of the program, this group chimed in.

For over 20 years they have released reports claiming that they help prisoners and their families when in fact they allow the Illinois Department of Corrections to review the reports prior to releasing them. Donors mistakenly give large donations to this group believing they actually do something to help prisoners and change the prison system in Illinois. This is completely false. They collect money, write reports and that’s it! Another twist is look at the history of JHA and IDOC. Look at ranking Officials  change from organization to organization.

If you remember history,  IDOC Director Donald Synder (serving federal prison time) and the Director of John Howard Mike Mahoney were indicted in a kickback scheme together! Mahoney admitted to taking kick backs during his trial before Judge Zagel. As The State-Journal Register reported:

Snyder admitted that he took $30,000 from Larry Sims, a lobbyist for two vendors. He said he pocketed up to $20,000 from two other lobbyists, former Cook County undersheriff John Robinson and Michael J. Mahoney.

Sims and Robinson have pleaded guilty. Mahoney was acquitted in a bench trial before Zagel who said he didn’t believe Snyder’s testimony.

The case drew the spotlight not only because of Snyder’s position but because Mahoney had lobbied the prison system while executive director of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization.

At his trial, Mahoney admitted what he had done but argued that whatever the ethical lapses, he simply had not done anything illegal.

John Howard has an extensive history of telling the public that they are the only nonpartisian prison watchdog group in Illinois fighting for social reform through working with legislative system. But seeing the horrific job they did monitoring the juvenile justice at the Juvenile Detention center in Chicago shows it all. Priest openly criticizes the monitoring job as horrific. How is it they have numerous Attorneys on staff but refuse – or rather have a charter that forbids them from litigating conditions in IDOC? So donors you give donations to them and they publish reports approved by IDOC that have zero authority to enforce reforms.

For the past several years in every report published by John Howard and IDOC about a prison there is the condemnation of the overuse of solitary confinement in IDOC. Yet as the years pass nothing has ever changed. Solitary/segregation is still over used report after report. JHA makes strong recommendations for change yet that is all it is – hot air. Tamms was okayed by JHA because IDOC wanted it. Then the Governor decided to close Tamms and JHA changed their position – not because of Human Rights abuses happening at Tamms but only because of the excessive cost of having a completely solitary confinement prison. JHA never once issued a report that condemned the torture happening inside Tamms even as men cut off parts of their bodies and went crazy. The prisoner didn’t matter to JHA.

Now is 2016 and a bill was entered by Illinois Representative La Shawn Ford that would limit the use of solitary confinement. JHA at first was some what supportive and brought up every report they have written about the over use of solitary/segregation. A week later after what I can only term as talking to IDOC (I say this because of the wording) JHA used the exact same words as IDOC why this House Bill should be stopped. JHA is now against the Bill to limit the over use of solitary/segregation. Makes no sense.

So I have to ask what is the actual function of this alleged prison watch dog group. They don’t represent or help prisoners, in fact they seem to actually be another arm of IDOC. So a false representation!

Please listen to Pleasant Encounters radio show about the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, solitary confinement and the John Howard Association with formerly incarcerated host Geraldine Smith and guests Brain Nelson and Gregory Koger.

 

Gregory Koger’s Statement to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee Hearing on the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act HB5417

Gregory Koger’s Statement to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee Hearing on the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act HB5417:

My name is Gregory Koger. I’m here to demand that the state of Illinois stop torturing people in prison.

I spent over six years straight in solitary confinement in Pontiac “Correctional Center.” I was incarcerated when I was 17 years old. I went to trial when I was 17, before I was even convicted, from solitary confinement in the adult county jail.

The United Nations has categorically stated that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days constitutes torture. As we’ve seen, we have been there many more days than 15 days.

And there is no justification from the Illinois Department of Corrections to state that people should be held for longer than 15 days in solitary confinement for “security” purposes.

Torture is a crime. There is no excuse for that – for “security” purposes or any other reason.

You know, I still wake up at night and expect to be in a prison cell. I grew up in prison, I grew up in cells. You know. And I know people who have mutilated themselves because of losing their rational cognitive faculties. In these cells. That are being operated by this government, the government of the state of Illinois.  And, you know, it has to stop. It has to stop.

Gregory Koger, to the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee in Support of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act HB5417

My statement starts at 47:30 minutes in on this video. Yes, I know the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it is what it is…

1000 Witness Slips to Support Ending Solitary Confinement in Illinois

Support the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act – HB5417 – by signing a witness slip for the hearings in the capitol tomorrow, April 20, 2016

http://tiny.cc/solitarybill

1000 Witness Slips for HB5417
1000 Witness Slips for HB5417

Sign the Petition to End Solitary in Illinois

Petitioning Governor Bruce Rauner and Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Stop Overlooking Torture; Rid Illinois of Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement has been found to be a form of torture by the United Nations, in a resolution signed by the Chicago City Council in 2012, and by humanitarians everywhere. We are urging the Illinois State Legislature to pass legislation banning solitary confinement in Illinois. Solitary confinement means a prisoner is isolated in his cell at least 23 hours a day with no human contact. Access to commissary, visits, classes and outdoor exercise is very limited. Solitary confinement leads to the physical and mental deterioration of the prisoner. Better, cheaper alternatives are mental health, educational classes and group counselling. Prison systems, such as in Mississippi, which have severely curtailed solitary confinement report less prison violence and tremendous cost savings.

Sign Here

Interviews With Survivors of Solitary Confinement and Those With Loved Ones In Solitary

Over the last week, Brian Nelson and I have worked together to record interviews with torture survivors and family members to share the stories of those most affected by solitary confinement. I’ve posted many of those interviews on this site already – below are links to the interviews. We will be adding more.

Earl – 50 Years in Prison – Solitary & Being Released

Monica – 20 Years In Prison – Solitary & Being Released

Eddie Talks About His Time In Solitary Confinement

Rosario Talks About Her Brother In Solitary

Michelle Talks About Her Brother In Solitary

Francisco Talks About His Uncle In Solitary

Federico Talks About His Uncle In Solitary

Francisca Talks About Her Son & Family In Solitary

Sammy Talks About His Time In Solitary Confinement

Celia Talks About Her Time In Solitary Confinement

Susana Talks About Family Member on Death Row

We’d like to thank Alan Mills and Uptown People’s Law Center for allowing us to use their space for interviews. Thanks to Brian Nelson for coordinating the space and interviews with many of the family members from United Voices for Prisoners. Thanks to Brian Orozco from Gregory E. Kulis and Associates, who volunteered and helped record the interviews. Thanks to Eddie from Black and Black & Pink for sharing his story. Thanks to Monica Cosby, who was just released a couple months ago, for sharing her story and helping craft the questions and video recording.

And special thanks to all the survivors and family members who have shared their stories and who are putting themselves through the pain of reliving the trauma of solitary in order to ensure that no one else suffers the torture of solitary confinement.

We hope that others will step up and join us in this struggle to end solitary confinement, and the broader struggle to end mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow.