Under pressure, Pa. prisons repeal restrictive book policy

November 2, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections — which in September announced it would put a halt to book donation programs and mail-order books and publications — has revised its policy, allowing book orders to resume through a new centralized processing center.

"Everyone who got involved called Gov. Wolf, wrote letters, shared the story on social media — it was really public pressure, we believe, that led to the DOC updating their policy to allow us to again send books directly to inmates," said Jodi Lincoln, an organizer with Book 'Em, a book donation program based in Pittsburgh. "It's a good sign that our state system and elected representatives actually sometimes listen."

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Protesting DOC’s new book ban and mail scans - What qualifies as Prison Rights ?

October 20, 2018 | Cherri Gregg | Flashpoint on KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- This week on Flashpoint, host and KYW Newsradio Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg asks the burning questions about a recent policy change at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. DOC officials have ordered that all inmate mail is to be sent to a processing facility, in Florida, where it is scanned and then photo copies are set to the prisoners. In recent weeks, protests in Philadelphia and Harrisburg are calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to reverse the policy. This week on Flashpoint we'll walk folks through the flames of the inmates’ rights. Su Ming Yeh, managing attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Dr. Brian O'Neill, criminal justice radio host and West Chester University associate professor, and Michael Wilson a former juvenile lifer who spent nearly 47 years behind bars discuss various aspects of the new policies.

Listen here (first 20 minutes of the program) →

Are Pa. prisons’ drug screenings plagued by false positives?

October 3, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

J-Nae Kettoman doesn't care if she looks strange, scrubbing in like a surgeon with Dial soap brought from home, then snapping on latex gloves before lining up to enter the visiting room at State Correctional Institution Phoenix.

It's just part of the regimen that Kettoman, a Dauphin County resident who works for the commonwealth as a clerk-typist, has devised to avoid setting off the prison's ion mobility spectrometer — a device that analyzes swabs of every visitor's hands and pockets to detect trace levels of narcotics.

Some scour their photo IDs and car keys with soap and water in the bathroom off the prison lobby. Others keep a pristine set of clothing for prison visits in a Ziploc baggie. One woman skips her medication on days she goes to visit, because she's been told it could set off the ion scanner.

"We just were thinking: How can we get around touching anything else once we've washed our hands?" Kettoman, whose husband is serving 10 to 20 years, said of the ritual she and a friend developed after her second alarm earlier this year. A third strike would lead to a six-month suspension of her visiting privileges. "It's just nerve-racking."

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ACLU prepares to sue Pa. prisons over new mail policy

October 2, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ever since the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced a new, unprecedented policy for handling legal mail — part of a wide-ranging crackdown meant to stanch the flow of drugs into state prisons — criminal and civil lawyers who represent inmates have been in panic mode.

Many, including staff lawyers with the Pennsylvania ACLU, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and private firms, said they can no longer ethically send confidential documents to clients, given the potential for exposure in the DOC's new protocol. Before, staff opened legal mail in the presence of inmates, searched it for contraband and handed it over; now they photocopy it, still in the inmate's presence, pass on the copy, and preserve the original for 45 days.

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Concerned about new DOC policy, attorneys halt mail to PA inmates

September 19, 2018 | Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | WITF

(Harrisburg) -- A number of groups that provide legal assistance to inmates in Pennsylvania's state prisons have stopped mail correspondence with their clients.

They say they think the Department of Corrections' new protocols regarding legal mail could violate attorney-client privilege; if the policy isn't changed, they may sue.

In a letter to the department, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project argued that the new mail policy--aimed to keep drugs out of prisons--violates inmates' rights.

Under the old rules, legal mail was given to incarcerated people directly.

Now it's photocopied, the inmate gets the copy, and the prison retains the original for 15 days.

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A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets New Life In A Different State

August 21, 2018 | Victoria Law | The Appeal

Instead of changing its conditions and practices, The Bureau of Prisons is simply moving a problem-plagued federal prison unit in Pennsylvania to Illinois.

On Feb. 3, 2011, staff at Pennsylvania federal prison USP Lewisburg’s Special Management Unit told Sebastian Richardson to “cuff up” and accept a new cellmate. Richardson was terrified; the man with whom he was about to share the cell, known as “The Prophet,” had attacked over 20 cellmates. The Prophet had just been released from hard restraints, a combination of metal handcuffs, ankle shackles, and a chain that encircled his chest. He was also, according to Richardson, ”rocking back and forth in agitation as he waited outside” the cell door.

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Migrant Women Who Were Sexually Assaulted in ICE Detention Are Telling Their Stories

July 17, 2018 | Prachi Gupta | Jezebel

In 2014, after fleeing from a partner who raped and beat her in Honduras, a woman identified as “E.D.” was sent with her toddler to a family detention center in Pennsylvania where she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a guard

“I didn’t know how to refuse because he told me that I was going to be deported,” she told the New York Times. “I was at a jail and he was a migration officer. It’s like they order you to do something and you have to do it.”

The officer, Daniel Sharkey, later pled guilty to institutional sexual assault. What’s rare about E.D.’s story is not, unfortunately, that an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Officer abused a woman in detention. It’s rare that he was prosecuted for it.

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