CAGED ANIMALS

by Julian Heicklen

Harassment is standard operating procedure in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), at least at some of the prisons. The correctional officers are instructed by their superiors to harass the inmates for the purpose of "breaking them." I have the name of one correctional officer whom I have been told is willing to testify under oath in court that this is so. Racial abuse is practiced against black inmates and correctional officers by the white correctional officers. I have the name of another correctional office whom I am told will testify to this under oath in court. There also are inmates that wish to testify in front of the State Senate Judiciary Committee. Some individual stories are given below.

An inmate can be sent to RHU for disciplinary custody (DC) for a specified time for committing a misconduct. However if the prison officials do not wish to release the prisoner after he has served his disciplinary time, they keep him in RHU, but change his status to administrative custody (AC). George Butler AY?0818, an inmate at SCI Greene County, has been in RHU for 24 consecutive years. This is not supposed to be punishment, but the inmates find it difficult to recognize the difference.

One institution that has a large percentage of inmates in RHU is SCI Greene County. As of June 30, 1997, the prison capacity was 1172, though 1527 inmates were housed there on January 5, 1998. There are 448 beds in the regular RHU, but these beds were insufficient, so 64 more beds on the perimeter were converted to RHU. Thus about 1/3 of the inmates have to be in solitary confinement. The inmates are locked in their cells for 23 hours each day. All their meals are eaten in their cells. One hour per day is for yard exercise, which takes place between 6:00 and 7:00 AM. After yard exercise there are showers, sometimes, for those inmates that want them. Showers are limited to 3 times per week, if the guards permit that many. Two COs call: Showers up. If you want one, stand by the door with your light on and with your towel and washcloth. When a CO comes by, the inmate puts his hand out of his door through his food trap to be handcuffed. If he is granted permission to take a shower, he is led to the showers, locked in one, and the handcuffs removed. The showers sometimes are burning hot or freezing cold. After the shower, the inmate is again handcuffed and returned to his cell. Sometimes, when the inmate is showering, his cell is searched. The guards throw the mattress, blanket, sheets, and pillow on the floor. Then all of the legal material is dumped on the bunk and scrambled as the guards search through it. The cell is left in this condition.

The inmates at SCI Greene county cannot get vaseline or A&D ointment for chapped skin. At SCI Graterford and other prisons there is no problem. AT SCI Greene County, there are no typewriters in the law library. The prison inmates are predominantly black; the staff, predominantly white. There are no black counselors, unit managers, black teachers, high-ranking guards, or administrative officials (except for Superintendent Phillip L. Johnson appointed in April 1998, who is black).

The cells in RHU at SCI Greene are between 12?15 feet in length, 6?10 feet in width, and 9?11 feet high. The smallest window described to me was 9 inches by 3 feet; the largest; 5-1/2 by 6 feet. All the cells contain a toilet, but not always toilet paper. Toilet paper is distributed 3 times a week. Toilet cleaning utensils are permitted once a week. There is hot and cold running water and drinking water. However in some cells the drinking water is contaminated. When certain prisoners are brought to RHU, all the running water is disconnected in their cells.

There is a steel bed with a thin green mattress, but it is common for the guards to remove the mattress. There is one chair welded to a desk table. Some inmates report that they have a cabinet or shelf to store personal items. Other inmates report that there is no such item in their cells.

There is a light in the ceiling that the inmate can control. An inmate can buy a lamp if he wishes. The guards control the lights on the range. Inmates in DC RHU cannot have any other electrical equipment. In AC RHU, an inmate can have his own radio and TV after 90 days of AC status, if the Program Review Committee approves.

The smoke detectors do not work. On October 25, 1997, a fire started and an inmate's cell door was within inches of a fire sprinkler that did not work. The fire alarms are faulty. They did not ring. The whole unit breathed toxic plastic fumes from plastic fire bags that were smoking.

The guards purposely turn off the emergency call button. One inmate reported that he fell out of bed and was unconscious for 45 minutes before he was carried away on a stretcher. The emergency call button sometimes is turned off on the 2?10 PM shift, but it always is turned off during the 10 PM to 6 AM shift, according to my source. Some guards sleep on duty on the night shift.

Yerodeen Williams (Posted January 14, 1998)

Gregory Wilson (Posted January 14, 1998)

Johnie Byrd (Posted February 13, 1998)

Robert Robinson (Posted April 6, 1998)

Michael DeVaughn (Posted April 16, 1998)

Robert Frederick (Posted May 15, 1998)

Dennis Solo McKeithan (Posted March 7, 1999)

Alfonzo Salley (Posted August 2, 2000; last updated September 15, 2001)