Monday, April 6, 2015

OSP Top Staff Finally Meets with Hunger Strikers, but Refuses to Negotiate.

On Fri April 4th, top staff at OSP visited the hunger strikers to talk about their demands. Warden Forshey, Deputy Wardens Charmain Bracy and Jeff Remmick and Captain Brown visited the cell door of each of the eight hunger strikers for the first time after all the calls and complaints about it. They said the two main demands regarding recent policy shifts on range rec and access to religious programming are non-negotiable.

Please call Warden Forshey and thank him for visiting with the hunger strikers. Ask him to honor their request to avoid conflict with problematic COs, and to negotiate with them regarding range rec and religious programming.

Call Warden Jay Forshey at 330-743-0700 ext 2006. 
Write letters: Warden Forshay, OSP, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd, Youngstown, OH 44505

More details on the hunger striker's issues below.

RANGE REC- OSP has been increasingly restricting prisoner's access to each other in recent years. At some point many prisoners at OSP were allowed congregate recreation, where multiple prisoners were allowed to rec together on the range. The range is a sort of indoor concrete and steel courtyard or common space which all the cells face out on. After some fights and other incidents, the policy changed to only one prisoner on the range at a time, which the prisoners begrudgingly accepted. More recently, the administration decided prisoners are--in addition to being limited to one at a time--only allowed recreation in outdoor cells (concrete boxes with high walls and a metal grate on top, which the sky can peak through) or the rec cage (a room not much bigger than a cell with a pull up bar).

The prison claims this change is necessary to prevent prisoners passing things to each other. A prisoner taking rec on the range is able to do favors carrying something from one friend's cell to another, this is known as passing. Why is the administration concerned about passing? Most of the prisoners pass things like stamps, snacks or reading and writing materials. If they are passing contraband, that indicates a failure on the part of the staff to prevent such things from getting inside in the first place. By controlling passing OSP is attempting to police and restrict prisoner communication and relationships, pushing people further and further into total isolation. By prison logic, friendship and community is a privilege only allowed to the well-behaved.

At the same time, the classification officials supposedly consider demonstrating good behavior as a necessity to step down security levels and get out of isolation. By restricting interaction, they are reducing opportunities for conflict, but also opportunities to demonstrate good behavior or build healing relationships. Isolation does not resolve conflict, it merely suspends and drags it out indefinitely. Policies preventing interaction between prisoners effectively lock these prisoners into a longer stay at OSP. Which may be a way of keeping the prison full and justifying the facility's expense. This circular logic defines the very existence of OSP. Built in response to the 1993 uprising at SOCF in Lucasville, which conveniently followed the denial of a request for expanded funding for a supermax facility, OSP is a product of repression leading to conflict and begetting ever greater repression, all on the tax-payer's dime.

Restricting range rec does not completely prevent passing anyway. The smaller outdoor cages are close enough together that prisoners can pass things between them. Also, the “5A long timer” prisoners are allowed to rec in pairs on the range based on an agreement won by Jason Robb in his 2013 hunger strike. Jason was demanding to join other death row prisoners at Chillicothe, and instead settled for the same treatment other death row prisoners got, including opportunities—like congregate range rec—to demonstrate that they would not be a security threat at lower levels. These guys are physically able to pass items but not allowed to, and when they refuse, the requesting prisoners can get angry. 

So, the new policy first attempts to take away opportunities for prisoners to be generous and helpful to each other. It then creates a bottleneck where a few prisoners can risk passing things, but staff at OSP would love to catch these guys so that they can justify the ODRC's insane unofficial revenge policy - these four prisoners have been in supermax isolation over a decade with no serious violations. Finally, it exacerbates differences between these and other prisoners, creating conflict when those with the privilege of range rec do not use it to risk a rule violation for assist others. 

Any human beings held in a cage will find ways to interact with each other to share and collectively work to meet each others' needs. It is unnatural and inhumane for OSP to try and completely limit this interaction. Legally, OSP is allowed to pursue such a policy, and on their rounds they said the issue is non-negotiable. They insist on doing what they can to restrict passing and frustrate prisoners attempts to forming community or cooperate. It seems they prefer fostering a culture of conflict and strife in their institution.

Meanwhile, there are legal requirements OSP risks failing. They must offer every prisoner access to rec—a combination of indoor and outside--for a minimum of five hours per week. The elevators leading to the outdoor rec cages on one side of the facility have been broken since the day before the hunger strike began. To accommodate this, OSP has allowed prisoners in C and D block, including the hunger strikers, to go to outdoor rec on the other side of the facility, if there's time after the A and B blocks have used the cages. This means everyone does not always get outdoor rec when they request it. As the weather improves, more prisoners in A & B will likely take their rec outdoors, leaving fewer and fewer opportunities for C & D block prisoners to get any time outdoors.

As stated in last week's updatewhen it comes to meeting prisoner's needs, OSP staff can take weeks to do simple maintenance tasks like installing safety strips in the showers. How long will it take to repair the elevators in order to be in compliance with the law? Who knows. In the meantime, the prisoners are proposing that the least OSP can do is offer is to alternate who has first crack at the available outdoor rec cages. Letting C & D block rec first every other day, so they are not the ones being consistently denied.

The issue with religious programming is a collective punishment issue, where prisoners on level 5B were all deprived of access to group programming after one 5B prisoner—who has now been transferred out—stabbed a CO during a group session. On Friday, OSP staff finally told the protesting prisoners what they had been telling outside supporters—that prisoners can request one-on-one religious sessions—but did not specify how long the sessions would be. The prisoners agreed that private one-on-one sessions are an acceptable alternative, if for equal time to the one hour group sessions they are replacing.

Hasan is skeptical that the prison will agree to this demand, because they have already been cutting hours for religious workers to save money, and giving each prisoner a one hour private session will multiply the time OSP has to pay these people to conduct services. It seems that locking down prisoners in an increasingly strict isolation environment makes the cost of honoring their basic constitutional right to religious practice increasingly expensive. 

OSP has also been cutting costs by removing medical monitors. Since the monitors left, treatment has severely declined. People are being taken off medication, they have to be dying before they can get transferred to an outside hospital for treatment, there are stories of people coming in to OSP straight from the street with bullets in them, and going untreated. OPS is holding back on vitamins, medications, and doctors. They have local practitioners like Dr James Kline coming in and basically signing off on whatever negligence or violation of medical ethics OSP requests of them. To hear more stories about Dr Kline, see this post and these posts at Sean

The first shift D Block COs have begun a campaign of harassment and threats against the hunger strikers. More details on that issue are here. The hunger strikers have requested that these COs not handle their rec movement, because movement presents an opportunity for violent reprisals against them.  

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