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American Friends Service Committee - From the Inside Out, 2016

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“FROM THE INSIDE OUT”
A report by the

Prison Watch Community Oversight Initiative
December 2016
Issue #1

This report was created by Program Director Bonnie Kerness (973-410-3978/ bkerness@afsc.org),
Interns Rachel Frome and Marshall Justice Rountree, and with further assistance from Jean Ross,
Esq. and CLASP’s Kunal Sharma, Esq. and Billimarie Lubiano Robinson.

Prison Watch Program
89 Market St, 6th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102

(973) 643-3192

Dear Friends,
This first issue of Inside Out: The Prison Watch Community Oversight Initiative, was suggested by the
people confined in the NJ penal system a number of years ago to provide people in the community with
specific examples of conditions in our state’s prisons. Their feeling - and ours - has been that this kind of
initiative will enable more people to better understand the prison system, which is expensive, dysfunctional
and largely concealed sector of our society. We believe that such understanding will enable and motivate
communication and collaboration in order to more effectively address the problems emerging from these
inside reports. We also hope that the connections we create will enable us to eventually serve as an
Emergency Response Network, with the capacity to counter individual as well as systemic instances of harm,
when the need arises. We think that the information that we distribute should prompt formal legislation that
decrees independent prison oversight.
The voices reflected in the reports below are those who have agreed to stay in touch with
community-based advocates on a regular basis. They are giving us information regarding what is happening to
and around them. Many of these people already communicate with us on an ad hoc basis, to request
assistance for others as well as themselves, and to alert us to policies and practices of concern. With this effort
we hope to amplify their voices and enhance the effectiveness of their reports. The examples below are
illustrative of the kinds of communications we receive, but not the full scope of the problems reported to us.
In addition to prisoners’ writings we receive a variety of relevant legal documents, which help us understand
the conditions and changes taking place within the prison system.
We use the information we receive from people in prison, to try to protect the rights of individuals and
families, and mitigate individual instances of harm. What we learn from individuals in prison helps to effect
change on broader levels. We work with other organizations including various justice groups, communicate
regularly with the Department of Corrections, advocate at legislative hearings and participate in many public
education events. Our hope is to increase the number of advocates who will work with us. If any of you have
received testimonies to be shared please let us know. Because this effort is so new we are not wedded to the
format or the name of the publication. If you have any suggestions for edits please let us know. We have cast a
wide net in terms of our mailing list, so feel free to unsubscribe or suggest additional names. Feel free to share
and forward this report to any communities you see fit.
In solidarity,
Bonnie Kerness and the AFSC Prison Watch Community Oversight Initiative

1

UNTIL
A poem by Lydia Thornton (2016)
Until you have sat in a cell and listened to the screams reverberate off the steel doors and not
be muted by the concrete walls
You cannot understand.
Until you hear the person next to you
An 8 inch wall depth away
Say they are going to kill themselves and then go silent
You will not know Fear.
Until no matter how much you yell for the guards, there is no response until their next
scheduled walk
which is an hour from now
You cannot fathom.
Until you HEAR
The despair - the crying - the screaming
The talking to people and creatures only they can see
You cannot believe
Until for hours you hear both sides of a conversation as their invisible (to you) friend answers
back too
In a different voice
You cannot comprehend
Until you realize that a 10 minute visit to a cell door once a week constitutes mental health
care
You cannot accept.
Until you realize that the only human physical contact you will have for months is when the
handcuffs are put on you to walk the 25 feet down the tier to your shower.
Then
You too slowly
But surely
Give in to the darkness
Surrender to the Solitude
And talk to the people that YOU hear
And hang on
hEd/>͘͘͘͘

2

East Jersey State Prison
The excerpts from these initial letters from East Jersey
State Prison touch on some of the serious problems
often reported to us: a crumbling physical infrastructure,
poor medical care, and lack of legal access. In the
context of continuing problems with the old and new
grievance systems, EJSP administrators have insufficient
will or capacity to respond to ongoing serious structural
problems in the prison.

3

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

S.

5/12/16

Medical Care/
Free Exercise
of religion

“Refusal of food services personnel to implement medical orders, of long
standing, that govern a special kosher diet.”

K.

10/14/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Environmental
Conditions

“The infrastructure of the prison is terrible... There is mold… It literally rains
inside whenever it is raining outside. Some cells have broken windows, which
presents an obvious problem in the winter.”

K.

10/14/16

Access to the
Courts

“The law library is in terrible shape. Currently, there are two working computers,
(three are not working). These computers allow access to Lexisnexis software, but
you cannot download any cases from the Lexis for use on your personal word
processor. Hard copies of cases cost ten cents per page. The computers do not
have any word processor program. Paralegals do not readily assist inmates; In
fact, paralegals work in an area that is separated from the law library. Basically,
Rahway’s Law Library is a self service operation with very limited resources.”

Edna Mahan Correctional
Facility for Women
J has been in touch with Prison Watch for a number of
years, often reporting on sexual abuse and other
conditions of confinement. In early October, we
received a call from a reporter for the Star Ledger
letting us know that he was writing a story on a guard
who had been arrested a year ago for sexual abuse.
Twelve women had accused the officer of sexual abuse
and his trial was imminent. He asked that we keep him
abreast if any other information came in. We were able
to share the name of the officer that J was talking about
on 10/14/16. This will be included in his story.

4

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

J.

10/11/16

Privacy

“I am sick a lot and when you go into the hospital, which is in the max
compound, they strip search you. Sometimes you are being strip searched
with other women, I find this very upsetting.”

J.

10/14/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Sexual
Assault/
PREA (Prison
Rape
Elimination
Act)

“They took another guard out of here in handcuffs the other day for having a
sexual relationship with a prisoner. In this case, unlike other cases, the
woman wanted to see him.”

M.

11/29/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Physical
Environment,
the Right to
Medical
Treatment

The NJDOC has bought new vans to transport women to and from doctor's
appointment, the prison hospital in Trenton (some 2 hours away) and the
courts. Trips can take many hours, to pick up and drop off people at different
prisons. M. describes the conditions in the vans which the prisoners call "dog
pound trucks." Because of these conditions, people forego seeing doctors
and specialists they need.
“The inside is complete metal and the seats are 6" off the floor, which kills
your bent knees, while the back wall leans in, so you have to keep your chin
against your chest to avoid banging your head in a 3 to 8 hour trip. Your
hands are cuffed and chained to your waist and you have shackles on your
feet, so the lap seat belts don't protect you from being banged against the
metal wall. You ride sideways, so people get van sick and the vans won't
stop. There are no open windows and no food, no water, no prescribed
medicines and no bathroom, but staff stop for food. (We can smell
McDonalds and coffee.) The drivers race and bump around the state, and
stop abruptly, so people may be flung around in the van. Recently, they
painted the van windows black, so people have panic attacks.”

New Jersey State Prison
New Jersey State Prison is the state's maximum
security prison. NJSP isolates hundreds of people
with solitary confinement, in 5' by 7' cells, in a
crumbling building opened in 1836. People have
spent decades in the prison's infamous isolation
Management Control Unit, an inspiration for the
supermax prisons that have sprouted around the
country. Despite policies and lawsuits directing that
people with mental illness not be confined in
isolation, prisoners with severe illness still remain
isolated, since mental health resources are
insufficient to treat and care for the increased
population of people who used to be committed to
the psychiatric hospitals of the past.

5

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

I.

9/12/16

Mail/ Access
to the Courts/
Sexual
Assault, PREA
Violation

“My legal mail has been opened out of my presence over forty times in
three years… I have had three separate officers touch me in an
inappropriate way during a search three times.”

J.

9/19/16

Censorship of
Mail or
Publications

“The prison officials withheld the June issue of Prison Legal News
(magazine) from prisoners… According to a source, the magazine contained
an article about Double locking in N.J. state Prison.”

A.

10/14/16

Criminal
Offenses
(unspecified)/
Property/
Retaliation

“I have become a victim of a number of crimes starting with the total
destruction of all of my property… because I got two C.O.’s in trouble… and
now I feel that my life’s in danger.”

J.

10/25/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Isolation/
Family/
Placement

Call from Involuntary Protective Custody Unit. Reports struggling with the
isolation. Also reported that a number of people from southern prisons are
requesting a change in status to protective custody in order to be moved
closer to family. Once it is determined that they do not need PC, they are
placed in Involuntary PC, which he is calling torture.

I.

10/27/16

Healthy
Environment

“I am experiencing a very nasty chemical mediciny taste in my food. I feel
very tired and bad after I eat.” (attached to an inquiry form)

D.

10/28/16

Searches

He reported that his cell had been “tossed” and was very upset. We called
the Department and by Sunday (10/31) he had all of his possessions back
and e-mailed to thank us and let us know. (An example of how outside
activists reading this can successfully advocate.)

A.

11/1/16

Cruel and
Unusual

From someone reporting on another prisoner in 2EE, a unit for people with
mental illness: “R. who was on constant watch to prevent suicide, was

6

Punishment:
Physical
Assault/
Disciplinary
Procedures/
Isolation of a
Person with
Mental
Illness/
Corruption/
Supervision

challenged to a fight by a CO. The CO went into his cell and assaulted (him),
without provocation, by correction officers.”
R was placed on 7 wing, in a disciplinary segregation unit. R was not
charged, which is unusual under the circumstance. Prisoners report that
assaults by corrections officers are often covered up, by causing calling a
suicide code to justify entering a cell without supervision by a Sgt.,
assaulting a prisoner and then issuing an assault code to justify the
prisoner-victim's injuries. The alleged assault by the prisoner-victim then
becomes the basis for a disciplinary charge against the prisoner-victim,
who is subject to a kangaroo court hearing, sanctioned and then placed in a
non-mental health solitary confinement cell without the proper clinician
screening required by the Department's regulations.

A.

11/4/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Physical
Assault/
Physical and
Health
Environment/
Medical
Treatment

“Officer Daniel assaulted me by punching me in the face, then I fell to the
metal bed frame and assumed the fetal position to protect myself… I’m
constantly in pain.” “The walls (of the cell) have dried spit, blood, and feces
on them….”

S.

11/8/16

Abuse of
Power/
Investigations
/ Due Process:
Classification/
Isolation

Custody/SID has demonstrated a lack of respect and abuse of power.
Placing this inmate on involuntary protective custody because of hearsay is
unconstitutional.

E.

11/29/16

Physical and
Healthy
Environment

“The showers are never clean, you can actually see the mold on the walls
and ceilings… Mice and rats running around at nights”

Northern State Prison
Despite the fact that we received several reports during
the week of November 21st that a prisoner died inside
Northern State, the Star Ledger reported on November
27, 2016 that, “An inmate died Saturday night [26th] at
Northern State Prison.” Patrick Lombardi, a spokesman
for the Department of Corrections, said that “the cause is
under investigation,” and that “the male inmate’s name
was being withheld pending notification of next of kin…
the inmate was found lifeless in his cell about 9:00 on
Saturday.” It should be noted that the date of death
reported in the Ledger was different than the date
reported by prisoners. It is possible that more than one
prisoner died. One person said that the prisoner who
died was 70 years old.

7

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

E.

8/23/2016

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment

“We were forced to lie, face first, in shorts, short sleeved shirts and skin
contacting the hot blacktop, nothing short of torture. All the while, I
heard staff standing around us laughing… Being forced to lay on the hot
blacktop, literally burning, with gravel penetrating our skin… This
behavior violates the very premise of the eighth amendment prohibitions
to the U.S. Constitution.”

E.

9/6/16

Grievances/
Supervision

“I submitted a remedy referencing my complaint. I however did not get
any response… This is the norm here.”

B.

10/2/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Physical
Condition/
Retaliation

“Not only have I been a victim of retaliation, and denial of
communication; I have suffered from conditions such as being naked in a
supervision unit/suicide watch cell with no mattress or sheets and
blanket, 24 hour video surveillance, no toilet paper, no utensils for food,
24 hour lighting in a 24 hour air conditioned cell.”

B. &
T.

11/3/2016

Environmental
Conditions/
Access to the
Courts,
Grievances,
Supervision

“Thick black mold has accumulated in the cell, and the bunk structures
are rusty… The mold in the cell was painted over, instead of removed…
Rain still comes into the cell, primarily drenching the bottom bunk.“ The
men are not being allowed access to the unit kiosk. B/T have tried to gain
relief from this situation by speaking to the area Sgts. and the
ombudsman, without response (yet). We have contacted the
ombudsman about their situation. They are only allowed to submit
grievances every 6 days (if the kiosks works).

W.

11/8/2016

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:

W. has served his 30 year sentence and is now being held without
explanation. He was recently beaten by one or more guards and is now in
the infirmary. We think that the prison is illegally retaining him in custody

8

Assault/
Liberty

until his physical injuries from the abuse are less overt.

W.

11/14/16

Mail

“My mail is constantly intercepted by the Department of Corrections…
None of my mail or legal mail was getting sent out by Northern State
Prison....”

W.

11/14/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Sexual Assault,
PREA violation/
Supervision

“I was sexually assaulted by officers in administrative segregation and
assaulted by officers and a Sgt....”

W.

11/14/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Protection
from Harm/
Classification/
Supervision

“A guy murdered his cellie after constantly asking to be moved.”

W.

11/14/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Healthy
Environment/
Equal
Protection:
Race/
Retaliation

“Blacks were not being fed in N.S.P. (Northern State Prison) ad-seg and
the Ombudsman at that time that worked ad-seg was pro police so if you
wrote up a c.o. She would give it to the c.o. The c.o. would either break
all the persons property or call the person out to a medical and take
them in a blind spot and beat the inmate bad…”

W.

11/14/16

Healthcare/
Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Physical
Assault

“I suffer from seizures and the left side of my body works when it wants
to due to a stroke I didn't know that I had until examined by a doctor... I
watched inmates get stomped out by the police various times in here
and most of these nurses and doctors will cover the stuff up .”

W.

11/14/16

Medical
Treatment/
Classification/
Discipline

“I recently went to lock up for refusing to lock in a cell that is upstairs
when I’m bottom bunk only and show[ed] the c.o. my paperwork, I was
wearing a helmet and walking with a cane I was still sent to lock up. I
have paperwork from a judge stating I am not to be housed in N.S.P. I
showed it to classification they said judges don't have say over us.”

South Woods Prison
From South Woods State Prison Interoffice
Memorandum: “If you qualify to participate in the
Food Package Incentive Program please read. …...You
may order up to two sub packages of any combination
(from Shoprite). Once an order is placed from Shoprite,
there will be no refunds. Please specify regular Cola or
Diet Caffeine-Free soda. Qualified inmates for the
program must be 1 year charge free and a 1 year state
inmate. The only payment accepted will be through the
inmate’s account. Family or friend cannot purchase
your package. If you are in detention your package will
be….stored for a period of one week. After one week,
if the items are still undeliverable, they will be
destroyed with no reimbursement to you. If items are
not ordered as per established procedure, they will be
rejected without remedy.”

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

J.

10/14/1
6

Family

“This spot is the only spot in the state who doesn’t receive a real food package ;
but instead we can order two subs… This spot is the only spot in the State that
we can not take pictures with our family.”

Southern State Prison
The three massive New Jersey southern state prisons reportedly share
a common culture of racism, fear and retaliation. We hear many
reports of prisoners who are assaulted at Bayside State Prison and
then transferred quickly to Southern State, where they are locked in
and medically neglected.

9

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

C.

10/23/16

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:

Quoted from a memo mailed to AFSC: ​Bayside and Southern State
Correctional Facility Public Notice 5/2016​ “The Bayside State Prison Water
Treatment Plant is required to monitor Wells 1-5 for volatile Organic

Environmental
Conditions

Compounds and Inorganic compounds. On February 22, 2016 the
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted a compliance
evaluation and assistance inspection. The evaluation found that the facility
failed to monitor for Inorganics and Volatile Organic Compounds during the
Federal compliance period of 2014-2016.”

Bayside Prison
Currently we do not have any reporters at Bayside Prison. However, we
have received many reports from family members and former Bayside
prisoners about frequent assaults on prisoners at Bayside, racial
discrimination, a carefully cultivated culture of fear, and retaliation for
complaints. Therefore we are not surprised that the number of formal
complaints received by the prison administration, reported through
OPRA, is ​suspiciously​ and significantly lower than at other prisons.

Central Reception Assignment
Facility (C.R.A.F.)
This is the location where adult men are sent to determine what prison
they will be assigned to serve their time in.

Initial

Date

Category

Testimony

A.

11/22/1
6

Cruel and
Unusual
Punishment:
Right to
Psychiatric
Treatment

“I am having heart pain, nightmares, feeling like I’m getting raped all over
again, and mostly important, I feel like I will die in prison.”

Morristown County Jail
We are beginning to establish reporters in county jails.

Initial

10

Date

Category

Testimony

I.

11

11/28/16

Access to
the
Courts

“The law library is inadequate, they have outdated law books, and there
are no paralegals, or librarians on staff… The jail officials are labeling
certain county prisoners as High Risk and once one is labeled as such,
they get handcuffed and shackled on the way to and from the shower,
and all other movements… I was found guilty of infractions and never
even went to court line.”

 

 

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