America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Ely State Prison makes it to the Dishonorable Mentions (top 17)

America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Dishonorable Mentions
7 runners-up, from a “gladiator school” to America’s largest death row.

By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
Wed May. 15, 2013, in:  Mother Jones Magazine

#1: ADX (federal supermax)
#2: Allan B. Polunsky Unit (Texas)
#3: Tent City Jail (Phoenix)
#4: Orleans Parish (Louisiana)
#5: LA County Jail (Los Angeles)
#6: Pelican Bay (California)
#7: Julia Tutwiler (Alabama)
#8: Reeves Country Detention Complex (Texas)
#9: Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Mississippi)
#10: Rikers Island (New York City)

Read the complete introduction to our 10 Worst Prisons project.
Last of 11 parts.

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. These dishonorable mentions make up the final installment of our 11-part series, a subjective ranking based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.

Attica Correctional Facility (Attica, New York): More than four decades after its famous uprising, New York’s worst state prison still lives up to its brutal history. According to the Correctional Association of New York, which has a legislative mandate to track prison conditions, Attica is plagued by staff-on-prisoner violence, intimidation, and sexual abuse.

Communications Management Units (Marion, Illinois, and Terre Haute, Indiana): These two federal prisons-within-prisons, whose populations are more than two-thirds Muslim, were opened secretly by the Bureau of Prisons during the Bush administration, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is challenging the facilities in a federal lawsuit. “The Bureau claims that CMUs are designed to hold dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates, requiring heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications,” notes a lawsuit fact sheet. “Many prisoners, however, are sent to these isolation units for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.” (Also see: Pelican Bay.)

Ely State Prison (Ely, Nevada): A “shocking and callous disregard for human life” is how an auditor described medical care at Ely, which houses the state’s death row along with other maximum security prisoners (PDF). The audit, which found that one prisoner was allowed to rot to death from gangrene, formed the basis of a 2008 class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The suit was settled in 2010, but by 2012 the prison still was not in full compliance.

Idaho Correctional Center (Kuna, Idaho): Run by Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s largest private prison company, ICC has been dubbed a “gladiator school” for its epidemic of gang violence. According to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the ACLU of Idaho (PDF), the violence is not only condoned but actively promoted by the staff. The suit was settled, but last November, the ACLU said CCA appeared to be violating the agreement, which called for increased staffing and training, reporting of assaults to the local sheriff’s office, and disciplinary measures for staffers who didn’t take steps to stop or prevent assaults.

San Quentin State Prison (Marin County, California): This decrepit prison, which sits on a $2 billion piece of bayside real estate, is home to America’s largest death row. As of late-April, there were 711 men and 20 women condemned to die at San Quentin—you can find the latest stats here (PDF); the figure is constantly changing, despite a state moratorium on executions, because prisoners frequently die of illness or old age. Some even commit suicide rather than remain in solitary limbo.

Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola, Louisiana): At America’s largest prison, those who embrace warden Burl Cain’s pet program of “moral rehabilitation” through Christianity are afforded privileges while sinners languish in institutional hell. A former slave plantation, the prison lends its name to the so-called Angola 3, two of whom have been held in solitary for 40 years, largely for their perceived political beliefs. (In March, Louisiana’s attorney general declared, bafflingly, that the men had “never been in solitary confinement.”)

The federal pen at Lewisburg.
United States Penitentiary (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania): In this overcrowded supermax, the target of multiple lawsuits, prisoners are locked down for 23 to 24 hours a day in the company of a cellmate. One lawsuit alleges that prison officials deliberately pair people with their enemies, and that this practice has led to at least two deaths. The suit also claims that prisoners have been strapped to their bunks with four-point restraints if they resist their cell assignments.

Research for this project was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund and The Nation Institute, as well as a Soros Justice Media Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. Additional reporting by Beth Broyles, Valeria Monfrini, Katie Rose Quandt, and Sal Rodriguez.
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Petition for Appointment of Guardian outside the Nevada Dept of Corrections: plz help Mr Tragale

From: Nevada-Cure’s blog and added the petition text:

On August 20th 2012 Nevada-Cure sent this message out via email about retaliation against a prisoner held in NNCC (Carson City, NV). It appears Prisoner TRAGALE is being retaliated against for trying to help another prisoner, who is blind, mentally ill and unable to care for himself, have a guardian appointed to the prisoner to help him with his needs. 
Philip Tragale has asked the Courts for a Guardian and/or Lawyer to protect prisoner Daniel Stenner who is blind and mentally handicapped. Mr Tragale filed the text here underneath to the District Court in Nevada on June 6th 2012.

We have another case Mr Tragale filed which contains complaints about a few employees of NDOC who are alleged to be abusive towards prisoners. We will soon post that case here too.

Please write to your Legislator and Director Cox of NDOC to ask them to have an independent commission look into these alleged abuses, and have them stopped.

NV-CURE has not conducted an independent evaluation of Mr. Tragale’s claims.  However, such an investigation must be conducted by a person that is fair and impartial.  The truth and actual events must be made public and scrutinized by the Legislature. Please e-mail / write NDOC Director COX and members of the NV Legislature with your views and opinions on this matter.
Thank you.

Filed: 6-7-12
Case no. 12GRD0003D1B
Dept. no. 1
In the First Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada
In and for Carson City
*****
In Re: Daniel Stenner

Petition for Appointment of Guardian outside the Nevada Dept of Corrections

Comes now, Petitioner, Philip Tragale, and requests this Court to appoint a guardian for inmate Daniel Stenner, outside the NV Dept. of Corrections to protect inmate Stenner from the immoral, neglectful and abusive actions and practices of NDOC staff as will more fully appeare herein.

Petitioner, Philip Tragale, is an inmate, #62163, incarcerated at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City who has on three (3) occasions, for approx. one (1) week on each occasion witnessed the care of inmate Stenner. Petitioner now brings what he has witnessed before the Court for the Court to decide if action need be taken.

Daniel Stenner is blind and severely mentally handicapped to the point that he cannot do anything without assistance.

Petitioner believes Daniel Stenner is being abused for the following reasons:

1)      Daniel is never walked around or exercised in any way; he is removed from his cell to be fed and showered and done so in a special chair with wheels.

2)      Daniel is never taken outside for sun or fresh air.

3)      Daniel receives no therapy or rehabilitative training.

4)      Daniel is ignored, left in his cell naked and only paid attention to when he urinates (not in the toilet) or starts to scream, cry out or slap himself in the face and then he is told to lay down or he is offered food which is withheld for hours.

5)      Daniel is not given a radio or tv to keep him company or for mental stimulation nor does anyone spend time with Daniel just to try to engage him in conversation.

6)      Daniel’s meals are left to sit on the counter, in the open air, uncovered, for hours before it is fed to him cold, congealed, and dried out and only after hours of Daniel crying out and being told he’ll be fed soon over and over again.

7)      On one occasion Petitioner heard and saw Correctional Officer Cardella approach Daniel’s cell and in a low voice so no one could hear tell Daniel “You’re a F…ing B..ch.” Cardella then went to the doorjam and repeated his comment. Petitioner was in the next cell and when he witnessed this he began to scream at c/o Cardella to leave Daniel alone. Petitioner reported this to all present staff.

8)      It appears to Petitioner that c/o Cardella has some weird fascination/fixation with Daniel as Petitioner has witnessed c/o Cardella become entranced, staring at Daniel with a strange look on his face many times when he thinks no one is paying attention and all other free staff are busy. [p. 3]

9)      Petitioner has heard c/o Cardella talk about “pile driving” inmates and fears that if c/o Cardella ever gets a chance he will severely injure Daniel.

10)   It appears to Petitioner that Daniel no longer even understands that he is in prison.

Petitioner submits this petition in good faith and swears to its contents under penalty of perjury. Further, Petitioner would polygraph and/or testify to these matters in any investigation or Court proceeding.

WHEREFORE, petitioner prays this Court will appoint a guardian and/or attorney to look into these allegations and continue to look out for Daniel Stenner’s safety and wellbeing.

Dated this 10th Day of May, 2012.

Respectfully Submitted,

[signed] Philip Tragale

Philip Tragale #62163
NNCC
P.O. Box 7000
Carson City, NV 89702


State’s Meanness Is Shameful!

From: The Prisoner’s Advocate: State’s Meanness Is Shameful! (via email)
For immediate release, 29 Jan. 2012
info at prisonersadvocate.org

State’s Meanness Is Shameful!
By David Honeman

The high walls and fences surrounding prisons are designed not only to keep prisoners in, but also to hide ugly secrets. That is exactly what’s happening in the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). It is a well-concealed environment of abusive treatment of prisoners and a waste of taxpayer’s dollars.

One must walk in someone else’s shoes to fully understand and appreciate what they experience, especially adversity. While I’ve never been in prison, I have been an advocate for prisoners and prison reform for over 15 years. In that time, I have visited many prisons, talked with many prisoners and prison staff, and it has been an eye-opening experience for me. The mental, emotional and often physical abuse that prisoners endure daily from unscrupulous prison staff is unfathomable. If the public knew what really goes on behind those high walls and fences, with their tax dollars, they would be livid.

Everyone understands that people are sent to prison as punishment for their crimes. Being separated from family and society is their punishment. They were not sent to prison to be punished, abused, degraded and humiliated. Yet, that’s what is happening in the NDOC. While most corrections employees are there to do an honest day’s work, many feel it is their job to harass, threaten, intimidate and punish inmates for their crimes. They feel they can abuse inmates anyway they choose and not be held accountable for it. To a large extent, that’s true. That’s because most prisoners are functionally illiterate and come from impoverished families, and neither have the wherewithal to challenge the abuse. They have no voice; those who do challenge are retaliated against. Prison administrations cover up the abuse inflicted by unscrupulous staff. So the state wastes millions of dollars annually defending the unethical behavior of prison employees.

Lovelock Correctional Center (LCC) is a prime example. It’s touted as a model prison; however, that’s a huge misnomer. It is a prison filled primarily with sex offenders, homosexuals and dropout gang members. Those are the miscreants that staff loathe the most, and as a result, they are degraded, humiliated and harassed because of their crimes. Officers who gloat about abusing prisoners brag about this reprehensible misconduct; they find it very satisfying. Efforts of this kind are an attempt to beat up on prisoners because they are not liked. People who think prisoners are worthless and feel it is their right, as prison employees, to degrade and abuse them should not work in prisons.

An employee of LCC, who spoke on conditions anonymity said, “The dearth of leadership at LCC and NDOC is unfathomable. There are no visionaries or people trained in corrections. It’s just a good ol’ boy network of uneducated, redneck racists who think they are executives and are paid as such. The NDOC does not want change, so they don’t recruit outsiders. But, educated visionaries won’t work in corrections no matter what you pay them. Within the last year, LCC got all new wardens, all were promoted from within and none were qualified; therefore, they don’t get the respect of the staff. Most wardens are so shielded by their command staff that they don’t have a clue about what’s going on in their prison. They do little work, instead, they delegate to their underlings. They lie and cover up for their staff’s abusive misgivings. They are cowards and not accessible to staff or inmates. Most hold jobs they are not qualified for, and therefore, are so far over their heads that they only know how to manage through threats, intimidation, degradation and humiliation”.

Citing an example, the employee said, “The shift lieutenant, Matthew Wightman, is a good example. He was promoted through the ranks, and is too uneducated, and has no people skills to do his job adequately. Yet, his title gives him a false sense of superiority. He is intimidated by anyone, staff or inmate, who is more educated than he is; therefore, he loses control, gets red-faced, and can only supervise with loud threats, cursing and degrading comments. To show that he’s in charge, he lies, embellishes reports of incidences, and instructs the staff to do so just to punish inmates he does not like. Staff feels compelled to follow suit because he’s their supervisor. Wightman is so insecure and jealous of other’s success, even inmates, so to feel superior and in control, he degrades and humiliates. He thinks this earns him respect from the staff, when, in fact, they have no respect for him. The administration condones his behavior”.

Caseworkers, who have the most direct contact with prisoners, are often the most abusive culprits. Their jobs are to assist prisoners, help prepare them for re-entry and prepare reports for parole hearings. One employee said, “Those reports are filled with lies. I’ve never read a positive report on an inmate, and no inmate has ever been pardoned from LCC since it opened about 18 years ago. Most caseworkers, like Dwayne Baze, are lazy; they slough off and don’t do their jobs. They are not accessible to inmates; they lie and makeup answers to inmate’s questions, just spin them, and ignore their inquiries. If they don’t like an inmate, then they brag about how they lie and file false reports to paper f—them out of the prison. Even inmates deserve an honest answer and to be treated with respect. Caseworkers feel it is their job to hurt rather than help inmates because they don’t like them, especially sex offenders.

It’s almost comical how incensed prison staff becomes if an inmate is not honest with them. They become offended, infuriated and punish them severely. Ironically, no one lies more than the people who work in corrections! Yet, they demand respect, and act as though they are morally beyond reproach. Actually, many of them are former alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes”.

Prisons are run on lies and deception. People who work in prisons are not much different than those they lord over. The biggest difference is that employees have not been prosecuted – yet! Staff, who is honest, will admit that too. Prisoners are facing their wrongs and are being punished for it, while employees see themselves as doing no wrong, and therefore anticipate no punishment for the evil they do. They know if they do wrong, their co-workers will cover for them. And, they do cover up because the union is so powerful and will defend them. One prison employee said, “Our union is no different than a street gang with its unwritten code of silence. We violate our own Employee Code of Ethics daily by lying and covering up the abuse”.

I know that in the more than 15 years that I’ve been involved in advocacy, I’ve never encountered a more mendacious and unscrupulous prison administration than is currently in place at LCC with Robert LeGrand and Quentin Byrne. It’s criminal, not to mention shameful.

While most prison employees do not abuse, they see it done on a daily basis by co-workers and just turn a blind eye to it. In my opinion, that makes them just as guilty. To work in prisons, one must sacrifice their conscience for the benefit of a job. For if they have a conscience, “it” will not allow them to work there. That’s why the average tenure of an employee of the NDOC is less than 2 years. They hate their jobs, they feel trapped, and can’t speak out against all the lies and abuse for fear of retribution from co-workers and supervisors. It’s no wonder that prison employees have the highest rates of alcohol, drug abuse, heart attacks, strokes and divorce. It’s not because they work in a dangerous environment either.

At the end of the day, whether the end of this day or the end of one’s career, all any of us have to reflect on is how well we’ve treated other people. When corrections employees do that, their conscience consumes them, and that’s why they hold that dubious honor.

Prison officials and the media are quick to blame prisoners’ families for introducing contraband into prisons. They place severe restrictions on visits and mail to prevent it. While I would never suggest that people visiting prisoners don’t try to bring in contraband, most contraband (drugs, cell phones) is brought in by prison staff and sold to prisoners. Employees police their own ranks and are not adequately searched. In some prisons, like LCC, employees can bring in coolers large enough for a family picnic, so they can bring in any contraband. Let’s put the blame where it’s due.

Prison jobs are good jobs. Most only require a high school diploma or GED. Yet, prison officers earn more than teachers with Master’s degrees and college professors with doctorates, but are not held accountable. The trend today is to end tenure for teachers and tie their salary to how well their students score on tests. If that’s so, then why not tie corrections employee’s salaries to how many prisoners they rehab or to the recidivism rate? It makes about as much sense.

It’s the power over others that prison staff craves. That power gives them a false sense of superiority. They are quick to judge, find fault and punish, often severely, for petty infractions they are guilty of themselves. Often they lie and file false reports out of revenge. It’s akin to judges doling out lengthy prison sentences to drug users when they are drug users themselves. The hypocrisy is disgusting.

People think everything in prison is free, however, that is far from true. When prisoners get sick and have to be seen by medical staff, they must pay an $8 fee. If they don’t have the money to pay, then they are seen, but the $8 fee is held in arrears on their prison account, and is deducted whenever family sends them money. If they get injured playing sports, then they must pay the entire medical cost, which could be thousands of dollars. Yet, they are not allowed to have health insurance or choose their medical provider. The prison refuses to give an itemized bill showing the expenses. They only release the total amount. Imagine going to the hospital for treatment and getting a bill for $2000 with no explanation. The NDOC recently settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over inadequate prison healthcare. Greg Cox and E. K. McDaniel were responsible for the inadequate healthcare that precipitated the lawsuit. Yet they were promoted to director and deputy director, respectively.

Research shows that when prisoners have regular contact with their families that it improves their behavior and reduces recidivism, yet, a phone call from prison is so expensive that average families can’t afford it. A 30-minute in-state call costs $5 and that same call out-of-state costs over $20, a local call costs $1.95. The NDOC collects over 50% kickback on all prison phone calls. It’s shameful.

By their own admission, the NDOC is not meeting the nutritional needs of its inmates. The diets are not balanced or nutritional. The diets consist primarily of fast foods – hamburgers, hot dogs, and corn dogs. Elementary school children get more to eat than prisoners. Poor diets lead to poor health and poor behavior.

A visit to the prison commissary is robbery without a gun. A TV that sells for $89 at Wal-Mart goes for $350, which includes a fee for the electricity to use it.

Nevada is trying to finance the DOC on the backs of prisoners’ families, most of whom are already impoverished. Prisoners must rely on family and friends for money to survive in prison. Fewer than 10% of prisoners’ jobs have pay numbers, and top pay is about $30 a month.

To retaliate against inmates, officers shakedown and tear apart their cells with vengeance, often damaging and destroying their property and stealing their commissary items. Then laugh about it, and say, “what are you going to do about it?”

While there is a grievance procedure in place, most grievances are denied, lost or never responded to. They are denied because the prison knows that most inmates cannot afford the fee to file a lawsuit against them. Those that do sue are retaliated against.

Taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on corrections, and don’t understand why the recidivism rate is so high. There’s a reason why it is so high. People leave prison angrier than before they arrived. I use this analogy to describe prison: If you catch a tiger, put it in a cage and poke it with a stick everyday for 20 years, then turn it loose on your family and friends, what does it do? That’s what prisons do, so it’s no wonder people leave prison angrier than before they arrived, and the recidivism rate is so high.

All crimes are bad and regardless of how one feels about prisoners, they deserve to be treated humanely and with respect. And, given the resources needed to rehab in order to become productive, law-abiding citizens. Prison staff are paid to do that -to help, not abuse.

Given the nature of their work and the power they exercise over inmates, employees like LeGrand, Byrne, Wightman and Baze have shown themselves to lack fitness to hold employment. The harm that can be produced by this type of intimidation and humiliation can lead to tragic consequences. Inappropriate actions by prison staff or statements which could lead to dangerous situations in the prison (system) should not be tolerated. There should be zero tolerance for intimidation by staff as well as prisoners. .

One former employee said, “I’ve never seen a prison employee put in a full day’s work. They have access to the Internet, so they can play computer games and sleep. They read inmate’s newspapers and magazines, often keeping them for weeks, and working the crossword puzzles before giving them to the inmates, who paid for them. While prison jobs are good jobs and pay well, my conscience would not allow me to work there. I was ashamed to tell people where I worked”.

Prisons house our homeland war causalities, the wounded of our unsolved societal battles with racism and poverty. Our prisons have become housing for the poor, those who are the wrong race, the wrong class, and from the wrong side of town, with the wrong kind of drugs in hand.

Prison life is one of never-ending sorrows and sufferings. It is a society of despair, with anxieties and fears fostering mistrust and manipulation. Punishment takes precedence over programs for rehabilitation. Controlled movement and constant surveillance undermine a sense of dignity. Survival and advancement depend on submission and compliance. Anger rumbles beneath the surface, with some predictable eruptions into violence. Prisoners feel alone, sometimes plagued by guilt, often bombarded by stress. And usually they lack support and resources to address their struggles.
Prisoners are regularly shamed and humiliated by a system that is relentlessly cruel. It is shredding to the soul. Even humane correctional officers find it difficult to practice respectful ways when the system rewards and praises harsh treatment.

Where did we get the peculiar idea that further punishment and diminishment of a person’s life will create better human beings? In my imagination, I dream of ushering in new prisoners with the words, “Welcome. The violence and hurt stop here. Here you will learn a new way of being human. Here you will learn to live with dignity and respect for yourself and others”. It does not happen.

We should all be held responsible for our behavior, not just prisoners, but also those who work in prison. Put yourself in the shoes of a prisoner. Would you want to be mistreated and abused? Would you want your child, sibling or parent to be abused, regardless of their crime? Don’t you want them helped?

Taxpayers of Nevada deserve better and its prisoners deserve better.

David Honeman is Legal Counsel of the National Alliance for Prisoners’ Rights,
a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that advocates for prisoners and prison reform. He can be reached at PO Box 384, Milltown, NJ 08850.