Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prisoner Abuse at Lewisburg Penintentiary

Margaret Jean Plews

Arizona Prison Watch
1809 East Willetta St.
Phoenix, AZ 85006
January 15, 2010

Warden Bledsoe

USP Lewisburg - U.S. Penitentiary
2400 Robert F. Miller Drive
Lewisburg, PA 17837

Dear Warden Bledsoe,

Arizona Prison Watch members have been informed by the NYC Jericho Movement that Byron Shane Chubbuck #07909051, an institutionalized person in your custody, has been subject to repeated abuse and civil rights violations at the hands of your employees, and is vulnerable to retaliation for complaining about such treatment. As requested by his supporters, we’re “writing in solidarity with many others across the nation to demand a full investigation into Mr. Chubbuck’s treatment on November 7, 2009 and to see his assault charge from that day be dropped. We also ask that the June 24, 2009 charges against him be reviewed and dropped…”

That’s from the letter drafted by Oso’s friends; I’m sure you are aware of the details of his case. They’ll be helping him go through “proper BOP channels” with these allegations of abuse. I presume those are the channels fine-tuned by the Prison Litigation Reform Act designed to bog prisoner grievances down so they never meet the threshold for having exhausted prison administrative procedures before proceeding to a lawsuit. We’ll be working on tossing that thing out this year and making sure prisoners are better protected.

What’s been happening at your prison to our brother is an outrage. If I was a DA I’d see the cutting of Mr. Chubbuck’s braid in this context as an outright assault that should be prosecuted, not just an insult to his people and their traditions. It was excessive force – completely unnecessary. It would certainly constitute assault if a prisoner pinned down a guard and snipped a lock of hair from his head, whatever the motive. You should have recognized and responded to that immediately for what it is. I suspect the employee referenced in that incident got a pat on the back, instead, not disciplined or reported to police as a perpetrator of violence against institutionalized persons.

In light of the amount of harm that could be done to Mr. Chubbuck – to both his mental and physical health – in such a hostile environment, this is the beginning and end of my own use of “proper channels”. I’ll be using my blogs to tell people who Byron Chubbuck is, where he is, and how he’s being treated at the hands of our government – it’s pretty much up to you and the BOP what that characterization ultimately turns out to be. We’ll be paying attention.

If necessary, we’ll urge our allies to contact their respective congress members – all across the country - about Mr. Chubbuck’s safety and welfare in your custody, and the well-being of other prisoners. If you throw him into isolation and try to cut him off from us, we’ll lobby to get him featured prominently on the new Solitary Watch News website, and assure that intense media scrutiny is focused back on USP Lewisburg. Even the people who live in your town will be so disturbed by the abuse associated with your institution – and the torturous conditions of solitary - that they’ll be at your gates holding you accountable, too.

We will expose any effort made to retaliate against Mr. Chubbuck for challenging such gross violations of his civil rights in the meantime. I don’t know your defense for your employees’ conduct to date, but you can hardly claim ignorance if any further harm comes to that man in your custody. You are the one ultimately responsible for protecting him, and we’ll hold you accountable for what your staff do.

Every bit of information we get from Mr. Chubbuck and his fellow prisoners about their treatment there – including any trouble they have communicating with the outside world - will contribute to Arizona Prison Watch’s letter to Senator Webb’s committee on criminal justice reforms as an example of what’s wrong with the Federal Bureau of Prisons – and hopefully what you’re doing to fix it. The more clear and responsive you are regarding these concerns, the more fairly we can reflect your positions and actions to our members and readers – otherwise we are left to speculate aloud based on what limited view we may have from out here.

As for the allegation that Mr. Chubbuck himself assaulted a guard: we are skeptical about claims of officers who have been “assaulted” by prisoners that they (and usually five other officers) have beaten mercilessly (or tried to scald) while they were handcuffed and shackled. People like that just don’t make convincing victims – they don’t even make credible witnesses. We’d like an outside investigation of any such allegations. We suspect those are counter-charges being levied as retaliation and intimidation – and perhaps an excuse to restrict Mr. Chubbuck’s mobility and human contact even more. His friends are quite concerned about the effect this is having on his mental health, understandably. That’s one reason I’m also cc’ing this letter to my own Senator John McCain – he knows the trauma of captivity, and of people trying to break him - as I suspect some of your guards are trying to do to Oso.

The law enforcement profession has a range of technologies and techniques for controlling and restraining men safely without inflicting excess pain, humiliation, or injury. Granted, prisons can’t function without the threat and periodic use of state violence – no one would stay there if they didn’t have to. And you have some pretty mean people – but not the vast majority of them. If you depend heavily on any of those three elements for your prisoner management practices, you have long since lost “control” of your prison, and your leadership is obsolete. You are engaging in torture, not behavior management. If it becomes apparent that’s what’s going on, we’ll call you on it and demand that you step down.

We believe that the greater burden of responsibility for restraint when it comes to using violence is on the party with the greatest power to do harm – in this case, your guards (especially when they have someone already restrained). Mr. Chubbuck’s constitutional status may be as a slave of the state, but you are sworn servants of the people – all the people - and we expect better treatment of prisoners in this country than this. Mr. Chubbuck’s criminalized status and prison sentence doesn’t give anyone license to exploit their power over him for sadistic purposes, and Americans don’t take to enslaving and abusing Native Americans like we used to. Legislation is going to be changing soon.

In the meantime, if one prisoner is experiencing this kind of abuse, we can only assume that others are at risk as well. It only takes one to trigger a CRIPA investigation, though, and this sounds suspicious enough to me. Our respective states keep us busy, but I’m sure that between all of us we can find someone at the DOJ who would take a special interest in any patterns of mis-treatment towards different minority populations in your custody. The DOJ visits my blogs often because of the Arpaio investigation, so I have a shortcut if I need it to get their attention - if they aren’t on this already.

Please let us know soon how you’ll be responding to the abuses identified above. We’ll be waiting to hear back from Oso, too, and expect his mail and other methods of communicating with his community to be reasonably unhindered from now on. Do be mindful that what you do to this man touches his people as well. Neither he nor they stand alone. In fact, you can count us among his people now, too.

Margaret Jean Plews
Arizona Prison Watch

Cc: Mr. Byron Chubbuck / NYC Jericho Movement / US Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division / North Carolina Prison Watch / Ohio Prison Watch / Nevada Prison Watch / Wisconsin Prison Watch / Utah Prison Watch / Louisiana Prison Watch / New Mexico Prison Watch / Solitary Watch News / Prison Legal News / / Prison Reform Community Center / James Ridgeway / Critical Resistance / 4Struggle Magazine / Prison Activist Network / Prisoner Rights Newsletter / Prison Reform Community Center/ Break The Chains / ACLU National Prison Project

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