Genocidal Realities



The Horrors of Mass Incarceration

March 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |

Artwork: Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide
Credit: Artwork Special to Revolution from prisoner Larry James DeRossett


Murderous Beatings at Attica

As we go to press (March 1, 2015), the top headline on the front page of the New York Times is “A Brutal Beating Wakes Attica’s Ghosts.” August 9, 2011, three guards and a sergeant at Attica Correctional Facility beat George Williams until he couldn’t stand. They handcuffed him and shoved him down a flight of stairs. The guard in charge of the Special Housing Unit (SHU), where Williams was taken afterward, said, “We can’t take him in here looking like that.” (Emphasis ours.)

Williams wound up in a hospital in Buffalo, 50 miles away, after first being taken to the prison infirmary, then to a local hospital. His shoulder was broken, as were both his legs and the bone surrounding one of his eyes. Several of his ribs were cracked. Doctors had to realign one of his legs, using a plate and six screws.

March 2, the sergeant and two of the guards go on trial for first degree assault, filing false reports, and tampering with evidence. State officials told the Times that this is the first time “criminal charges had been brought against correctional officers for a nonsexual assault on an inmate.” A prisoner said, and many others agreed: “What they did? How they jumped on that guy? That was normal. It happens all the time.”

Attica Correctional Facility is the official name of Attica state prison in New York. Eighty percent of the prisoners at Attica are Black or Latino. Nearly all the guards are white. Attica became known throughout the world when, in the fall of 1971, 1,200 prisoners rose up and took control of half the prison. Read the September 11, 2011 Revolution article, “40th Anniversary of Attica Prison Rebellion: ‘We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such.’

The brutality, indignity, and inhumanity the Attica brothers rebelled against continues there and in every other prison and jail in the United States. The Times article talks about “rogue officers” protected by their union and about a number of people, including a former state corrections chief, saying that Attica should be closed. Read closely, though. Attica state prison itself, prisons and jails in general, the brutality of the guards—all are essential parts of bourgeois state power, tools for enforcing the capitalist-imperialist system.

(Quotes are from “A Brutal Beating Wakes Attica’s Ghosts,” New York Times, February 28, 2015 [print version, March 1, 2015].)

Assault and Murder by Guards at NYC Rikers Island Jail

In September 2014, four guards beat Jose Guadalupe unconscious in his jail cell at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex.  Guadalupe got such a bad concussion that after he was returned to Rikers from the hospital, he spent the next three weeks in a wheelchair.

In October 2014, Rikers guards handcuffed Pernell Griffin and punched him in the face, breaking his jaw so badly that it took two surgeries, including a nine-hour bone transplant, to repair it. Rikers authorities put Griffin in a solitary confinement cell two days after the surgery.

The same week in October, seven guards snapped Rauf Yearde’s left upper arm when they pulled his handcuffed hands behind him.

Rikers Island is a 400-acre jail complex in New York City. It houses about 11,000 prisoners, at least 90 percent of whom are Black and Latino. The vast majority—about 85 percent—of prisoners held there are awaiting trial—they haven’t been convicted of anything.

Eleven times a day on average, guards at Rikers Island pepper spray or beat prisoners. New York City Correction Department data reports 4,074 instances of guards using physical force against prisoners last year. This is higher than for any other year in the last 10 even though the average daily population at Rikers Island has gone down from 14,000 to 10,000 in the same decade. Studies by the New York Times and others have found widespread cover-ups of assaults on prisoners by authorities, meaning that in fact there were far more beatings than the 4,074. (“Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists,” New York Times, February 21, 2015)

The New York Times investigated 62 of the beatings and found that 70 percent resulted in head injuries and that more than half the inmates suffered broken bones. In some episodes, guards broke hand and finger bones while inflicting head injuries on prisoners.

Beyond the beatings are the deaths, many due to willful neglect of mentally ill prisoners. A few:

  • In February 2014, the police arrested Jerome Murdough for trespassing. He was put in a cell at Rikers where the next week, the temperature rose to 101 degrees and Murdough actually baked to death.
  • Victor Woods bled to death at Rikers in October while a guard stood over him drinking coffee.
  • Bradley Ballard died of sepsis at Rikers in 2013. He was in solitary and had been denied medical and psychiatric care.

Murder by Heatstroke in Texas State Prisons

At least 14 inmates have died from extreme heat exposure in Texas state prisons since 2007. Although a few areas of Texas state prisons are air conditioned, inmates are rarely allowed in them. Instead, prisoners swelter in 90+ or even 100+ degree heat in the hot Texas summers. Temperature logs from Texas prisons have often recorded a heat index of 100+ degrees at 8:30 in the morning. Exposure to extreme heat is considered “cruel and unusual punishment” by international human rights standards and by U.S. constitutional law. (See “Deadly Heat in Texas Prison,”  April 2014 report by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.”)

While there is air conditioning in wardens’ offices and armories, there is mostly no air conditioning in the areas where prisoners live. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) says it can’t afford to air condition its prisons, according to “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” which hold about 150,000 prisoners, 69 percent of whom are Black or Latino. In the eyes of prison authorities, pigs—the four-legged animal kind—deserve more humanity than is given to the human beings in prison: Last year, TDCJ agreed to a $750,000 deal for climate controlled housing for its pig-breeding program. The TDJC provides employees with risk management training and admits that heatstroke risk can begin at 91 degrees. Its risk management circular even offers advice about how to protect pets from extreme heat. No measures for protection from extreme heat are available to the prisoners.

Old people and those on psychiatric or blood pressure medications are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, but no consideration is given to such prisoners.

The extreme heat in Texas prisons killed Douglas Hudson in July 2011, Kenneth James in August 2011, and Robert Allen Webb, also in August 2011. When Rodney Adams died of heatstroke one day after he arrived at a Texas prison in August 2012, his internal temperature was 109.9 degrees. Larry Gene McCollum died from heatstroke in July 2011, one month after he arrived at a Texas state jail. When he first arrived, the guards had greeted him with “Welcome to hell.” (“Inmate Families Sue Over Heat-Related Prison Deaths,” Texas Tribune, June 14, 2013)

37½ Years Solitary Confinement for Facebook in South Carolina Prison

In South Carolina, where 65 percent of people locked up in state prisons are Black, prisoners have been sentenced to years in solitary confinement because they have posted on Facebook or other social media sites, or because their relatives or friends posted on their behalf.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) found: “Since the policy was implemented [2012], SCDC [South Carolina Department of Corrections] has brought 432 disciplinary cases against 397 inmates, with more than 40 inmates receiving more than two years in solitary confinement.” South Carolina prisons have sentenced 16 prisoners to more than 10 years in “disciplinary detention.” One man got 37 and a half years in solitary for 38 Facebook posts, another received 34 and one-half years for 35 posts, a third, nearly 27 years for 25 posts. Each of these guys lost phone, visitation, and canteen privileges and lost good time (days for good behavior that can lessen time spent locked up).

It’s more than just Facebook. The EFF report says: “The policy is also incredibly broad; it can be applied to any reason an inmate may ask someone outside to access the Internet for them, such as having a family member manage their online financial affairs, working with activists to organize an online legal defense campaign, sending letters to online news sites, or just staying in touch with family and friends to create the type of community support crucial to reintegrating into society.”

And it’s more than South Carolina. In New Mexico a prisoner’s relatives accessed Facebook on his behalf. He got 90 days in solitary. Alabama has a new law that makes it a misdemeanor to post on the Internet on behalf of a prisoner.

(See “Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook,” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 12, 2015)

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