Prisoners in Pennsylvania under the banner “Enough is enough” are circulating a petition challenging a number of arbitrary and punitive measures adopted by the state’s Department of Corrections.
The DOC began implementing these changes August 2018 following fraudulent claims by a handful of guards that they became “sick from drugs illegally entering the prisons.” While this fabricated “health crisis” eventually collapsed under public scrutiny, the DOC continued the draconian measures and threaten to implement more in July.
Prisoners say they will stand for morning count on June 1 but refuse all movement until the issues they are grieving are fixed. They are appealing to families, advocacy groups and news publications to share the petition so the whole country hears their voice.
The sweeping crackdown included measures that severely restricted prisoners’ access to mail. Letters, as well as legal correspondence, are being routed through the third-party, Florida-based Smart Communications. The company is paid $4 million to open and photocopy the contents, including photographs, before sending the photocopies to prisoners. Pennsylvania is the 19th state to hire Smart Communications, which stores the original contents of prisoners’ mail on its private servers.
Prisoners in some Pennsylvania facilities had previously organized a boycott of the subcontracted mail service. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the DOC for interfering with legal mail sent through the system.
In addition to tampering with mail, the PA DOC tried to further isolate prisoners from their families by shortening visiting hours and removing food and drink vending machines from visiting areas for 90 days. In some prisons, visitors are arbitrarily denied entry for scheduled visits. Altogether, PA DOC policies cost the state an estimated $15 million to put in place.
The DOC says it will stop the sale of tobacco June 1 and make it illegal on July 1. It is threatening to rip cells apart to take tobacco. The prison will make money by selling more expensive vapor cigarettes, which require purchasing batteries to use.
Other threatened measures include charging prisoners $0.35 per picture that comes via their email. Access to TV channels have been downgraded. Food portions have been cut, while commissary prices have increased.
Though the prisons continue to profit off inmates by raising commissary prices, the slave-labor employment “pay” has not been raised in almost 30 years. When prisoners write up their grievances, the authorities almost always find in favor of the guards. That was one of the issues behind the 1971 uprising in New York state’s Attica prison.
The petition ends, “Our lives matter too!” and it’s signed, “Unidos somos fuerte” — “Together we’re strong!”