Stop First Amendment rights violations in Pennsylvania prison!

Bryant Arroyo has been held in Administrative Custody (AC) in the Restricted Housing Unit at State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township in Pennsylvania since Jan. 29. His only “crime” was insisting on the rights supposedly guaranteed by the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Under Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) regulations for AC status, Arroyo is denied any rights to “radio, tablets/kiosk access, television, or telephone calls (except emergency or legal telephone calls).” The loss of tablet use means he cannot communicate with anyone by email. He may be held in his cell for 23 hours a day. “The opportunity to shower and shave shall be offered three times per week” is in the regulations, but in fact Arroyo is only allowed to shower on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (tinyurl.com/29red648)

Grievance and hearing documents arrayed behind the Jan. 18 Workers World article. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)


It’s not total isolation, Arroyo told Workers World newspaper: “We’re all in the block, everybody, usually single cells by ourselves but you can talk, you can yell, you know by raising your voice up through the window and then have a conversation like that or next door through the vent with the person who’s next to you.”

SCI Coal Township officials removed Arroyo from the General Population because of an article William “Billy” Rinick wrote for Workers World describing his struggles for disability rights and justice there. (workers.org/2024/01/76247/ )

Rinick — an incarcerated person with disabilities — has filed multiple grievances and lawsuits in the last year on disability issues including:

  • The failure to provide disability gym sessions for disabled incarcerees.
  • The failure to include disability ramps in all of the prison’s fire exits, in violation of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
  • The failure to hire people with disabilities in the gym or law library.
  • The failure to provide a necessary prosthetic foot that Rinick needs.

Those were some of the issues raised in the WW article posted Jan. 18, which SCI Coal Township officials refused to allow into the prison for dozens of WW readers there. They claim that including the names of prison staff accused of violating ADA policy constituted a threat to their safety.

As WW wrote in a Feb. 3 letter to the PA DOC, the article is a “whistleblower” article concerning ADA issues. “The right to speak out over perceived violations of the ADA is protected by the First Amendment and extends to incarcerated individuals. Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987).” (workers.org/2024/02/76705/)

Too many subscribers, too much influence

As a well-known jailhouse lawyer and writer for WW, Arroyo is being retaliated against, charged with “colluding with inmate Rinick (FN9690) to get an article from the Workers World newspaper introduced into the facility … that could cause a threat to the inmate, staff, or facility security.”(DC 141, Misconduct Report F-024154)

Even though charges against Arroyo were dismissed after two hearings, he is still being held in isolation in AC status and is facing a transfer to another state facility.

At one of Arroyo’s hearings, a prison official stated: “Although Arroyo and Rennick say they do not have any influence over the block, the Workers World magazine subscriptions now stand at over 43 on Charlie Block. The increases in subscriptions on CB are indicative of Rennick and Arroyo’s influence and demonstrate their ability to organize the inmate population. There was a drastic increase in subscriptions after printing the Jan. 18 article and then again after printing the Feb. 3 article.

“In the Feb. 3 article, Arroyo was quoted as saying all correctional staff members waived their lives to become employed by the PA DOC. If distributed to the general population, this statement could create an unstable security environment.”

Arroyo was arguing prison staff are exposed to dangers every day — it’s part of their job and why they sign a waiver when they get hired. As employees of the state whose salaries are paid for through tax funds, the public has a right to know when DOC staff members violate state or federal laws. Officials cannot deny the constitutionally protected right to free speech with the excuse that publishing staff names in an article is dangerous.

As Arroyo argued at his hearing (DC 141, F-024154), “prison walls don’t form barriers that separate us prisoners from the protections of the U.S. Constitution.”

Readers are asked to call PA DOC Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Diana Woodside, who’s in charge of what publications are allowed into PA DOC facilities, at 717-728-4119. Demand that she uphold the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and allow Workers World newspaper issue Jan. 18, Vol. 66, No. 3 into SCI Coal Township.

Also call SCI Coal Township Supervisor Thomas McGinley at 570-644-7890. Tell him Bryant Arroyo (CU-1126) is being unfairly punished for exercising his constitutional right to free speech and tell McGinley to release Arroyo from Administrative Custody and return him to the General Population. Demand that if he is to be transferred to another facility, send him to one of his choosing, so he can be close to his family.

Arroyo needs funds to continue his lawsuit against the state’s unconstitutional actions. You can contribute through JPay.com, inserting Bryant Arroyo (CU-1126) when asked.

Joe Piette

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Joe Piette
Tags: Pennsylvania

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