Written by CLAUDE MARKS - ISAAC ONTIVEROS
Monday, 13 July 2015 10:06
| Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Four Years and Still Fighting
Four years ago prisoners in California – led by those in the control units of Pelican Bay – organized a hunger strike to demand an end to the torturous conditions of solitary confinement. Two more strikes would follow, with over 30,000 prisoners taking united action in the summer of 2013—both in isolation and in general population in nearly every California prison. The strikes reflected significant shifts in political consciousness among prisoners and their loved ones. The violence of imprisonment was further exposed by demands and heightened organization from within the cages. Prisoner-led collective actions as well as growing public support dramatically have changed the political landscap
The organization of hunger strikes in 2011 surprised many, especially the CDCr – the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the lower case ‘r’ by most prison writers derides the Orwellian use of the word rehabilitation), the media, and much of the public.
Current prison organizing continues a historic legacy of struggle. Among prisoners, the strikes of 2011-2013 were compared to the Attica Rebellion of 1971. Shortly before that rebellion, prisoners at Attica refused to speak or eat in the facility’s chow hall, paying tribute to Black Panther Party member and California prison movement leader George Jackson, who had been assassinated at San Quentin prison August 21st. Jackson was a skilled and effective leader who connected the human rights demands of prisoners to revolutionary ideas both globally and in the streets. He argued with powerful clarity that racist and exploitive power relations could and should be changed through political and military struggle, and that Black liberation was achievable as part of an international struggle to destroy imperialism. Within the prisons, he built unity across racial lines – thinking that a unified prison movement could succeed in winning basic human rights both within the cages and in oppressed communities. While the state obviously found Jackson’s ideas and example extremely dangerous, many prisoners and community members found them a clarion call for action.
On September 9th 1971, Attica erupted. Led by prisoners affiliated with the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and the Five Percenters, the rebellion seized control of several large areas of the prison and issued a manifesto demanding, among other things, better health conditions, an end to political persecution of prisoners, and a right to organize or join labor unions (these demands were very similar to the Folsom Prison manifesto written in California in 1970). After four days of negotiations, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered that the prison be retaken – in the ensuing brutal military assault 39 people were killed by state police and prison guards.
While Attica is one of the most remembered uprisings, between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, there were over three hundred prison rebellions across the US, including those at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1973, the Idaho State Penitentiary in 1972-3, the August Rebellion in 1974 at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York State, a 1975 demonstration at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women, and the Penitentiary of New Mexico in 1980.
In response to these militant uprisings, prisons developed unprecedented strategies of repression, isolation and for a time resistance took less dramatic forms. Yet prisoners were still inspired to resist. In one example, in 1995 women in CA state prisons initiated a class action law suit against genocidal health care conditions and successfully organized family members and allies across the state to support them.
Prisoners in California in 2011-2013 organized against the very policies, strategies, and technology that had been put into place to neutralize the rebellions of previous decades (both inside and outside prison)—including solitary confinement, gang validation (which includes the criminalization of George Jackson’s writings), and the gutting of educational programming. In turn, prisoners used similar historic strategies – collective direct action, multiracial unity, and building strong support and solidarity networks on the outside.
The prisoners issued five core demands that called for an end to the prisons use of long-term solitary confinement, gang validation, collective punishment, and demanded better food, and access to educational programing. The hunger strikes followed fruitless complaints and attempts to negotiate and ignited the political energies of tens of thousands of imprisoned people in a majority of California prisons, while also sparking life into a vast solidarity network led by prisoners’ families and loved ones, former prisoners, and anti-prison organizations. The strike was multi-pronged. It included a legal, legislative, and mass media strategy, as well as organizing prisoner-led solutions to violence on the inside. Support for the strike was broad and international. Imprisoned people – from those held in detention centers in Washington and Texas to prisoners in Georgia, Ohio, Illinois and Guantanamo, to Palestinian political prisoners held by the state of Israel – all took inspiration from and expressed solidarity with the strike.
From the outset and over the course of three mass actions, the strikers were clear that their demands could be met by honest negotiation and moderate reforms. Todd Askher of the Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay explained, “Our struggle adheres to the principles of the Constitution and International Treaty Law and is inspired by all oppressed people’s demands for human rights, dignity, respect, justice and equality – the demand to be treated as living beings.” In turn, the CDCr took an entrenched position – dismissed the legitimacy of prisoners’ concerns, retaliated against strike participants, targeted the strike leadership, harassed prisoners’ loved ones and supporters, and launched a generally harsh and fear-mongering public relations campaign.
Maintaining a collective stance, in May of 2012, prisoners who had spent over ten years in isolation filed a class action civil lawsuit in federal court charging that their being held in solitary confinement constituted a violation of prisoners’ eighth amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. To date, the CDCr’s attempts to dismiss and defang the suit have been unsuccessful.
Reminiscent of George Jackson’s call 40 years ago to “settle your quarrels [and] come together,” in 2012, California prisoners issued an Agreement to End Hostilities. In it they declared “now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time, and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups,” encouraging prisoners to resolve their differences, one of the most feared developments to prison officials. An anonymous prisoner characterized the Agreement as something that creates new horizons for prisoner unity, beyond the demands for an end to long-term solitary and validation: “The inclusion of the Agreement to end race-based hostilities to our struggle against California’s solitary confinement policies, represents a qualitative leap of the insight of all prison nationalities, and unites us beyond the fight to free ourselves from CDCr’s torture units.” Two other prison leaders, Kijani Tashiri Askari and Akili Castlin at Tehachapi prison enlarged upon this by writing that, when it comes to power, “Our exemplary conduct has made CDCr completely powerless over us, as we have successfully taken away the fodder that used to fuel their political rhetoric in labeling us the ‘worst of the worst.’ Our unity now qualitatively threatens the political, social, and economic stability of the CDCr.”
Key to organizing direct support and solidarity efforts around the strikes – including spreading the word about the Agreement to End Hostilities in communities across California – were the family members and loved ones of the prisoners leading and participating in the strike. The prisoner action also had the inspiring effect of renewing connections between prisoners and their families, who grew from being personal supporters, to participants and new leaders of the movement against solitary confinement and the wider anti-prison movement.
The hunger strikers made it clear that they also wanted to help shine a light on the conditions of isolation in women’s prisons which too-often are even more invisible and ignored than those in men’s prisons. In January of 2013, California Families Against Solitary Confinement – founded by hunger strikers’ loved ones and overwhelming led by women of color – mobilized as part of a coalition organized by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners bringing hundreds of community members from across California to protest the devastating impacts of overcrowding at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in the Central Valley city of Chowchilla. Medical care had significantly deteriorated and there was a dramatic increase in women being thrown into isolation. Overcrowding in women’s prisons has aggravated mental health issues causing an increase in the number of mentally disabled people in the SHU even though this is the worst place to put them. In recent years there were several preventable deaths at CIW and as well as numerous attempted suicides. None of the deaths have been made public by the prisons although they clearly signify a state of crisis.
April Harris, imprisoned at California Institution for Women in Corona, described conditions there around the time of the protest, “We have women dropping like flies and not one person has been questioned as to why… I have been down almost 20 years and I have never seen anything like this. Ever.” The hunger strikes helped to address the too-often ignored struggles of imprisoned women (now close to 115,000 in the US) and transpeople against solitary confinement and other violent prison conditions. Many women and trans prisoners also refused food in solidarity with the overall demands emerging from the leadership in Pelican Bay.
An energized movement was critical to supporting the 2013 strike – coordinating mass support, maintaining good communication among prisoners, and developing a strategy to give voice to those inside despite their isolation and lockdowns. The solidarity effort was able establish a relationship with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and was also able to convince key California state politicians to recognize the legitimacy of the strikers’ demands and to hold special public hearings on solitary confinement. This solid work undermined the CDCr’s entrenched position, and supported the prisoners when they decided to suspend the strike in order to support the public hearings.
In the mass media, in the communities, and even among elected officials, the conditions, uses, and devastating effects of—along with the term itself—solitary confinement was pulled from out of the shadows and thrust into the spotlight. In turn, the California prison regime did everything in its power to suppress the strike, retaliate against its participants, target and neutralize its leadership, regain an upper hand in public opinion, and reconsolidate its control, even at the cost of making concessions and changes to its policy. One of the Pelican Bay leaders, Todd Ashker reflected on the historical impact of their mass actions, “I personally believe the prisoncrats’ efforts to turn the global support we have gained for our cause against us will fail. CDCr rhetoric indicates desperation – a very concerning desperation in the sense that it is demonstrative of CDCr’s top administrators’ intent to continue their culture of dehumanization, torture and other types of abusive policies and practices. Our key demands remain unresolved. The primary goal is abolishing indefinite SHU and Ad Seg confinement and related torturous conditions therein: The abolishment of the debriefing policy and meaningful individual accountability.”
At one time, the leaders of the strike were all in the same prison at Pelican Bay – The PBSP SHU Short Corridor Collective was originally: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Dewberry) and Antonio Guillen; and the Representatives Body was: Danny Troxell, George Franco, Ronnie Yandell, Paul Redd, James Baridi Williamson, Alfred Sandoval, Louis Powell, Alex Yrigollen, Gabriel Huerta, Frank Clement, Raymond “Chavo” Perez and James Mario Perez. (As of September 2013, when prisoners suspended the third hunger strike.) The CDCr has dispersed the leadership by sending some people to other SHUs, including Tehachapi and Corcoran prisons. These prisoners largely remain in isolation, despite some having been sent to general population. According to the prisoners themselves and those in close contact with them, rather than suffering a complete collapse in leadership and unity, the prisoners have reorganized and reconstituted an inclusive structure by bringing more people into representative and leadership positions in these other prisons. Their ability to organize and build new leadership has defied the CDCr’s attempts to demobilize and demoralize the struggle.
What the CDCr is peddling as a reform is a Step Down Program (SDP). The SDP claims to offer an “incentive-based, multi-step process that affords offenders placed in a Security Housing Unit (SHU) due to validations and/or documented Security Threat Group (STG) behaviors [‘STG’ replacing the word ‘gang’ in policy], the opportunity to earn enhanced privileges and to demonstrate the ability to refrain from STG behavior, with the ultimate goal of release from the SHU.” The SDP consists of five steps. Typically steps 1-2 to take a year to complete, although in some cases they can be completed within six months. Steps 3-5 each take a minimum of a year to complete. Each step imposes benchmarks on prisoner behavior and participation. A person may be placed in any step, or may be released to the general population at the SDP review board’s discretion. The best scenario that the average person placed in Step 1 can anticipate is that it will take at least four years before s/he is released from the SHU to the general population – assuming that this is ever even a possibility. A prisoner can be bumped back by administrative discretion with no due process. Informing on fellow prisoners is also an element of the SDP. Most of those who led the strike have refused to go along with the new program. Mutope Duguma at Pelican Bay says, “We have been able to examine, evaluate and investigate the STG and SDP policies and we unanimously reject them, because simply put, they are more of the same. They empower the previous policies that we were initially peacefully protesting.”
The CDCr has also tried to use the SDP as a response to the class action civil suit – hoping a dispersal of plaintiffs would nullify their claims and standing as a class within the courts. However, the courts ruled that despite being dispersed, prisoners who met the criterion of 10 years or more in isolation continue to have standing in raising constitutional questions about prolonged isolation.
Conditions for prisoners and their families, particularly following the strikes are very serious. As Mutope Duguma says, “CDCr has turned up its attacks, making it worse for each and every prisoner and his or her family. New regulations on personal property and on ‘obscenity’ – actually censorship, a direct attack on free speech – have been implemented, and the proposed regulations to use canine searches of visitors – a direct attack on our families – are not yet approved but are in effect on a temporary basis.”
Since 2011, imprisoned people living in some of the worst conditions imaginable have been able to organize and take collective action. They have created unity around agreed-upon goals and have coordinated multiple strategies using diverse tactics. Prisoners understand that their fight, like most freedom struggles, is long term. They have built alliances with different movements, peoples, and communities.
The CDCr’s primary goal is to maintain control and legitimacy – using whatever means. The state of California may be forced to offer some concessions given the advances made by the prisoners’ struggle. Some individuals will experience improved conditions, but we would do well to remember the warning of political prisoner Jamil Al-Amin (speaking then as H. Rap Brown), “We tend to equate progress with concessions. We can no longer make that mistake.”
The strike of 2011-2013 and the unity reflected by the coordinated action of 30,000 prisoners will continue to embolden those at the center of the struggle, and with the support of our families and communities, will empower ongoing challenges to the violence of imprisonment, policing and social inequity. The strikes have helped to generate national movement against solitary confinement joined by people inside and outside prisons in many different states. Several states have pending legislation against long-term solitary confinement. Most importantly public consciousness is shifting to understand that it is torture and must be ended. As one of the statements from prison hunger strikers at Pelican Bay said: “This struggle has contributed to progressively changing attitudes in society and prisons. Our collective efforts have repeatedly exposed the state’s contradictions and sparked the Peoples appetite for freedom and new social relationships.”
Monday, 13 July 2015 10:04
| Raymond and Beverly Sackler
The richest newcomer to Forbes 2015 list of America’s Richest Families comes in at a stunning $14 billion. The Sackler family, which owns Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma, flew under the radar when Forbes launched its initial list of wealthiest families in July 2014, but this year they crack the top-20, edging out storied families like the Busches, Mellons and Rockefellers.
How did the Sacklers build the 16th-largest fortune in the country? The short answer: making the most popular and controversial opioid of the 21st century — OxyContin.
Purdue, 100% owned by the Sacklers, has generated estimated sales of more than $35 billion since releasing its time-released, supposedly addiction-proof version of the painkiller oxycodone back in 1995. Its annual revenues are about $3 billion, still mostly from OxyContin. The Sacklers also own separate drug companies that sell to Asia, Latin America, Canada and Europe, together generating similar total sales as Purdue’s operation in the United States.
Forbes estimates that the combined value of the drug operations, as well as accumulated dividends over the years, puts the Sackler family’s net worth at a conservative $14 billion. The family also has an extensive philanthropic legacy, highlighted by large gifts to museums (including the Metropolitan Museum of Art Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the Tate Gallery and the Louvre) and numerous universities, including Harvard, Oxford, Columbia,Tufts, NYU and the University of Edinburgh.
The Sacklers’ OxyContin score came long after the family initially got into the pharmaceutical business. Brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler — each practicing psychiatrists — bought a small, struggling drug manufacturer in New York City in 1952, which would eventually become Purdue Pharma. The brothers initially sold small-time products like laxative and earwax remover.
Arthur, simultaneously, was a standout in the field of medical advertising. He helped Pfizer PFE +1.48% establish itself in the prescription drug arena, and he is credited with writing scientific papers that contributed to Valium becoming the first $100 million drug, according to his listing in the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.
By the time Arthur died in 1987 at age 73, brothers Mortimer and Raymond had Purdue Pharma dabbling in pain medications. They eventually took generic painkiller oxycodone — invented in World War I-era Germany — and installed a timed-release mechanism, which promised to stymie abuse by spreading the drug’s effects over half-day period. This enabled them to market it beyond the traditional target audience for powerful opioids — cancer patients — and not long after OxyContin’s launch in 1995, primary-care doctors were prescribing it for an array of painful symptoms. Sales hit $1.5 billion by 2002.
AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
But the drug wasn’t as abuse-resistant as it claimed. Someone looking for a fix could just crush the pills to break the time-release mechanism, then snort the powder for a heroin-like high. Addiction, overdoses and accidental deaths followed, and Purdue Pharma found itself facing charges that it had misbranded OxyContin as far less risky than it was. In 2007, Purdue paid $635 million in fines after pleading guilty to false marketing charges by the Department of Justice. (Sackler family members were never charged.)
The company reformulated OxyContin in recent years, making it far more difficult to abuse, but it is still reckoning with lawsuits stemming from its earlier, oft-abused iteration. A case brought by the State of Kentucky also alleging false marketing has been winding its way through the courts since 2007, and damages could exceed $1 billion.
Company spokesman Raul Damas says Purdue Pharma denies wrongdoing in this case, noting that courts in Kentucky and across the United States have dismissed similar cases against Purdue because the evidence did not establish that the company’s marketing caused the harm alleged.
Raymond Sackler, 94, is the only remaining living Purdue Pharma cofounder, though neither he nor his family are actively involved in day-to-day management of their drug companies anymore.
Monday, 13 July 2015 09:48
| Was/Is Elaine Brown an agent?
Seated far left of course...lol
My First remembrance of Elaine brown was while I was conducting
security for Eldridge Cleaver, October 1968. After Eldridge gave a
rousing speech at Pauley Pavillion, UCLA, this girl came to the
security gate crying and begging to meet Eldridge. She was escorted
to Bunchy Carter, whom I was standing with and he began to question
her. She said that she was Elaine brown and was in awe of Eldridge and
wanted to meet him. Bunchy arranged the meeting after consulting w/
Eldridge. During that period, I was assisting Bunchy w/developing his
security forces and techniques and made note of this breech of
protocol .(Eldridge later explained that she only wanted him to crappity smack
her and he saw it as his duty to implement his "thingy Power"
program). The next time I remember seeing Elaine was a couple of
months later because it'd been reported to me that she was John
Huggins' new lover while his wife Erika was pregnant . At that time
Elaine was dubbed as another girl who wanted to have sex w/men in
leadership positions which placed her in a higher suspicion in my
security files. Bunchy and I were sharing an apartment and I remember
that night we discussed John Huggins' relationship w/Elaine and how
displeased Bunchy was w/John's sexual activities w/this girl because
Bunchy felt very close to Erika and didn't want her to find this out.
I had no idea that but a few weeks after this (1/17/69) on the campus
of UCLA at a carefully per-arranged* meeting between the US group and
the Panthers, that elaine brown would incite a ruckus by slapping one
of the US members whom she also had sexual relations with, then ran
to John Huggins screaming that "She'd" been assaulted by this US
member ! John Huggins immediately pulled a 357 magnum from his waist
and shot at the US member who returned fire resulting in Huggins and
Bunchy's deaths ! ! During the police investigation, Elaine brown
lied and wrongfully attested
that the Steiner Brothers had murdered
Bunchy and John w/out provocation. She then continued this lie all
the way to the witness stand in LA Superior court resulting in the
wrongful conviction of 1 st degree murder of George and Larry St
Steiner who are still being persecuted till this day. (her testimony
a matter of public record). The pandemonium and turmoil that ensued
the death of our most revered leader Bunchy, made it nearly
impossible to get hold of the raging fratricidal situation but as
soon as the smoke began to clear. the pieces began to fall into place
clearly implicating elaine brown as the instigator of the entire
deathly drama ! This information was known to me "Prior" to my
agreement to continue Bunchy's program in the capacity of Deputy
Minister of Defense of the Liberation Forces there in Southern
California . So it is impossible for Elaine to have joined any
formation of which I was in charge as I was very meticulous/selective
re new membership . Further, I am sure that we never permitted
membership to ANYONE who testified for the pig so-called justice
system as they were known, as "Snitches and/or "Rats" .
My security reports were sent to various leaders in the movement but
was continually watered down by those "Leaders" who had become victim
to elaine's sexual manipulations. Each time I received reports of
elaine brown popping up in Oakland, Chicago, Connecticut, etc., I'd
act quickly to banish her and I'd then render whatever form of
discipline necessary to those who'd hosted her. Our main obstacle
in handling this at that time was the sad alienation of Eldridge who
had by then fled and was our International Ambassador and was adamant
in giving Elaine brown "another chance " . So it was decided that she
would be sent to work w/Eldridge and she'd finally be out of our
hair. Eldridge told me years later that that was the biggest mistake
he'd made while there cuz as soon as she got to Algeria, unity began
to crumble, and before he could rectify the situation, Elaine was
gone . It was now 1970 and Huey had just been released. Elaine
somehow ended up right in Huey's bed and as Huey told me in 1988,
"She kept cocaine e and sexy women on him everyday/night" . Huey also
admitted that it was Elaine who'd inflamed his hatred against Eldridge
resulting in the infamous phone call that marked a clear split in the
top leadership of that important sector of the Black Liberation
Movement. During that stint in Quentin 1988,Huey refused to leave
the prison unless I was released first because he stated that he had
ordered key exculpatory witnesses not to testify on my behalf because
he was misled to believe what agents like Elaine brown wanted him to
believe. I remember Huey reflecting on the strange fact that was
revealed in my trial that Elaine brown's name was on th e receipt
from the paint shop that changed the color of my car and how that bit
of info opened his ever-drugged eyes to suspect . Then he told me
that he learned that she'd testified for the pigs lying on those
brothers, as he put it, when everyone knew that they did not shoot
Bunchy nor John. H e said it took months for him to raise out of that
euphoria and realize that he was surrounded by agents. He then put
Elaine in his "Panther Jail" but was over taken by a barrage of
"Advisors who'd constantly tell him that he was going thru a severe
stage of paranoia." Next thing he said he remembered was that Elaine
was out of his jail and had gotten Masai to get her back in the
mix .All throughout these conversations, Huey made sure to mention
Elaine brown's complicity as an fbi agent ,including her occasional
meetings w/the "same white dude". I remember stopping him to say that
way back in 1970, Nsondi (aka Sandra "Red" Pratt) was the first to
report to me about elaine's meeting w/this wh ite fella at a LAX
hotel. We now know that the white dude was the same "Kennedy" super-
mind- control CIA chief of psy-war operations against many key forces
for Black Liberation including SCLC !
There is much much more irrefutable evidence that continues to expose
this sad sally for the COINTEL conspirators but do not lose sight of
the fact that this girl Elaine was brought to ucla for psychiatric
treatment which seems to be a per-requisite for patsies of elaine's
type and that she was but one, tho a very important one, of so many
others who were used , unwittingly , as moles , provocateurs, et cet
It's a low down dirty and a doggone shame that here in 2007 elaine is
still being used to now attack the beautiful Fighter for True Justice
Cynthia Mckinney and if there is more I can do to assist, don't
hesitate to let me know.
Geronimo ji Jaga
WASHINGTON -- Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed with the majority in a capital punishment case Thursday. But in an unusual move, he dedicated almost all of hisconcurring opinion to condemning the practice of solitary confinement in the nation's prisons, even though the issue, of his own admission, had "no direct bearing" on the case.
The case concerned whether the defendant, Hector Ayala, should have been able to argue that prosecutors intentionally excluded black and Hispanic jurors during his 1989 trial for a triple murder during a San Diego drug robbery four years earlier. The trial judge asked prosecutors to justify why they had excused all seven potential minority jurors, but accepted their explanations in a private hearing without providing an opportunity for Ayala's lawyers to respond.
On Thursday, the court's conservative wing, joined by Kennedy, held that any jury selection error in the case was harmless, overturning a decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Kennedy's lengthy opinion concerning how Ayala was incarcerated, he noted that Ayala had been isolated for most of his 25 years of custody. The justice wrote that at least 25,000 of the country's inmates are serving a substantial amount of their sentence in isolation, "many regardless of their conduct in prison."
"If [Ayala's] solitary confinement follows the usual pattern, it is likely respondent has been held for all or most of the past 20 years or more in a windowless cell no larger than a typical parking spot for 23 hours a day; and in the one hour when he leaves it, he likely is allowed little or no opportunity for conversation or interaction with anyone," Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy's opinion emphasized growing evidence that solitary confinement irreparably harms prisoners, quoting authors Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky along the way. Crucially, he invites litigation -- which is already winding its way through the federal court system -- over the issue. Kennedy frequently serves as the court's swing vote, so this invitation may hearten criminal justice reform advocates.
"In a case that presented the issue, the judiciary may be required, within its proper jurisdiction and authority, to determine whether workable alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if so, whether a correctional system should be required to adopt them," he wrote.
The justice suggested that the public wasn't sufficiently interested in how prisoners are incarcerated.
"Too often, discussion in the legal academy and among practitioners and policymakers concentrates simply on the adjudication of guilt or innocence," he argued. "Too easily ignored is the question of what comes next. Prisoners are shut away -- out of sight, out of mind. It seems fair to suggest that, in decades past, the public may have assumed lawyers and judges were engaged in a careful assessment of correctional policies, while most lawyers and judges assumed these matters were for the policymakers and correctional experts."
Kennedy's condemnation of solitary confinement provoked sarcastic disagreement from Justice Clarence Thomas, who was also in the court's majority. Thomas argued that Ayala's accommodations in prison were better than those of his victims.
"I join the Court’s opinion explaining why Ayala is not entitled to a writ of habeas corpus from this or any other federal court," Thomas wrote. "I write separately only to point out, in response to the separate opinion of JUSTICE KENNEDY, that the accommodations in which Ayala is housed are a far sight more spacious than those in which his victims, Ernesto Dominguez Mendez, Marcos Antonio Zamora, and Jose Luis Rositas, now rest. And, given that his victims were all 31 years of age or under, Ayala will soon have had as much or more time to enjoy those accommodations as his victims had time to enjoy this Earth."
Kennedy's advocacy on the issue has previously gone beyond the pages of his opinions: In March, he told a House of Representatives subcommittee that "solitary confinement literally drives men mad." The stance fits in with Kennedy's overall emphasis on the concept of dignity.
In his Thursday opinion, Kennedy suggested that the public is increasingly becoming aware of the issue. He cited news articles about Kalief Browder, who committed suicide earlier this month after being put in solitary for roughly two-thirds of his three years at New York City's Rikers Island jail complex. Browder was charged with stealing a backpack, but was confined to solitary without standing trial or being found guilty of the charge.
"Over 150 years ago, Dostoyevsky wrote, 'The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,'" Kennedy concluded. "There is truth to this in our own time."