IWOC: Prisoners at the ACI punished for possession of legally protected union literature

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The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (DOC) has held four men for over ten days in solitary confinement at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) for allegedly possessing union literature, according to a statement. The four men – Joseph Shepard, Ryan Callahan, Anthony Meo and a fourth whose name is unknown – were transferred from the general population of the ACI’s John J Moran Medium 1 Facility into solitary confinement between February 21-22 in an apparent attempt by the DOC to prevent legitimate and legal efforts towards addressing the inhumane conditions at the ACI. As of Friday March 1, at least two of the four men have yet to even be booked for the alleged violations on which they are being held.

While under solitary confinement – or “disciplinary confinement”, as it’s referred to by the DOC – all four are being denied access to legal documents, rehabilitative and therapeutic programs and adequate medical care. Contact with their families and supporters is limited to a single ten-minute phone call each day. A lawyer with knowledge of the case said, “A filing deadline in one of the men’s cases against the Department of Corrections has already been missed for lack of access to legal documents, and the restrictions will almost certainly interfere with the individual’s ability to show up in court. “

In a preliminary statement about the situation, Ryan Callahan comments:

“I was [brought] down here without any answers, without any [of my] property. I’ve been down here for over a week now and have not been booked. […] I have not been able to speak with the psychiatrist whom I have an appointment with and missed. That appointment has not been rescheduled. The orthotic insole to my shoe has not been provided to me. As far as medicine, I have been receiving just the medicine that I’m prescribed. I have basically been kicked out of all the programs I was attending (Providence Center, 9 Yards, CCRI, College Unbound, and parenting.)”

Prior to this current solitary confinement, two of the people being held – Joseph Shepard and Ryan Callahan – had filed separate federal lawsuits against the RIDOC. In one of those lawsuits, among other grievances, Shepard cites prison conditions and disciplinary practices that he argues amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of rights that are supposed to be protected by the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Shepard also recently sent an extensive 150 page letter to various DOC officials with detailed grievances about conditions at the ACI as well as problems with DOC policies such as the official grievance process itself and arbitrary requirements which severely restrict access to core rehabilitative programs that many inmates need for parole – programs which Shepard and the other three people are at risk of losing access to due to their placement in solitary confinement. That 150 page letter also included clear requests and proposals for how to address the problems outlined in the grievances.

Shepard said that when he asked the the Warden about the letter of grievances, the Warden repilied, “that I wouldn’t be getting a response then he smiled and continued to walk off when I further asked him about the progress of the investigation.“ This has led Shepard to view his being placed in solitary as retaliatory in nature “because I continue, in a positive way, to directly address the harsh confinement of prison conditions not only on behalf of myself, but on behalf of the prison population.”

In 2011, The United Nations’ UN Special Rapporteur on Torture “called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible … saying the practice could amount to torture.” The Rhode Island DOC plans to hold the men for up to 90 days while investigating them. The same UN report recommended an “absolute prohibition” of “solitary confinement in excess of 15 days”, citing scientific evidence for lasting mental damage beyond a few days of social isolation. The 90-day detention policy also flies in the face of Rhode Island’s own 2017 legislative commission report recommending that “only those who commit the most serious predatory offenses will be subject to segregation for more than 31 days [..] Nonpredatory Class 1 offenses would be limited to 30 days and Class 2 offenses would be capped at 20.”

The four individuals stand accused of attempting to “organize a demonstration” because of their alleged possession of literature produced by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-certified labor union with a significant membership in prisons across the country. Additionally, they are also being accused of “signing into an illegal contract” for filling out union membership forms. Others at the facility report having been threatened with the same “disciplinary confinement” if they are found in possession of IWW or Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) literature, or caught talking about the union, indicating that the union’s literature is being treated as contraband by the DOC.

Shepard expressed further thoughts in his statement to the press:

“I use my words on paper to articulate these harsh conditions of confinement and here I sit in segregation, wasting away. My programs have been taken away from me, my CCRI classes, my phone calls, my rec, my visits. I’m on 23 hour lockdown. I deal with PTSD and anxiety and I feel as the days go by that it’s just getting worse. I’m trying to change things for the better but they are specifically trying to deter me and other inmates from filing grievances and from being outspoken about the conditions of confinement.”

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World working to end prison abuse and exploitation.

[1] Ryan Callahan – Statement for the press (3-1-2019): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1cdakPOcLRwBDM73mSg4apOIi897Zvam1

[2] Joseph Shepard – Statement for the press (3-1-2019): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1lzzwRvNTbp0eajeAFMObs-GgoDhB7QyF

[3] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, 2011 report  https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says#.UdsQoT5gaBg

[4] Packet of Grievances About RIDOC and ACI Medium 1 by Joseph W Shepard: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Ey4qDfsiQizQxCI3aTD6uNOEyQyshN7W

[5] Rhode Island legislative committee report on solitary confinement: http://www.rilegislature.gov/pressrelease/_layouts/RIL.PressRelease.ListStructure/Forms/DisplayForm.aspx?List=c8baae31%2D3c10%2D431c%2D8dcd%2D9dbbe21ce3e9&ID=13084&Web=2bab1515%2D0dcc%2D4176%2Da2f8%2D8d4beebdf488

[6] The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is part of the Industrial Workers of the World, a grassroots union for all workers. More information about IWOC is available on the website, https://incarceratedworkers.org

[7] On Monday February 24th, the Deputy Warden of ACI Medium confirmed that at least one of the men was in “disciplinary confinement as part of an ongoing investigation” during a phone call with a union volunteer.


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About Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee 1 Article
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World working to end prison abuse and exploitation.