Part 1 HRC
By Uhuru B. Rowe, Founder
December 25, 2018
History has shown that the individual, disunited voices of incarcerated people will always fall on the deaf ears of prison officials which ensures that our misery and suffering behind the walls will continue unabated. So WE, the Undersigned incarcerated citizens here at Greensville Correctional Center (GRCC), have come together out of necessity to form this Human Rights Committee (HRC) as a mechanism to unite prisoners from different racial groups, religious affiliations, organizational ties, and geographical locations so that WE can speak with ONE VOICE in communicating and articulating our demands to Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) officials and State legislators for humane living conditions, greater access to rehabilitation, an end to slave labor, etc.
The communities and neighborhoods that WE come from also have a stake in the remediation of our demands as we’ll be equipped with the tools that’ll enable us to have a positive and transformative impact on our families, communities, and most importantly, society as a whole which is the highest form of restorative justice and social restitution. So WE ask our family and friends, as well as outside abolitionists, student and community activists, and all those who oppose mass incarceration to assist us in pressuring VDOC officials and State legislators in granting the following demands which some of you are already familiar with from previous posts on https://consciousprisoner.wordpress.com.
1) ABOLISH THE ARBITRARY USE OF GROUP PUNISHMENT OR LEGALIZE GROUP PETITIONS. It is standard practice at all prisons in Virginia (Va) to punish incarcerated citizens as a group because of the misbehavior of one or more people. For example, a small group of prisoners were found to be controlling who accessed the phones in certain pods. So GRCC officials decided to limit all incarcerated people in Housing Units 2, 3, and 8 to just five phone calls a day. This type of group punishment is unfair given that WE are prohited from organizing/circulating group petitions to redress our grievances and have been punished and retaliated against whenever WE have have done so. If we are punished as a group, then WE should have the right to redress our grievances as a group. Therefore, WE demand that either group punishment is abolished or WE be allowed to organize/circulate group petitions to redress the conditions of our confinement.
2) PROVIDE HEALTHY AND NUTRITIOUS MEALS. According to GRCC Offender Orientation Manual (OOM), page 27, “Offenders assigned to [GRCC] are served meals that are nutritiously adequate …”. This is a blantant lie as the food served to us at GRCC is abysmal. At almost every lunch and dinner meal, WE are served a type of processed meat (known to us and staff as “meatrock”) which is served in rice or noodles or as sloppy Joe. It is common knowledge that a regular diet high in prcessed meats like “meatrock” increases the likelihood that a person will develop cancer and other ill health effects. Additionally, WE are routinely served food portions that are half the portions WE are supposed to receive which is causing us to lose weight and experience lethargy, depression, malnourishment, and fatigue. Because such a poor diet high in processed meats and low in calories and nutrients, and which increases our chances of developing cancer and other ill heath effects, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, WE demand that WE be served meals that are truly healthy and nutritious and are indispensable to the proper functioning of a healthy human being.
3) PROVIDE SAFE AND CLEAN DRINKING WATER. Incarcerated citizens in Va are forced to drink water that is brown, foul tasting and foul smelling as a result of it being contaminated with dirt, rust, high levels of manganese, chlorine, and possibly other unknown contaminants like lead. Each time WE have complained about this water, WE are told it is safe to drink. However, because prison employees are advised not to drink this water and because of the negative side effects we’ve often experienced after consuming it (e.g. nausea, cramps, headaches, diarrhea) this is proof that the water is unsafe and is putting our health and lives at risk. Denying any human being — including those of us in jails, prisons, and detention centers — access to safe and clean drinking water constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So WE demand that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Va Dept. of Environmental Quality routinely test the water and water filtration systems at all Va prisons to determine if WE are being provided water that is truly free of toxins and other pollutants. Additionally, WE demand that WE be provided two bottles of purified water daily, free of charge, until the above mentioned agencies have tested the water and have determined it is safe to drink.
4) ABOLISH THE CAPITATED FINANCING SCHEME WHICH INCENTIVIZES SUBSTANDARD MEDICAL CARE. Medical services at nearly all Va prisons are contracted out to a private, for-profit corporation known as Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc. (Armor). This contract is based on the “capitated financing” scheme which was exposed in the case of Scott v. Clarke, 2014 WL 6609087 (W.D. Va. 2014). Under this scheme, Armor receives a fixed amount of money, per prisoner, from the VDOC regardless of the level or quality of medical care it provides to us incarcerated citizens. Armor knows that the less treatment it provides, the greater its profits. As expected, this capitated financing scheme incentivizes substandard medical care and has resulted in delayed responses to our sick call requests; delays in the diagnosis and treatment of our illnesses; failure to refer us, or the delay in referring us, to outside specialists; failure to carry out a specialist’s prescribed course or method of treatment; and an almost complete denial of dental care due to the absence of a permanent dentist at most prisons. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011), “Prisoners are dependent on the State for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A person’s failure to provide sustenance for inmates may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death.” In order to bring an end to our physical torture and lingering death as a result of the substandard medical care provided by Armor, WE demand that the capitated financing clause be stricken from Armor’s contract with the VDOC so that WE can receive full medical and dental care. If Armor refuses to agree to such a restructuring of its contract, then WE demand that Armor’s contract with the VDOC be immediately terminated and the State resume providing us with the medic care that WE need.
5) ABOLISH MEDICAL CO-PAY FEES. Anyone who has ever served time or are familiar with prisons knows that many of the illnesses incarcerated people develop and suffer from are the direct result of poor living conditions like unhealthy food and dirty/contaminated drinking water. Because the living conditions in prison often cause or exacerbates poor physical health, incarcerated people should have access to free health care. Therefore, WE demand that Va Code section 53.1-32, which authorizes the VDOC to levy medical co-pay fees against incarcerated people in exchange for prison health care services, be repealed to allow FREE and FULL health care.
6) PROVIDE EQUAL ACCESS TO ACADEMIC/VOCATIONAL/TREATMENT PROGRAMS AND WORK ASSIGNMENTS REGARDLESS OF THE SENTENCE BEING SERVED. According to GRCC OOM, page 3, “There will be equal access to programs and work assignments …”. This is also a blatant lie as incarcerated people serving a life sentence or due facto (numerical) life sentences (Lifers) are routinely passed over for enrollment in CTE (Career and Technical Education) and treatment programs in favor of those with shorter sentences. The end result is that Lifers have been on some waiting list for CTE and treatment programs for years. This has created an environment where many of us are left with little to no mental stimulation or constructive activity and too much time spent in idleness where our mental faculties have begun to deteriorate. In order to remedy this problem, WE demand that all incarcerated people, regardless of their length of sentence or release date, have full and equal access to all available CTE and treatment programs.
7) REPEAL THE DRACONIAN MAIL AND VISITATION POLICIES. Under the new draconian mail policy which went into effect in 2017, all incoming letters from our loved-ones, including pictures and greeting cards, are photocopied. (You can see the mail policy at https://vadoc.virginia.gov/offenders/prison-life/mail.shtm.) The original letters, pictures, and greeting cards are (allegedly) shredded in the institutional mailroom. Additionally, this mail policy places a three page (front and back) limit on all incoming letters from our loved-ones, which includes a copy of the envelope itself. Under the visitation policy which went into effect the same year, the following are now required: A) WE are now required to wear a state-issued jumpsuit that zips up in the back during visitation. These jumpsuits resemble those worn by patients in an old insane asylum. B) At some prisons, our loved ones are required to exit the visiting area and return all the way back to the front entrance in order to use the restroom. If they wish to return to the visiting area, they must submit to another dehumanizing search. Making our visitors return to the front entrance to use the restroom takes away from the already limited time WE have to spend with our loved-ones. C) Our visitors are now required to pass through a radiation emitting full body scanner which puts them (especially young children) at risk of developing cancer and which reveals the most intimate parts of their bodies. The VDOC’s crackdown on our mail and visitation — under the guise of trying to control the flow of drugs into the prisons — are meant to discourage, if not outright sever, the already delicate social ties existing between incarcerated people and our family and friends. Because these social ties play an integral role in helping us to maintain a positive attitude while in prison and helping us to successfully reintegrate back into society once released, WE demand that the mail and visitation policies implemented in in 2017 be rescinded.
8) INCREASE WAGES FOR ALL INCARCERATED WORKERS. Incarcerated workers employed by the various Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE) sweatshops are paid an hourly wage of up to .80 cents. Non-VCE incarcerated workers are paid an hourly wage of either .27cents, .35 cents, or .45 cents for unskilled, semiskilled, and skilled work, respectively. These are all state-sanctioned slave wages as incarcerated workers are not considered employees of the state per Va Code section 40.1-28.9(B)(7). This law was created specifically to disqualify incarcerated workers from receiving, at the very least, the prevailing minimum wage of the State. Because the current wage of incarcerated workers is tantamount to a slave wage, and because a minimum wage will allow incarcerated workers to support our families (many of whom are poor and low-income) and make restitution to the victims (or the families of the victims) of our crimes which is the highest form of restorative justice and social restitution, WE demand that Va Code section 40.1-28.9(B)(7) be amended classifying incarcerated workers as “employees” of the state so that we’ll qualify for the prevailing minimum wage per the Virginia Minimum Wage Act (VA Code section 40.1-28.10) and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. section 206).
9) CREATE AN INDEPENDENT GRIEVANCE COORDINATOR/OMBUDSMAN TO PROCESS AND INVESTIGATE ALL PRISONER GRIEVANCES. The grievance procedure as it is presently constructed is inherently biased against incarcerated citizens who utilize it to lodge complaints and grievances to redress staff misconduct and inhuman prison conditions. This is so because in all cases the Grievance Coordinator/Institutional Ombudsman has a cozy working relationship with the same prison employees he/she is tasked with investigating for acts of abuse, neglect, and human rights violations. This obvious conflict of interest has often resulted in our Informal Complaints and Regular Grievances being thrown into the trash and our Regular Grievances being rejected for bogus reasons in order to 1) maintain a strict code of silence and secrecy among VDOC employees; 2) coverup the abuse, neglect, and human/constitutional rights violations perpetrated by prison employees in order to shield them from accountability; and 3) hinder us from filing/pursuing state and federal civil suits against VDOC employees because in order to pursue such a suit, the Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that WE first exhaust all available administrative grievance remedies to their highest level.
WE cannot exhaust these remedies if our complaints/grievances are thrown into the trash or if our grievances are rejected for bogus reasons. Because of the high level of corruption inherent in the current grievance system, WE demand that an Independent (non-VDOC employed) Grievance Coordinator/ Ombudsman be established for every prison. Such an Independent (non-VDOC employed) Grievance Coordinator/ Ombudsman shall be tasked with the duty of receiving and investigating any allegation of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and human/constitutional rights violations alleged to have been perpetrated by any prison official/employee and shall report any findings of fact and conclusion of any investigation directly to the Governor of Virginia.
10) ALLOW CONJUGAL VISITS. The VDOC currently has a ban on conjugal visits. Such a ban contradicts its motto of “Public Safety First” because countless studies have shown that incarcerated people who are able to maintain healthy family relationships — including marital bonds — are least likely to re-offend. So if public safety is truly first on the VDOC list of priorities, then marital bonds between incarcerated people and our spouses would be strengthened and nurtured, not discouraged. Instead, incarcerated people are allowed to marry but are not allowed to consummate that marriage and people who were already married prior to incarceration are not allowed to engage in healthy sexual relations with our spouses (even in a safe and secure environment). This not only punishes incarcerated husbands and wives but also our law-abiding spouses.
The ban on the consummation of marriages and healthy marital sexual relations puts an extra strain on marriages already made fragile by mass incarceration and often leads to the divorces leaving many incarcerated people without a valuable support system upon our release. This runs counter to public safety. Therefore, WE demand that newly married incarcerated people be allowed to consummate that marriage and that conjugal visits be allowed on a quarterly basis at all security level 3 and below prisons in Virginia.
11) ALLOW THE NEWS MEDIA TO ACCESS ANY STATE PRISON AND CORRECTIONAL FACILITY. Incarcerated people are isolated and hidden away outside of the public eye within a vast network of prisons where there is little to no transparency. This makes incarcerated people vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and other criminal and inhumane acts perpetrated by prison officials. Therefore, WE demand that print, internet, and television media be allowed unlimited, unrestricted access into any state prison and correctional facility and be allowed to use any audio, video, or other recording equipment when surveying the inside of any prison and correctional facility and interview any incarcerated person. The implementation of this policy will allow for greater transparency and allow the media to expose to the public what has always been hidden behind a wall of lies, corruption, secrecy, and cover-ups by VDOC officials.
13) ALLOW MORE OUTSIDE RECREATION. We are allowed outside recreation at GRCC, on average once or twice a week, leaving us with little to no time for exercise in order to stay healthy and physically fit. This runs counter to VDOC motto of “Public Safety First” because the lack of fresh air, exercise, and leisurely physical activities promotes (not prevent) poor physical and mental health, e.g. muscle atrophy, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other adverse effects. So, in the interest of public safety, WE demand more time for outside recreation and exercise so that, upon returning to our families and communities, we’ll be in the best physical and mental health as possible.
Tens of thousands of incarcerated people are released back into communities across Va every year. If VDOC and State government officials are serious about public safety, it will implement these policy changes. And if you, the People, are truly interested in incarcerated people returning back to our (your) communities whole human beings who are fully rehabilitated and physically and mentally healthy, then WE ask that you assist us by pressuring VDOC and State officials to grant our demands. You can do this by calling Governor Ralph Northam at 804-786-2211, Secretary of Public Safety Brian P. Moran at 804-786-5351, VDOC Director Harold Clarke at 804-674-300, and your the delegate and senator of your district and expressing your support for the above demands for commonsense prison policy changes. You can find out the names and contact info of the delegate and senator in your district at