[sixties-l] Fwd: Black Panther's nine-year solitary confinement upheld by court

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Jun 06 2000 - 00:18:22 CUT

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    >Date: Sat, 3 Jun 2000 15:18:53 -0500 (CDT)
    >From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
    >Subject: court upholds nine-year solitary confinement of Black Panther
    >WSWS : News & Analysis : North America : The Brutal Society
    >US court upholds nine-year solitary confinement of Philadelphia man
    >By Tom Bishop
    >3 June 2000
    >A three-judge panel of the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia
    >has unanimously ruled that Pennsylvania authorities may continue the
    >nine-year solitary confinement of Russell Shoats, a former member of a
    >militant black activists' organization.
    >In the decision, Circuit Judge Richard L. Nygaard of Erie, said Shoats has
    >been in the "hole" since June 1991 "because he is, in the considered
    >judgment of all the prison professionals who have evaluated him, a current
    >threat to ... security, and ... to the safety of other people." ( To read
    >the court's decision go to:
    >Shoats is in "administrative custody" at the State Correctional
    >Institution at Greene in Western Pennsylvania. He is kept in his cell 23
    >hours a day, five days a week, and 24 hours a day for the other two days.
    >He eats meals alone. He has been denied visits with family for eight
    >years. He has no organized activities, no radio, no TV, no telephone calls
    >"except emergency or legal calls," no books other than legal materials
    >"and a personal religious volume." At the appeal hearing, prison officials
    >acknowledged that they generally are concerned about the psychological
    >damage to an inmate after 90 days of such confinement and would generally
    >recommend transfer to the general population after 90 days as a
    >Shoats was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly participating with
    >five other activists in the August 29, 1970 shooting of Fairmount Park
    >Police Sgt. Frank Von Colin in Philadelphia. Shoats was part of the Black
    >Unity Movement, one of several paramilitary groups that formed during the
    >period in response to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's initiating COINTELPRO
    >in 1968, a program which included infiltration and disruption of the Black
    >Panther Party. The program led to the murder of dozens of members of the
    >Black Panther Party and the frame-ups of many more. In the decision to
    >continue Shoats' solitary confinement, Judge Nygaard said, "Shoats
    >participated in the attack as a member of a black revolutionary group that
    >sought to eradicate all authority."
    >Tensions were high in Philadelphia in the summer of 1970 because
    >Philadelphia Police Chief Frank Rizzo had ordered a crackdown on militant
    >groups in the run-up to the national convention of the Black Panther Party
    >in Philadelphia on September 5, 1970. The shooting of Von Colin prompted a
    >2 a.m. raid on the Black Panther headquarters in North Philadelphia. After
    >the raid police officials allowed news photographers to take humiliating
    >photos of the Black Panthers being strip searched on the street.
    >Shoats escaped from Huntingdon State Prison for 27 days in 1977, and for 3
    >days in 1980 from the Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
    >After the 1977 escape, he was kept in the "hole" from 1977 to 1982 except
    >for the one year he spent at Fairview. Shoats had been sent to Fairview by
    >the court after he was diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic. He had
    >previously attempted jail breaks in 1972 and 1976.
    >In a 1982 interview with the radio station WQRO at the Huntingdon County
    >Courthouse where Shoats was being retried for a kidnapping and robbery
    >during his 1977 escape, Shoats said, "I don't feel as though I'm guilty
    >for what I'm charged with.... Consequently, I've always got the hope that
    >somewhere along the line I'll get out of prison."
    >Five members of the Black Unity Movement were convicted of first-degree
    >murder in Von Colin's death. The sixth, Richard Thomas, fled and was at
    >large for 26 years. He was arrested in suburban Chicago in March 1996. The
    >only incriminating evidence found in Thomas's apartment in 1970 was a
    >telephone book with numerous names, including those of several
    >codefendants in the case.
    >Prosecutors tried to persuade two men convicted in the killing, Hugh
    >Sinclair Williams and Alvin Joiner, to testify against Thomas in exchange
    >for a recommendation by prosecutors that their life sentences would be
    >commuted, but the defendants refused. Thomas, who did not testify,
    >contended that he fled because he feared he would be railroaded - or shot
    >- by police after he was identified as a suspect. Thomas was acquitted in
    >a jury trial on November 3, 1999. Juror Bill Forman said, "Some black
    >jurors remembered the times - 1970 - that it had been difficult being a
    >black." The jury included six blacks and six whites.
    >The use of solitary confinement has a long tradition in Pennsylvania. In
    >1829, Eastern State Penitentiary opened in Philadelphia. It was the
    >creation of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of
    >Public Prisons, a group of "free thinkers" and Quakers. Instead of the
    >previous methods of punishment by torture, dismemberment and death, they
    >advocated solitary confinement where the prisoners could meditate on their
    >sins and resolve to live a better life.
    >Known as the "Pennsylvania System," it was considered progressive because
    >it combined punishment and hoped for reform. All of the cell blocks
    >radiated from a central rotunda that allowed maximum security and
    >surveillance. Inmates were alone in individual cells that had a bed, a
    >toilet, a worktable, a small exercise yard, a skylight and a Bible. Human
    >contact was kept to the minimum possible. The penitentiary's radical
    >design became the model for 300 similar prisons in Europe, Asia and South
    >America. The practice of solitary confinement as a prison-wide policy was
    >abandoned at the prison by the end of the nineteenth century because it
    >was found to drive inmates insane. The prison closed in 1971 and is now a
    >national historic landmark.
    >After touring Eastern State in 1842, the British novelist Charles Dickens
    >condemned solitary confinement, stating: "I hold this slow and daily
    >tampering with the mysteries of the brain is immeasurably worse than any
    >torture of the body." ( See "Philadelphia and its Solitary prison" from
    >"American Notes" by Charles Dickens:
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