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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Prison's Justice System -- January 28, 2010

Similar to the criminal justice system, there is a rudimentary justice system for adjudicating rule infractions in prison. Guards act like police and prosecutors, an adjustment committee acts as a judge or jury, and the grievance officer and administrative review board acts similar to a state and federal appellate court. Prisoners have very few rights, and are not permitted a lawyer or anything resembling counsel. Most anything a guard accuses an inmate of, he or she is found guilty. Charges brought against an inmate in a disciplinary report need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is left to an inmate to prove their innocence.

There are a number of rule violations a prisoner can be charged with. Many of these are ambiguous and broad in scope, giving guards wide latitude. Some are extremely petty, and many guards do not bother even writing up a ticket. The more serious offenses an inmate can face are: assault, dangerous contraband, escape, security threat group activity, bribery/extortion, arson, electronic contraband, impeding an investigation, or dangerous disturbance. Dangerous disturbance is defined as "Causing, directing, or participating in any action or group activity that may seriously disrupt activities, or endanger the facility, persons, or property, including the taking or holding of hostages by force, or threat of force, and engaging in prohibited group activities such as work stoppages, or hunger strikes." I have seen many inmates be charged with "dangerous disturbance" for trying to unify inmates to go on strike, refuse food trays, or other passive resistance ideas.

Security threat group/unauthorized organizational activity is probably the most charged serious offense, due to how broad in scope it is, and how fearful the administration is of gangs. It is defined as "Engaging, pressuring, or authorizing others to engage in security threat groups or unauthorized activities, meetings, or criminal acts, displaying, wearing, possessing, or using security threat group or unauthorized organizational insignia or materials, or giving security threat group or unauthorized organizational signs. Unauthorized organizational activity shall include engaging in the above activities by or on behalf of an organization that has not been approved pursuant to 20 IL Adm. Code 445 or 450." Many prisoners are sent to Segregation for the mere suspicion of this rule violation. Suspected gang leaders can be sent to Supermax Tamms indefinitely.

Some of the less serious rule violations are: fighting, gambling, unauthorized movement, failure to report, trading and trafficking, and filing a frivolous lawsuit. I never understood how filing a frivolous lawsuit could be punishable, but according to the rules, a person can lose 6 months of good time credit for doing so. Unauthorized movement is defined as "Being anywhere without authorization or being absent from where required to be, or returning late, or not traveling directly to or from any authorized destination without prior staff approval." I have seen inmates get written up for this when not being at their cell door when a guard is locking up, or if an inmate is found on a gallery he does not live on. I had a cellmate a year ago who merely opened the door of the waiting room at the Internal Affairs office, and he was sent directly to Seg for unauthorized movement. Trading and trafficking is done by every inmate at Stateville. Everyone trades property, or trafficks property. If this rule was enforced, the entire prison population would be guilty. Only the most petty guards will write a disciplinary report for trading and trafficking, but I have seen inmates immediately be handcuffed and taken to Seg for doing so.

There are two types of disciplinary reports: major and minor. The distinction between the two is that minor tickets are heard by the program unit, and not the adjustment committee. Furthermore, an inmate cannot be punished with Segregation for a minor ticket. It is completely up to the discretion of the reporting guard whether to make the ticket a minor or major ticket, and there are no rules or guidelines. Minor tickets are rarely ever written at Stateville, however, I was informed that the Orange Crush unit wrote a number of minor disciplinary tickets for such things as having outdated prescription medication, or medication not in its original packaging, having kitchen seasoning powders, or having magic markers.

All rule violations have a minimum and maximum penalty. All rule violations can be punishable by the discretion of the adjustment committee, with a loss of privileges, B or C grade, good time revocation, or Segregation, except for minor tickets and tickets for a frivolous lawsuit. A loss of privileges could prohibit an inmate from going to yard, having visitors, or in a medium security prison, participation in a particular recreation event. B grade means an inmate at a minimum security prison cannot participate in a work release program. C grade means an inmate's commissary privileges are limited. A prisoner in C grade can only purchase hygiene and paper supplies. The most serious offenses carry a possibility of a year's loss of privileges, B or C grade, good time revocation, or Segregation. Two offenses carry indefinite Segregation time, and those two are violent assault and sexual assault. The least serious offenses, like fighting, carry only one month of punishment.

Last week, I was served with a disciplinary report written by the man from Internal Affairs who interviewed me a few weeks earlier. He was to write me up for "202: damage or misuse of state property, 308: unauthorized property or contraband, 406: trading and trafficking, and 302: gambling. These charges are not applicable, duplicate, or were not substantiated. It was obvious the guard was throwing the book at me in order to possibly persuade the adjustment committee to find me guilty of something, or to justify the confiscation of my property. Indeed, I was told by a source that a disciplinary report would not have even been written if I did not file a grievance about the confiscation of my property. However, even had I known this, I could not have accepted three quarters of my property being taken from me. This was sheer gangsterism and I am furious to have been robbed.

To summarize the disciplinary report I received, I was in possession of a lot of property that I could not prove I had purchased in the last 6 months, and I had what he deemed gambling paraphernalia. The reporting officer deemed an NFL schedule and a college bowl game schedule with dates, times, TV stations, and spreads to be gambling paraphernalia. From these facts, he concluded that I was gambling and procured the vast majority of my property from it. I was guilty of "202: damage or misuse of state property" by using my state-issued property boxes to hold gambling proceeds. I was guilty of "contraband/unauthorized property" because the commissary I had was contraband because I received it from gambling. Finally, I was guilty of "trading/trafficking" because I must have trafficked property in order to gamble.

This disciplinary report is preposterous. Damage/misuse of property is if you throw a rock through a window, or make a jacket out of a state-issued wool blanket. Property boxes are given to inmates to store property in, regardless of what that property is. I could put a Rolex watch in my box and that would not be a misuse of property. What a Rolex watch would be, however, is contraband/unauthorized property. However, commissary sold at the prison where you reside can never be considered contraband or unauthorized property. I have never heard of anyone being charged with trading and trafficking, unless they were actually caught in the act of trading or trafficking, and as mentioned before, only the most petty guards will write an inmate up for this rule violation.

The fact that I own a lot of property, and cannot prove I purchased it in the last 6 months, means nothing. I have been in prison over 15 years, not 6 months. I have photos and books that I have had since before the change of the millennium. I have letters and clothes that I have saved for many years. Until just this last year, I owned a jean jacket that I purchased on my first shop in the IL Department of Corrections. I also had many hygiene supplies, and well preserved foodstuffs for years. You would be surprised how long a package of tuna will stay good. I would not be surprised to learn that it has a shelf life of 20 years. If the police barged into a person's home, and confiscated all the owner's property, and then a few weeks later returned merely that which could be proven to be purchased in the last 6 months, this would be considered a crime. However, in prison, I am the one alleged to have committed a crime.

The guard who wrote me the ticket infers that because I had a couple of football schedules, this is proof that I had been gambling. If football schedules are proof of gambling, half of Stateville, including the guards who work here, are guilty. Ironically, more than half of Stateville's prisoners and staff are guilty of gambling. Gambling is an American pastime; from lottery players to bingo, from poker players to slot machines, and from the racetracks to wagers on sporting events. A major source of revenue for the State of Illinois is the lottery, and riverboat casinos. It is hypocritical for a state to prosecute people who gamble, and its almost universal participation should make the legislature repeal gambling prohibitions. Although prisons can make a different set of circumstances and each prison can create its own rules, only a petty guard would write an inmate a disciplinary report for gambling and take away his peanuts and toothpaste; only a guard attempting to justify the confiscation of an inmate's property would try to substantiate a disciplinary report with a couple of football schedules. In a violent, maximum-security prison, guards should have more to concern themselves with than inmates betting on football games.

A correctional officer who writes an inmate a disciplinary ticket has the option of immediately handcuffing him and taking him to Seg. The time period between an inmate's placement in Seg and his hearing on the matter is called "temporary confinement." Every prison is supposed to have what is called a "reviewing officer." A reviewing officer's job is to review the reasons all inmates are placed in temporary confinement, and determine if the reported facts justify his placement in Seg, or if a disciplinary hearing should even be convened. Sometimes, a guard will put an inmate in Seg and fail to write the ticket. A reviewing officer has the authority to remove an inmate from Seg, or have an unsubstantiated ticket dismissed. However, at Stateville, there is no reviewing officer. Stateville oftentimes does not follow proper laws and rules of procedure.

All disciplinary reports must be made and served on an inmate within 8 days of when a guard learns of an inmate violating a rule. This statute of limitations can be expanded for a month if the reporting guard writes an investigative ticket. Sometimes, the warden will allow an investigation to be continued another month or two, but this is rare. Many inmates are given investigative reports at Stateville. Most often, they are placed in temporary confinement during this period of time. The cellmate of the man who stabbed and beat the guard in my cell house a few weeks ago was placed in Seg, and was served with an investigative report. He had nothing to do with the incident, but Internal Affairs will conduct an investigation nevertheless. He will be released from Seg within 30 days. The guard who wrote my disciplinary ticket failed to write it within the statutory 8 day time limit. He did not write a ticket until January 18th, and I was not served with it until the 20th, 11 days after the statute of limitations. According to the rules, the ticket should be dismissed just on this reason alone, and if Stateville had a reporting officer, the disciplinary report would have been thrown out. However, at Stateville, rules are rarely followed.

It is obvious to me the reporting correctional officer only wrote a disciplinary report after I had filed a grievance on my property being confiscated. The guard had to justify Internal Affairs' taking both of my property boxes, and then returning only a small fraction of my belongings. I was left without basic hygiene and writing supplies, clothes, and legal papers for almost two weeks. Prisoners do not have many rights, but some of the few we do have were violated by the investigative unit of Stateville CC. Had Internal Affairs suspected me of gambling, and followed proper procedure, an investigative report should have been written and served upon me within 8 days. Never would certain basic supplies and papers been taken, and within 30 days all of my property would have been returned. A disciplinary ticket would have been written because I had property above the institution's limits. However, this ticket could not stand because prisoners at Stateville were never informed of the rule.

After an inmate has been served with a disciplinary report, the ticket must be heard within 2 weeks. I was hoping this rule would be violated as well so I would have another issue to appeal. However, this morning I was told to dress in my state blues to hear my ticket. Usually, inmates go to the Adjustment Committee office to hear their tickets. However, the prison is on a level 4 lockdown and my ticket was heard in the sergeant's office in the cell house. Had the prison still been on a level 1 lockdown, the Adjustment Committee would have had to come to my cell to have the hearing.

I was placed in the cell house holding cage while I waited the arrival of the Adjustment Committee. Two other prisoners were in the cage waiting as well. One of them told me he was written up for having a privacy sheet up while he bathed in the sink of his cell. It is unusual for a prisoner to be written up for this rule violation. Most guards do not want to see inmates naked while bathing or using the toilet. Many female guards or staff are insulted or made uncomfortable by naked men. However, the lieutenant who wrote this man the ticket is thought of by Stateville's inmates and staff alike as being a very unpleasant, obnoxious, "bitch". The man written a disciplinary report told me he was not only written up for "210: Impairment of Surveillance" and "403: Disobeying a Direct Order", but "501: Violating State and Federal Laws." When I expressed surprise, the man handed me a copy of the ticket. Sure enough, up at the top the ticket "Violation of State and Federal Laws" was written. I do not know what state or federal law could remotely have been violated by having a privacy sheet up. Oftentimes, guards write down rule violations which are not applicable, and it reminded me of my own disciplinary ticket. I continued to read the description of the report to see if the lieutenant even tried to substantiate how a state or federal law was broken. However, all the ticket said was that on a specific date and time, she saw said offender with a privacy sheet up while she was walking the gallery. Reporting lieutenant told offender to take the sheet down, but was told "I will take it down after I am done washing up." I gave the report back to the man, and he told me he hopes the adjustment committee only gives him a few months of C Grade. I tend to believe this is what his punishment will be, and told him so. There have been times inmates were being sent to Seg for privacy sheets, but not currently.

I waited for almost an hour when the adjustment committee arrived, or rather ONE lieutenant, acting on behalf of the committee. At other prisons, there are usually three people who are part of the committee. One person is supposed to investigate the report, including examining any evidence or interviewing any witnesses. Another person is supposed to be a neutral observer, and the last person is supposed to be an inmate advocate. By law, an adjustment committee must be composed of at least two people, and one person must be a member of the counseling staff at the prison. However, once again, these rules are not followed at Stateville.

I entered the sergeant's office whereupon the lieutenant hearing the tickets asked me for my identification card. I did not have my ID on me, and I was asked for my name and institutional number. Digging through some papers, the lieutenant found my disciplinary report. Sitting back in a chair, the lieutenant read my ticket aloud, in a rambling monotone voice. The lieutenant had never looked at my ticket before, and this was done not only as a formality, but for his own information. After he was finished, I held out a written statement that I had prepared in rebuttal. It was a six-page, typed statement that picked apart the disciplinary report, point by point. The lieutenant did not want to take the document although by law he had to. I told him that I knew he was not going to read it, but I wanted it attached for the record. With that, he accepted the statement and stuck it in with the rest of his papers. He then asked me where I got all the stuff. I explained to him the reporting guard had only gone back 6 months in my commissary receipts, and I have owned my property much longer than that. The lieutenant, in an angry tone, then asked, "You're not fucking going to make me go through all the shit of matching up your commissary purchases to the inventory list? Don't make me have to do all that work to find they do not match up! Now, tell me, where you got all that shit!" I began to tell him to do just that, and he would find that I had purchased the vast majority of the property in my boxes at one time or another. However, this apparently was not what the lieutenant wanted to hear, so in mid-sentence, I stopped myself, and told him that at least one quarter of the property attributed to me was not mine, but my cellmate's. I went on to inform him that the two bags of commissary found outside my boxes did not even belong to me. This dramatically changed the lieutenant's mood, and he asked, "Why is that not on the report?" And, "Did you list your cellie as a witness?" I told him I did not know why I.A. did not write this in the report, as they were certainly aware of the fact. I had told the reporting officer when I was interviewed that the bags did not belong to me, and my cellmate immediately filed a grievance on the matter. The lieutenant looked at my disciplinary report, and saw that I had indeed written my cellmate's name down as a witness when served with the paper. I had written down several names of witnesses who should have been interviewed, but had not. The lieutenant jotted down some notes on his notepad, and with his mood considerably lightened, he then said, "Alright, what about this gambling paraphernalia?" I informed him the papers found were not gambling paraphernalia, but merely football schedules from newspapers. He wrote this on his notepad as well, and then leaned back in his chair. He did not say anything, and did not look at me. I asked him if there was anything I could add, and he said "no" and mumbled something like I have all I need, or I have heard enough. I left the office and returned to the holding cage.

About ten minutes passed when the cell house sergeant unlocked the holding cage and told us we could go back to our cells. This does not mean the lieutenant found me "not guilty," or that I am not going to be sent to Seg. There is no time limit within which an adjustment committee has to make a decision, and weeks from now I could be told to pack myself a Seg bag. On my way back to the cell, I was escorted by the sergeant who sat on my hearing. I asked him what he thought the lieutenant would do. The sergeant said he spoke up on my behalf and told the lieutenant I was not a trouble maker, and was quiet. He also told the lieutenant he believed me, and thought the ticket was suspect because it was written so late. I thanked him as he closed my cell door behind me.

I have spoken to a few other guards about my disciplinary report, as well as some inmates. The consensus of opinion is that if I was going to Seg, I would have been sent there immediately on New Year's Day when my cell was searched and property taken. Internal Affairs, they all say, does not play any games, and wide discretion is given to guards to place an inmate in Seg, or not. If a guard, especially one from Stateville's investigative unit, does not put you in Seg immediately, usually the adjustment committee will just "adjust" you with a C Grade. I have little experience with such matters, but I made a Seg bag just in case. I also have begun typing another grievance. This one not only grieves my property being confiscated, but the disciplinary report and hearing, which was heard by only one man and without the interview of my defense witnesses. I have found it is best to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.