The Anchorage Daily News had a story with a tiny bit of the report issued by the ACLU on the prison system in Alaska, "the prison system in Alaska does many things right, especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states." This was from the opening section of the report and I bet every report on every prison system the ACLU investigates contains a similar statement. Keep in mind the DOC had a great deal of warning that the ACLU was doing a report on the prison system, with plenty of time to spruce things up before they got there. There was also a rumor that they were thinking of suing the DOC about the conditions which would have been an extra motivator(I did my best to help spread it). The DOC has had time to doctor paperwork, get rid of certain incriminating paperwork, and get their stories straight, so to speak.

When I left Megan Holland a message asking her where the rating system she refers to in her article is, “ACLU rates Alaska prisons as better than most in U.S., she left me a message to read this paragraph which I of course had already read and realized she either had read very little of the report or was intentionally slanting it.

The ACLU of Alaska would also like to note that, while some concerning trends and incidents are chronicled in this report the prison system in Alaska does many things right, especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states. Even though concerns are raised in this report about medical care and suicide prevention in Alaska prisons, the overall mortality rate in Alaska compares well to that of most other states. Alaska prisons lack the pervasive gang presence that makes prisoner-on-prisoner violence a frequent event in other states, like California; only three in custody prisoner-on-prisoner homicides are known to have occurred in Alaska facilities. The degree of overcrowding, while serious in Alaska, has not reached the same level seen in many other jails and prison systems around the nation. Regardless of the comparative merits of the Alaska prison system, the ACLU of Alaska believes that improvement should occur wherever possible to meet the legal needs of the prisoners of Alaska.

I made a quick phone call to Thomas Stenson, ACLU Alaska’s Prison Rights Attorney, yesterday to ask him how he felt about the ADN using a part of a sentence to try and make his report sound like an endorsement of the prison system in Alaska. He said he felt the article did not reflect what the ACLU report said about the prison system.

When giving a reprimand it is always important to point out something or something-s that are positive. The sentence part, "the prison system in Alaska does many things right, especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states", comes from this whole sentence, "The ACLU of Alaska would also like to note that, while some concerning trends and incidents are chronicled in this report the prison system in Alaska does many things right, especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states." Holland turns the statement around to have a whole other meaning than the authors intended. Let me interpret this for you, Alaska has a lower population than the lower 48 and is behind the trends for harsher punishment which have been going on for decades. Since they have implemented these kinds of laws and are continuing to do so they are working their way towards these same overcrowded conditions. Other states implemented harsh sentences filling their prisons to overflowing before Alaska and have now bankrupted themselves and harmed thousands of prisoners. Since there are no rampant gangs(this trend is changing) in Alaska there are less prisoner on prisoner murders, but this does not mean there are less deaths from denial of healthcare and poor nutrition. There are also many whose lives are shortened due to what they went through in the prison system which are not attributed to their stay in the prison system when they die. Alaska is in a unique position to benefit from the mistakes made by other states in the legislature, courts, the DOL, and at the DOC.

So much for balanced reporting from the (ADN) which is not a surprise to anyone. They know most people are not going to read the report and most people in Alaska are conservative and go along with the Republican conservative beliefs that most people in prison are there because they are bad, they are lying about the conditions and abuses, lying about lack of healthcare, and extremely harsh sentences should be imposed even for minor crimes. These false assumptions are used as talking points to use hatred against a group of people who have been used to alter the number of voters in the Democratic party, eliminate a  number of people allowed to vote in elections(remember Florida), obtain federal money, profit for corporations, racial discrimination, class discrimination, and more. The most disgusting talking point used by even those on the left is that prisoners are getting free health care, causing anger due to the fact many in this country can't get health care and encouraging the public to want to spend less money on prisons. This reflects a lack of insight into the social ills of our society and their effects with relation to addiction, crime, mental illness, self esteem, normal human development, and lack of justice. They also don’t know about the prosecutorial abuses that result in people who should not have even been charged with a crime being incarcerated.

Why is the ADN ignoring the truth in this report and making the false statement that it says, “ACLU rates Alaska prisons as better than most”? I saw no rating system in this report and while I have not read the whole thing I have certainly scanned the whole thing. This really galls me because I was told by the staff of this newspaper that they were not interested in my story. The ACLU does not get a lot of donations in this state for obvious right wing reasons. The inmates do not get responses to their complaints of problems in the prisons, no matter how horrid the conditions. Finally there is a report that tells a large portion of the truth and the Anchorage Daily News prints an article trying to minimize the reports of poor to lack of healthcare/mental health care, lack of responses to grievances(disappearing them also), retaliation against inmates for trying to file a grievance, inappropriate placement in segregation, threats of medical segregation due to requests of healthcare, lack of rehabilitation (for behavior, addiction, or jobs), inequality for female inmates, issues with rehabilitation for native inmates, overcrowding, poor suicide standards, lack of appropriate diets for diabetics, lack of exercise(especially for women), and no care for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. Why? Is there some political control of this paper?

There were some generalized comparisons in the report. Each prison system is going to have some issues that are worse than others, some things they do well, and some they do poorly. This only makes sense. For instance, while Hiland Mountain supplies inmates with mostly very unhealthy food, including meat full of nitrates, hormones, and antibiotics, they raise a very large garden which supplies the inmates with fresh vegetables. This not only helps keep inmates healthier, it also gives inmates the knowledge and skill to raise their own gardens and perhaps some nutritional education. The important thing to know about poor nutrition is it causes most of the health problems inmates have. Healthy food would cut their healthcare costs way down, especially for long term inmates. Good nutrition is especially important when there is a large population of addicts and alcoholics such as in a prison. They will not supply coffee or teas because they say they don’t want inmates to drink caffeine, but they sell caffeine in the commissary. They did have soda pop at Hiland Mountain(decaffeinated and full of artificial sweeteners) which has no nutritional value at all and the toxins in it are health harming. Both coffee and tea have very positive health effects. Coffee has been shown to help prevent diabetes which is one of the worst results of the poor prison diet. Green tea is good for just about everything and should be consumed in large quantities. There are a lot of things they could do which would cut down on healthcare costs like not put inmates under heavy psychological stress, which is done intentionally as a form of retaliation by some staff who have issues.

The ACLU is going to try and give the prison officials some positive strokes so they feel more cooperative to change, just like a supervisor would do with an employee they were trying to straighten out or a parent would do with a child with a discipline problem. When I was house supervisor I would find a positive statement about something to say to a lazy nurse, then I would say something like this, if you went in the patient rooms more often and assessed them more often you would find you could catch negative trends so you could prevent patients from crashing and in doing part of your work each time you went in the room you could get it done on time, instead of what I wanted to say, get up off your ass and do your work. The second statement leads to resentment and even worse behavior so I used the politically correct one the first three times I talked to the nurse, anyway, then I got blunt. In the paragraph of the report in which the ADN found their prime quote, "the prison system in Alaska does many things right, especially relative to dysfunctional prison systems in other states", by dysfunctional prison systems in other states they are not saying they exclude Alaska from that set, no, they are including Alaska as one of the dysfunctional prisons. The title of this report is, Rethinking Alaska’s Corrections Policy, Avoiding an Everyday Crisis, which means if the DOC rethinks how they are running the prisons along with the DOL, legislature, and courts stopping the increasing trend of over-incarceration Alaska can avoid where they are going which is the same place those with more overcrowded prisons are now.

For the prison system in Pennsylvania where Charles Graner worked before he became the ring leader on night shift at Abu Ghraib it was common to beat prisoners, sexually abuse them, and threaten their lives. I am sure the ACLU could find something they did right at that prison or even at Abu Ghraib. That said, I never experienced or witnessed such things in the Alaska prison system and I am sure I was a person who would have been targeted by such abuses if they did occur, so while some isolated physical abuses may happen I doubt it is very often. The worst physical treatment I had was being handcuffed and dragged down a hall by my arm by an angry prison guard because I was demanding they give me the medication I knew had been approved and was simply being kept from me for abusive and retaliatory reasons. I heard no reports of sexual assault from the other women in any of the prisons, just the same story from all women’s prisons where they have male guards of consensual or coerced sex with inmates. I actually caught one corrections officer in Washington having sex with an inmate myself. I then called and reported it knowing it would not be safe for me to go back there to work again. These situations are difficult on staff who discover them, because they never know if some of the other staff will retaliate in the future if they report abuses.

The report makes this statement in the next paragraph:

Particularly encouraging is an attitude in the Department administration reflecting a desire to improve rehabilitation efforts and to reform the Department as a whole. The ADN says this about Joe Schmidt’s reaction, "As for the criticisms of the medical and mental health services in the prisons, Schmidt stands by the department's current practices." In other words, white man speak with forked tongue. On the one hand he has said in interviews he is open to investigations and improving the department, yet on the other states the problems found are not true.

Keep in mind the supreme court has ruled that even if lack of medical care is a violation of the 8th amendment the prison system can’t be held responsible for lack of healthcare if the legislature refuses to provide funding for it. The legislature and the governors are just as culpable in the problems with the prison system as those running the prisons. Lack of funding and passing harsh laws(usually done by influence from lobbies for private prison corporations and corrections officer's unions, designed to create overcrowding so prisons have to be expanded) have created this problem. Legislators increased the number of prisoners while decreasing the funds for healthcare and rehabilitation. How could they not have known they were putting people's health and lives in jeopardy?

It is clear to me the people running the prisons are quite inept. The ACLU is never going to say this because they are trying to get them to improve the conditions in the prisons and would like to be able to continue to work with them in a partnership. Without giving the prisons some positive support in what they are doing this would never happen. If Schmidt’s reaction to the report which has been slanted to the favor of the DOC in many ways is that he stands by the current practices in the medical and mental health areas I wish the ACLU had come out and said the people running the prisons, and a great deal of the medical and nursing staff are incompetent and heartless individuals. The ACLU is trying to be objective and of course are not angry about the conditons like I am, not having experienced them first hand. Even though a huge part of the problem here is understaffing and under funding along with violations of the DOC's own policies while fronting to the public that they are following them, the behavior and lack of knowledge/expertise by some of the so called health professionals was astounding to me. In fact I had several make statements to me that were complete and utter malpractice about very basic issues when I was imprisoned.

Someone like myself showing up in their prison system must have been quite a shock to them. An RN-BSN with experience working with mentally ill legal offenders, having worked on a team to evaluate mentally ill inmates for competency to stand trial, having worked in prisons, having been a whistleblower in both corrections and psychiatric situations, having studied a lot of the research about the psychology behind prison staff abuses, and the medical/nursing expertise that comes with my experience as a critical care nurse and supervisor. Then on top of all this I am outspoken about human rights and injustice with some knowledge to back it up. They wanted me in administrative segregation really bad, but a parole officer with ethics prevented it from happening. It is staff like that woman who could help stop a lot of the abuses at the DOC. That saying about one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch is very true in prisons where bad behavior by staff can be very contagious.

I was in a unique position to report on and evaluate what goes on in the prisons in this state. I know if the ACLU asked them about my accusations they would have simply told them I fabricated my complaints, but this would be false, my story is all true. This is a crowded prison and there were lots of other people around at all times. If someone really wanted to check out my stories, there was a woman who almost died one night in Wildwood(Kenai) due to incompetence(I assume she lived, she may not have) around the 5th of August 2007, there was a black woman in the mental health unit directly across from me who was abused and discriminated against just a couple days later at Hiland Mountain in the mental health unit, there were multiple women who did not get their medications(one safely in another state now who was hospitalized twice due to the treatment in the prison system and should have never even been arrested), there was a woman who had been beaten in the head by police around this same time and then denied her seizure meds at Hiland Mountain(yes she had multiple seizures while staff just denied health care), there were multiple women going through withdrawal from Heroin without medical treatment and one from alcohol without treatment(very dangerous) and left in open population at Hiland Mountain, I made multiple phone calls to government agencies about the conditions and lack of healthcare, no responses were made that I know of. If a government agency had asked the DOC questions about my complaints they would have lied, they have lied to me on multiple occasions. The multiple abuses to the mentally ill, such as chaining them to the floor may not be reportable by them due to their psychosis. 

When I first saw this report Monday I was shocked because there is a lot of truth in it, I was not expecting that to happen. Reading the descriptions of the same problems I had lived through and written about triggered my PTSD really badly and I could not stop crying for a long time. I have not been able to read the whole report yet and have decided that reading a little each day is the best way to absorb it. I have been upset that the ACLU report took so long to publish and I do feel the conditions with respect to the medical/mental health care, staff abuses, and food were emergencies that warranted a lawsuit for injunction relief for those incarcerated in the horrible conditions. I am very thankful to the ACLU for their report as it does have a lot of truth in it and I realize they have to ere on the side of caution because they want to be not only factual, but also do the most good for the most people. So there are some issues they did not discuss. I also realize they have limited resources and most likely had a great deal of difficulty gaining access to the prisons and getting any kind of cooperation. I am so very grateful for this report because it begins to shed some light on truths which were hidden under a veil of propaganda that the public has believed with regard to not only the prisons and the courts, but also the department of law’s practices. I was harmed a great deal in the prisons in just a very short time because I had health problems that were compounded. I have been very concerned for those who are incarcerated for long periods of time and even more concerned for the well being of those who dare to utter the words, “That’s a violation of the 8th amendment”.

When reading this report keep in mind this statement about how they collected the material they used for their research:

Typically, prisoners signed up on a publicly-posted sign-up sheet the day prior to the visit. During the visit, prisoners were called down to the visiting room and spoke with the interviewer for anywhere from a half-hour to over an hour.

This would mean the corrections officers would have full knowledge of who was speaking to the ACLU. Those who have been retaliated against in the past or have seen this happen to others would have been afraid to talk to them. I can say without a doubt there would have been some people who met with the ACLU who were consequently retaliated against in some way, guaranteed. This means a great deal of information would not have been given to the ACLU, most probably the worst cases are not known. The letters and interviews sent directly to the ACLU however would have reflected information from those who like myself have been witness to or experienced the dangerous conditions in the prison system.

Conducting prisoner interviews inside a closed facility will always present unique difficulties. Several prisoners reported that other prisoners were “scared” to talk to the interviewer or feared retribution. Others expressed their own anxiety that staff might question why they spoke to an interviewer from the ACLU of Alaska. Whether or not those fears were grounded in truth, some prisoners may have been deterred from meeting with an interviewer.

This is the atmosphere in the prison, extrememly oppressive, threatening, and on the paranoid defensive to any complaints. In the report they also discuss the limitations of interviewing those in high security areas, such as segregation or the mental health units(another type of segregation). Well, this would explain why some of the worst abuses are not discussed. For one thing those in segregation are often the people who the corrections officers have targeted for retaliation. I witnessed some abuses done to mentally ill women who could not help their behavior, but were treated like they could by highly unskilled medical and nursing staff.

Future research into the conditions in the most insular and high-security housing units, such as segregation units and mental health units, should be seriously considered.

Since these are the units where the worst abuses occur. They will make some changes before they let anyone in these units. In my case they tried to put me in administrative segregation because I filed grievances about the abuses. They call people who file grievances about having medical care withheld, etc., troublemakers. I would be willing to bet some were put in this unit before the ACLU got there to keep them from talking to them. Open population has much less problems with abuse than the other areas, from my own experience. For one thing, just having a lot of witnesses around stops some of it. Inmates can just blend in who don’t have health problems or other issues they have to battle with the staff about. I had health issues, needed to contact someone about my property and my cat. There was no way I was going to stop trying to get help for my cat or my health problems. I have a feeling the ACLU was blocked from doing interviews in these units intentionally by the staff putting up roadblocks that made it very difficult for them. I observed racial discrimination and practices which would constitute torture in the mental health unit, including a wooded structure they would put over doors of particular inmates to block them from being able to call for help or even look out the very small window on their inside door to see another human being for long periods of time as well as chaining people to the floor.

“The ACLU of Alaska does not contend that the group of prisoners interviewed constitutes a representative sample or that any findings have statistical validity. Based on statistics supplied by the Department roughly 20% of all prisoners file at least one grievance in a year; about 60% of the prisoners interviewed filed grievances in 2008, indicating that the prisoners interviewed tended to have more complaints than ordinary prisoners.” Of course the people with complaints are going to file a grievance because they have a complaint, they are going to be those who have a health problem, are targeted for abuse by staff, or have an unmet need. They state also in the report they realize that not every report will be truthful. Considering the statistics I read later in the report it looks like a small number who have complaints are filing grievances.

I would argue that while it may be true that not all reports are true, if not for some concern about problems and an attempt to affect changes why would a prisoner risk their safety in a closed system where they could easily be harmed and it would be kept secret? I would also argue that it is much more likely the prison system would lie about what is going on than the prisoners who are begging someone on the outside to help them at least get healthcare.


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