A PDF file of this document can be downloaded here
To all who are willing to hear and make a difference:
We can all agree that the idea of prison is meant to bring ‘correction’ to errants who have lost their way in a society that demands accountability to rule of law. In other words – rehabilitation and restoration, since many of us who are incarcerated will be returning to our communities. An honest look into the policies and practices being implemented by the Montana DOC will reveal a very different agenda to any who takes the time to investigate. Please take time to consider these concerns we are presenting to you, the public, in order to make a difference.
When words and actions do not match, there is a lie going on. Gross hypocrisy between the propaganda being presented to the public as justification for the inflated corrections budget, and the actual intent of the organization reveals a truth that cannot be denied. Every taxpaying citizen in Montana should be outraged to realize this system oppresses rather than promotes opportunity and encouragement. People often leave here in a state of anger, humiliation, and with a great sense of indignation for having endured months and years of constant degradation, indifference, and abuse of authority that violates statutory law, constitutional rights, and basic human dignity. The stated mission of the DOC is to: enhance public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into the community, and support victims of crime. Governor Schweitzer and Director Ferriter affirm these goals but a careful look into the reality reveal this is certainly not being put into practice or even supported by administration. The current DOC is a self-perpetuating system, making these claims a lie. What’s really happening is a routine violation of statutory law, state and federal constitutional rights, all camouflaged with lies and pretense that is being fed to the public in order to keep and maintain their support, all the while making no dent in recidivism. We are also quite sure that the prolonged process in selecting a new warden is directly related to finding the individual who will be willing to maintain and perpetuate this oppressive regime!
Every oppressive condition has its breaking point. Following the 1991 ‘max riot’, the US Department of Justice and the Montana DOC conducted independent investigations to determine possible causes. Those investigations listed a number of specific conditions and practices that were primarily responsible for the tension and hopelessness that provoked this avoidable and senseless act of violence in MSP’s history. They are as follows:
- Inmates had little voice of communication with the administration.
- The grievance process was grossly inadequate, and held no credibility, and served no purpose other than a pretense to cover the negligent, indifferent, and abusive behavior of staff.
- Poor and grossly negligent medical response to inmate requests for medical assistance
- Unfair, vindictive and biased disciplinary procedures.
- Disrespectful, unprofessional, and often degrading conduct by staff when dealing with the inmate population – conduct which was and is often criminal pursuant to statute.
- Prejudicial, factually inaccurate, and irrational operations of the parole board and its oppressive inexplicable practices were a serious issue.
- Abusive and counterproductive practices that began restricting religious and community activities and volunteers.
- The fact that the inmate population had so few activities and/or self-help opportunities to occupy their time.
It is our opinion that the administrators at the time of the ’91 riot are largely responsible for the atrocities that took place for fostering an atmosphere rife with abuses of authority, blatant acts of indifference, and oppression. As it was then, so it is now, in our opinion. The current administrators and policy makers should be held accountable for creating an atmosphere at MSP that is every bit as oppressive if not more so, than at the time of the ’91 riot! However, no one outside the prison industry knows the truth of these matters so the human and civil rights violations continue unnoticed, leaving inmates bitter and resentful.
Reports and recommendations were released after the study was completed, advocating changes in both policy and practice. Because of the public attention this act generated, sincere efforts were made to comply with those recommendations. The goal then became to promote well-defined principles and practices of successful systems of rehabilitation, as reflected in Montana’s now inconsequential statutes. Some examples of those changes include:
Staff were trained and held accountable to the idea of fair and professional communication with the inmate population.
- Religious, educational, recreational/sports, community volunteer sponsored activities, and self-help treatment programs were implemented and/or expanded.
- Medical policy and practice was changed so that medical needs were seen within 10 days or sooner if necessary.
- An inmate counsel was formed, and given a genuine voice to formally meet with and convey to the prison administration legitimate concerns, and/or proposals effecting the general prison population.
- Inmates were appointed 5 positions on a grievance committee with the objective of adding credibility and fairness to the process.
- A canteen committee was established to make recommendations that offered a positive and fair reflection of the preferences of the inmate population
This study brought about better and more positive changes and attitudes focused on genuine principles of rehabilitation which began to be reflected in positive ways in the general prison population, giving inmates opportunities that they could take pride in, with life lessons to use in a transition to becoming a productive member of society. This had the added benefit of a realistic corrections budget, and actual reduction in recidivism.
Now these twelve years later, with most of these recommendations abolished and the original state of conditions similar or worse than in those pre-riot days, inmates and some staff are asking questions. Is there is an intentional effort being made to recreate those conditions in the inmate population as a means of expanding an already inflated corrections budget which is being used to impose an even more oppressive prison environment? Over the past decade or more, most of MSP’s policy changes and oppressive practices have occurred systematically and without legitimate penology interest as defined by clear legal standards as set forth by the US Supreme Court in Strickland vs. Washington. Instead, policy change and practices are implemented through scare tactics, irrational what-if scenarios, and mass punishment for the isolated actions of a few.
The following are examples of policy changes and losses that have continued to adversely and prejudicially affect the inmate population at MSP:
- Policy changes and losses are often imposed maliciously, and in clear violation of state and federal constitutions and laws, yet the abuses of authority and their indiscretions stand because taxpayers are duped by the machine of the big business of ‘corrections.’ Instead of public servants, Corrections has become the public’s enemy, hiding behind a multi-million dollar budget.
- Beginning with the basic and fundamental need for open, meaningful, and productive communication between MSP administrators and the inmate population, consistent with the findings and recommendations of the US Justice Department, there is currently NO such thing at MSP: a) Inmate Counsel – disbanded in 2006-an act that effectively destroyed the collective voice of MSP’s inmate population.
- A grievance committee of inmates and staff was implemented in the aftermath of the ’91 riot, to instill a degree of fairness and rationality to the process; b) that committee no longer exists, and in its place has grown the general knowledge that MSP’s grievance system, just like their disciplinary system is nothing more than a pretense used to retaliate, meaning that those who still have enough resolve to file a grievance often become targeted for some form of retribution. We believe that MSP’s grievance system is nothing more than a pretense used to cover up the negligent, indifferent, and often abusive and/or criminal actions of staff.
- Family and community ties are often very important to the idea of rehabilitation and personal resolve in order to make positive changes in an encouraging environment, with the goal of returning to families and communities with their support. However, it would seem that a clear intent to destroy that ideology has been implemented by MSP administrators and policy makers:
Regarding visitation: Easter parties for children- eliminated; back to school parties for the children that use to provide school supplies to each child to help families with a father in prison – eliminated; Christmas parties – eliminated; Holiday meals served in visitation –eliminated; Family day, where families could spend the day with their loved ones –eliminated; Decorating the visiting room for holidays – eliminated; Native American annual event similar to family day – eliminated; FAB – for African American brothers and minority cultural meetings – eliminated;
(Note: All of the forgoing was paid for through the Inmate Welfare Fund IWF without cost to the taxpayers. More importantly, those events and atmosphere served to strengthen family ties and attempted to repair family relationships that suffer just from being incarcerated. Instead now we have a visitation atmosphere so oppressive that a child cannot even sit on his father’s lap or hug during a visit. Administration has managed to confiscate IWF funds out of inmate control completely to be used at their discretion, all the while ignoring purchases that would benefit inmates and their families.)
*Policy 1.2.12 Inmate Welfare Fund: Revised 8-16-07
This policy change not only took control of the Inmate Welfare funds from the inmate population, but reduced the number of inmates who had respective positions on the IWF committee. It removed completely the responsibility of inmates for their own programs funding, budgets, and existence, not to mention the fact the inmates cared about these funds creation to fund our TV system, and Canteen products. Our satellite TV system was removed however and $80K worth of equipment auctioned off and not accounted for, eliminating all movies, cable TV, etc. The IWF also use to collect 30% from phone calls and 10% from canteen sales, which we get no part of now. It also funded many of our institutional programs and visiting room activities. As inmates we use to have huge responsibility in these ways. This policy change removed all of that. We lost all our funeral funding, release assistance, and reimbursement of any group activity Sponsorship – hurting us badly. We use to get a Saber Report listing all the money IWF spent. Now we get nothing – the money in this account is being spent without any knowledge or input from inmates.
Religious Services: a) Both High and Low Side compounds use to have access to at least 1 ½ hours of service each day of the week – services that included community volunteers. They have now been reduced to 1 ½ hour per week with a one hour Sunday morning service; b) we are no longer allowed to post or advertise special events or guest speakers. Administration has invented so much red tape and inconvenience that many volunteers quit in frustration, no longer trying to make a difference; c) A specific religious preference must now be registered by each inmate – taking away the right or belief in religious diversity; d) Native American’s lost their prayer warriors group, having guests and volunteers prohibited from participating in sweat and pipe ceremonies; e) Monthly Ultreya meetings are no longer allowed to have coffee and cookies, which serves only to take away from the casual social atmosphere intended; f) No longer any African American activities or worship programs with people coming in who are teaching African American history; g) Rules now prohibit volunteers from writing to those of us who request mentoring.
Education: Like most things that inmates should have access to for the sake of self-improvement, education had been eliminated, as well as inmate groups that had a significant social, and self-improvement value. The following have all been eliminated: Education Avocation; Native American Culture Group; Barbell Club; Boxing Club; in addition, any semblance of encouragement or recognition in health and recreation wherein certificates of achievement for sporting events have been eliminated; 60% of high side rec time is gone; the prison’s music program, contrary to the fact that many inmates took advantage of the program as a form of personal expression and a form of personal therapy, was eliminated without discussion. These programs were self-supporting through the IWF and without burden to the tax payers, with the exception of the music program which was subsidized in part by a private trust set up to help sustain the program.
Eliminated as well: High side Vocational CAD and Architectural training; on-site college courses; correspondence courses have been greatly reduced and allowed on a very limited basis. Today’s society is hugely driven by and dependent upon computer technology and application from social networking to entertainment, education to employment, and career, yet there is an oppressive administrative denial of access. Why deny access to personal notebooks or pre-approved educational software that could easily accommodate any security concern? We are also limited to the amount of in-cell property including educational materials, e.g., books. Correspondence materials must be disposed of within a year. Inmates are also distressed by the discontinuance of incentives, such as winners T-shirts for sporting events and tournaments; no certificates of achievement for sporting events; the institutional band eliminated; no personal instruments allowed; vitamins C,E, multi’s, B-12, and calcium removed; seasonings; reduced storage and footlockers taken away; rugs, hot pots, adequate lamps, and fans gone; personal towels and washcloths gone; personal clothing abolished – all inmates must wear scrubs; electric razors for Blacks, to maintain skin integrity, gone; battery-operated CD players are to be replaced with expensive MP3 players most of us won’t be able to afford, and those who do will be charged $2 per song to down load; many hobbies removed; can no longer draw pictures for children, nor they for us; all personal items must be ordered from Canteen – no outside vendors; ‘Scared Straight’ program eliminated; boxing club and barbell club – gone; inmate psych tech aid positions – gone; woodcarving and bone carving was eliminated; in-unit leather working is banned except for Work Dorm; horsehair and bead work, and art work inventory greatly reduced and the cost to us inmates has increased; recreation time on low side is slashed almost in half – 35-40 minutes, and we lost a portion of the unit yard area; logging crew and fire wood crew isgone; we are no longer able to receive money orders from relatives, only spouses, parents, or immediate siblings; no calendars of any kind; no photocopies can be sent by family. About the time Ferriter became Director, the two conjugal trailers were taken away, one just disappeared and the other was retrofitted as an execution chamber.
To compound what appears to be an administrative agenda to isolate, subjugate, and oppress instead of rehabilitate, MSP policy and practice routinely violates clearly defined 1st amendment rights and relevant legal precedence in relation to inmates connection to family and friends, their interests and information, and their connection to culture and community, which most will at some point return to. There currently exists compelling evidence of an unlawful and oppressive imposition of censorship of printed materials and of personal letters that pose no threat to security. Children are no longer allowed to send pictures they color in school, and friends and families are prohibited from sending inmates gift money. MSP mailroom violates federal law by not providing a translator or a computer program to translate known language. Instead they deny our mail because they do not want to bother with it. If legal mail is not marked “Attorney at Law” as part of the return address it is not considered privileged mail, even if it is your attorney of record. Even more distressing, mailroom staff often retaliates against those of us who have grieved mailroom abuses by withholding mail and not giving us ‘undeliverable’ slips that are supposed to explain why they are withholding mail. Adult magazines such as Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Health, Details, etc. are heavily censored and often refused. MSP policy is being implemented that bans all book and magazines unless purchased through MCE’s canteen at an extorted rate, in violation of monopoly laws and state and federal trade laws. This means that MSP administrators will decide what inmate’s interests are, and what we are allowed to read. Inmates have to depend on MCE’s unlawful monopoly practices for hygiene needs, clothing and foot wear needs, foods needed to supplement a cook/chill diet that is grossly deficient in recommended nutritional values, and for hobby supply needs. MCE is expanding its control to monopolize all magazine and book sales – in blatant violation of 1st amendment rights.
Medical: There is a provable consensus that medical at MSP runs on a level of gross indifference and negligence that has surpassed the conditions that existed at the time of the Langford settlement represented by the ACLU. Medical needs are evaluated on emergency basis only, leaving a lot of preventable conditions to become chronic through medical neglect. We are medicated with toxic drugs to help deal with the depressing and oppressing conditions imposed on us, and many people who are chronically ill are being unnecessarily and cruelly denied parole that pose no threat or danger to society.
Parole Board: The current parole board’s decisions are more often than not far out of step with clearly defined statute and legal standards. They arrogantly presume to usurp judicial authority they have no legal entitlement to, often retrying and resentencing applicants far more harshly than the sentencing courts that held legitimate judicial authority. Very often the board’s decisions demonstrate prejudice, arbitrary opinion, false/incorrect information, lack of due process, defiance of judiciousness, and a dismissal of the very laws and administrative rules they are supposed to be accountable to. The result is a prison population filled with frustration and hopelessness that is often felt and endured along with family and friends. The reality is that this Board’s biased and defiant actions literally cost millions in wasted funds and human potential.
Compounding the frustration and discontent within the inmate population, MCE has effectively monopolized all canteen and hobby supplies. Many of the items are subject to huge mark-ups in clear violation of state and federal trade and monopoly laws. For example: a clear, 7” TV routinely sold to the public for about $60.00 costs inmates $154.00; a $5.00 storage tote costs inmates $23.46, etc. In addition a viable canteen selection has been greatly diminished with inmates having no say in the matter. Hobby supplies are subject to the same unlawful mark-up schemes by MCE, when in fact, considering the collective buying power assumed by MCE when they took control of the hobby program, disadvantaged inmates should be paying less for hobby supplies, not more.
Along with these conditions there exists a huge disparity regarding actual inmate job opportunities. In addition to a recent cut in jobs across the board, and inmate pay, which alone causes tension and frustration among the inmate population, there are jobs and basic education opportunities for only about 1 in 6 inmates on the high side with little more for low side inmates. Through legislative action, $1.3 million tax dollars were appropriated to build a secure fence perimeter around MCE’s industries compound, noting that a very small portion was allocated for maintenance needs at MSP. The secure fence was built in 2006, yet a very large portion of the low side inmate population are still denied access to job and vocational opportunities in the industries compound because MSP’s administrators refuse to recognize the million dollar secure double fence perimeter as such. Even for those fortunate enough to have a job, $1.50 per day does not go very far when trying to meet basic needs. Aside from the fact that legal standards suggest most MCE jobs should be paying minimum wages, the average pay of $4.00 per day for those very limited jobs still makes it hard to keep up with basic needs, let alone child support and/or restitution obligations.
*Policy 3.3.3. Inmate Grievance system: Revised 7-1-07
This policy change completely removed from the inmate population one of the recommended changes implemented by the Justice Department. The DOC and MSP administrators had created a full committee of staff and inmates to review grievances filed by inmates. This 2007 policy change removed that committee, a reversal of the compliance to the Justice Department’s report. Inmates strongly believe that a spirit of retaliation exists as part of the grievance process. Filing a grievance may very well cause us to be shipped out to a private or regional facility.
IF corrections policy and practice were actually working, how then can the ever increasing corrections budget be explained? Sound and efficient corrections policy and practice should reflect trends of budget reductions. Recidivism should be minimal and there should be less conflict among inmates. However, instead there is a steady growth in staff per inmate ratios here at MSP, while the dysfunction, games and volatility continues to grow with staff numbers, which we think demonstrates the adverse effects of nepotism. A fair estimate would suggest that staff to inmate ratios has more than doubled in the last 10 years. It is our opinion and we believe an unavoidable reality, that the more a regime takes from and oppresses a social group, the more force is needed to contain the dysfunction that results. We also believe that if the land and resources available to Montana State Prison were ever to be managed effectively, it could be nearly self-sufficient with minimal cost to the tax payer, instead of its ever expanding budget that is turning ‘Corrections’ into just another ‘big business’.
Regarding the ITU program – Intensive Treatment Unit, designed to treat alcohol and drug addiction offenders, is run by licensed addiction counselors/psychologists, and in fact meets the statutory requirements for court ordered treatment programs. However, inmates at MSP who have been sentenced for DUI’s or SOPII drug abuse offenses, and court ordered to be released upon completion of ITU, are told by the Parole Board and MSP administrators they don’t recognize the prison’s ITU as a legitimate treatment program. If so, why lie to the public about an addiction treatment program that serves no purpose all the while denying inmates access to legitimate addiction treatment they need to complete their ‘court order’? The alternative is that they could start recognizing MSP’s ITU as the effective treatment program Montanan’s were told they were paying for. Or maybe the problem isn’t with the program but just another ploy to keep the prison full to over flowing in order to manipulate more money that never seems to benefit the inmate. It does seem to be used to stock pile guards who do little but stand around all day and sleep at night in the cages, some even collecting overtime in the process!
Helena’s Prison Advisory Committee ironically nicknamed ‘the glass house’ is a mystery to a lot of us. We think of it as another bureaucratic layer that helps to perpetuate an oppressive, socially detrimental, and very often unlawful prison environment. Do they really believe they are accomplishing something worthwhile making policies that affect inmates but that do not include any input from inmates? Since February of 2007 over 50 items have been lost to us – imposed on us indiscriminately, making our world smaller and more oppressed.
MCA 45-5-204 clearly defines abuse/mistreatment of inmates. These definitions are reflected in specific administrative rules about the treatment of inmates. The following reference (see attachment) has a closing statement that holds: violating any of these principles of inmate management threatens the safety of staff, and in general complicates the management of the institution. Sadly, it is our reality that the governing principles and laws of corrections mean absolutely nothing at MSP beyond serving as a pretense to feed the general public. Instead, lack of accountability has created a sense of entitlement that makes possible the routine violation of state and federal laws, state and federal constitutional rights, and the public’s trust.
RULES ABOUT THE TREATMENT OF INMATES
- Inmates are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.
- Correctional workers (you) have a responsibility to ensure that inmates are returned to the community no more angry or hostile than when they were committed.
- Inmates are entitled to a safe and humane environment while in prison.
- You must believe in man’s capacity to change his behavior.
- You must normalize the environment to the extent possible by providing programs, amenities and services. The denial of such must be related to maintaining order and security rather than punishment.
- Most inmates will respond favorably to a clean and aesthetically pleasing physical environment and will not vandalize or destroy it.
- Do not treat all inmates alike any more than you would treat all people in the “free world” alike. You must be sensitive to personality differences, cultural backgrounds, lifestyles and educational levels and treat inmates as individuals.
- Bringing racial bias into the institution that results in discriminatory actions can be every bit as dangerous to fellow staff members as the introduction of contraband.
- Whenever possible, provide explanations for changes in policies and procedures that the inmate perceives as detracting from the quality of his life.
- Be responsible to inmate requests for action or information. Respond in a timely manner and respond the first time an inmate makes a request.
- Be dependable when dealing with inmates. If you say you are going to do something, do it.
- It is important for you to model the kind of behavior that you expect to see duplicated by inmates.
- Your indiscriminate use of foul language will detract from the professional image that you must try to maintain.
- There is inherent value in self-improvement programs such as education, whether or not these programs are directly related to changing criminal behaviors.
- Inmates need legitimate opportunities to enhance their self-esteem.
- Inmates are to be treated respectfully and with basic dignity. You can treat inmates respectfully without compromising the essential element of professional distance.
- Be courteous, polite and professional in all dealings with inmates, regardless of their behavior.
- You should not act condescendingly to or degrade inmates. You may have to check your own insecurities, lack of self-esteem, or concerns about masculinity.
- Some inmates are very intelligent or knowledgeable. Don’t feel threatened by this; rather, capitalize on their skills.
- Never lie to an inmate.
- Inmates will cooperate with you to a much greater degree if motivated by respect rather than fear.
- Don’t impose rules and regulations or other regimentation that are not reasonably tied to order and security.
- Stress the value of rewarding good adjustment with privileges and amenities.
- Punish behavior that threatens order and security swiftly and harshly.
- Send clear messages regarding the kind of behavior that cannot be tolerated.
- Inmate discipline must be consistent and fair.
- Use only the force (verbal or physical) necessary to maintain order, security, and staff/inmate safety.
- Do or say nothing to an inmate that you would not want videotaped for the warden’s review.
Violating any of these principles of inmate management threatens the safety of staff and, in general, complicates the management of the institution.
I have read and understood this document, and I agree to abide by its principles to the best of my abilities.
I have personally called Montana State Prison to see if inmates were allowed to have bibles to read and study. One officer told me that they could request for a family member to have a bookstore to send them one. I asked about free bibles that are donated to the chapel, the officer told me that “yes, they are allowed to have those there was one sitting on his desk.” I was then told from another officer that bibles were not allowed to be sent now by bookstores that the family has to put money into the inmates account and he has to purchase a bible through the prison. I asked that officer, “what about the free donated bibles?” He said, “Ohhh, ummmm…yes that is so, I suppose.” I told the inmate to request a bible. The prison denied him the right to a free bible. They are only allowed to use a chapel bible during chapel time. That is not much time nor do they allow them to take them back to their cells to study. Now the inmates have been directly told if they want a bible the family has to send the prison money and it has to be ordered through them for around $60.00. This is highway robbery! Since when are American citizens not allowed to have free bibles that are donated to prisons? Since when do American citizens have to order a bible at that price, only through them, when other bookstores sell them for much cheaper? I believe we have criminals operating many of our systems now.