AGAINST THE CONTINUED ISOLATION OF FOUR MEN ON HUNGER STRIKE IN OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

OPEN LETTER OPPOSING THE CONTINUED ISOLATION OF FOUR MEN ON HUNGER STRIKE AT OHIO STATE PENITENTIARY

We the undersigned call for an end to isolated “supermax” imprisonment in Ohio State Penitentiary. We are especially concerned about the cases of Siddique Abdullah Hasan (Carlos Sanders); Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar); Jason Robb; and Namir Abdul Mateen (James Were), who are on hunger strike in protest against their conditions of confinement. We understand that they have taken this course of action out of total frustration with their hopeless situation at OSP.

These men have been kept in isolation continuously since they were sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the 11-day rebellion at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio in April 1993. Hasan and Robb were two of the three men who negotiated a peaceful surrender in that rebellion and their actions undoubtedly saved lives.

Throughout their more than seventeen years of solitary confinement, these four men have been subjected to harsher conditions than the more than 150 other men sentenced to death in Ohio.  The conditions under which they are confined prevent them from ever being in the same space as another prisoner. Judge James Gwin of federal district court noted with amazement during the trial of the prisoners’ class action, Austin v. Wilkinson, that death-sentenced prisoners at the highest security level in the Ohio State Penitentiary wanted to be returned to Death Row! 

The four have suffered “Level 5” top security isolation since OSP was opened in 1998. This essentially means that they live in 23-hour lockup in a hermetically sealed environment where they have almost no contact with other living beings – human, animal, or plant. When released from their cells for short periods of “recreation” they continue to be isolated from others. During occasional visits, a wall of bullet-proof glass separates them from their visitors. They remain shackled, despite the fact that they could do no harm in these secure spaces. A few booths away, condemned men from death row sit in cubicles where a small hole is cut from the security glass between them and their visitors. They can hold their mother's hand.  With a little effort, they can kiss a niece or a grandchild. They do not have to shout to hold a conversation.

Hasan, LaMar, Robb, and Were experience annual “security reviews” but their outcome is predetermined.  The prison authorities have told them, in writing:

            “You were admitted to OSP in May of 1998.  We are of the opinion that your placement offense is so severe that you should remain at the OSP permanently or for many years regardless of your behavior while confined at the OSP.”

            The lack of a meaningful review violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. Keeping men in supermax isolation for long periods clearly violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Moreover, the emphasized words above directly violate the explicit instruction of the Supreme Court of the United States in Wilkinson v. Austin.

            These men are being held in solitary confinement permanently, until they are put to death by Ohio or their convictions reversed. This not simply long-term solitary confinement, but in essence permanent solitary confinement.

Other prisoners sentenced to death for alleged crimes comparable to or worse than those for which Hasan, LaMar, Robb, and Were were found guilty have been moved off of Level 5:  to Death Row, to Level 4 at OSP, and out of OSP entirely.  One of the four Lucasville defendants asks, “Must I have a mental breakdown in order to get off Level 5?”

We demand that the Ohio prison authorities remove these four men from Level 5 “supermax” security and that they end the cruel practice of long-term isolated confinement.

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