Five people who are incarcerated in Washington prisons filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and prison officials for arbitrarily punishing them by transferring them across the state and illegally placing them in solitary confinement in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla. These actions by the Defendants are illegal and inhumane and violate Washington’s Constitution.
These actions happened two days after a vast majority of men at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) engaged in non-violent actions — including not attending the cafeteria for breakfast, attending their jobs, or engaging in other activities — after several attempts by people who are incarcerated at CBCC to raise legitimate concerns with DOC, who refused to even discuss them. As detailed in the lawsuit, men at CBCC are regularly subjected to unhealthy food, slave wages, shoddy yet expensive products and services, and group punishment without any opportunity to explain their side of the story, yet DOC administrators have refused to address these serious problems despite repeated requests by men at CBCC that they do so.
In response to the activities on October 7 in which an estimated 90 percent of the prison population–more than 700 people–participated, the prison administration placed the facility on lockdown and sent dozens to isolation. Around 3:00 a.m. on October 9, CBCC staff, dressed in riot gear and armed with tactical weapons, woke up a number of men, including each of the Plaintiffs, shackled them, and loaded them on a bus for a 16-hour trip across Washington to the WSP. They did not receive a meal until 7:00 p.m. that evening and 15 men were placed in solitary confinement.
“Defendants arbitrarily, without sufficient justification or evidence, singled out several men, shipped them across the state in the middle of the night, threw them in solitary confinement and left them there,” said Nick Straley, attorney with Columbia Legal Services who is representing the Plaintiffs. “Thankfully, five brave men are standing up against these illegal actions in an effort to get all of the men released from solitary confinement.”
In the three weeks since the transfer, the Defendants have yet to justify their actions or provide any of the Plaintiffs with any evidence that justifies their placement in solitary confinement. None of the Plaintiffs or other men held in solitary confinement engaged in, threatened, or witnessed any act or threat of violence. On the contrary, Plaintiffs and other men actively and openly cautioned each other against violence.
“We hope our community can feel the urgency of the need for change within the DOC system and support everyone who has been impacted by the strike,” said Felix Sitthivong, one of the Plaintiffs who remains in solitary.
As of today, the DOC has refused to release 13 of the men from the IMU and failed to provide any evidence of wrongdoing by any of the people who have been placed in isolation. Plaintiffs are asking the Court to order Defendants to immediately release them from IMU, return their personal property seized by Defendants, return Plaintiffs to the classification level they held when they were taken from CBCC, and prohibit the Defendants from taking any similar actions again in the future.
“It’s important that these injustices are brought to everyone’s attention so that incarcerated people don’t continue to be treated this way. They are already being punished by being in prison, so it’s wrong for them to be mistreated while they’re doing their time,” said Shaniyah Frazier, whose father was transferred to the WSP IMU on Oct 9th.
Clallam Bay Strike Community Support Group, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Straley, CLS Assistant Deputy Advocacy Director,
Charlie McAteer, CLS Communications