This past holiday season marked the six-month anniversary of the historic Coal Township Dining Hall Boycott, when 1,300 prisoners at SCI Coal Township refused to go to the dining hall for a week to protest food cutbacks and denials of their basic human rights. At the end of that boycott, prisoners released a list of 22 requests/demands. Six months later, the vast majority of these changes have not yet happened and prisoners at Coal Township and across the PA Department of Corrections continue to suffer from inadequate nutrition, poor medical care, unfair disciplinary policies, and separation from their loved ones. That’s why this past December, Decarcerate PA organized the “12 days for Justice,” a social media action campaign inviting individuals, in the 12 days leading up to Christmas, to call and write the Department of Corrections and ask them to implement these reasonable and necessary changes. Each day, Decarcerate highlighted a different demand and encouraged all participating individuals to use their phones, pens, and all forms of social media to draw further attention to the indignities that our imprisoned loved ones continue to suffer.
While the majority of prisoners’ concerns remain unanswered, there have been some positive changes at Coal Township since the dining hall boycott took place. In early June of 2014, in anticipation of the boycott and in an unsuccessful effort to placate prisoners via a single concession, the prison facility opened up Saturday yard for the first time in more than a decade. Since the boycott, the photo policy at the institution has been changed to allow prisoners to take individual photos that do not resemble or require mugshot-like poses and attire. Further, staff at Coal Township now deliver mail when the facility is on lockdown, (which unfortunately occurs with unreasonable frequency). Finally, across the entire PA prison system, a major victory was achieved this December when there was a substantial price reduction for in-state phone calls. This change in phone pricing and policy is one that people inside and outside of the prison walls have been campaigning and petitioning for across many, many years, and its achievement stands as an important tribute to those unflagging efforts.
On the twelfth and final day of the “12 Days for Justice” action, participants wrote, called and emailed to voice their demand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections respect the human rights and dignity of all people in prison. Sadly this last goal is still a far cry from being achieved. However, it is only via our collective and ongoing actions together that we will be able to continue to bring it closer.
For loved ones and family members who want to see more about this recent action, as well as to view and sign on to a comprehensive list of the 22 Demands , please refer them to: http://decarceratepa.info/12days.