Samantha Friedman, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications
Office: (202) 265-3000; Cell: (202) 215-9260; firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In advance of the third prisoner hunger strike in California’s Pelican Bay, Corcoran and Tehachapi Security Housing Units, scheduled to begin Monday, July 8, Director of U.S. Prisons Policy and Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Laura Markle Downton, andNRCAT Board of Directors Vice President, Virginia Classick, are available for interview and comment on torture in U.S. prisons.
As spokespersons for a diverse national coalition of more than 320 U.S. religious organizations, Markle Downton, based at NRCAT’s national office in Washington, and Classick, who lives in the Bay Area, can speak to the significance of the California hunger strike and its implications for the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. Additionally, Markle Downton and Classick will emphasize not only the need for an end to the use of prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons, but also the importance of addressing this devastating practice nationally.
“The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, comprised of more than 320 diverse faith-based organizational members across the United States, joins the call of the prisoners at Pelican Bay and throughout California who will engage in a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions of confinement,” said Markle Downton. “At the same time detainees protest their treatment at Guantanamo Bay, the prisoners of the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit in northern California – and other prisons in California – are taking similar measures. In California, thousands of imprisoned people are held in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day in windowless cells with no educational programming. Some have been in solitary confinement for decades. The reasonable demands of those engaged in the California hunger strike include an end to the egregious use of solitary confinement which currently includes punishing whole racial-ethnic groups for one individual’s behavior, and access to educational programming currently denied to people in solitary confinement.
“The damage of long-term solitary confinement is a violation of human dignity and is of grave concern to the faith community. Conditions of confinement that so violate basic human rights impact not only prisoners, but also their families and loved ones. We stand with all who are harmed by this misapplication of power and urge Governor Brown and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to honor the prisoners’ peaceful demands for an end to torture.”
Markle Downton was named Director of U.S. Prisons Policy and Program at NRCAT in January. Before joining NRCAT, she served as National Organizer for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, and also has worked with religious and legal advocates for employment and housing justice in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. She serves on the Board of Directors for Grassroots Leadership and is a Certified Candidate for ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. She holds a master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Classick, a retired social worker, has served as vice president of NRCAT’s board since January and has been a board member since 2010. She is a member of the Christian-Muslim Consultative Group of Southern California and All Saints Church in Pasadena, where she serves on the vestry. She is also a board member of Progressive Christians Uniting.
NRCAT advocates for eliminating the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons. More information on NRCAT’s work in the field of solitary confinement is available at nrcat.org, as is the organization’s short documentary film on solitary confinement. As an example of its successful work, in 2010, NRCAT partnered with a diverse coalition of organizations in Maine to push for the successful passage of a resolve by the state legislature requiring the Department of Corrections to review its solitary confinement policies and procedures. As a result of the review and its recommendations, the solitary confinement population in Maine has been reduced by more than 70 percent. More information is available at www.nrcat.org.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 320 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.