Phoenix Staff Reports

Over the past thirty years, America has established a legal system which has disproportionately arrested and incarcerated men of color. This article is about the conditions for inmates at the Oneida County Correctional Facility, part one in a series on Mass Incarceration and its impact on American society. CHL

OCCF has a 15 step grievance procedure in place that is initiated after a verbal attempt to resolve an issue cannot be met between detainee and staff. The next step is or the detainee to write a formal grievance stating the nature of the complaint and returning it to the Housing Unit Officer. If they are still unable to satisfy the complaint, the staff is expected to forward it to the appropriate Senior Personnel. This is the point in which all detainees interviewed claim, “the trail goes cold.”

“It’s like they’re just taking our grievances and tossing them in the trash. We never get any responses to any of them. We even asked the Sergeant about these lost grievances and the reply is always “write another one.”
“After doing this a few times, the average individual gives up, goes home, or goes to on prison,” says JC who has been housed at OCCF for the past 7 months. “I’ve personally seen myself many times that the Housing Officer would show the Sergeant a grievance and he’ll say, “Don’t worry. I’ll handle it,” to both the inmate and the officer, with the grievance never to be seen again.”

One of the biggest issues that inmates complain about the most is the food. “I have not had a hot meal in this place during the two months I have been here. And they bologna sandwich you to death,” states a detainee.
He went on to say, “Breakfast is a complete joke, you are served ¼ to ½ cup of corn flakes, a bite-size piece of cornbread and a pint of milk. Then it’s another bologna sandwich, ½ cup of pasta and applesauce, the size of a child’s lunchable. Sometimes the food tastes so bad because it is spoiled and outdated”.

It is understood that paying for Commissary food items is necessary to survive in this jail. Our meals are totally unhealthy. For $10 you are able to order a hot sandwich, fries and a drink. But the fries are cold and the sandwich is the size of a hotdog bun, but it is served hot. So, OCCF does have the ability to provide hot meals. Why don’t they feed us more hot food?” he asks.OCCF uses a company called “Trinity Service Group” to supply commissary for its detainees. Although the company provides a huge selection of food, beverages, clothing and hygiene items, however, everything has been outrageously marked up. For example; a pack of Ramen Noodle Soup ( 3oz bag ) that normally sells in any given supermarket on average 5 for $1 are being sold for $.83 each and the list goes on. There is also sales tax on items which have already undergone huge inflation.

Law Library
A lieutenant was asked why this facility does not have a law library? His response was that it was a security issue. Riker’s Island deals with multiple assaults with regularity and inmates have access to a law library. One inmate remarked, “There have not been any stabbings or any other “security issues “at this facility in the two months that I have been here nor have I heard of any. If one of the officers here even get their feelings hurt verbally they lock the entire jail down.” He looks at this as an example of how non- violent this facility is.
Without a Law Library at OCCF, detainees cannot adequately research the law governing their pending cases. Detainees deserve access to case law to be informed about their rights and options in order to make informed decisions. OCCF handicaps detainees into making uninformed decisions and missing deadlines which results in being unprepared to properly defend oneself.
Detainees without paid attorneys are left to rely upon a public defender who it is reported, “spends less than 10 minutes on their case and does not always have their clients best interest at heart. The only available access to legal material is through a written request on a kiosk placed in the housing unit. You’re lucky if your response is granted within a 72 hr. time frame,” he says.

Hygiene and Decency
Newly received detainees, contrary to principles of hygiene and human decency, are issued used underwear. They are washed then recycled by OCCF. An inmate coming into admission is forced to wear underwear that somebody has worn, which is obvious because they have left ‘their mark’ in them. You can acquire new underwear from OCCF if you have $4.

Phone Service
OCCF uses a phone service provider called “Global Tele link” in which all calls are pre-paid by your loved ones that wish to receive calls from you. Calls within the 315 area code are charged $3.00 for the first minute and 10 cents each additional minute. There also is a surcharge added to the call which brings a 15-minute call to about $5.00 per call. For families to have to choose between placing money on a detainee’s books so that they can have food and hygiene products or placing money on the phone so that they’re able to speak with their loved ones is egregious and wrong.

In conclusion
A detainee or inmate is in OCCF as punishment for some reason. Some are incarcerated because they lack funds to pay fines and or defend themselves which makes it worse. Being locked away from family friends, job, home and the pursuit of happiness is what we on the outside have come to expect. These additional harms and insults to individuals constitute cruel and unusual punishment.


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