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Washington Prisoners Protest Money Seizure Law

In the May, 1995, issue of PLN we ran the article Harsher Prison Measures Opposed: "Family Values'' Stop Here which reported the solidarity demonstration held by some 20 people in front of the King County (Seattle), WA jail on March 20, 1995. That same day prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla and women prisoners at the Washington Corrections Center for Women had staged a one day work strike to protest the campaign of hatred being unleashed by demagogues in the state legislature which aimed to strip Washington prisoners of both rights and privileges. The bulk of the anti prisoner legislation was passed in House Bill 2010 (see August, 1995, PLN for a detailed rundown) and enacted as "emergency legislation" on June 15, 1996, the day governor Mike Lowry signed it.

The June, 1995, issue of PLN carried ran the article WA Prisoners Protest HB 2010 which detailed the work stoppage at WSP. The main concern of the prisoners was the loss of the Extended Family Visiting Program for close custody prisoners. We noted at the time that the Western Washington corporate media had ignored the protests, both at the jail and in the prisons. [The Walla Walla Union Bulletin did run a story on the WSP protest, without contacting any prisoners.]

Among the many odious provisions of HB 2010 was Section 8 which mandates that the DOC seize 35% of all funds sent in to prisoners regardless of the source. On February 15,1996 the DOC posted notices from Division of Prisons director Tom Rolfs to the effect that the time for enforcing that provision was near at hand, later specified to begin on May 20, 1996.

On March 4, 1996, almost a year after the initial protests against HB 2010 occurred at other Washington state prisons, more than 400 prisoners at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) in Clallam Bay did not report to their work assignments to protest the law. The strike began in the early morning when kitchen workers refused to report for work. The snout response was immediate heavy handed repression, the prison was locked down for 8 days which is an ironic response: prisoners refuse to work, prisoncrats then refuse to let them work. CBCC has never had sufficient job slots for its prison population and prisoncrats claimed all the strikers were "fired" and quickly replaced. Seventy-two prisoners remained in the prison's sensory deprivation control unit after the work stoppage and many were also summarily transferred to WSP. Most of the strikers were in the close custody portion of the prison.

The Peninsula Daily News continues its heroic tradition as the know nothing press of the Olympic Peninsula (See PLN, January '96, CBCC Prisoners Struggle) by reporting the strike under the headline "Reasons unknown for inmates' work stoppage at Clallam Bay." All resistance by CBCC prisoners is duly reported by the Peninsula Daily News with the headlines that the reasons for it are 'unknown." Of course they don't make much effort to find out.

On March 17, 1996, more than 35 people demonstrated in front of the King County Jail in support of the CBCC strikers and against these repressive laws. Flyers distributed at the event to passersby explained the law and what it means to prisoners and their family members. The flyers asked, "Why do they have to tax the money prisoners receive as gifts when their labor is already stolen from them?" The flyer described the strikes and demonstrations last year to put this into context and noted that last year "the Seattle news media ignored the event after prison officials in Olympia lied to them, saying that no prisons were experiencing disturbances. The Walla Walla Union Bulletin had the story straight from the warden at the Penitentiary, the Seattle Time's news editor was lied to by prisoncrats in Olympia. News of this struggle is not being reported. We feel it is important to let prisoners know that there is some small measure of outside support for their struggle against what amounts to an extra tax on prisoners' families."

On other fronts the struggle against Section 8 of HB 2010 continues. As reported in the August, 1995 PLN, PLN editor Paul Wright filed Wright v. Riveland challenging the constitutionality of the statute in federal court in Tacoma. As we go to press Judge Burgess has granted Wright's motion for class certification (the court did so only after more than 130 prisoners filed suit after Rolfs' February announcement) and appointed counsel to represent the class. The court has not yet ruled on Wright's motion for a Preliminary Injunction staying enforcement of the statute pending the outcome of the litigation. As soon as the court rules on the motion for a PI we will report on the litigation in detail.

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Related legal case

Wright v. Riveland