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“In 1963 Carl Heller was an internationally renowned medical scientist, a winner of the important Ciba Prize. In the field of endocrinology, he was a preeminent researcher, so it is not surprising that when the AEC decided to fund work on how radiation affects male reproductive function, they would turn to him. He designed a study to test the effects of radiation on the somatic and germinal cells of the testes, the doses of radiation that would produce changes or induce damage in spermatogenic cells, the amount of time it would take for cell production to recover, and the effects of radiation on hormone excretion.

To accomplish this he had a machine designed and built that would give a carefully calibrated, uniform dose of radiation from two sides. The subject lay face down with his scrotum in a small plastic box filled with warm water to encourage the testes to descend. On either side of the box were a matched set of x-ray tubes. The alignment of the x-ray beams could be checked through a system of peepholes and mirrors. Subjects were required to agree to be vasectomized because of a perceived small risk of chromosomal damage that could lead to their fathering genetically damaged children. To carry out this work Dr. Heller was to receive grants totaling $1.12 million over ten years.

Mavis Rowley, Dr. Heller’s former laboratory assistant, who was interviewed by Advisory Committee staff in 1994, said that the AEC “was looking for a mechanism to measure the effect of ionizing radiation on the human body… .” She said testicular irradiation was promising because the testes have “a cell cycle and physiology which allows you to make objective measurements of dosimetry and effect without having to expose the whole body to radiation.”

Although official documentation is fragmentary, it is clear from other evidence such as interviews and contemporary newspaper articles that the concerns cited above–worker exposures, potential exposures of the general population as a result of accidents or bomb blasts, and exposures of astronauts in space–were of interest to the AEC.

In the case of the astronauts, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been able to find no evidence of direct involvement in Dr. Heller’s project. Yet Ms. Rowley remembers with clarity that NASA representatives, even astronauts themselves, attended meetings with their research team. In her 1994 interview, she said, “NASA was also very interested in this… . There was a section of activity which was devoted to what effect would the sun flares and so forth, which give out significant radiation have on the astronauts. And so there were meetings that went on which actually included some of the astronauts attending them… .” Rowley explained that the astronauts were concerned that reduced testosterone production might make them lose muscle function, which could compromise their mission, but, belying the comment of the colonel in the 1949 nuclear-powered airplane meeting who said that crewmen were concerned about anything physically harmful, she said they seemed altogether unconcerned “about their own health." During his 1976 deposition, Dr. Heller remarked: "What we would like to supply the medical community with is what happens when you give continual very small doses such as might be given to an astronaut." Moreover, in 1965, Dr. Heller served as a consultant to a Space Radiation Panel of the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council. And finally, Harold Bibeau, an Oregon subject, recalls that Dr. Heller told him when he signed up for the program that NASA was interested in the results.

At the time the Oregon experiment got under way, using prisoners as research subjects was an accepted practice in the United States. And in this particular study Oregon law was interpreted by state officials as permitting an inmate to give his consent to a vasectomy, which they appear to have seen as analogous to consenting to becoming an experimental subject. However, important ethical concerns of today such as balancing risks and benefits, the quality of informed consent, and subject-selection criteria appear, on the whole, not to have been carefully addressed or not addressed at all by the investigators or those responsible for oversight.

With respect to the health risks associated with the testicular irradiations, there was very little reliable "human” information at the time about the long-term effects of organ-specific testicular exposure to radiation. Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb data, however, which of course were not organ specific, suggested that the likelihood of inducing cancers with the amount of radiation Dr. Heller planned to use was small. By way of comparison, today’s standard radiotherapy of the pelvis, for prostate cancer for example, often results in doses to the testicles in the ranges encountered in these experiments.

So what did Dr. Heller tell subjects about the chronic risk? The answer appears to have been nothing in the early years and, later on, perhaps a vague reference to the possibility of “tumors” but not cancer. In a deposition taken in 1976 a subject named John Henry Atkinson said he was never told there was a possibility of getting cancer or any kind of tumors as a result of the testicular irradiation experiments. Other subjects deposed in 1976 also said they had not been warned of cancer risk, and when asked by one subject about the potential for “bad effects,” Dr. Heller was reported to have said, “one chance in a million.” When asked in his own deposition what the potential risks were, Dr. Heller said, “The possibility of tumors of the testes.” In response to the question “Are you talking about cancer?” Dr. Heller responded, “I didn’t want to frighten them so I said tumor; I may have on occasion said cancer.”

The acute risks of the exposures included skin burns, pain from the biopsies, orchitis (testicular inflammation) induced by repeated biopsies, and bleeding into the scrotum from the biopsies. Using consent forms and depositions as a basis for determining what the subjects were told, it appears that they were adequately informed about the possibility of skin burns; sometimes informed, but perhaps inadequately, about the possibility of pain; informed about the possibility of bleeding only from 1970 on; and never informed of the possibility of orchitis. As far as the quality of consent is concerned, the evidence suggests that many if not most of the subjects might not have appreciated that some small risk of testicular cancer was involved. It is also not clear that all subjects understood that there could be significant pain associated with the biopsies and possible long-term effects.

In selecting subjects, Dr. Heller appears to have relied on the prison grapevine to get out the word about a project he apparently believed the Atomic Energy Commission did not want publicized. In a 1964 memorandum he was paraphrased as saying “at Oregon State Penitentiary, the existence of the project is practically unknown.” In a 1966 letter to the National Institutes of Health describing the review process at the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, a respected, free-standing research center, Dr. Heller and two colleagues wrote that “the inmates are well informed by fellow inmates regarding the general procedures concerned (i.e., collecting seminal samples, collecting urines for hormone studies, submitting to testicular biopsies, receiving medication orally or by injection, and having vasectomies … )." If the volunteers were healthy and normal they were accepted for a trial period during which they donated semen samples. If all went well, in a matter of weeks they were accepted into the radiation program, as long as the prison’s Roman Catholic chaplain certified that they were not Roman Catholics–because of the church’s objection to their providing masturbated semen samples–and they could pass what appears to have been a cursory psychological screening designed to ensure they had no underlying objections to the required vasectomy. A copy of a form titled "Psychiatric Examination” provided by Harold Bibeau and signed with the initials of the examining psychiatrist, WHC for William Harold Cloyd, says in full:

11-4-64 Seen for Dr. Heller —- Never married, quite vague about future. Feels he doesn’t want children —- shouldn’t have any. I agree. No contraindication to sterilization.

As far as potential health benefits to the subjects are concerned, there were none, and the inmates who volunteered for the research were told so. The benefits were in the form of financial incentives. A review of applications for Dr. Heller’s program, and depositions of prisoners who sued Dr. Heller, various other individuals, and the state and federal governments for violation of their rights, clearly indicates that money was in most cases the most important consideration in deciding to volunteer. In prison industry inmates were typically paid 25 cents a day. For participating in the Heller program they received $25 for each testicular biopsy, of which most inmates had five or more, plus a bonus when they were vasectomized at the end of the program, which appears to have been an additional $25. Some inmates indicated that they were grateful for an opportunity to perform a service to society. An obvious ethical question is whether the money constituted a coercive offer to prisoners.

During the course of his study between 1963 and 1973, Dr. Heller irradiated sixty-seven inmates of the Oregon State Prison. Nominally, three institutions had some oversight responsibility for Dr. Heller’s work–the Oregon Department of Corrections, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, where Dr. Heller was employed. Practically speaking, however, it appears that Dr. Heller conducted his research independently. As an example of his independence, as recounted by Ms. Rowley, the AEC requested that Dr. Heller begin irradiating subjects at 600 rad and work upward, but he refused and in the end set 600 rad as an upper limit. (It is not clear whether Dr. Heller was concerned about risk to the subjects’ health or other research criteria.) Dr. Heller also was a member of the committee at Pacific Northwest Research Foundation that had responsibility for overseeing his research, giving him a voice in the oversight process. This committee was authorized under a foundation regulation titled “Policy and Procedures of the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation With Regard to Investigations Involving Human Subjects.” In a section on ethical policy, the document says: “Since 1958 the investigators of this Foundation have conducted all research under the ethical provisions of the Nuremburg [sic] Code, modified to permit consent by parents or legal guardians.”[

In January 1973, in a rapidly changing research ethics environment, the Oregon irradiations were terminated when Amos Reed, administrator of the Corrections Division, ordered all medical experimentation programs shut down essentially because he concluded that prisoners could not consent freely to participate as subjects. It is not known exactly what was behind the timing of Reed’s decision, but according to Oregon Times Magazine, he had recently read Jessica Mitford’s article in the Atlantic Monthly titled “Experiments Behind Bars” and an article in The (Portland) Oregonian headlined “Medical Research Provides Source of Income for Prisoners.”

In 1976, a number of subjects filed lawsuits effectively alleging poorly supervised research and lack of informed consent. In their depositions they alleged among other things that prisoners had sometimes controlled the radiation dose to which they were exposed, that an inmate with a grudge against a subject filled a syringe with water instead of Novocain, resulting in a vasectomy performed without anesthetic, and that the experimental procedures resulted in considerable pain and discomfort for which they were not prepared. These suits were settled out of court in 1979. Nine plaintiffs shared $2,215 in damages.

For the last twenty years all efforts to put in place a medical follow-up program for the Oregon subjects have been unsuccessful. Dr. Heller and Ms. Rowley explicitly favored regular medical follow-up. During the period between 1976 and 1979, the pending lawsuits might have been the reason for the state’s reluctance to initiate a follow-up program, but it is less clear why during other periods such efforts have also failed. Two possible reasons suggested by state officials are the cost of such a program and the difficulty of finding released convicts. Other possible reasons are that a follow-up program would not provide a significant health benefit to former subjects and that it would not provide significant new scientific knowledge. According to Tom Toombs, administrator of the Corrections Division of the State of Oregon at the time of the lawsuits, the Corrections Division wrote to the AEC’s successor (the Energy Research and Development Administration) in early 1976 recommending medical follow-up for the subjects. Mr. Toombs said there was no record of a response to this request. In 1990, James Ruttenber, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, designed a follow-up program for Oregon, but it has not been implemented. In an interview with Advisory Committee staff, Dr. Ruttenber said state officials told him that Oregon does not have sufficient funds to carry out his plan.”

– “Chapter 9.2: The Oregon and Washington Experiments,” Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, Final Report. US Department of Energy Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security Search, 1994.

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“Isolated incidents of prison-based research before World War II formed the foundation for a practice that would become firmly embedded in the structure of American clinical research during World War II. Perhaps the most significant wartime medical research project in which American scientists employed prisoners as research subjects was centered in Illinois’s Stateville Prison. Beginning in 1944, hundreds of Illinois prisoners submitted to experimental cases of malaria as researchers attempted to find more effective means to prevent and cure tropical diseases that ravaged Allied forces in the Pacific Theater. 

In 1947, a committee was established by the governor of Illinois to examine the ethics of using state prisoners as research subjects. The committee was chaired by Andrew Ivy, a prominent University of Illinois physiologist and the chief expert witness on medical ethics for the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Medical Trial, where prison research was a salient topic. The committee pronounced the wartime experiments at Stateville Prison “ideal” in their conformity with the newly adopted rules of the American Medical Association concerning human experimentation. The AMA rules, which Ivy had played a key role in developing, included provisions stipulating voluntary consent from subjects, prior animal experimentation, and carefully managed research under the authority of properly qualified clinical researchers. Perhaps most significantly, the findings of Ivy’s committee were announced to the American medical community when the group’s final report was reproduced in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The appearance of this report in the nation’s leading medical journal both represented and reinforced the sentiment that prison research was ethically acceptable.

Publicly aired assertions that experimentation on prisoners relied on exploitation or coercion were extremely rare in the United States before the late 1960s. One criticism of medical research behind bars did, however, emerge with some frequency: prisoners who participated in research were somehow escaping from their just measures of punishment. Inmates were usually offered rewards in exchange for their scientific services, ranging from more comfortable surroundings, to cash, to early release. Perhaps the most powerful statement of the concern that convicts should not receive special treatment because they had participated in an experiment came from the AMA. In 1952, this organization formally approved a resolution stating its “disapproval of the participation in scientific experiments of persons convicted of murder, rape, arson, kidnapping, treason, or other heinous crimes.” The AMA was alarmed that some such criminals “have not only received citations, but have in some instances been granted parole much sooner than would otherwise have occurred." 

It should be noted that the use of prisoners as research subjects seems to have been a uniquely American practice in the years following World War II. The large-scale successes of prison experimentation during World War II–and the authoritative pronouncement of the Ivy Committee that prison research could be conducted in an ethical fashion–seem to have given the practice a kind of momentum in this country that it did not have elsewhere. In other countries it seems that the first clause of the Nuremberg Code was interpreted to preclude the use of prisoners in experimentation. This clause begins with the assertion that the only acceptable experimental subjects are those who are "so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice.”

It is difficult to overemphasize just how common the practice became in the United States during the postwar years. Researchers employed prisoners as subjects in a multitude of experiments that ranged in purpose from a desire to understand the cause of cancer to a need to test the effects of a new cosmetic. After the Food and Drug Administration’s restructuring of drug-testing regulations in 1962, prisoners became almost the exclusive subjects in nonfederally funded Phase I pharmaceutical trials designed to test the toxicity of new drugs. By 1972, FDA officials estimated that more than 90 percent of all investigational drugs were first tested on prisoners.

It appears that throughout the history of medical experimentation on American prisoners many inmates have valued the opportunity to participate in medical research. One must quickly add that such an observation points to the paucity of opportunities open to most prisoners. The common perception among inmates that participating in a medical experiment was a good opportunity has had an important impact on the racial aspects of prison experimentation. Because of the large numbers of African-Americans in prison (and the overt racial exploitation of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study, in which black men with syphilis were observed but not treated), it might be assumed that minorities predominated as research subjects in prisons. The opposite has generally been true; white prisoners have usually been overrepresented in the “privileged” role of research subject. In most prison studies before and during World War II, it seems that all of the research subjects were white. In 1975, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research carefully examined the racial composition of the research subjects at a prison with a major drug-testing program. The commission found that African-Americans made up only 31 percent of the subject population, while this racial “minority” formed 68 percent of the general prison population.

The shift in public opinion against the use of prisoners as research subjects, which began in the late 1960s, was no doubt tied to many other social and political changes sweeping the country: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the patients’ rights movement, the prisoners’ rights movement, and the general questioning of authority associated with the anti-Vietnam War protests. But, as has been common in the history of human experimentation, scandal galvanized public attention, brought official inquiry, and resulted in significant change. A major scandal in prison experimentation came when the New York Times published a front-page article on July 29, 1969, detailing an ethically and scientifically sloppy drug-testing program that a physician had established in the state prisons of Alabama. Even more sensational was Jessica Mitford’s January 1973 Atlantic Monthly article. In this article, Mitford portrayed experimentation on prisoners as a practice built on exploitation and coercion of an extremely disadvantaged class.[66] When the article reappeared later in 1973 as a chapter in her widely read book critiquing American prisons, she had come up with an especially provocative and suggestive title for this section of the book: “Cheaper than Chimpanzees." Mitford, and most of the growing number who condemned experimentation on prisoners during the 1970s (and after), offered two arguments against the practice. First, prisoners were identified as incapable of offering voluntary consent because of a belief that most (some argued, all) prisons are inherently coercive environments. Another line of argument was based on a principle of justice that stipulated that one class–especially a disadvantaged class such as prisoners–should not be expected to carry an undue burden of service in the realm of medical research.”

– “Chapter 9.4 History of Prison Research Regulation,” Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, Final Report. US Department of Energy Office of Environment, Health, Safety and Security Search, 1994.

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01:56 Matt: I’m noticing that you’re saying segregation, you’re not saying solitary.

02:00 Lisa: So the technical official language in the legislation is segregation. To me, it’s a synonym. Solitary confinement, as we’ve known it in Canada, is synonymous with what is endorsed in the legislation as administrative or disciplinary segregation. And there were many years where Corrections took the position, “Well, we don’t have solitary confinement in Canada, that’s nowhere in our legislation. That’s an American practice, that’s not something we do.” Thankfully, that battle is behind us at this point, and there’s no doubt that this government accepts that we have been doing, what is effectively solitary confinement and that is this practice of keeping people in cells for 23 hours a day and subjecting them to sensory deprivation, social isolation, occupational deprivation, and there’s of course now a large literature on the mental and physical harms that flow from that level of isolation.

02:58 Matt: But I mean… And I guess, again, naive and largely informed by a lifetime spent in pop culture. I’ve always just kind of thought that solitary was for the worst of the worst. It’s how you… It’s where you put the people who are super bad.

03:10 Lisa: It’s a common presumption that anyone who gets thrown in the hole is the worst of the worst. And at this point, what we’re… What is very clear from the empirical evidence is that people with mental health problems are actually vulnerable to being placed in segregation. Why is that? Because they’re the ones who often have a difficult time managing in the general prison population. So general population is quite a demanding environment, socially speaking. You have to be able to navigate complex social arrangements, you have to be able to manage friendships in complex ways, in ways that in ordinary society we’re really not put to challenges like that, you have to manage your relationships with correctional officers and do all of this amid conditions of serious social deprivation.

04:02 Lisa: So people with mental health challenges often don’t do well in the prison context, and so they’re at risk because for correctional officers, they have to somehow manage, manage the prisoner society, and so where people are having difficulties there’s only so many resources and options that correctional officers have, and in recent decades placing someone in a solitary cell, is one way of dealing with the problem. But of course, people with mental health problems are not the worst of the worst, far from it, they’re people who need more meaningful social supports and more meaningful programs and interventions than other inmates. And so this has been one of the real dysfunctions of the use of solitary is that the mentally ill are at risk of being placed there, at more risk than other inmate groups, and the effects of solitary are more severe on them.

04:55 Matt: Then that raises… Just to put a fine point on it. You don’t get sentenced to solitary. When you get sent to prison, the judge doesn’t say, “I’m sentencing you to solitary.” It’s just he sends you to prison. And segregation is an administrative decision.

05:09 Lisa: That’s such an important point, it’s absolutely correct. The sentencing judge has no idea whether the person before them is going to serve their time in solitary or not. And in fact, I think if a sentencing judge were aware of this issue it may actually impact their decision not only whether to sentence you to custody, but what the length of that sentence should be, given that it’s a much more severe form of state punishment. So it’s true, the reasons you get placed in solitary have nothing to do with the offence you’re convicted of. And I do think this gives rise to real problems in terms of the proportionality of punishment in our system. I think the most famous case in Canada, and the case that really activated a national consciousness around this issue is the case of Ashley Smith, and she was of course 19 years old when she died in a segregation cell having been held there for many months and Ashley Smith had committed no remotely serious criminal conduct in the community. When she was placed in juvenile custody, she’d done nothing more than throw crab apples at a postal worker. She had difficulties as a young person, no question, but nothing resembling serious criminal conduct, and yet she was subjected to the most severe form of state punishment in our system.

06:32 Matt: So, and this sounds like… You were alluding to this earlier, it’s… It is an overstressed and in some cases probably not that well-trained system in terms of people making this decision as something they see as a tool in the toolbox and not necessarily understanding how to use it in the most appropriate way.

06:50 Lisa: Well, sure, it’s one of the only tools in the toolbox, and that is… I think this new legislation that the Federal Liberal Party have just tabled. You can see indications in this legislation that we’re gonna listen more to healthcare professionals commenting on whether a segregation placement is appropriate or what’s called these placement in these structured intervention units that the new legislation talks about. And so I think there is a growing recognition that this has been one of the only tools in the toolbox for correctional officers and that we need to move away from it, particularly where it has negative health effects and that we need to invest more in our system to delivering interventions and programs that might assist inmates rather than placing them in segregation and seeing their condition and personality deteriorate.

07:50 Matt: So let’s talk a bit about the new legislation. What’s in it?

07:55 Lisa: Well, the main… It’s interesting, there’s been a couple of… This is now the second draft bill we’ve seen in a year from the liberals, so they’ve taken a couple of different sort of shots at this, and this new bill is really a different approach than what we’ve seen before. Previously over the last couple of years the Liberals have added some procedural protections for those placed in segregation, so some limits on reviews and the timing and so on. Whereas this new bill you’re hearing the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, promote this bill by saying that it’s really about ending solitary. And in a significant sense, it does do that.

08:35 Lisa: So, the sections in the prison legislation that allowed administrative segregation, which was sort of the most nefarious practice of segregation, those provisions are repealed under this legislation; would be repealed. So the word segregation will no longer even appear in the legislation, they are replaced with what’s called legislation that allows the use of what’s called “structured intervention units” and the really important change here is that inmates who are placed in these units… No, inmates can still be separated from the general prison population and for the same reasons as before, but now they’ll be entitled to get out of their cells each day for a minimum of four hours, and for two of those four hours it has to be for some sort of meaningful social contact or intervention. So there’s still problems with this new bill and there’s critics who are already asking whether it’s gonna be segregation by a new name or segregation light. But I think it’s significant to really change the sort of culture around just abandoning someone in a cell for 23 hours a day and instead saying every human being in our prison system is entitled to contact with other people and to some form of programming and to be out of their cells for at least a few hours a day. I think that’s an important shift, and this legislation promises to do that.

10:04 Matt: So do you think it will pass?

10:08 Lisa: I do, I think that… I think this government… I mean I’m not an insider in the legislative process, but from what I hear, this government is committed to getting this legislation passed before the election and they really do, I think, want to be the government that ends solitary confinement and that implements, in some way at least, the inquest recommendations following the death of Ashley Smith. They’re also facing two major charter lawsuits that are now set to be heard in provincial courts of appeal in Ontario and British Columbia. And the the legal effect of the judgements that we’ve already had in those cases are that the current provisions that allow administrative segregation, are set to fall, they’ve been declared unconstitutional. There’s been a sort of delay in the effect of those judgements to give government a chance to respond, but those provisions are soon going to be void.

11:10 Matt: Right?

11:10 Lisa: So, the government really did have to act, given that that litigation is… The results of that litigation.

11:18 Matt: So this is a bit kind of spinning, at the end of the day. They’re sort of getting ahead of it and saying, “Look, we’re doing something great,” when kind of the writing was already on the wall, and they were gonna be put in that position regardless, right?

11:28 Lisa: Look, they’re government, they’re government, they’re trying to do multiple things at a time and they’re always… And they’re always having to choose what priorities they have, at any given time. This government when it came to power in those mandate letters that were released from the Prime Minister to his various ministers, they said the Public Safety Minister was directed to implement the Ashley Smith recommendations, did they work on that on day two? No. But it’s not surprising that, especially when it comes to prisoner rights, this is not a… Prisoners aren’t a group that most government spend time working for, unfortunately, they’re a very marginalized voiceless population, so it’s not surprising that pushing through with lawsuits even when we had a government that indicated willingness to reform was still hugely necessary in pushing this to the top of the list. Public Safety Minister is probably one of the busiest ministers in this government and I think that it’s understandable that it took… That it took ongoing pressure to push this legislation to the top of his to do list.

– Matt Shepherd and Lisa Kerr, “A LOOK INSIDE SOLITARY (AND THE PROMISE OF REFORM).” Queen’s University Law Podcast Series. October 29, 2018.

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“Puts Blame on City Officials,” Toronto Globe. September 21, 1917. Page 05.

Provincial Secretary Holds Inquiry as to Handling of Prisoners
—-
TRANSFERS TO JAIL FARM

Hon. W. D. McPherson Gives Figures Compiled After He Had the Meeting With Mayor Church.

Any delay that takes place in the removal of prisoners from the Toronto Jail to the Municipal Farm is attributable to the city officials, according to Hon. W. D. McPherson, Provincial Secretary, who yesterday made an investigation into the transfer and handling of prisoners at the Municipal Farm. Mayor Church declared on Wednesday that the city had purchased the farm and the government insisted that the prisoners should be kept in the city jail.

Provincial Secretary’s Statement.
Mr. McPherson made the promised investigation yesterday, after which he issued the following statement:

‘The Provincial Secretary’s Department receives a daily statement from the head turnkey of the Toronto Jail of the male and female population at the jail each day. Yesterday there were 84 male prisoners and 23 female. Of the 81 male prisoners, 50 were remands, whose cases had not been disposed of by the Court, consequently no transfer could be made from the jail to the Municipal Farm of any of them, as they are required to be in attendance at the Court on such day as they cases have been remanded to. Eighteen of the women in the same position. This leaves a total of men whose cases had been disposed of, or 34, and five women. Under the arrangement between the Provincial Secretary’s Department and City Commissioner Chisholm. 11 male prisoners are at all times required to be kept at the jail for the performance of necessary duties, which, if not performed by prisoners, would require to be performed by paid labor.

Handling the Prisoners.
‘Deducting this 11 would leave, yesterday, 20 men who had been sentenced, and of these two were for sentences of five days each, two were for sentences of 10 days each, two were required to be held for the Federal authorities for transfer to Kingston Penitentiary. One is a man of 83 years of age, too infirm to be of any value at the Municipal Farm. One requires to be held at the jail as a witness in a pending case, and warrants had been issued earlier in the day by the Inspector of Prisons, as is his daily custom, to the Sheriff of the city of Toronto for removal to the Municipal Farm of those prisoners who should go there, and to the Provincial Bailiff for the prisoners who should go to the Provincial Institution at Burwash, according to the length of their various sentences.

Ten Women in City Jail.
‘Of the five women whose cases had been disposed of and who were sentenced, three, I regret to say, were suffering from disease which unfitted them for life at the Women’s Industrial Farm at Concord, and in the case of the other two, their sentences were for five days each.

‘As soon as the Inspectors of Prisons receives the daily statement from the head turnkey, warrants are immediately issued to the Sheriff of Toronto, authorizing the necessary transfers of the Toronto prisoners, also warrants are issued to the Provincial Bailiff for the transfers of those prisoners whose sentence is for a period long enough to require them to be transferred to a Provincial Institution. When the warrant is issued by the Inspector to the Sheriff, the prisoner passes from the control of the department to the control of the city officials, and whatever delay there may be in making the transfers is referable to them and not to our department.’

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“On Christmas Day 1959 at Clinton Prison in Dannemora, New York, a small group of Muslims had gathered in the recreation yard. As one prisoner remembered, it “was snowing and it was very cold, but as usual, on Friday we would meet to [have] a short prayer regardless of inclement weather or anything else.” The men, numbering from ten to seventy prisoners, had routinely met in this area for almost a year. The group had grown over the years, and their physical space expanded as well, encompassing a fifteen-yard long-by-seventy-yard-wide area paved with stones the men had collected from the yard. A stove was used for cooking and an oven for baking since the mess halls did not offer halal preparations. A blackboard contained illustrations and notes on current events and readings from the Qur’an. As was common, a prison officer monitored the congregation from ten feet away. Joseph X Magette reflected, we “were tolerated. I wouldn’t say we were admitted, but we weren’t denied the right to meet.”

The men gathered at Clinton Prison had arrived from a variety of different backgrounds during the mid-1950s. None were Muslim when sentenced, and unlike members of the Nation of Islam incarcerated in federal prisons during World War II for refusing to register with the selective service alongside six thousand other conscientious objectors, they did not have political backgrounds or political charges that brought them to prison. William X SaMarion was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and raised as Protestant Episcopalian before converting in prison under the teachings of Teddy Anderson, a Muslim associated with the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (AMI). SaMarion was incarcerated for stealing two pounds of pork chops, a slab of bacon, and 172 packs of cigarettes before later denouncing such items after converting. James X Walker and Magette both made their profession of faith at Clinton Prison in early 1959. Magette had experienced run-ins with the law since his early teens, having fled the scene of a burglary in Harlem before being shot twice by a police officer when he was fifteen. Martin X Sostre had the most political upbringing of the four. He was born to Puerto Rican and Haitian parents in 1923; his father was a Communist merchant seaman, and his mother was a cap maker. They settled in Harlem, where he was influenced by Lewis Michaux’s African National Memorial Bookstore and the stepladder orators on 125th Street. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade and was drafted in 1942. After serving a brief stint in the Korean War, he was arrested in 1952 for heroin possession. When asked if he used the drug, he responded: “I’m too smart for that. Only suckers use that stuff.” 

The men at Clinton Prison were part of a rich Muslim community, consisting, according to Sostre, of thirty believers belonging to “at least four different sects of Islam, both of orthodox and non-orthodox, namely Afamdiya [Ahmadiyya], Moorish, Science [Moorish Science Temple], Muhahhad [most likely Nation of Islam] and non-denomination.” Many of the men associated with the NOI credited their conversion to Anderson, who maintained the only copy of the Qur’an at the prison. “We would have to consult with him and borrow it from him,” Sostre remembered. “He was reluctant to lend it out, naturally, but usually he would loan it out to ones that wanted to peruse it.” Tomas X Bratcher later described a similar community at Auburn Prison: “some were Ahmadiyya, some were Moorish Science Islams, some were Sunni Muslims, some were Wahapi [Wahhabi]… . We had a non-sectarian class. Tat means that we did not lean to the teachings of any so-called sect in Islam.” Although many of the men were introduced to Islam through the AMI and other groups, they formed a small but growing community that gravitated toward the teachings of the NOI.

What separated the Nation of Islam from other Muslim sects also prompted concern from prison officials: its black nationalist politics and critique of global white supremacy. One of the principal activities of the brotherhood in prison was teaching a robust array of classes in the yard. SaMarion, along with Magette and Walker, was in charge of organizing these lessons; the group covered a diverse set of teachings, including business, Islam, Arabic, black history, and law. The “Mufti is known as the one that keeps the peace within the group, discipline,” SaMarion explained.

The treasurer is one that holds the finances, sees that—if we are short of toothpaste or tooth powder, or the brother has no money and is trying to buy some books, that he has the toothpaste or the tooth powder. Te librarian is the one that has the control of all the literature that we were able to fll our lockers with; literature pertaining to our own kind, Black Man’s literature, Black Man’s history, mathematics, Arabic, anything we thought would help us in our educational field… . The secretary is the one that would record the day’s activities, would record the statements of some of the brothers.

The Muslim Brotherhood (as the organization was known inside prisons) even had its own constitution and subscribed to a shared economic system that used tithing and organizational dues for “supplementing the diet of the members and further[ing] the cause of the Brotherhood.”

While the fundamental crux of prisoners’ legal cases against the state appeared to be religious rather than political, it is important to recognize how the Nation of Islam’s religious views were racialized by prison and state officials. For example, New York State prison inspector Richard Woodward described Demir Asan as “a Moslem but it must be assumed that he is of the legitimate religion as he is white and has a name that might be assumed to be from the Far East.” In the SaMarion trial, the prosecuting attorney Richard Griffin attempted to illustrate the way that “Muslim” was used by prison officials to connote blackness, while whiteness was often decoupled from reference to religious beliefs. Prisons even allowed access to The Glorious Koran, translated by the white English convert Marmaduke Pickthall in 1930 but refused copies of the Arabic translation with
English commentary by the Indian-born Maulana Muhammad Ali. In these ways the prison system’s distinction between legitimate (seemingly color-blind) and illegitimate (race-conscious) expressions of Islam underscored how the NOI’s religious beliefs were, in the state’s eyes, inextricable from racial militancy.

Despite prison officials’ efforts to divert Muslim converts toward the Ahmadiyya
Movement in Islam’s ostensibly apolitical teachings, the NOI continued to thrive in New York throughout the late 1950s. Because the Muslim prisoners were not given a formal space to hold services within the prison, informal prayers such as those described at Clinton Prison often took place in the prison yard. Prisoners relied on memorized prayer, passing surahs to one another through oral tradition. These prayers, SaMarion recalled, were “learned by heart, to be able to speak about.” The basis for many of these lessons were editorials by Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X, published in black newspapers in the late 1950s. “Most of us have never seen the inside of a Temple,” Tomas X Bratcher

wrote to Malcolm X, “we have had to make up our own lesson from articles appearing in the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch.” While the censorship of black newspapers by prison officials was never as thorough as their ban of Muhammad Speaks beginning in the 1960s, prisons nevertheless monitored and confiscated newspapers carrying editorials by the Nation of Islam; these included the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Amsterdam News, and the Los Angeles Herald-Dispatch

The stark contrast between the “tolerance” that Magette described at Clinton Prison prior to Christmas Day 1959 and the various punishments levied against Muslim prisoners after it reveals the strategies developed by the state to suppress political agitation and the spread of Islam in New York prisons over the following decade. “All of the sudden the situation changed completely,” he testified. “Thereafter we were in complete segregation” (solitary confinement). The officer monitoring the congregation that day had reported hearing one of the prisoners say that the group was going to take over solitary confinement. He then issued a disciplinary report charging them with hosting an “unauthorized meeting under the guise of an assembly for religious purposes.” The prisoner who made the remark was locked up immediately, and the other men were soon taken to disciplinary court and moved to a minimum-privilege area. Some even remained in solitary confinement until June of the following year. 

The timing of the response by prison officials was not accidental. An entire apparatus of state control emerged in the months following the airing of The Hate That Hate Produced in the summer of 1959. The serial documentary was almost singularly responsible for introducing the Nation of Islam to the broader public, and, as its name implied, it portrayed black nationalism as the by-product of white racism—a specter of “black hate” causing hysteria among white viewers while suturing their guilt by suggesting that racism was not racially distinct. The documentary positioned the NOI as a “hate group” not unlike George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan, often referring to them as “black racists” and “black supremacists.” As the historian Claude Clegg notes, the documentary marked a departure in media coverage of the NOI from the “othering” Orientalist tropes of “voodoo cults” and rumors of human sacrifice toward a discourse of “reverse racism.” In fact, the phrase “black racism” did not exist prior to the documentary, and within one month of its airing the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins had issued a public statement denouncing the group as teaching “black supremacy.”

The Hate That Hate Produced also played a crucial role in pushing the doctoral student C. Eric Lincoln decisively toward publication of The Black Muslims in America. The phrase “Black Muslims” was Lincoln’s creation and was later rejected by the Nation of Islam in part because it severed the NOI from a global Muslim community. Malcolm X recalled the years he spent trying to refute the label: “Every newspaper and magazine writer and microphone I got close to: ‘No! We are black people here in America. Our religion is

Islam. We are properly called ‘Muslims!’” The combination of Mike Wallace’s documentary and Lincoln’s book provided a framework for carceral actors, ranging from police to prison officials, criminologists, and even federal judges, to understand the Nation of Islam as a hate group masquerading under the auspices of religion. The phrase “Black Muslims” became linguistic shorthand for this argument by the state. 

This understanding set the stage for a struggle between Muslim prisoners needing to legitimize their religious beliefs before the courts and prison officials fathering evidence to demonstrate that the group was, in fact, using religion to cover its subversive political aims. Bratcher astutely anticipated the attorney general’s defense in his letter to Malcolm X prior to SaMarion: “I can see that his main argument is going to be in the presenting of certain publications out of books, magazines, and papers about the Muslims… . He is going to try and justify the warden’s violation of our constitutional rights by submitting these published reports to the court saying that we are preaching ‘hate’ and we are a
fanatical group not recognized by the rest of Muslim World.”

Carceral authorities had an insatiable appetite for Lincoln’s book, positioned as an “objective” and nuanced portrait of the organization due to Lincoln’s identity as a black Christian scholar. As the NOI became a greater topic of conversation in race relations and as its presence in prisons grew, the state attempted to develop a consistent logic to justify suppression of Islam among prisoners. Lincoln’s book was widely read and distributed among criminologists and prison officials as the organization gained a stronger footing in America’s prison system. Soon after the book’s release, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) mailed Lincoln a copy of its review in the lapd newsletter with a personal note: “We thought you might like to see our Trainee’s review of your book.” Upon request, Lincoln had a copy of his book delivered to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and ensured his full cooperation. Reuben Horlick of the American Association of Correctional Psychologists invited Lincoln to participate in a panel discussion on the “Black Muslims” at the 1963 convention of the American Correctional Association (ACA). Bernard F. Robinson, a sociologist in the Illinois prison system, wrote Lincoln that not “only did I benefit by your very instructive statements regarding the Black Muslim Movement, but my fellow staff members also considered themselves well edified as a result of your correspondence.” And in May 1961 Richard Woodward reviewed what he called a “fine book by Eric Lincoln” for a new monthly memo on the Nation of Islam that would be distributed throughout the state prison system in New York.

These new highly confidential memos were instituted just after a meeting between Commissioner McGinnis and representatives from the offices of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz in January 1960. McGinnis called the meeting after having been named in a number of writs from Muslims at Clinton Prison. He reported that the Nation of Islam was “spreading like a cancerous growth and was becoming a most serious problem.” Since “it was going to be a continuing thing; and because of the racial feature, [McGinnis] felt that some policy should be formulated.” The Division of State Police then contacted what were known as “subversive units” in major cities across the country to cull information and form a special file on the Nation of Islam. Woodward would serve as a liaison officer between the Department of Correction and the New York State Police. More accurately than he could have known, Malcolm X noted in his autobiography that the NOI’s presence in prisons was “as big a single worry as the American prison system has today.” “I’m sure,” he added, that “they monitored what I wrote to add to the files which every state and federal prison keeps on the conversion of Negro prisoners by the teachings of Mr. Elijah Muhammad.” Indeed, in addition to these monthly memos, Woodward reported acting “in accordance with plans set up by the Commissioner of Correction” to turn over “arrest records and photographs of the following convicts who are confined in State Prisons throughout the State of New York.”

As part of this new programmatic suppression of Islam in state prisons, McGinnis promised those at the January meeting that he would “identify ringleaders and, upon

identifcation, transfer them to other prisons, pointing out to the receiving warden what to expect. In this way, he hoped to curb their activities in the Cult.” In June 1960, with many of the men at Clinton Prison still held in solitary confinement, the warden followed through on the commissioner’s promise, transferring four of the key organizers— Magette, SaMarion, Sostre, and Walker—to Attica Prison. There, they continued to grow through religious conversions and prison transfers until the group included almost sixty members and became one of the most active Muslim communities in American prisons.”

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 77-83

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“Historians have had difficulty reconciling the Nation of Islam’s seemingly incongruous black nationalist ideas of a separate state, flag (with a crescent and star), and ethnoracial identity (“Asiatic”), with its use of courts, litigation, and a rights-based framework to secure civil rights protections and constitutional guarantees. [Historian Dan] Berger argues that the prisoners’ rights movement “was less a claim to expand rights than it was a critique of rights-based frameworks.” But this is truer for a later period in the prisoners’ rights movement, following the important constitutional gains won through Muslim litigation in cases such as Cooper v. Pate. In the early 1960s, Muslim prisoners drew on section 1983 of the 1871 Civil Rights Act, which protected citizens against violations of constitutional rights by persons acting under state authority. They also frequently cited the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Cooper v. Pate, for example, Tomas X Cooper referenced the Illinois Bill of Rights as well as the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Muslim prisoners not only cited constitutional protections but also used direct-action strategies such as sit-ins, hunger strikes, and occupations of solitary confinement, that anticipated the “Jail, no bail” efforts of southern civil rights activists. Rather than see claims to constitutionalism and direct-action protest as irreconcilable with black nationalism, we might consider these as effective, if entangled, strategies to win protections for prisoners under the law while challenging white supremacy and incarceration more broadly. As C. Eric Lincoln noted: “the Muslims appear to believe in the efficacy of the white man’s law without believing in its justice.””

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 75.  

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“First, the Nation of Islam’s prison organizing—and black nationalism more broadly (exemplified most prominently during these years by the NOI)—should be seen as a central current of the postwar struggle for black freedom. Its political strategies and conceptual legacies expand our understandings of the mid-century black freedom struggle, the prisoners’ rights movement, and the development of the punitive state. Secondly, prison organizing should not be narrated as a post–civil rights struggle but rather as one born out of, and alongside, the movement. Lastly, the carceral state was not simply a counterrevolutionary reaction to the gains of social movements through top-down policy changes and electoral shifts but was produced through daily, on-the-ground interplay with prisoners’ activism.

The dialectical relationship between prisoners’ radicalism and prison repression—what I term the “dialectics of discipline”—paradoxically helped develop the protest strategies and legal framework for the prisoners’ rights movement while fortifying and accelerating the expansion of the carceral state through new modes of punishment and surveillance. These dialectics took two major forms during this period in New York prisons. The first was the relationship between state methods of control such as prison transfers, confiscation of religious literature, solitary confinement, and loss of “good time” (sentence time reduction for good conduct) and the responses by Muslim prisoners through hunger strikes, writ writing, and take-overs of solitary confinement. The second was the interaction between Muslim religious practices and prison surveillance. An emerging web of state surveillance monitored Muslim rituals and attempted to construct a religio-racial formation to justify the suppression of Islam in prisons. Because grassroots organizing by prisoners and the production of state knowledge and discipline grew alongside one another, historians of the carceral state cannot supply one-sided histories relying on state-produced narratives while burying the physical and theoretical labor of those who opposed such systems. Rather than seeing the development of mass incarceration and carceral apparatuses in the tectonic shifts of electoral realignment and other federal policy measures, this essay points to the local and daily exchanges between prisoners and prison officials as ground zero for the rise of the prisoners’ rights movement and the extension of the carceral state.”

  

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 72-73.

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