The following guide, published by the Human Rights Coalition, offers guidelines for prisoners on reporting human rights violations. The method described is simple, requiring documentation, intervention, and movement-building:
[W]e learn the truth by gathering evidence (documentation); we take action according to the urgency of the situation and our capacity to move people (intervention); and we bring others on board and inspire each other with a collective vision of popular struggle (movement-building).
Elaborating on these items, the guide goes on:
The stronger our evidentiary basis, the greater the knowledge of the movement, which generates greater commitment and more effective action. This in turn builds the movement and the cycle of organizing repeats itself, only on a higher level.
Read on for more on defending the human rights of people behind bars:
What constitutes a violation of a prisoner’s human rights?
A partial listing of some of the most frequently reported violations include but are not limited to: physical abuse/assault; medical neglect; deprivation of food, water, yard, access to law library; destruction of property, especially legal property; racist speech and intimidation; denial of due process via placement on restricted release, refusal to call witnesses to misconduct proceedings, subversion of the grievance system; issuance of fabricated misconducts; inadequate and/or non-existent psychological/psychiatric care.
What details should I include in a report?
Always include, to the best of your recollection: names of all prisoners involved in an incident; name and rank/title of all staff involved; date(s); time; location/unit in the prison; institutional documentation relating to the incident such as grievances, misconducts, appeals of these, requests to staff, etc.; description of the incident; staff/guards explanation of their actions (if provided to you) and your understanding of their motivation. When claiming an alternative motivation from that of prison staff and officials for a course of action taken that you feel is a violation submit reasons and evidence to support your claim. State what you think the actual motive is and how that can be revealed through their speech and action as testified to by witnesses and in documentation.
General and Incident Reports
Some reports of human rights violations we receive either speak of general conditions and cite examples without specifics such as names and dates; others focus on specific incidents and do not address the general conditions of confinement in which the incident occurred. We prefer a report that does both, reporting individual incidents and series of incidents and how these incidents are or are not part of a larger pattern.
When reporting violations be as succinct as possible and reference or submit as much evidence as possible. The following types of evidence enhance the credibility of a report by illustrating the consistency of multiple reports, good-faith efforts taken by prisoners to utilize administrative and constitutional procedures, and reference to additional evidence that will support a claim if access to it can be obtained (i.e. medical records, security camera footage, disciplinary records, etc.)
Witness statements: affidavits and declarations
When multiple people report a human rights violation, whether it is that one man or woman was denied a meal or that a prisoner was assaulted or threatened, that report has a stronger claim to truth. Witness statements can be provided in three ways and should include the details listed above, along with all other relevant information: 1. prisoner reports, written in the form of a letter; 2. affidavits, which are sworn and witnessed/notarized statements; 3. declarations, which are sworn yet un-notarized statements.
Affidavits and declarations are the preferred form of witness reports, although we take general prisoner reports with the utmost seriousness as well.
Grievances and Lawsuits
Copies or originals of grievances filed against conditions of confinement and staff misconduct, along with requests to staff, misconducts and appeals, can be submitted to prove your efforts to solve the problem by using the means provided. Citing the grievance and reporting the number is also recommended if the grievance cannot be sent for reasons of postage or not having multiple copies.
Documents from past and current efforts at civil litigation can be submitted as well, or the civil docket # can be provided and we can attempt to research and access the court docket ourselves.
These forms of evidence are crucial for illustrating that you are using constitutionally-protected measures to resolve problems related to conditions of confinement. They also provide chronologies, incident descriptions, and create a paper trail illustrating official awareness of the grievances.
We want copies of any and all criminal complaints that have been filed with County District Attorneys’ Offices, state police, and federal law enforcement, along with a note on whether or not you have received any response.
Evidence not in your possession
It is also important to make our offices aware of other evidence that does or should exist to prove a claim but that you do not have access to such as security camera and/or cell extraction footage, medical and disciplinary records, etc.
Efforts to contact governmental, media, and other outside agencies
Copies of letters and reports submitted to state representatives, the governor, members of the press, and other civil and human rights organizations, along with community groups allow us to gain a sense of other efforts you have taken and whether or not they have had any response.