URGENT ALERT: SUPPORT DEATH ROW WOMEN

Updated and reissued 16th October 2001
 
 

Issues:

· Mentally ill, brain damaged young woman at risk of state assisted suicide in Tennessee;

· Cruel and unsafe conditions on women's death row.
 
 

Background:

Christa Gail Pike, aged 24, is one of only two female death row inmates at Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville. Christa was convicted in 1996 of the murder of Colleen Slemmer. She was then sentenced to death. Christa was 18 at the time of the crime.

Christa has asked to drop her remaining appeals and proceed to execution. Her family and supporters feel that her decision to go forward to execution is the result of both her mental illness and brain damage and the inhumane and unsafe conditions she is currently enduring at the Tennessee Prison for Women. These are as follows:
 
 

· Christa's personal goods have been confiscated on an ongoing basis for some years. Christa's family and supporters indicate they currently have some twenty boxes of Christa's confiscated possessions. These include personal hygiene items, reading, religious and hobby material. In August last year prison officers confiscated everything in Christa's cell, including her Bible and rosary beads, as punishment for keeping one of her anti-depressant tablets in her cell. They also took away her visitation rights (except for her attorneys) for six months.

· In February this year prison officers found another two of Christa's anti-depressant tablets in her cell. As punishment, Christa's visitation rights (except for attorneys) were suspended for a further year.

· Christa has received completely inadequate health care at the prison, particularly given her status as a person with a mental illness. As an example of the standard of health care, the prison offers no dental treatment to inmates apart from tooth extraction. When Christa had problems with her teeth, the dentist stated that this was due to the inadequate prison diet and recommended calcium supplements. The prison doctor, however, refused permission for Christa to have these, even if paid for by her family. When her teeth needed dental work, this was denied, again in spite of offers by Christa's family to pay for the medication or send it to her directly. Christa finally had two teeth extracted, the only dental service the prison was willing to provide. Another example, Christa has had spider bites, ear infections and inflamed cysts that the doctor has refused to treat. When she has sought medical attention at the urging of her family, Christa has been accused of attention seeking. Christa has had to lance her own cysts on two occasions.

· Inmates are fed only two meals per day on weekends and public holidays. Inmates whose families are able to provide money can purchase unhealthy junk food from the commissary. However, even this limited "privilege" has been withdrawn from Christa. Christa's supporters report that she had lost considerable weight when they saw her at an October court appearance and that she reports often being hungry.

· Christa's phone privileges have been withdrawn. Deeply depressed and totally isolated, Christa has been unable to speak with her mother or other supporters. They are currently trying to dissuade her from suicide by correspondence.

· Christa's television set has been confiscated. She is now sitting alone in her cell staring at the walls.

Christa is sick and vulnerable young woman in need of help. In her desperation and despair, she is taking the only way out that she can see: state assisted suicide. It is her only means of protest at her years of neglect, suffering and mistreatment. The treatment of Christa (and other inmates) by the Tennessee Prison for Women fails to meet international standards and constitutes torture. It is even more dismally inadequate given the special responsibilities of prisons to inmates suffering from mental illness. Christa is effectively being manipulated into killing herself. Whatever one may think of the death penalty, it is clearly not the role of prisons to torture death row inmates into surrendering their entitlements to legal review. Regarding death row inmates as "non-people" on whom food and health care are wasted is unethical and inhumane. It is torture.

The prison's treatment of Christa violates international standards in numerous respects. Under international law prisoners have the following rights:

· Treatment of prisoners with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. They should be supported to develop self-respect and self-responsibility (Article 1 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 65 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Principle 1 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment)

· Reformation and social rehabilitation should be the essential aim of the treatment of prisoners. Prisoners should have their individual treatment needs addressed by all available and appropriate remedial, educational, moral and spiritual forms of assistance (Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 59 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners must not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This includes the holding of a prisoner in conditions which deprive her of the use of any of her natural senses. (Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 31 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Principle 6 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment)

· Solitary confinement is highly undesirable (Article 7 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners have the right to take part in cultural activities and education (Article 6 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners must have access to the same standard of health care services as other citizens (Article 9 of the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Proper psychiatric care should be provided to prisoners suffering from mental illness. This may include transfer to a facility which more adequately addresses their special needs (Articles 21, 25, 62 and 82 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prison medical officers should inform prison directors where a prisoner's physical or mental health has been or will be adversely affected by either ongoing imprisonment or by any condition of imprisonment (Article 25 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Sick prisoners in need of specialist treatment should be transferred to a specialised institution or to a civil hospital (Article 21 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners should not suffer disciplinary restrictions beyond that necessary for the maintenance of safe custody and well ordered community life. Their suffering should not be exacerbated (Articles 27 and 57 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners should not be punished in any way that jeopardises their physical or mental health. Prisoners being punished should have their physical and mental health checked by a medical officer on a daily basis. (Article 32 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners are to have access to facilities and materials to maintain "a good appearance compatible with self-respect" (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)

· Prisoners should be allowed to receive visits from family and friends (Article 37 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Principle 19 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment)

· Prisoners should be regularly informed of important news items (Article 39 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prison staff should be intelligent, well trained and educated, professional, have a social service orientation and be given reasonable remuneration and security of tenure (Articles 46, 47 and 48 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners)

· Prisoners should have access to effective remedy where their rights are violated, including by a person acting in an official capacity (Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Principle 33 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment)
 
 
 
 

LETTER WRITING ACTION:

1) To the Warden of Tennessee Prison for Women:

· Express concern at the treatment and neglect of Christa in her prison. Emphasise that Christa is mentally ill and brain damaged, and therefore has special rights and needs which place extra responsibility onto the prison.

· Ask her to immediately reinstate Christa's visitation and telephone privileges, grant her access to personal hygiene products and to reasonable entertainment facilities.

· Ask for an immediate and independent review of treatment and support for Christa and all other mentally ill inmates, and of health services in general. This should include a review of inmate meals and commissary stock by nutritional experts.

· Ask for a reply indicating what action the warden will be taking on these matters. Tell her who else you plan to write to on this issue. Be firm but courteous. Emphasise that whatever one's views on the death penalty, pushing death row inmates into giving up their legal rights to review by treating them inhumanely is unethical. Indicate that Christa's suicide as a result of torture and inhumane treatment would reflect badly on Tennessee's domestic and international reputation.
 
 

The Warden Cherry Lindamood

Tennessee Prison for Women

3881 Stewart Lane

Nashville, TN 37218-3397
 
 

2) To the Tennessee Commissioner for Corrections and the Tennessee Select Oversight Committee on Corrections:
· Request their emergency intervention to see Christa is provided with visits, phone calls, specialist psychiatric assessment and support, reasonable means of entertainment, and all other support needed by a vulnerable, suicidal young person suffering from mental illness.

· Request an immediate and impartial inquiry into the treatment of inmates at the prison, particularly those with mental illness. Request an independent review of health services and prisoner meals.

· Ask for a reply indicating what actions the person will take on this matter. Tell them who else you are writing to. Highlight the urgency of this issue. Emphasise that her family and supporters feel that her attempt at state assisted suicide is partly the result of her inhumane treatment in prison. Acknowledge that the person may have a different view on the death penalty than yourself, but emphasise that pressuring inmates into giving up their appeals by torturing them is unethical. Indicate the damage to Tennessee's domestic and international reputation which would flow from Christa's state assisted suicide given her background of inhumane treatment and torture.
 
 

Donal Campbell

Tennessee Commissioner of Corrections

320 6th Ave. North, Ground Floor

Rachel Jackson Boulevard

Nashville TN 37243-0465

Ph. (615) 741 1000

Fax: (615) 532 8281

Jim Rose

Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Corrections

320 6th Ave. North, Ground Floor

Rachel Jackson Boulevard

Nashville TN 37243-0465

Ph. (615) 741 1000

Fax: (615) 532 8281

Claire Drowata
Executive Director

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

320 6th Avenue North 1st Floor

Rachael Jackson Building

Nashville TN 27243

Fax: (615) 253 0274

E-mail: claire.drowata@legislature.state.tn.us

Philip Pinion

Chairman

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

109 War Memorial Building

Nashville TN 37243-0177

Ph. Staff contact Aubrey Jerkins on (615) 741 0718

Fax: (615) 253 0306

E-mail: phillip.pinion@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator David Fowler

Vice Chairman

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

304 War Memorial Building

Nashville TN 37243-0211

Ph. Staff contact Gland Mayas (615) 741 1764

Fax: (615) 253 0280

E-mail: sen.david.fowler@legislature.state.tn.us

Bob McCoy

Secretary

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

206 War Memorial Building

Nashville, TN 37243-0123

Ph. Staff Contact Beverly Stanton (615) 741 1946

Fax: (615) 253 0209

E-mail: rep.bob.mckee@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator Ben Archly

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

303 War Memorial Building

Nashville, TN 37243-0206

Ph. Staff contacts Toot Haskins, Joyce Johnson and Rachel Sullivan (615) 741 3791

Fax: (615) 741 6098

E-mail: sen.ben.atchley@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator Ward Crutchfield

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

13 Legislative Plaza

Nashville, TN 37243-0210

Ph. Staff contacts Cindy Gore and Jane Bauer (615) 741 6682

Fax: (615) 741 2886

E-mail: sen.ward.crutchfield@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator Gene Elsea

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

318 War Memorial Building

Nashville TN 37243-0213

Ph. Staff contact Evelyn Henderson (615) 741 2525

Fax: (615) 741 7200

E-mail: sen.gene.elsea@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator Thelma Harper

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

2 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0219

Ph. Staff contacts Tevin Thompson and Ursula Holmes (615) 741 2453

Fax: (615) 741 1933

E-mail: sen.Thelma.harper@legislature.state.tn.us

Senator James Kyle

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

10 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0028

Ph. Staff contact Marsha Milan (615) 253 0221

Fax: (615) 253 0221

E-mail: jkyle@smithlawetal.com

Senator Robert Rochelle

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

4 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0217

Ph. Staff contacts Bonny Briney and J.A. Bucy (615) 741 4109

Fax: (615) 741 3993

E-mail: sen.Robert.Rochelle@legislature.state.tn.us

Lois DeBerry

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

15 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0191

Ph. Staff contacts LaWanda Lollar and Mary Freeman (615) 741 3830

Fax: (615) 741 3992

E-mail: rep.lois.deberry@legislature.state.tn.us

Edith Taylor Langster

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

35 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0154

Ph. Staff contact Jackie Floyd (615) 741 1997

Fax: (615) 741 7664

E-mail: rep.edith.taylor.langster@legislature.state.tn.us

Shelby Rhinehart

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

34 Legislative Plaza

Nashville TN 37243-0137

Ph. Staff contact Martha Batchelor (615) 741 3879

Fax: (615) 741 1984

E-mail: rep.shelby.rhinehart@legislature.state.tn.us

Curry Todd

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

204 War Memorial Building

Nashville TN 37243-0195

Ph. Staff Contact Betty Melton (615) 741 1866

Fax: (615) 532 8221

E-mail: rep.curry.todd@legislature.state.tn.us

John Mark Windle

Select Oversight Committee on Corrections

201 War Memorial Building

Nashville TN 37243-0141

Ph. Staff contact Linda Smith (615) 741 1260

Fax: (615) 532 8221

E-mail: john.windle@legislature.state.tn.us
 
 

Copies to:

Governor Don Sundquist

State Capitol

Nashville TN 37243-0001

Ph. (615) 741 2001

Fax: (615) 532 9711

E-mail: dsundquist@mail.state.tn.us
 
 

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

8-14 Avenue de la Paix

1211 Geneva 10

SWITZERLAND

Human Rights Watch

1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 500

Washington, DC 20009

Organization of American States

17th St & Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20006

European Union Delegation to the United States

2300 M. Street, NW

Washington, DC 20037
 
 

Please forward copies of any replies received to:

Ann Atkinson
P O Box 270262
Nashville TN 37227-0262

E-mail: phillipachantry@yahoo.com.au
 
 

If you are interested in assisting other women on death row throughout the United States, please contact Phillipa at the above e-mail address.

Support Death Row Women thanks you for your assistance.

Replies
 
From: "Phillipa Chantry" <phillipachantry@yahoo.com.au>Sent: Monday, October 15, 2001 6:43 PMSubject: Reply on urgent alert Hi everyone,

I got my first reply yesterday!!!!  It's from Jim
Rose, Assistant Commissioner of Operations, Department
of Correction.  As follows:

"Dear Ms Chantry:

I have just finished reviewing your correspondence
regarding Christa Gail Pike #261368.

I am taking the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to the attention of Warden Cherry Lindamood.  I know that the warden will review the concerns you have listed.  I feel that I must mention that this facility is fully accredited by the American Correctional Association.  The Tennessee Department of Correction stresses the fair and ethical treatment of convicted felons, respect for co-workers and the public, and the openness in both the internal and external relationship are essential components in effective management of the department.  It must be remembered that the mission of the department is to ensure the safety of the public through supervision of convicted felons utilizing correctional practices, which contribute to the effectiveness of the criminal justice system."

It's dated October 3rd.  I'm gonna write him back. Has anyone else had a reply.  If so, please post to this list.

Thanks, Phillipa