BY JOHN COX
DES MOINES, Iowa-Paul Hedgepath, acting warden of the Iowa State Penitentiary, granted political activist Mark Curtis a two-week reduction in his one-year sentence to lock- up inside the maximum security prison May 11. This is the first approved reduction since Curtis was victimized and thrown into segregation last August, where he is sequestered in a five-by-seven-foot cell 23 hours a day.
Curtis was victimized on charges of assaulting another inmate and convicted in a prison hearing on September 12. He was kept shackled during the hearing, refused the right to confront the witnesses against him, and denied an attorney.
Curtis continues to protest the conviction, arguing that prison authorities are attempting to break him because he remains politically active and works with supporters to win his release on parole. He has filed a lawsuit challenging the kangaroo court hearing in Iowa state court in Lee County, where the prison is located.
The prison committee assigned to meet with Curtis and make recommendations concerning his status reviewed his situation at a meeting with him on May 3. Nikola Brown, the prison psychologist assigned to Curtis, wrote in the "Time Reduction Classification Review" form filed after the meeting, "He has good eye contact and is polite. He did request a time cut and the recommendation for a 14-day cut is made."
The committee as a whole, comprised of the psychologist, Curtis's Correctional Counselor and the Unit Manager of the lock-up cell block he is confined in, wrote "Committee is recommending that inmate Curtis be afforded a 14-day time reduction in his disciplinary sanctions. It is noted that he has remained report free for the past 30 days, his personal hygiene and cell cleanliness is far above average. His overall cellhouse demeanor is above average."
Then they added, "This will be this individuals first time reduction recommendation."
This final statement of the committee is false. In four consecutive meetings at the end of last year and beginning of this year Curtis's classification committee recommended a total of 134 days - more than four months - in sentence reductions. The warden vetoed all of them, claiming there was a new prison policy that barred time cuts for those charged with assault.
Even the classification committee form describes Curtis's alleged crime as virtually undetectable. Under the heading "Segregation reason," it reads "There were no injuries because of this and no one required medical treatment."
"If the prison followed its own rules," commented John Studer, coordinator of the Mark Curtis Defense Committee. "Mark would be out of lock-up today. The time cuts recommended for him total five months.
"We are certainly glad that this time reduction has been awarded. It is a step forward, coming on the heels of our victory in getting prison authorities to relent and grant Curtis the pamphlet Why Is Mark Curtis Still in Prison?, which they had originally refused to give him.
"But the authorities are pretending that four months of previous time cut recommendations never existed. Our response will be to step up our efforts to get Mark released from lock-up as soon as possible, and to turn our attention to pressing the Iowa State Board of Parole to grant his release," Studer added.
Curtis will next meet with the prison classification
committee in early June.
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