SAN FRANCISCO — After months of retaliation for speaking out against the unsafe conditions at the halfway house, SF Bay View editor and journalist Keith “Malik” Washington was denied reprieve by a judge today, who also denied any wrongdoing from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and GEO Group.
District Judge Jon Tigar denied Washington the motion for a preliminary injunction, meaning the charges brought against Washington by the BOP will remain in effect, according to Washington’s attorney Richard Tan. The court hearing took place yesterday morning.
The BOP claimed that Washington’s actions can pose a “security risk” but did not elaborate any further on what that claim means.
But what hasn’t been mentioned by the BOP is Washington’s commute between his workplace and the halfway house can pose a higher risk to his colleagues.
Washington filed a lawsuit against GEO Group and the BOP in response to the retaliations made against him for releasing a memo regarding a COVID outbreak to the press, along with exposing unsafe conditions, which doesn’t allow for social distancing and provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for its residents. GEO Group confiscated Washington’s phone on January 10 after releasing information to another journalist about the outbreak.
This was also recently exposed in the latest documentary “One Eleven Taylor”, produced by the Adachi Project, an initiative between the SF Public Defender’s Office and production company Compound.
The BOP has a record of transferring incarcerated people all around the US without PPE. According to the Marshall Project, 1 in 5 federal prisoners in the US has tested positive for COVID, which is four times higher than the general population.
The BOP has charged Washington for “escape” and “unauthorized contact with the public”. Washington is no longer allowed to speak to the media without written permission, despite his occupation as a journalist. According to the complaint filed by Washington, he now has to fill out a “News Interview Authorization Form”, which needs to be approved before the halfway house residents can speak to the press. His fianceé and SF Bay View managing editor Nube Brown is highly critical of this new rule, as it furthers the silencing of Black voices and journalists like Washington.
“He’s a journalist. He shouldn’t need authorization to speak to the people, it’s part of his job,” said Brown.
Organizers have been fighting vigorously for Washington to have him released for home confinement and will remain to do so as this case continues. However, Brown is certain the BOP will immediately send Washington back to federal prison after this ruling.
“We don’t expect them to hold back on anything,” said Brown on SF Bay View’s Instagram live earlier today. “They’re going to throw everything out [the best] they can. Whenever you stand up for yourself and stand up against them and expose them for the abusive, hypocritical, unconstitutional, and violent oppressors that they are, that’s just going to make them push back harder.”
Prior to the court hearing, supporters of Washington rallied outside of the halfway house on Sunday, calling for an end to all contracts with for-profit private prison companies like GEO Group. GEO Group is a multinational corporation that operates numerous detention facilities, including the Mesa Verde ICE processing facility in Bakersfield, where an outbreak took place back in August. Both GEO Group and ICE denied the mishandling of that outbreak.
Currently, under AB 32, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) can’t approve new contracts or renew existing contracts. However, existing contracts such as the ones with the 111 Taylor halfway house can continue until their original end date.
Washington isn’t under the CDCR’s jurisdiction. He’s a federal prisoner under the BOP.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who currently represents the Tenderloin neighborhood, where the halfway house is located, also came out in support of Washington, criticizing GEO Group for retaliating against Washington’s right to freedom of the press.
“I’m an elected official,” said Haney. “And journalists have the right and responsibility to tell us what we’re not doing right … that is the right he has under the Constitution and as a journalist, and for a private prison profiteer company to try and lock him up because of that, I can think of nothing more shameful.”
GEO Group’s contract with the halfway house expires on March 31. However, it’s unclear what the BOP’s next steps are once that contract ends. Some state contracts will remain in effect at that facility until 2022.
Brown also emphasized that because Washington has ample support from the community, she will continue to speak out for him.
“This hurts but we’re also ready for this,” said Brown. “We’re not going to be silent. We’ll get through this. We will mobilize.”
Photo by Savannah Kuang