Lawsuit Filed Challenging County Jail’s Practice of Placing Pregnant Women in Solitary Confinement

PITTSBURGH (December 19) – The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Reed Smith LLP joined forces today in filing claims in federal court challenging the inhumane way officials treat pregnant women held at the Allegheny County Jail. The lawsuit alleges that jail officials routinely place pregnant women in solitary confinement for extended periods of time without justification, knowing full well that this practice can harm the health of the women and their pregnancies.

The lawsuit also seeks to end other restrictions and conditions placed on these women that are dangerous and extremely shortsighted. Pregnant inmates are regularly deprived of nutritional food; needed medications; lack of heat; and even the ability to shower or exercise.

“The conditions of solitary confinement and inadequate nutrition faced by pregnant women at ACJ are causing severe psychological anguish, constant hunger, and putting them and their pregnancies at risk of permanent harm,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “The Constitution does not permit this.”

Four of the five named plaintiffs in the lawsuit have spent time ranging from six to 22 days in solitary confinement while pregnant. Elizabeth Seitz, the lead plaintiff in the case, was placed in solitary confinement for ten days in November when she was seven months pregnant. She spent 24 hours per day in her cell and was permitted to leave her cell to shower only twice in ten days. Ms. Seitz had previously spent 21 days in solitary confinement in October.

“Despite numerous requests for help, ACJ has ignored its duty to safeguard the pregnant women in its care,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “This blatant disregard for correctional standards cannot be tolerated.”

Due to the serious risk of mental and physical harm, the U.S. Department of Justice opposes the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women except in very rare situations. Yet Allegheny County regularly places pregnant women in solitary confinement for minor, non-violent rule violations. For example, one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Hendricks, was placed in solitary confinement for nine days for violating rules by having a library book in her possession.

“It is widely recognized that placing pregnant women in solitary confinement is extremely dangerous – for both mother and child,” said David Fawcett, an attorney at Reed Smith who is representing the plaintiffs pro bono.  “The routine and thoughtless use of this practice is a real black mark on our county and must end now.”

Many other groups, like the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, have documented the unhealthy effects of solitary confinement for pregnant women. According to the NCCHC, “[i]nternational standards established by the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders state that pregnant women should never be placed in solitary confinement as they are especially susceptible to its harmful psychological effects.”

“The use of solitary confinement to discipline pregnant women for any offense, much less a minor, non-violent offense, is contrary to both national and international standards,” said Reggie Shuford, ACLU-PA executive director. “Pregnant women in Allegheny County should not be subject to this cruel and inhumane practice.”

The case is Seitz v. Allegheny County, and the plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose of the ACLU-PA, Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and David Fawcett of the law firm Reed Smith LLP.

More about the case, including a copy of the complaint, is available at: www.aclupa.org/seitz

###

MEDIA RELEASE: Lawsuit Filed Against Corizon and Allegheny County Jail for Starving 28-year-old, Causing Heart Attack

October 12, 2016: A lawsuit filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania federal court today describes the harrowing story of plaintiff Christopher Wallace, who was twice hospitalized because medical staff employed by Corizon at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) failed to provide him with medically prescribed tube feedings, causing his starvation and an eventual heart attack that nearly ended his life. Mr. Wallace has sued medical staff who were in charge of his care at ACJ, as well as Warden Harper, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Corizon, each of which turned a blind eye to policies and practices that they knew were leading to the systematic failure to provide medical care to inmates in violation of the United States Constitution.

Read the Complaint Wallace v. Fitzgerald, et al.

As of 2014 Allegheny County had been on notice that their private health care provider, Corizon, was not providing adequate care to the prisoners at the Allegheny County Jail. Rather than intervene, the County allowed Corizon to continue providing services at the Allegheny County Jail until their contract with the County expired. Corizon repeatedly engaged in conduct designed to save the County money at the expense of the health, wellbeing, and constitutional rights of inmates.

Plaintiff Christopher Wallace was an unfortunate victim of Corizon’s for-profit healthcare scheme. Mr. Wallace was emaciated when he entered the care of Allegheny County. The County immediately recognized that he was in need of serious care as this 6’4” man weighed a mere 77 pounds upon entry to the County Jail. After a short stay at UPMC Mercy, Mr. Wallace was returned to the care of the County.

Despite their assurances that they could care for Mr. Wallace, the County and their private contractor, Corizon, allowed him to starve. Mr. Wallace was not provided with the most basic form of life sustaining care, food and water.

On two separate occasions Mr. Wallace was forced to return to UPMC because the individuals in charge of his well-being either were not willing, or did not have the resources to provide him food and water via medically prescribed tube feedings.

The records that exist show that Mr. Wallace was never once provided his prescribed five daily feedings over a period of nearly 30 days. According to the records provided by Corizon, some days Mr. Wallace was not fed at all.

The cruel and outrageous conduct of the County and Corizon resulted in a 28-year-old man having a heart attack and nearly starving to death. If it wasn’t for the compassion of the staff at UPMC, Mr. Wallace likely would have died.

Mr. Wallace is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Louis J. Kroeck of the firm Anstandig & McDyer.

***

Contact:

Bret Grote       bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                412-654-9070

MEDIA RELEASE: DOC’s Hepatitis C Protocol Ruled Unconstitutional But Mumia Denied Treatment

Federal Court Finds DOC’s Hepatitis C Protocol Unconstitutional But Requires New Defendants Be Added to Lawsuit Before Ordering Treatment for Mumia Abu-Jamal

 September 1, 2016: Federal district court judge Robert Mariani denied political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s request for a preliminary injunction on Wednesday, August 1st that would have forced the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide him with direct-acting antiviral drugs capable of curing his hepatitis C. The opinion, however, also held that the DOC’s hepatitis C protocol violates the Eighth Amendment by withholding the medication to incarcerated patients with chronic hepatitis C, and that when Mr. Abu-Jamal adds members of the DOC’s Hepatitis C Treatment Committee the judge can issue a favorable injunction.

Read the Opinion here: Preliminary Injunction Decision

There are more than 5,400 people in DOC custody with chronic hepatitis C, and more than 99% of them are not receiving treatment. Newly-developed medications have a cure rate of 95% or more in clinical trials, but the DOC has been refusing to provide the cure due to its high cost.

The court found that “the standard of care with respect to the treatment of chronic Hepatitis C is the administration of the newly-developed DAA [direct-acting antiviral] medications, such as Harvoni, Sovaldi, and Viekira Pak.” The court then found that the DOC’s hepatitis C treatment protocol “prolong[s] the suffering of those who have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C and allow[s] the progression of the disease to accelerate so that it presents a greater threat of cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma [i.e. liver cancer], and death of the inmate with such disease” in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The DOC’s protocol “presents a conscious disregard of a known risk of advanced cirrhosis and death by esophageal hemorrhage” due to its refusal to authorize hepatitis C treatment until a patient already has advanced cirrhosis and esophageal varices, a condition that can lead to fatal hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in the esophagus.

The court did not grant the injunction, however, because it found that members of the DOC’s Hepatitis C Committee had to be added as defendants: “a mandatory injunction favorable to Plaintiff would necessarily require that the individuals enjoined be able to exercise control over the contents or application of the protocol.”

The DOC’s current treatment protocol for hepatitis C was ruled in violation of the Eighth Amendment in no uncertain terms: “In the wake of the advent of curative Hepatitis C medications, Defendants have charted a course that denies treatment to inmates until they are on the verge of a ‘catastrophic’ health event, a decision that appears to contain a ‘fiscal component,’ and ignores the standard of care for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C.”

Abolitionist Law Center’s Legal Director Bret Grote said the following about the decision: “While we are disappointed the court did not grant the injunction at this time, its holding that incarcerated patients with hepatitis C are entitled to treatment with the breakthrough medications that cure hepatitis C and that the DOC’s current protocol violates the Eighth Amendment sets a powerful precedent for Mr. Abu-Jamal, the more than 5,400 prisoners with chronic hepatitis C in Pennsylvania, and tens of thousands incarcerated with untreated hepatitis C across the country. We won everything but the injunction we sought, and will be moving expeditiously to bring additional defendants before the court so Mr. Abu-Jamal can receive the treatment he is entitled to under the U.S. Constitution.”

Bret Grote       bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                412-654-9070

 

MEDIA RELEASE: Federal Court to Decide if Mumia Abu-Jamal Has Right to Hepatitis C Treatment

Attorneys for Abu-Jamal file brief slamming DOC for withholding treatment

On Friday, March 11, attorneys for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal filed their post-hearing brief in support of Abu-Jamal’s motion for a preliminary injunction ordering the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide him with treatment for his hepatitis C. The 30-page brief summarized the extensive factual record from a 3-day evidentiary hearing held at the end of December 2015.

During the December hearing it was shown that Abu-Jamal has a chronic hepatitis C infection that is progressively attacking his liver, causing scarring, a severe, itchy, painful skin rash that has lasted more than 18 months, and anemia of chronic disease. Abu-Jamal also experienced a nearly fatal attack of diabetes in March 2015 that is also likely related to his hepatitis C.

There were surprises at the hearing as well. The head of the DOC’s clinical services, Dr. Paul Noel, revealed that tests conducted by the DOC show that there is a 63% chance that Abu-Jamal has cirrhosis, which means that the disease has progressed to the point that it is causing irreversible and worsening inflammation and scarring throughout his liver. Despite the extraordinary danger posed by Abu-Jamal’s condition, Noel testified under oath that the DOC will not provide treatment unless a patient has advanced cirrhosis and the presence of esophageal varices, which means that the patient is at risk of bleeding to death.

As argued in Abu-Jamal’s brief: “It is shocking to the conscience that the DOC thinks it is acceptable to withhold medical care until one’s liver has suffered irreversible damage accompanied by such severe damage to the blood vessels that the patient is literally at risk of bleeding to death. No matter whether such “active surveillance” is called treatment or not, it is a gross departure from medical ethics and constitutional requirements.”

Dr. Noel also revealed on cross examination that DOC counsel had submitted a falsified document in his name in September in 2015 that contained inaccurate and misleading medical information that was then used as the basis for DOC’s argument against plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is represented by Bret Grote of the Abolitioist Law Center and Robert Boyle.

Read both sides’ briefs at the link below:

Brief in Support of Plaintiff`s Preliminary Injunction

Defendants` Brief in Opposition to Preliminary Injunction

Bret Grote       bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org               412-654-9070

Voices from the Inside: George Dalie on Environmental Justice at SCI Fayette

SCI Fayette and MCC's Coal Ash Dump, Google Earth 2014
SCI Fayette and MCC’s Coal Ash Dump, Google Earth 2014

Pieces of Me Gone

By Georgie “Big Georgie” Dalie (HC-9826 at SCI Greene)

Recently, I read an article entitled “Pollution Prison in Pennsylvania,” written by comrade Mumia Abu-Jamal (Prison Legal News vol. 26, no. 6, June 2015 issue, p. 60). The article was about the Fayette State Correctional Institution and the prisoners there being exposed to toxic coal waste (Fly Ash).

I was previously incarcerated at the Fayette institution from February 2011 until February 2013. During my time there, I was both a witness to and victim of the toxic environment. On so many mornings I remember leaving my housing unit (C-Block B-side) en route to the Facility dining hall, at which time I would witness a dusty substance that was very thick and made it difficult to see any farther than nine to twelve feet in any direction. I would eat the morning meal, then return to the housing unit. Before locking into my assigned prison cell, I would have to shake out my clothing to remove the same dusty substance. It would be all over the floor in front of the cell and I would have to clean it up with toilet tissue.

On those same mornings someone from the facility Deputy’s complex would get on the PA system and announce that due to “FOG ALERT” all outdoor recreation was canceled for the morning. I always had an issue with the fog alert claim because I would watch the local news and weather stations religiously and none of them had reported any fog in their forecasts. Prisoners would not receive outdoor recreation until after 1:00 PM on “Fog Alert” days.

When I would finally get to the Main Yard the sun would be shining and the dusty substance clouding the air earlier would then be settled on the grass and racetrack. That stuff would get all caked up on your boots and the bottom of your pants legs. Within a weeks time of purchasing some new kicks (sneakers or boots) and wearing them in the main yard the stitching would start to give way and then your kicks would fall apart.

Then came the issue with the water. One of my comrades had warned me one evening that I should always run the sink water in my cell for at least twenty minutes before drinking it because staff and prisoners had been getting sick from a black substance turning up in it. I ran my sink for twenty minutes with a white cloth pressed on the faucet out of curiosity. When I finally pulled the cloth away and took a look at it, I did witness dark particles caked up on the cloth.

One evening during “Block-Out” (Open Dayroom where prisoners congregate to watch TV, use the phone, or play board games) I was in the staff hallway searching the game shelf for the Connect Four set when I witnessed a Department Directive posted to the staff bathroom door that directed all staff to refrain from consuming the facility’s tap water and that the electronic spring water system located in the hallway was for staff. I can only speculate as to why Fayette administrators would issue such directions to staff and not to prisoners also.

In 2012, I discovered thick, hard, shiny, grey, scabby spots appearing all over my body and inside my mouth. The spots on my body burned and itched severely and if I scratched or picked at them they would erupt and bleed. Soap, lotion, water, and even movement caused irritation and discomfort. The spots inside of my mouth were ulcerated and would cause a burning sensation that was difficult just to bear. No matter what I would eat: hot, cold, spicy, or mild, my mouth would be on fire.

In 2013, one of the scabby areas on my neck became so bad that I signed an agreement to allow medical staff to perform a biopsy on the affected area of my neck. The area was numbed via injection and a specimen (a nice size chunk of flesh from my neck) was severed (cut) from the affected area and sent to a lab for diagnostic study and/or evaluation. I agreed to the biopsy because I thought it would help medical staff figure out what was (and still is) wrong with me.

However, when the test results came back, I was told by the Physicians Assistant (PA) that I had something called “Lichen Planus.” She said it’s my fault that I have it and that it was from scratching. I informed the PA that I only scratched an area on my thigh once and that I never did it again because of the pain and bleeding I experienced. She became angry and began to yell at me, stating, “You did this to yourself.” I didn’t understand her anger so I didn’t say anything else. She prescribed me a steroid cream that only helped with the pain. She also told me that I would be stuck with “Lichen” for the rest of my life because there was no treatment for it.

Also in 2013, the ulcerated areas in my mouth became so out of control that the oral surgeon was called in to surgically remove pieces of flesh from my tongue and from the floor of my mouth under my tongue. This took place one day before I was transferred to S.C.I. Greene. (The surgery was done on February, 25, 2013 and I was transferred on the 26th.) The surgery was a failure and about a week after the ulcerated spots started to spread from the right side of my mouth to the left. Large puss bubbles began to grow in the hinges of my jaw and the back of my throat. At night the puss bubbles sometimes get in the way of my breathing and cause me to wake up. I keep a plastic spoon close by so that I can use the back of it to pop them quickly. Also, my mouth had to be stitched up after the surgery, which was extremely painful.

The whole experience was and still is traumatizing. My body is scarred for life now and I had pieces of me cut away that I can never get back. S.C.I. Greene has stopped my steroid cream and will no longer even respond to requests for medical care for my alleged “Lichen Planus.” Back when I first got here I was seen by the oral surgeon (not the same one as at Fayette). I asked him if what I had could turn cancerous. The guy became so nervous he dropped a tray of surgical tools. I never got answers to my question.

I believe that my injuries are a result of being exposed to toxic coal waste at S.C.I. Fayette. I believe that the administrators at S.C.I. Fayette, their medical staff, and government officials know/knew that the toxic environment is harming and killing prisoners.

Why else would they spend millions to pull up all of the institution’s drinking water pipes and hang them on the buildings? According to reports I’ve heard from some of my comrades, the pipes were removed because the ones that were put in by the original contractors were allegedly made of a material that could not withstand the weight of the buildings, so they were replaced with more suitable ones. This makes no sense to me, and even if it were true, that doesn’t explain why the pipes are now hanging on the housing units instead of being put back underground. And why did they dig up the pipes that are going outside the security fence? Those pipes were not under the buildings. If you take a tour of the institution, you’ll see large beams holding up the pipes and they are everywhere. When I used to have to go to the main yard, I had to travel under a large bridge of pipes.

I think the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) need to look into that because I believe the D.O.C. knew something was up and that they pulled those pipes in an attempt to hide the prisoners’ exposure to the toxic coal waste dump that they built the institution on. I had no other recourse, I had to drink the institution’s tap water and I had to breathe the air there also. The administration didn’t issue me directions not to drink the tap water, nor did they provide me an alternative water source like they did for the staff.

To all of you reading this: How would you feel if you were in my shoes? What if you had to allow nurses and surgeons to cut flesh from your mouth and neck? What if one of us (prisoners currently or previously at S.C.I. Fayette) were your father, brother, uncle, or son? Will you help us to hold those responsible accountable for their deliberate indifference? Or will you not speak out because you’re not now, have never been, and don’t plan on ever being in prison? If that’s how you feel, then let me give you a lesson about apathy.

An early supporter of Hitler during his rise to power, Martin Niemöller later came to oppose the Nazi regime. Niemöller’s status in the world of the wealthy and powerful saved him until 1937 when he was imprisoned by the Nazi’s. His poem “First They Came” can teach us a lot about the consequences of apathy:

“First they came for the communists﹣but I was not a communist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists﹣but I was neither, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews ﹣but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me there was no one left to speak out for me.”

If you’re not doing anything to save those who need saving right now, then who will be around to do the saving when it is your tongue, your mouth, or your neck that’s getting hacked at? Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

And I say we should stand up, stand together, stand firm, and fight the unjust exposure of prisoners to toxic coal waste at S.C.I. Fayette. And let’s not forget the families in LaBelle who are suffering from exposure also.

 

 

MEDIA RELEASE: Mumia Abu-Jamal files suit over prison’s refusal to provide necessary medical care

Untreated Diabetes nearly killed Abu-Jamal in March, and the DOC is refusing to treat his active Hepatitis C

August 3, 2015: Attorneys for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal filed an amended lawsuit today in the Middle District of Pennsylvania federal court to challenge prison medical staff’s denial of necessary medical treatment – denial that nearly killed Abu-Jamal earlier this year.

See Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint and the Amended Complaint.

On March 30, 2015, Abu-Jamal was rushed to the hospital after losing consciousness and going into diabetic shock. Although prison medical staff were aware that Abu-Jamal had a dangerously high blood glucose level of 419 on March 6, they failed to treat, monitor, or even inform Abu-Jamal of his condition. Glucose levels like those that Abu-Jamal had can result in diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and death.

Abu-Jamal’s diabetic shock came in the midst of an escalating year-long health crisis that began with a rash in August 2014. The skin condition grew in intensity over the course of the next several months, eventually covering most of his body with a painful, severe rash that is resistant to conventional treatments. The skin condition is abnormal in its duration and intensity, and has led to lesions, open wounds, and swelling.

The lawsuit filed today seeks injunctive relief for prison medical staff’s failure to treat Abu-Jamal’s active Hepatitis C. Recent blood tests provided at the insistence of Abu-Jamal, his lawyers, and consulting doctors have confirmed that Abu-Jamal has active Hepatitis C, which is likely the underlying cause of his health crisis. Despite the undeniable medical evidence that he is in need of treatment for his Hepatitis C, prison medical staff are refusing to provide any.

Advances in Hepatitis C treatment in recent years have revolutionized the way the disease is treated, with new direct-acting anti-viral medications that have had over 95% success rates in curing the illness in clinical trials. The medications, however, are extraordinarily expensive in the United States due to monopoly pricing practices by the pharmaceutical companies that have patented them.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has yet to promulgate a new protocol for treating Hepatitis C with the new medications, meaning that the estimated 10,000-plus people in DOC custody who have Hepatitis C are not receiving any treatment.

This issue is the subject of a class action lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court in June 2015.

Abu-Jamal is represented by Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center and Robert J. Boyle of New York City.

 

Bret Grote            bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                        412-654-9070

MEDIA RELEASE: Lawsuit seeks attorney and family access to Mumia Abu-Jamal

MEDIA RELEASE: Lawsuit seeks attorney and family access to Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Abu-Jamal has been held virtually incommunicado in the hospital for a week

May 18, 2015: This morning attorneys for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania federal court seeking immediate access to their client, who has been held virtually incommunicado at the Geisinger Medical Center since Tuesday, May 12. Abu-Jamal has been denied all communication with his attorneys since that time.

Read the Complaint and Memorandum in Support of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order. (Other documents from the filing below)

Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center and Robert Boyle, attorneys for Abu-Jamal, are plaintiffs in the action along with Abu-Jamal. A motion for preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order was filed with the lawsuit asking that the court issue an order granting Abu-Jamal visitation with his attorneys and wife, Wadiya Jamal.

On Tuesday May 12th in the evening Mumia was taken from the prison infirmary to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. Since that night he has not been allowed any visits and has been prevented by the hospital and the PA DOC from his constitutionally protected access to the courts and counsel. In addition, his immediate family members have been prevented from visiting him.

This legal action seeks to immediately restore Mr. Abu-Jamal’s constitutional right to access the courts.

Bret Grote, notes:

“The DOC is once again demonstrating its contempt for human rights and proper health care by holding Mumia Abu-Jamal incommunicado from his family and lawyers. Instead of recognizing the value of family support and legal consultation in protecting and improving his health, the DOC is treating Mumia like a piece of property that it can withhold access to and information about arbitrarily and with impunity.”

According to Abu-Jamal’s attorney, Robert Boyle, “The immediate relatives of a prisoner have a right to know the medical status of their loved ones in the case of hospitalization; and all prisoners have a right to communicate with their attorney, especially in case of an emergency. That my client and his family have been deprived of these rights is a constitutional violation.”

Bret Grote            bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                        412-654-9070

Documents filed with the court:

Abu-Jamal, et al. v. Kerestes, Geisinger Medical Center

Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order

Memorandum in Support of Motion

Declaration of Wadiya Jamal

Declaration of Bret Grote

The Fight to Keep Mumia from Being Silenced

The trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane happened on the same day that news of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s health crisis reached his supporters. This post provides a summary of both events, and includes links for further updates on efforts to defend Mumia’s life.


On March 30th, a trial was held in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the cases of Abu-Jamal v. Kane and Prison Legal News v. Kane, two lawsuits challenging the Silencing Act. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Silencing Act, also known as 18 P.S. § 11.1304, last October. The law allows the Attorney General, county District Attorneys, and victims of personal injury crimes to bring lawsuits in civil court against “offenders” of a personal injury crime, in order to enjoin conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Actions that could prompt a lawsuit include “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

The law was passed in response to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s delivery of a pre-recorded commencement speech for students at Goddard College. Leading up to and in the wake of this speech, the Fraternal Order of Police, Governor Corbett, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and a number of legislators staged a media campaign designed to whip up a frenzy of support for depriving Abu-Jamal, and any other “offender,” of their constitutional right to free speech.

Two weeks after the bill was signed into law by former Governor Corbett, Abolitionist Law Center and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prison Radio, the Human Rights Coalition, Robert Holbrook, Kerry Marshall, Donnell Palmer, Anthony Chance, and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The lawsuit is seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and an injunction against its use by the Attorney General and the District Attorney for Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs in Abu-Jamal v. Kane filed a motion for preliminary injunction on the same day the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed Prison Legal News v. Kane, which was also seeking to overturn the law. Both cases were before Chief Judge Conner in late February for a hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss. Judge Conner dismissed the claims against District Attorney Seth Williams from both lawsuits in a ruling on March 7th based on his explicit disavowal of enforcement, a promise to not bring a lawsuit under the Act, until there is a determination of its constitutionality. The District Attorney was a prominent supporter of the law prior to its passage by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The judge also ruled that the Plaintiffs in the two cases could proceed to trial on the claims against the Attorney General, and the trial was scheduled for March 30th.

Read the decision here – Abu-Jamal v. Kane motion to dismiss ruling

mumia_trial 043015 - joseph piette
The legal team and supporters after trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane – photo by Joseph Piette

The trial on March 30th, approximately 5 months after Corbett signed this ill-fated bill into law, was “on the merits,” meaning that the judge will be making a final ruling on the constitutionality of the Act. Following the hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs felt good about their chances for success. “Many court challenges on First Amendment grounds hinge on one basis for finding a law unconstitutional,” said ALC Legal Director Bret Grote. “However, the Silencing Act is plainly a violation of the First Amendment for several reasons, and we think we presented those reasons to the judge well.” We are hopeful that Chief Judge Conner’s ruling will be handed down in the next couple of months.

Read an article describing the trial arguments here — Pa. law sparked by Goddard alumnus under review

Almost immediately after conclusion of the trial, the positive atmosphere amongst the legal team and supporters was interrupted by the news that Mumia Abu-Jamal had lost consciousness and had been moved from SCI Mahanoy for emergency care at the nearby Schuylkill Medical Center. His blood sugar count was at 779: he was in diabetic shock. His sodium level was 160. Since January, Mumia has been suffering from a severe case of eczema that was reportedly treated with antibiotics and steroids, which caused an allergic reaction. His life threatening medical crisis continues and has now been labeled late-onset diabetes, which should have been identified and treated far earlier than it was.

Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia's family and supporters - Photo by David McKeown
Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia’s family and supporters – photo by David McKeown

Mumia’s supporters and family members, together with ALC attorneys, rushed to the hospital to intervene on his behalf, but were prevented from speaking with him and were denied any information about his condition for more than 24hrs. The prison did not notify Mumia’s attorneys or family members of his health emergency, and if not for the fact that supporters were at the prison that morning to visit with him, a visit that was denied because he’d been sent to the hospital, it would likely have been days before news of his condition reached his loved ones. The situation bears echos of the recent passing of political prisoner Phil Africa of the MOVE organization, whose condition was not shared with his relatives until the day before his death, the cause of which remains unknown.

Prison Radio is raising funds to pay for outside doctors to meet and consult with Mumia about his illness and treatment, in order to ensure that his life is not threatened again by the extreme lack of competence among medical staff within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC). We encourage everyone to please donate to the Indiegogo campaign, and to share it far and wide:

You can DONATE at this link.

Mumia’s supporters are also organizing to push the PADOC to allow outside medical care for Mumia, and are circulating a petition. Their most recent update makes clear that he is suffering and still at risk:

His blood sugar registered in the mid 200s today and continues to fluctuate, and although Mumia is still very weak, he was better than on Friday. He told us that the doctors gave him a double shot of insulin right before he came out for the visit, likely in an effort to make him appear temporarily more energetic than he is. This concerns us because insulin overdose is a possibility in these instances. Again Mumia has not yet been seen by a diabetes specialist, although the general practitioner told him today that perhaps he needs to see a nutritionist. This is a sign that our muckraking is working, since the news has gotten around that he was given spaghetti for lunch when his blood sugar registered at 336.

However, despite this modest progress Mumia  struggled to get out of his wheelchair so that we could take a photo of him. He remained in the wheelchair for the rest of the visit.

More updates can be found HERE and HERE.

MEDIA RELEASE: As Department of Corrections refuses to release information about prisoner health, human rights groups, LaBelle residents launch health survey of their own

February 10, 2015 – The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) have launched a comprehensive health survey of prisoners at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette. The prison sits next to a 500-acre coal ash dump operated by Matt Canestrale Contracting. Prisoners, current and former guards, and nearby residents have reported a range of illnesses and symptoms that are consistent with exposure to toxic coal waste, raising concerns that the dump may be making people sick. The prison is also serviced by Tri-County Joint Municipal Water Authority, which has reported levels of cancer-causing Total Tri-halomethanes (TTHMs) in their water supply above the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for the past several years.

The groups will send the 8-page survey by mail to all of the more than 2,000 prisoners at SCI Fayette. Prisoners will be asked to complete the survey and return it by mail. The Department of Corrections (DOC) has been notified of the survey and reminded of its responsibility to comply with constitutional standards that prohibit censorship of mail sent to prisoners.

Meanwhile, a grassroots community group, with support from the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ), will be conducting a similar survey in the town of LaBelle. The town, which has about 300 residents, sits on the other side of the dump from the prison. Many people there also report chronic illnesses that are consistent with exposure to toxic coal waste.

“This survey of both residents of LaBelle and incarcerated people will provide a better picture of health problems in the immediate area around the dump, something which has not been done before,” said Eva Westheimer, community organizer with CCJ.

ALC and HRC conducted a preliminary survey of 75 prisoners last year, which revealed high rates of respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, and skin conditions among prisoners responding to the survey. These findings were published in a report entitled No Escape, in September of 2014. In response to this report, the DOC conducted its own review of prisoner medical records and published a two-page press release on New Years Eve 2014, summarizing its findings and denying any problems or wrongdoing.

The DOC’s press release reported that rates of cancer, respiratory, and gastrointestinal diseases between 2010 and 2013 were not above average, when compared to other prisons under DOC management. The press release included no mention of many of the health conditions discussed in No Escape, nor did it discuss any attempts to test the grounds of the prison for the presence of coal ash, or to account for undiagnosed or untreated conditions among prisoners, which could only be captured by a comprehensive health survey.

At the same time, DOC has refused to make the data from its review public, denying several Right-to-Know requests submitted by ALC and HRC, as well as journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Herald-Standard. “What we do know about the DOC’s review is that it was a very narrow study designed to deny and dismiss the existence of a problem at SCI Fayette. How can we trust the Department to objectively determine if there is a problem, when it has every interest in that problem not existing, and when it repeatedly acts in bad faith by obstructing access to public records,” said ALC attorney Dustin McDaniel. “Many people living next to this dump both in prison and in the community are sick. What we don’t know is how many people and the extent to which they are suffering from the same problems. With this survey, prisoner advocates and community leaders are working together to find out.”

 

Contact:

 

Dustin McDaniel                        dsm@abolitionlawcenter.org             412-651-7485

 

Eva Westheimer                        eva@coalfieldjustice.org                        724-229-3550

Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project to Launch at Jail Oversight Board meeting on Thursday

Jail workers, human rights advocates, community groups, and inmates’ family members seek an end to appalling health care at ACJ

PITTSBURGH- Allegheny County area advocacy organizations will announce the launch of the new Allegheny County Jail, Health Justice Project this Thursday, at 4:30 p.m. during the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting, with a press conference to follow.  The ACJ Health Justice Project seeks to ensure that members of our community incarcerated at ACJ receive comprehensive health care.

This Thursday marks one month since Frank Smart, 39, died, after less than a day in ACJ custody.  “I lost one whole child because of one pill. All he needed was one pill,” said Tomi Harris, mother of Frank Smart, who died at ACJ on January 5, 2015.  During a phone call hours before his death, Frank said that he was not being provided his anti-seizure medication.  Unfortunately, Mr. Smart was not the first member of our community to lose his life at the hands of Corizon Prison Health Management under the careless watch of Allegheny County officials.  It is time to act to ensure that no more fathers, sons, sisters or wives suffer dire health consequences as a result of unconstitutionally inadequate care created by Corizon’s poor management and cost cutting measures.

Over 18,000 residents of Allegheny County pass through ACJ each year.  Once there they are experiencing unacceptable delays in receiving medical care and the denial of necessary prescriptions simply because Corizon has deemed crucial medications too expensive.  Compounding matters, the medical staff at ACJ are being denied critical supplies and organizational supports they need to provide care: all with an almost $12 million annual cost to Allegheny County.

Despite repeated warnings and admonishments from public officials and private citizens alike, Corizon is refusing to even admit there is a problem.  This should come as no surprise from a national prison profiteer that has been named in over 660 medical malpractice lawsuits.

The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper and the members of the Jail Oversight Board: Judge Cashman, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen, and Dr. Walker to step up to the plate and sincerely oversee the abysmal medical care at ACJ.  They cannot continue to look the other way when the mortality rate at the ACJ is twice that of the national average.  The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on these members of our County government to ensure that members of our community are not being sentenced to death at the time of incarceration at ACJ.  Corizon Health has shown time and time again that they do not care about the health and well being of our community.

Rich Fitzgerald, Warden Harper, Judge McDaniel, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen and Dr. Walker, have the responsibility to stop these human rights abuses.  Do not commit another taxpayer dollar to Corizon Health, show them the door this September.  Our community deserves better.

Organizations endorsing the project include the Abolitionist Law Center, the PA Institutional Law Project, United Steelworkers, New Voices Pittsburgh, We Change Pittsburgh, the Garden of Peace Project, the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!, and Fight Back Pittsburgh.

Contact:    Randa Ruge                      rruge@usw.org         412-522-9687
Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz    amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org 412-434-6175