A prisoner held in solitary confinement lives in a 9×7 room with no human contact for 23-24 hours a day. These conditions are generally believed to cause serious mental illness and emotional suffering, particularly as the duration of solitary confinement increases. A recent Department of Justice investigation of Pennsylvania’s use of solitary confinement found that it was causing prisoners to suffer a range of serious mental disorders, which in turn caused many prisoners to engage in self-mutilation or attempt suicide. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days is cruel and unusual punishment and possibly torture. There are currently over 2,000 prisoners being held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania prison system. Many of these prisoners are held in solitary confinement for years, and sometimes for decades.
The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) was founded in February 2013, with the goal of ending human rights abuses in the Pennsylvania prison system. We believe that prolonged solitary confinement is one of the most severe human rights abuses inside the prison walls. We are working to put an end to it by advocating for the release of those who have been in solitary confinement for the longest, and by educating the public more generally about these human rights abuses. Donations to this fundraising campaign will help us accomplish these goals, and can be made via Paypal or at our Indiegogo page.
Extreme Cases of Solitary Confinement
We are currently suing Pennsylvania Department of Corrections officials on behalf of our client, Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz, who is a 70 year old man who has been held in continuous solitary confinement for 22 years. Bret Grote (Executive Director of the ALC) recently discussed Maroon’s case in detail at a panel on political prisoners and solitary confinement, which can be viewed here. The case was recently profiled on Democracy Now!, as well. We are also organizing an advocacy campaign on behalf of Arthur Johnson, a 61 year old man who has been held in continuous solitary confinement for 34 years. We will be filing a lawsuit in his case too, once we raise the necessary funds.
Success in these cases means gaining release from solitary confinement for Maroon and Arthur. However, winning their release from solitary confinement will also help free the thousands of other prisoners being held in long-term isolation by establishing administrative and legal precedents that limit the allowable duration of solitary confinement, and by creating political pressure to end the practice entirely.
What We Need
All donations are tax-deductible and will be used to pay for costs related to Arthur and Maroon’s cases. For instance, travel to meet with Maroon and Arthur costs about $250 per trip, and we generally visit them once or twice a month. Obtaining copies of important records can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500. We need to get copies of Arthur’s prison records going back to 1979. We are also awaiting responses from the federal Bureau of Prisons and the FBI regarding Freedom of Information Act requests for Maroon’s records, which may end up costing several hundred dollars. We will have to pay between $400 and $500 to file Arthur Johnson’s lawsuit. The cost of obtaining expert witnesses and conducting depositions is difficult to estimate with any accuracy, but it will be many thousands of dollars.
Donations will also be used to pay our full-time legal staff. Beginning in February, we will have one full-time attorney earning $500 per week. To put this in perspective, it costs taxpayers approximately $78,000 per year to hold a single prisoner in solitary confinement. It costs us less than half that amount to employ one full-time attorney for a year, and run a law office with the purpose of getting prisoners out of solitary confinement.
Raised funds will be used to pursue Maroon and Arthur’s cases, and to further educate the public about the use of solitary confinement in prisons, whether or not the fundraising goal is met. Donations may be made at our Indiegogo page, via our PayPal account, or via the mail at Abolitionist Law Center, P.O. Box 8654, Pittsburgh, PA 15221.
Other Ways You Can Help
Please share this campaign with everyone you know. Tweet it on twitter. Post it on Facebook. Email it to friends and family. As more people interact with this campaign, Maroon and Arthur’s stories will spread, which will help to accelerate the process of gaining their release from solitary confinement.
You can also support the campaign by signing up for updates on Maroon and Arthur’s cases and by responding to Action Alerts on our website. Recent Action Alerts for Maroon and Arthur are there now. Letters and phone calls to Pennsylvania prison authorities let them know that the public is increasingly concerned about this issue, and goes a long way towards getting them to take these cases seriously.
We are also planning a statewide tour in the fall to talk about Maroon’s case and the situation in Pennsylvania’s prisons more generally. Any help organizing speaking events in Pennsylvania will be greatly appreciated.