This has been a deeply inspiring, encouraging, and productive year in our shared fight for abolition at Straight Ahead and the Abolitionist Law Center.
In 2021, our toolkit and our reach expanded dramatically. And our many important victories delivered improved conditions and chances for freedom for our community members held captive in Pennsylvania’s horrendous jails and prisons, which are among the worst in the nation.
Over the last year we grew. We listened. We organized. And we fought and won.
And now we need your help to keep the momentum going.
Tell us you believe in freedom from state violence and the racist, classist incarceration machine, and that you want us to amplify our organizing, litigating, and lobbying efforts that will get us there.
Please make a contribution today to Straight Ahead or the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC).
If you can make a gift that’s not tax-deductible, please donate to Straight Ahead, our 501(c)(4) lobbying organization.
If you need your gift to be tax-deductible, please donate to the ALC, our 501(c)(3) organization.
Here are some highlights of what we’ve been able to do together in 2021:
- We launched and fully ramped up Straight Ahead – a 501(c)(4) legislative and lobbying organization – so that in conjunction with the Abolitionist Law Center, we can attack mass incarceration and state violence from every direction: in the streets, in the courtroom, and now also via legislation.
- We added talented, passionate people to ALC’s organizing, legal, court watching, and operations teams, including beefing up our Philadelphia-based crew who are working to counter the city’s notoriously racist police and court system, and the county’s abhorrent record of having more people serving death by incarceration sentences than any other county or parish in the U.S. (and in fact, more than the entire prison populations of many other nations).
- We set in motion initiatives to significantly scale up our advocacy for people with disabilities who encounter the criminal punishment system.
- We doubled down on our foundational commitment to taking leadership from people directly impacted by state violence, by continuing to hire formerly incarcerated staff, participating in decarceral networks across the state and around the country, and expanding our channels of communication to and from people currently imprisoned.
- We held decarceration-focused community forums and rallies all over Pennsylvania, including in areas where we’ve never had an on-the-ground presence before, as part of our long-term plan to win substantive legal and legislative reform in this key swing state that has one of the harshest and most punitive criminal punishment systems in the country.
- We conducted scores of jail and prison visits to hear firsthand from incarcerated people about the atrocious conditions they experience on a daily basis.
- We recruited and trained over 100 Court Watch volunteers who collectively observed and reported on hundreds of criminal court proceedings, garnering invaluable insight about discriminatory and abusive practices by court officials.
- We penned powerful op eds and first person accounts of the agony experienced by elderly and seriously ill people in prison, the capacity for incarcerated people to change, the influence of the Black Radical tradition on abolitionist practices, and more.
- We generated relentless, high profile media coverage in local, regional, and national outlets.
- We released groundbreaking, data-rich reports and calls-to-action based on our findings from our work in courtrooms, prisons, jails, and communities.
- We dedicated resources and developed transformative justice-focused curriculum for our internal and external political education offerings, including organizing and training a cohort of people impacted by the prison system to be influential advocates for change.
- We intensified our legal and public awareness campaigns aimed at ending death by incarceration (life without parole) and the use of solitary confinement.
- We forced the Allegheny County Courts to grant the public virtual access to criminal proceedings during the months of remote proceedings necessitated by the pandemic.
- We joined 1Hood Media and the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) in the Reimagining Public Safety Coalition working group that reported on, and now is planning, implementation of concrete steps to reduce harm and trauma and increase safety and wellness in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
We Fought and Won
- We waged a rapid response, public pressure campaign that stopped a newly introduced mandatory minimums sentencing bill in its tracks.
- After first forcing his release from 37 years of solitary confinement to general population in 2017, this year our legal work that began in 2013 brought our client Arthur Cetewayo Johnson home after 51 years of imprisonment.
- Our medical neglect lawsuit on behalf of Tyrone Briggs, who was killed when prison staff attacked him with pepper spray and left him to die from a severe asthma attack, forced key policy changes regarding the use of chemical weapons by DOC staff and the largest-ever damages settlement against the DOC for Tyrone’s family.
- We collaborated with APA, 1Hood, and many other allies to promote a voter referendum in the county surrounding Pittsburgh that overwhelmingly passed a ban – the first of its kind in the nation – on the use of solitary confinement, the restraint chair, and pepper spray at the notoriously horrible Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) where around 2000 people are held on any given day
- We spearheaded an all-out pressure campaign with our allies that derailed ACJ’s attempt to end-run around the referendum results by hiring a contractor to train jail staff on violent, military-style tactics and weaponry for brutalizing incarcerated people
The fight to abolish the racist and classist systems of policing, courts, and incarceration, is a massive one. But it’s essential if we want to transform how we respond to harm, and create freedom, justice, safety, and wellness, especially for our most vulnerable neighbors.
With the combined forces of Straight Ahead and the Abolitionist Law Center building grassroots power and demanding freedom in every arena, we have the vision and the tools to get us there.
Now we need the resources and the continuing support of our community.