We’re fighting & winning in PA, and we need your help!

As I often recount, I was a 16-year-old child when I was arrested. My offense resulted in me being sentenced as an adult, to spend the rest of my life behind bars, with no chance for parole.

I survived decades in Pennsylvania state prisons, including around 10 years in solitary confinement, because of the fierce advocacy of my family, and the support I received inside from mentors and Black Liberation Movement elders who were already decades into their sentences when my incarceration began.

Twenty seven years later, in 2018, I stepped out of SCI Greene after the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing children to automatic life without the possibility of parole is cruel, unnecessary, inhumane, and unconstitutional.

When I won my freedom I immediately joined the staff of the Abolitionist Law Center in my native Philadelphia, finally working on the outside with the people I’d been building with for years from the inside. Two years later I became ALC’s Executive Director.

Since then, ALC has experienced tremendous growth and vital progress in our work to combat the harms of the criminal punishment system.

And we’ve become leaders in the movement to radically alter the landscape around mass incarceration and related issues in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania.

So today, I’m asking for you to stand with us by making a tax-deductible contribution to ALC to show that you care about people like me and you want to end the racist, classist prison system that has shattered the lives of so many others from communities like mine.

As an ALC supporter, you know that we employ two broad tactics in our fight for freedom: we’re both a non-profit, public interest law firm, and a grassroots community organizing project.

We wield class action, impact, and accompaniment litigation. We mount pressure campaigns and mobilize affected communities. And we reshape the narratives around the criminal punishment system, and target every point on its conveyor belt: policing, the courts, cash bail, probation, parole, jails, and prisons.

In 2022 ALC has continued making progress achieving sweeping changes to carceral policies around restricting solitary confinementchallenging death by incarceration (life without parole), and defending the rights of imprisoned people with disabilities, and those who need psychiatric treatment and other medical care.

We’ve ratcheted up our scale and pace of bringing people home…like Bradford Gamble, an elder suffering from Stage 4 cancer, who after decades behind bars, faced the excruciating scenario of having to decline medical treatment in prison in order to qualify for “compassionate release” to spend his final days at home with family.

We’ve kept fighting to limit incarceration in the first place, and protect those who are trapped behind bars, especially the most vulnerable like those with mental illness who are often brutalized and subjected to solitary and other forms of torture.

And we’ve extracted financial resources from carceral institutions and redirected them to those the system has harmed.

People who are currently or formerly incarcerated and their loved ones are the leaders here. Folks who are directly impacted by state violence are building the strategic alliances and power to end it. But to succeed, we know we need a broad community standing with us as we fight for freedom.

Pennsylvania is a key battleground state and the stakes couldn’t be higher. So I’m personally inviting you:

Join us. Help us.

Renew your commitment as a member of our abolitionist family. Please donate to decarcerate today and for abolition tomorrow.

Robert Saleem Holbrook
Executive Director

We’re Hiring a Communications Director!

Join us!

Help us achieve our abolitionist messaging and communications goals! Bring your creative, experienced, energetic self to our dynamic and growing organization as our next Communications Director.


Communications Director (Philadelphia, posted 10.30.22)

Summary: 

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) seeks an experienced, effective, and creative Communications Director with 8-10 years of communications experience in the progressive political field and 2-4 years of supervisory experience. 

Location: 

Philadelphia, PA, with occasional travel to Harrisburg & Pittsburgh, PA.

About ALC: 

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public interest law firm and community organizing project to end mass incarceration and protect the rights and wellbeing of people who encounter the racist, classist criminal punishment system in all its forms including policing, courts, jails, and prisons. Straight Ahead is ALC’s 501(c)(4) lobbying, legislative, and electoral arm. ALC uses litigation and community organizing to target the many harms caused by the criminal punishment system in Pennsylvania and Straight Ahead builds grassroots power, injects abolitionist candidates and agendas into the electoral and legislative systems, and holds elected officials and other leaders accountable. We have a commitment to abolitionist politics that seeks to replace punitive justice with healing justice, promotes decarceration and the elimination of the use of jails and prisons to deal with social problems, and centers the political agency and organizing activity of those individuals and communities most impacted by the criminal legal system. 

About the position: 

We are seeking a Communications Director who will help the Abolitionist Law Center and Straight Ahead achieve our messaging and communications goals. This position will be vital in managing communications to support and amplify ALC and Straight Ahead’s strategic goals and programmatic work, as well as the larger abolition and decarceral movement and messaging,  and will do so in collaboration with the Executive Director and designated staff. As an organization heavily focused on litigation and court cases, this position will bridge the gap between legalese language used by the lawyers at ALC and the audiences of ALC’s public communications. The Communications Director will report to the Executive Director, will be part of the senior leadership team of the organization, and will manage staff. 

Job responsibilities: 

The Communications Director will: 

  • Identify emerging issues, strategies, and narratives related to ALC and Straight Ahead’s work and seize communications opportunities associated with them; 
  • Ensure that all communications use an intersectional lens and employ principles of ethical storytelling by prioritizing agency and practicing informed consent for those whose stories are being told, and respectfully centering historically marginalized communities most impacted by the criminal punishment system;
  • Develop and manage a strategic communications plan to meet integrated organizational goals for ALC and Straight Ahead; 
  • Develop an organizational identity and style kit and guidelines for consistent tone, language, visuals, and messaging across all communications, including working with the Development Director to ensure fundraising materials are consistent with other materials; 
  • Translate complex legal and political material and concepts into easy to understand content for social and traditional media for journalists, policymakers, and the general public; 
  • Build relationships with and develop targeted communications for people directly impacted by the criminal punishment system including currently and formerly incarcerated people and their support networks, activists, movement colleagues, journalists, scholars, and policy and thought leaders;
  • Generate and manage local, regional, and national media coverage, including writing media advisories and press releases and pitching stories and op-eds to reporters and editors; 
  • Develop talking points and prepare staff and community members for public events and media interviews; 
  • Manage departmental budget; 
  • Establish goals for earned media coverage and website, Google Ads, email list development and bulk email program, and social media metrics, and track and analyze those metrics to achieve those goals; 
  • Manage one or more staff members and outside contractors and relevant vendors.

Qualifications: 

  • 8-10 years of communications experience in the progressive political field, at least 4 of which involved work with a base-building organization;
  • 2-4 years of supervisory experience; 
  • Ability to think strategically and participate effectively as part of a campaign team;
  • Excellent writing, proofreading, desktop publishing, verbal, visual/graphic, and communications skills;
  • Experience managing various social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (Youtube and TikTok preferred but not required);
  • Experience pitching and placing stories and op-eds with news outlets;
  • Ability to work on multiple projects, coordinating work with others to produce projects on time;
  • Ability to work within timelines under pressure and minimal supervision;
  • A commitment to racial and disability justice and an understanding of and commitment to abolitionism;
  • Working knowledge of website content management;
  • An understanding of and relationships with journalists in the Pennsylvania media market preferred but not required;
  • Experience working in the abolition and decarceration movement (paid or unpaid) preferred but not required;
  • Experience with communications for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organizations, or both, preferred but not required.

Salary and benefits: 

Salary: $90,000/year 

Benefits: ALC offers a competitive benefits package covering 100% of health, dental, and vision insurance premiums for staff and their covered dependents, 280 hours of paid time off per year, parental leave, and FSA and 401k accounts. 

To apply: See the full job description here. To apply, submit a resume to  jobs@newworkingmajority.com with the subject line: ALC
Communications Director

Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. People of color, women, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people and individuals who have other lived experience with the criminal punishment system are strongly encouraged to apply.


Plaintiffs bring class action lawsuit challenging the pervasive use of probation detainers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

For Immediate Release: October 3, 2022

Pittsburgh, Pa. –  Six currently detained individuals filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against three Allegheny County judges; Administrative Judge Jill Rangos and Court of Common Pleas Judges Anthony Mariani, and Kelly Bigley, as well as Jail Warden Orlando Harper and Director of Probation Frank Scherer and other probation department officials, alleging that Allegheny County’s pervasive use of probation detainers violates their state and federal constitutional rights. Represented by counsel from Civil Rights Corps and Abolitionist Law Center, the plaintiffs seeks a declaration that Defendants’ policies and practices violate their rights to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, through unlawfully jailing people arrested for probation violations for prolonged periods without an adequate assessment or determination that such detention is necessary. The plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief to change the practices that result in rampant illegal incarceration, and they will be moving for a preliminary injunction to immediately halt the unconstitutional practices. Finally, they seek money damages for every day of illegal detention they have suffered.

The lawsuit challenges the systemic use of probation detainers, the single largest driver of incarceration at the Allegheny County Jail. A probation detainer prohibits an individual’s release from jail until they have a hearing to determine whether they violated their probation. On any given day, about one third of the  jail population (upwards of 600 people) has  a probation detainer lodged against them. Approximately 16% of them are accused only of a technical violation of probation, such as failing to update their address or to meet with their probation officer. Most of the people with new charges, the other reason for alleged violations, are theoretically able to get out of jail on the new charges on either monetary or non-monetary bail. But because of the probation detainer, they’re stuck in jail. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the perfunctory proceedings at which decisions regarding detainers are made. The suit further challenges Judges Mariani and Bigley’s blanket administrative “no-lift” policy, automatically requiring all people they supervise who are arrested for an alleged probation violation to remain in jail, no matter the circumstances of the probation violation. “Local officials’ detainer practices are particularly jarring in light of the ongoing crisis at the Allegheny County Jail; at least six people incarcerated at the jail have died this year alone, 17 since the onset of the pandemic. Yet the jail continues to be senselessly overpopulated because of the rampant and illegal use of probation detainers,” said Sumayya Saleh, Senior Attorney, Civil Rights Corps.

Gerald Thomas is one of the individuals who died in the jail this past year. He was accused of new charges, which were all ultimately withdrawn. Mr. Thomas was held on a probation detainer for almost a year. Shortly before Mr. Thomas’s death, Judge Mariani refused to lift his detainer despite the withdrawn charges. “Mr. Thomas’s death is the worst possible outcome of these dangerous policies, but it is not an unpredictable one,” said Dolly Prabhu, Staff Attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center. “To not put an end to these practices is to continue to put hundreds of incarcerated people in Allegheny County at risk everyday.”

Dion Horton is the lead named plaintiff in the case. He’s been in jail since February 2022 for allegedly violating probation after being accused of new offenses. A judicial officer in a separate proceeding ordered that he could be released from jail on those charges. Despite this, a probation detainer was lodged against him, with no separate determination that his incarceration is necessary. Nearly eight months have passed, and there is no end in sight–he has no idea when he will have a hearing on the alleged probation violation. “I thought that we were supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” said Mr. Horton. “But with probation detainers, it’s like I’m guilty before I’m ever tried. That doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Civil Rights Corps is a non-profit organization dedicated to challenging systemic injustice in the American legal system through innovative civil rights litigation. CRC works with individuals accused and convicted of crimes, their families and communities, people currently or formerly incarcerated, activists, organizers, judges, and government officials to challenge mass human caging and to create a legal system that promotes equality and human freedom.

The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.  Abolitionist Law Center litigates on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, educates the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American punishment system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions.

###

Cheryl Bonacci
Civil Rights Corps
cheryl@civilrightscorps.org

Dolly Prabhu
Abolitionist Law Center
dprabhu@alcenter.org