The Abolitionist Framework Must Combat Ableism in Order To Ensure the Freedom and Equity of Those Behind Bars

The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce our Board President, Jamelia Morgan has published a journal article calling for the abolition of ableism while fighting back against mass incarceration. REFLECTIONS ON REPRESENTING INCARCERATED PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: ABLEISM IN PRISON REFORM LITIGATION explores the intersections of disabilities and abolition while tasking legal advocates to combat ableism with holistic representation of clients and a raising of a multidimensional consciousness. While the conditions in prisons and jails are often discussed, what is often overlooked is how these inhumane facilities often target and mistreat those living with mental and physical disabilities. Disability Justice is important part of the abolition framework as those with disabilities are overrepresented in the criminal system as a result of failed health policies and systematic disparities. Due to the fact prisons and jails are not inherently designed to treat people in humane ways, those who enter into incarceration with a disability or develop a disability while incarcerated, face a lack of services and programming which leads to debilitation and trauma. What is even worse is that many lawyers lack the requisite training and understanding to represent clients who have disabilities and often perpetuate ableism.

lawyers representing people with disabilities are forced to represent their clients as physically, mentally, and emotionally damaged. In the typical, wellpleaded Section 1983 complaint brought on behalf of incarcerated people with disabilities, the weaknesses and challenges of disability are on full display, not because of any individual plaintiff’s inability to overcome obstacles or challenges in carceral settings (as is often the nature of ableism reflected in rhetoric about people with disabilities in free society) but, rather, because prisons inherently were not built to meet the needs of people with physical or mental disabilities.

In combating ableism and amplifying disability justice as a practice, lawyers and advocates must not simply create an awareness of the issues impacting those living with disabilities but must also change the culture of the abolition framework to recognize the negative and often violent implications that arise as the result of ableist legal practices. As such, abolitionist may move to using better language in fighting for freedom and can use court filings to highlight the inherent structural injustices in the designs of prisons and jails.

As prisoners’ rights advocates, we must strategically and consciously resist ableist discourses and ideologies that present our clients as deserving of constitutional protection only where physical or psychological damage is readily apparent or diagnosable. Advocates must acknowledge structural disablement within carceral spaces and use language that affirms the humanity of people with disabilities locked up behind bars or steel doors.

Due to current systems, those living with disability while incarcerated are often from marginalized populations. In order to effectively advocate for this population of individuals, intersectionality dicates that abolitionists examine their complicity in ableist behaviors and ensure they are including impacted peoples in developing strategies and policies for transformative change.

Citation: Morgan, Jamelia, Reflections on Representing Incarcerated People with Disabilities: Ableism in Prison Reform Litigation (July 22, 2019). Denver Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 4, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3424341 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3424341

Media Alert: Eddie Africa of the #MOVE9 is home after four decades of incarceration

June 21,2019

For Immediate Release 

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office  are proud to announce that Eddie Africa, of the MOVE 9, has been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, Eddie Africa was released from SCI Phoenix after being transferred from SCI Mahanoy, where he spent the majority of his incarceration. He has been fighting for parole for the last ten years. 

The MOVE 9 are 9 individuals who were incarcerated following an August 8, 1978 police siege of the MOVE Organization home in West Philadelphia. The MOVE 9 were all sentenced to 30-100 years after the death of an officer during the raid.

“Eddie’s release is a victory for him, his family and the movement that has been fighting for his freedom. This is the newest chapter in the decades-long struggle to free all the MOVE 9, which is a struggle that continues with the fight to free Delbert and Chuck Africa, who are both up for parole this year.” ~ Brad Thompson

Eddie is the fifth member of the MOVE 9 to be released on parole, all represented by lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office. Like Debbie , Janet, Janine, and Mike Africa, who were recently released, Eddie is now able to experience holding his loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. Eddie was a father when he was arrested and has four adult children and several grandchildren who he has been able to maintain strong relationships with. Today is the first day his grandchildren will be able to hug him outside of a prison wall. The release of the Move members, after more than forty years, is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.

Two other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck and Delbert Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Delbert and Chuck in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.

Press Contact:

Brad Thomson bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com 773-297-9689

Bret Grote, bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

MEDIA RELEASE: Prisoners and Activists Stop New Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky

For Immediate Release
June 20, 2019
Contact: Marianne Cufone, Green Justice, (813) 785-8386

Prisoners and Activists Stop New Prison on Coal Mine Site in Kentucky

Washington, DC — In response to a federal lawsuit filed by Green Justice attorneys, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) withdrew its intent to construct a new $510 million federal prison in Letcher County, Kentucky, the most expensive proposed federal prison in U.S. history. The lawyers represented prisoners and activists concerned about the new facility being sited on a former mountaintop removal coal mine and near an active mine and coal sludge pond.

Marianne Cufone, lead attorney with Green Justice, said, “The lawsuit highlighted that both the process and actual building of the USP Letcher facility conflicted with various federal laws. The Bureau of Prisons did the right thing in withdrawing its construction plans.”

Twenty-one federal prisoners from around the country, the Abolitionist Law Center and Friends of Lilley Cornett Woods and North Fork River Watershed brought the lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons. The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons supported the plaintiffs in their case with a grassroots organizing campaign, which garnered support across the country.

“This outcome couldn’t have happened without the courage of local residents in Letcher County and federal prisoners, all who risked significant blow back for standing up to oppose this prison,” according to co-founder of the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, Panagioti Tsolkas.

“Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new prison makes no sense with the substantial decreases in the federal prison population over the last several years,” said Dustin McDaniel, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “We hope the BOP’s action ends this prison project permanently, and that it also signifies a turning point nationally, away from investing money in prison construction, and toward increased investment in communities devastated by mass incarceration.”

One of the prisoner-plaintiffs, Jason Palacios agreed with McDaniel, “Spend money to rehabilitate–NOT incarcerate.”

The initial lawsuit was filed by attorney Emily Posner in 2018, after more than three years of a controversial environmental impact analysis process. She said, “Some proponents of the new prison speculate that this withdrawal is temporary, but that seems misguided, given the many problems with the project. In these times of climate uncertainty, this is not the type of federal investment needed, funds should be used to create meaningful and sustainable economic opportunities for the people of southeastern Kentucky.”

In April 2019, Friends of Lilley Cornett Woods, whose individual members have long opposed the prison due to its likely impacts on surrounding natural areas and threatened and endangered species, joined together to participate in the case. The amended complaint can be found here.

Elvenia Blair said, “This prison would have threatened the health and well-being of inmates, correctional workers and our already fragile environment, including habitat for several endangered bat species. I am so relieved this project is not moving forward.”

————
Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States. ALC is a plaintiff in Barroca v. Bureau of Prisons and has participated in every NEPA public comment period related to the proposed prison in Letcher County, KY.

Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons conducts grassroots organizing, advocacy and direct action to challenge the prison system which puts prisoners at risk of dangerous environmental conditions, as well as impacting surrounding communities and ecosystems by their construction and operation.

Friends of Lilley Cornett Woods and North Fork River Watershed – exists for the purpose of conserving and strengthening the environmental integrity of Letcher County and the human and natural environments of the broader Appalachian region by fighting against the exploitation of natural resources and marginalized communities, and advocating for an economy based on a just transition away from resource extraction and prison construction. FOLCW is not affiliated with Eastern Kentucky University or its Lilley Cornett Woods Appalachian Ecological Research Station.

Green Justice – is a virtual law firm that connects independent lawyers with special expertise and law students nationwide, to collectively work cases that defend people, wildlife and habitats from injustices in the natural and built environments.

Media Alert: In Celebrating Juneteenth, We Must Remember Those Who Are Still Caged

The Abolitionist Law Center is honored to join in the celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the ending of chattel slavery in the United States of America as it is commemorating when the last known individuals who were enslaved were notified of their freedom. Juneteenth is a momentous occasion to celebrate freedom and determination, but it is also a moment to pause to remember the thousands who are still enslaved today. After the civil war, the Black codes and vagrancy laws were passed to steal the freedom and protections away from Free Black folk. This resulted in what we know today as felony disenfranchisement.

Chain gangs and indentured servitude sentencing saw thousands of Newly Freed Black persons introduced into a new type of bondage made permissible by the exception clause of the 13th amendment.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

So as we celebrate the end of chattel slavery, we understand that the stain of the original sin has spread and permeated every fabric of our society. By some estimates, there are more Black people who are impacted by mass incarceration then under chattel slavery.

In Pennsylvania, the disparate racial impact is evident in the death by incarceration sentences all the way down to the pretrial resources. The legacy of slavery is kept alive through race and class-based incarceration as evidenced by the racial disparities in sentencing, arrests, and detainments are a continuation of enslavement practices. The slave patrols are now in charge of ensuring more people are cycled into the system. Today is Juneteenth. It also the anniversary of the murder of Antwon Rose II. None of us are free, until all of us are.

Media Release: Emergency Petition Filed For Young Woman Placed In Solitary Confinement During Her Birthday

On Monday the Abolitionist Law Center along with the law office of Timothy P. O’Brien and attorney Jules Lobel, filed an emergency petition against the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to remove a young woman from solitary confinement housing after spending more than 70 days – including her birthday – in the restrictive housing unit at ACJ since February, resulting in severe mental health crises and three suicide attempts.

The ALC and co-counsel are representing Kimberly Andrews, a 20-year-old woman awaiting disposition on misdemeanor cases who has been in solitary confinement off and on since February of 2019, despite having known mental health issues. While at the ACJ, Ms. Andrews has tried to self-harm at least three times due to the decompensation associated with the placement in solitary confinement and harsh prison conditions within the restrictive housing unit. Ms. Andrews suffers from known mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. Instead of receiving access to treatment and waiting for the adjudications of her case, Ms. Andrews has undergone repeated dehumanizing encounters with abusive ACJ staff.

For instance, on one occasion Ms. Andrews spent at least 8 consecutive hours in the restraint chair, strapped in so tight that it caused bruising around her wrists and shoulder areas. She was again deprived food, water, bathroom breaks, or any ability to move her limbs. Staff returned at one point to loosen the strap on her right wrist, as it was cutting into her flesh. Ms. Andrews asked for her inhaler, but her request was denied; no other medical checks were conducted.

 

The treatment of Ms. Andrews highlights the inability of the ACJ to create policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of those incarcerated with medically diagnosed disorders. Ms. Andrews has been able to successfully interact in general population and was able to have a job when briefly removed from solitary confinement. Despite previous attempts to resolve this situation, Ms. Andrews remains in solitary confinement where she continues to struggle to acclimate based on her health history and continues to self-harm as a result.

 

She has been kept in solitary confinement for over 70 days by Defendants at the jail, although she has not been either charged with or convicted of any violent conduct by officials at the jail. She has a history of mental illness, which is greatly exacerbated by her placement and retention in isolation. She has attempted suicide three times since being placed in solitary confinement.

The petition is asking the court to grant Ms. Andrews as temporary restraining order which would prevent her from being placed in solitary confinement as well as prevent specific ACJ staff from contacting her due to their denial of medical treatment and triggering conduct. The ACJ spent more than $200,000 on bedding, replacing sheets with anti-suicide blankets due to the number of suicide and suicide attempts in the facility.

 

Andrews v. Harper – Complaint-As Filed

Brief in Support of TRO-as Filed

Motion for TRO-as Filed

Order to Show Cause-as Filed

Media Release: Janet and Janine Africa are paroled after forty years of incarceration!!!

The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to share that Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9 have been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, the MOVE sisters were finally released on parole from SCI Cambridge Springs and are now with family and friends. The sisters have been battling for their freedom after being consistently denied parole for a decade despite an impeccable disciplinary record and extensive record of mentorship and community service during their time in prison.

Following their 2018 parole denial, attorneys from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office filed petitions for habeas corpus seeking their release from prison. The habeas petitions challenged their parole denials on the grounds that the decisions were arbitrary and lacking in any evidence that janet or Janine presented a risk to public safety. Under pressure from litigation and with a court date for May 28 looming, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) granted Janet and Janine parole on May 14, 2019, just one day after the anniversary of the notorious May 13, 1985 bombing of the MOVE home.

“The release of Janet and Janine is a victory not only for them and their loved ones, but also for the MOVE Organization and the movement to free all political prisoners,” said attorney Brad Thomson of People’s Law Office. “Janet and Janine were excellent candidates for parole. They have been described by DOC staff as model prisoners and neither of them has had a single disciplinary incident in over twenty years. While in prison, they have participated in community fundraisers, and social programs, including training service dogs. They are remarkable women to deserve to be free.”

Like Debbie and Mike Africa, who were released last year, Janet and Janine are now able to experience holding their loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. The release of Janet and Janine after forty years is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.

Three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck, Delbert and Eddie Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Chuck, Delbert and Eddie in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.

Press Contact:

Mike Africa Jr.,MikeAfricaJr [at] gmail.com

Brad Thomson bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com 773-297-9689

 

Federal Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Activist Who Was Assaulted and Arrested at North Versailles

May 8, 2019
PITTSBURGH, PA (May 8, 2019) – The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien is filing a federal lawsuit against Christopher Kelly (“Kelly”) and Phoenix Theatres Entertainment, LLC (“Phoenix Theatres”) for assaulting and arresting Melanie Carter for recording Kelly—a police officer for the North Versailles Police Department, who was in full uniform at the time of the incident—with her cell phone. The Abolitionist Law Center has also joined as co-counsel. Ms. Carter began recording an incident at Phoenix Theatres where its employees, along with Kelly, were targeting a group of young African American children at Phoenix Stadium 18 at 1701 Lincoln Highway, North Versailles, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 15137. Ms. Carter filmed the episode because she thought the young African American children were being treated unfairly because of their race after she witnessed Kelly and Phoenix Theatres forcibly remove some of the young children from Phoenix Stadium 18 and overheard them calling the girls “animals.”

Because Ms. Carter recorded the incident, Kelly arrested her by using his larger size to throw her to the concrete, push his body weight into her back with his knee, and shove her face into the concrete multiple times. The next day, Kelly charged Ms. Carter for numerous false criminal charges. All the criminal charges were dismissed at various stages of the criminal process prior to a criminal trial through the assistance of Bret Grote, Esquire and Quinn Cozzens, Esquire of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Ms. Carter—like any other member of the public—has a constitutional right to record police officers conducting official police activity,” said Alec B. Wright, Esquire. “If and when police officers like Christopher Kelly retaliate against members of the public like Carter for recording their activities, then they must be held accountable. That is what this lawsuit seeks to accomplish.”

According to Timothy P. O’Brien, Esquire, “Ms. Carter exercised her right of free speech and did the right thing by recording an abusive police officer. For that, she was violently attacked and falsely arrested and charged for crimes she did not commit. This lawsuit stands up for Ms. Carter and for every other citizen who may speak freely without fear of retaliation. We need more citizens like Ms. Carter and fewer police officers like Christopher Kelly who willingly abuse the powers that we entrust to them.”

Press Contact :
The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien will be holding interviews on Wednesday, May 9, 2019 at The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien to discuss this important case. Attorney Wright may be reached at (412) 260-1662 or abw@obrienlawpgh.com.  Attorney Bret Grote may be reached at bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

Wear Your Support for ALC !!!

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is proud to announce we have merchandise!!!! Many of you have asked for innovative ways to support us, as we near our sixth year of existence. So, we have partnered with a local vendor to bring you a wide array of clothing options to allow you to wear your support for ALC whenever you can.

The online store is only available until the 8th of May so make your purchase today. As always, thank you for your support. #ALC #abolitionnow #wearyoursupport #somethingnew #merch ONLY available til May 8, 2019.

Action Alert: Rally Against Family Separation in Allegheny County Criminal Courts

For Immediate Release
April 23, 2019

(Pittsburgh, PA) Rally to  support Joss Deuerling being permitted to seek treatment- not prison – and remain with her newborn baby

Speakers: Representative Summer Lee; Bethany Hallam, plus speakers from ALC, ACLU-PA, Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, FAMM, SWOP Behind Bars, PA Institutional Law Project, and Americans for Prosperity.

A rally and press conference will be held on Friday, April 26 at 12:00 noon in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to speak out against the criminal legal system’s role in separating families and punishing substance abuse disorder. #BringJossHome #TreatmentNotJail 

On February 5, 2019, 31-year-old Joss Deuerling – already a mother of three and 9 months pregnant – was taken to Allegheny County Jail because of a technical probation violation. She had tested positive on a random drug test.

Two days later she gave birth in West Penn Hospital without her partner or any family, not permitted to tell anybody where she was at or that she was in labor, and with an officer from the Sheriff’s Department insisting on staying in the room throughout her birth. She was told by the officer that her partner would be arrested if he tried to come to the hospital. The officers then deprived her of showers for two days after she gave birth and severely restricted the amount of time she was permitted to hold her newborn baby.

After spending the next 6 weeks in ACJ, separated from her 4 children and her partner for a technical violation caused by substance abuse disorder, a medical condition, Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani has decided to revoke her probation and separate her from her family by sending her to state prison.

This is an injustice and we are calling on the community to rally in support of allowing Joss to remain with her family and seek the treatment she wants – and deserves – in her own community.

Relapse is a common part of recovery. Over the last three years Joss has been in treatment. She has been improving and wants to stay drug-free and with her family. A loving environment, family and community support is essential for successful recovery.

Substance abuse disorder should not be criminalized any longer, and the courts and other officials are called upon to handle these cases in therapeutic and medically appropriate ways.

Join us as we rally in support of Joss and her family, protest family separation, and advocate for treating substance abuse disorder as the medical condition it is.

Media Contact: 
Miracle Jones 
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
Abolitionist Law Center 
communications@alcenter.org

Petition for Allowance of Appeal Filed on Behalf of Avis Lee to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

#FreeAvisLee

For Immediate Release

(Pittsburgh) In following the recommendations of the Superior Court, Attorneys on behalf of Avis Lee filed Petition for Allowance of Appeal  to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in order continue fighting for her freedom. Just after her eighteenth birthday, Avis was an accomplice to a robbery gone wrong that resulted in the death of another. As a result, she was given a mandatory life sentence as a result, even though she possessed no intent to murder and utilized subsequent remedial measures to help the victim.

The groundbreaking petition seeks to not only bring Avis home, but also create a framework for other young adults who are similarly situated to have a chance before the parole board to earn an opportunity at redemption. While mandatory life without parole (LWOP) or as we call it death by incarceration (DBI) continues to plague the Commonwealth.

… the questions presented challenge the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s sentencing statute for second-degree murder, which violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as applied to Petitioner. Due to the weight of these considerations both individually and in combination, this Court should grant this Petition for Allowance of Appeal and address the questions presented for review herein.

We hope that our petition sets the ground work for a way out of the DBI sentencing structure as it has a disproportionate impact on Black defendants. Moreover, it ignores the rehabilitative impacts made by those who have spent decades behind bars.

Avis is a remarkable person who deserves to see her family and friends outside the confines of prison walls. We are simply asking for the right to have a judge evaluate evidence that demonstrates this, and determine for the first time whether she should spend the rest of her life in prison or have the opportunity to come home.~Quinn Cozzens, Abolitionist Law Center

In conjunction with said petition, The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems filed an amicus brief in support of the petition relying on a multitude of arguments including how the construction and implementation of a right found by the Supreme Court of the United States should guide this case.

The Abolitionist Law Center represents Avis, along with Duquesne Law School Professor Tiffany Sizemore and University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Jules Lobel.

 


Press Contact:

Miracle Jones
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
communications@alcenter.org