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

Civil Rights Advocates Settle Lawsuit With PA Department of Corrections Over Legal Mail Policy

 

March 25, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Andy Hoover, media@aclupa.org, 717-236-6827 x213
Miracle Jones, communications@alcenter.org, 412-346-6537
Rebecca Susman, rsusman@pailp.org, 412-434-6004

 

HARRISBURG – The team of public interest lawyers who brought two federal civil rights challenges against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for its policy of copying and storing legal mail announced today that they had reached the final terms of a settlement with the department. The settlement was finalized in a filing with the federal district court overseeing the cases.

“We are excited to return our resources to providing confidential legal advice to the thousands of people in DOC custody.” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “Legal mail is a vital form of communication, and we look forward to working with the department to ensure it is reaching our clients in a confidential and efficient manner.”

The lawsuits were filed in October after the department changed its process for handling mail between lawyers and people who are incarcerated in state prisons. Under the new policy, legal mail was opened and then copied in the presence of the prisoner. The prisoner was given the copy while the original was stored in a locked container, which was accessible to prison staff.

Four prisoners’ rights groups – the Abolitionist Law Center, Amistad Law Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project – filed one of the challenges, arguing that the policy compromised confidentiality between lawyers and their clients in state prisons. The second lawsuit was filed by a person who is incarcerated in a state prison. He is represented by lawyers from the four public interest organizations and Keith Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

“This policy was a bad idea from the start,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “In the department’s process, there was too much risk that prison staff could read mail between lawyers and their clients. And the department never provided credible evidence that legal mail was a serious source of contraband. We’re grateful that we persuaded the department to step back from this policy.”

In February, a hearing convened before federal Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg, and after one day of testimony, settlement talks between the challengers and the department began. After two days of discussions, the department agreed to stop copying and storing legal mail within 45 days.

Today’s filing memorialized the agreement with additional terms. The department has agreed to stop copying prisoners’ legal mail by April 5. The department will also implement additional verification systems for lawyers and courts, which do not raise the same confidentiality concerns as the challenged policy did, according to the plaintiffs. And the organizations that challenged the policy will be allowed to monitor the new legal mail system for two years to ensure that it does not infringe on attorney-client confidentiality or otherwise interfere with attorney-client communications.

“Attorney-client confidentiality should not be collateral damage of the DOC’s war on drugs,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “This legal mail settlement is a necessary first step in ensuring incarcerated persons are able to exercise their constitutional right to counsel without worrying about privacy concerns or their personal information being stored. The DOC should now review their general communication policies to allow loved ones of those who are incarcerated similar possibilities.”

More information about the case, including a copy of today’s settlement agreement, is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

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Media Release: PA Superior Court Urges PA Supreme Court to Review Whether Avis Lee can Challenge Life-Without-Parole Sentence Imposed at 18 years-old

For Immediate Release

Friday, March 1, 2019: The Pennsylvania Superior Court issued a unanimous en banc decision today disallowing Avis Lee the opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of her life without parole sentence, which was imposed for her role as a lookout in armed robbery 39 years ago that resulted in a homicide. The Superior Court held that it was “constrained to affirm” the lower court’s dismissal of Ms. Lee’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) Petition on the basis that only the Pennsylvania or United States Supreme Court could permit a consideration of the constitutionality of Ms. Lee’s sentence. In reaching this conclusion the Superior Court wrote: “We would urge our Supreme Court to review this issue in light of the research [on adolescent social and neuro-development] available even since Batts II was decided in 2017.”

Ms. Lee brought this challenge to her decision in March 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which held that the right established in the 2012 decision of Miller v. Alabama that prohibited mandatory life- without-parole sentences for children younger than 18 years of age applied retroactively to older cases. In Montgomery, the Supreme Court found that the right in Miller was substantive, not merely procedural, and that it prohibited a sentence of life-without-parole – commonly referred to as “Death by Incarceration” – upon any defendant whose crime “reflected the transient immaturity of youth.”

In the Superior Court, Avis was arguing for the right to make an argument, to be heard on the merits on this issue for the first time, as she has never had the chance to argue that her sentence is unconstitutional under the new constitutional standards of Miller and Montgomery. On October 23, 2018, counsel for Avis argued in front of a 9-judge en banc panel that she deserves at least that one opportunity to challenge her sentence under current law, and there is nothing in state or federal law to prohibit that. The Philadelphia courthouse was packed to overflowing with the family members of those serving DBI sentences.

The offense Ms. Lee is currently serving a death-by-incarceration sentence for occurred in November 1979, when she agreed to serve as a lookout in an armed robbery. When the victim attempted to resist her co-defendant and older brother shot him, resulting in his death. Ms. Lee was convicted of 2nd degree felony murder, which in Pennsylvania is defined as a homicide that occurs in the course of another felony. The offense does not require any intent to kill on the part of the defendant, and it carries one penalty – death by incarceration.

Ms. Lee’s 2016 PCRA petition argued that a sentencing court should be required to consider the factors identified by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller and Montgomery in order to determine if her sentence amounted to disproportionate punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The petition contained extensive discussion of the poverty, trauma, and violence that Ms. Lee had been exposed and subjected to since she the very first years of her life. The petition also included copious examples of her exemplary prison record, including going without any prison misconduct for more than a quarter of a century, and her involvement in numerous volunteer and service projects.

Ms. Lee is also widely known and admired for her irrepressible optimism, which she maintains in spite of her circumstances. When informed of today’s opinion, she said: “Thank you for standing by me and continuing to stay strong, because I will [too]. Eventually we will prevail.”

The Abolitionist Law Center represents Ms. Lee, along with Duquesne Law School Professor Tiffany Sizemore and University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Jules Lobel. ALC legal director, Bret Grote, said

We are not surprised by this outcome and have always recognized that ultimately it is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that will determine whether the PCRA statute should be read consistent with its text and purpose and permit Ms. Lee the mere opportunity to argue this issue on the merits. It is beyond dispute that Avis, beloved and respected by all who know her, is serving a sentence that lacks any social or penological purpose. To read the law in such as a way as to keep the courthouse doors forever closed to meritorious claims against permanent punishment is to enshrine a tortured and incorrect formalism over substantive justice. We intend to appeal.

Abolitionist Law Center Communications Director, Miracle Jones, added:

When it comes to fighting against Death-by-Incarceration at the ALC defeat is not an option. We are part of a powerful and growing movement that will not rest until every person sentenced to DBI has the opportunity to return to their families and communities, until the right to redemption becomes the North Star of the justice system.

#FREEAVISLEE


Press Contact:

Miracle Jones
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (google voice)
Director of Communications
Abolitionist Law Center
communications@alcenter.org

Media Release: Civil Rights Groups and PA Department of Corrections Near Settlement of Lawsuit Over Legal Mail

February 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – Lawyers for four civil rights organizations and one person who is currently incarcerated announced today that they are finalizing the details of a settlement of their lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of copying and storing legal mail. The four organizations challenging the policy issued the following statement in response to the developments in the case:

“We appreciate that the department has agreed that, beginning April 6, they will stop copying and storing prisoners’ legal mail. The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department’s efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”

The organizational plaintiffs, Pennsylvania’s four largest prisoners’ rights groups, are the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP). Volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, led by partner Keith Whitson, are also representing the plaintiffs. PILP, et al. v. Wetzel was combined with another challenge, Hayes v. Wetzel, which was brought by Davon Hayes, who is a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon.

More information is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

Media Alert: Trial Begins in Challenge to State Prisons’ Legal Mail Policy

February 19, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT: Andy Hoover, media@aclupa.org, 717-236-6827 x213

Miracle Jones, communications@alcenter.org, 412-346-6537

Rebecca Susman, rsusman@pailp.org, 412-434-6004

 

HARRISBURG – The trial in two lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania state prison system’s policy of copying and storing mail between lawyers and their clients who are incarcerated began today in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg. The two lawsuits – one brought by four prisoners’ rights organizations and the other by a person who is incarcerated – ask the court to overturn the practice by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) as a violation of the confidentiality guaranteed between lawyers and their clients, as protected by the First Amendment.

 

The department altered its process for incoming legal mail last fall, triggering the lawsuits. Under the new practice, legal mail is opened in the presence of the intended recipient and copied. The prisoner is given the copy while the prison stores the original for at least 45 days.

 

“The right to confidentiality between a lawyer and their client is fundamental,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “The DOC has compromised that basic right with its policy.

 

“The bar for limiting First Amendment rights is extremely high, and the department has not met that standard. They’re not even close.”

 

The organizational plaintiffs in Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, et al. v. Wetzel are the Abolitionist Law Center, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. All of the organizations have stopped communicating by mail with people who are incarcerated, based on advice from legal ethicists. The organizations are also representing Davon Hayes, a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon whose communication with his lawyers representing him in his federal appeal has been compromised.

 

“The DOC’s policy of photocopying and retaining legal mail is the only one of its kind in the country,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “It is a solution in search of a problem, and we intend to prove it utterly lacking in justification.”

 

The lawsuit is a first-of-its-kind civil rights challenge. The plaintiffs are not aware of any other state prison system that copies and stores legal mail in the same way. Federal district court Judge John E. Jones III is presiding over the trial.

 

“Our ability to send confidential mail is essential to our representation of people incarcerated throughout Pennsylvania,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “Our clients need to know that our discussions of sensitive matters such as medical care and sexual assault will not be compromised by the DOC.”

 

The legal mail policy is part of a broader set of changes to mail processing in Pennsylvania’s state prison system. The Department of Corrections now requires non-legal mail to be sent to a facility in Florida, where the mail is scanned and then emailed to the prison that houses the intended recipient.

 

The trial in the two cases is expected to last about a week. More information, including relevant legal documents, is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

 

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ACTION ALERT: HEARING SCHEDULED FOR LEGAL MAIL INJUNCTION

The preliminary injunction hearing in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, challenging the PA Department of Corrections new legal mail policy, which involves the photocopying of all attorney-client mail, will begin this Tuesday, February 19 and last through the following Tuesday, February 26.

Plaintiffs are the PA Institutional Law Project, Amistad Law Project, ACLU of PA, Abolitionist Law Center, and Davon Hayes. The hearing seek to compel an injunction of the current legal policy that has essentially prevented attorneys from communicating with their clients.

The hearing is open to the public and is in Judge Jones’s courtroom.

Please be advised, while this hearing is open to the public, there are limited seats available, and communication devices are prohibited during court. 
Additionally, any disruptions or outbursts will not be tolerated during the sessions.

When the government insists that we go along with constitutional violations so they can fight a drug war we have to just say no. Next week we will be in court fighting to take those rights back. ~Bret Grote

Media Alert: All Charges Dropped Against Blak Rapp Madusa

The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce that all charges against Blak Rapp Madusa were dismissed on Thursday as our Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was granted by Judge Cashman.

The courtroom was filled to capacity as Bret Grote and Quinn Cozzens presented arguments to the judge. Immediately prior to dismissing the charges, Judge Cashman called the incident leading to Blak Rapp’s arrest “unfortunate.” At issue was whether the testimony of North Versailles Township Police Officer Christopher Kelly was sufficient to require Blak Rapp to stand trial on the charges against her. This case stemmed from Blak Rapp’s arrest while filming the officer as he removed a group of black girls from a movie theatre and arcade. Blak Rapp was facing charges of disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting arrest. The habeas corpus petition argued that even if all of Officer Kelly’s testimony was true, none of the conduct he described was criminal. The case brought up many issues for the community that centered on violence and the dehumanization of Black Women and girls. For many, this was a flagrant case of police abuse of power involving an officer arresting a person who was exercising their constitutional right to film the police.

 

The Habeas petition focused on the merits of the case and raised multiple arguments to prove that the sufficiency of the evidence failed to prove Blak Rapp was guilty on any charge. Judge Cashman agreed and granted the motion in full.

The community made its presence felt. They showed up for Madusa just as she showed up for the children who were being bullied and mistreated at that movie theater.As Madusa said afterward: “When we fight we win.” ~Attorney Bret Grote

This win is not only credited to the legal team of the Abolitionist Law Center but also to every community member and organizer that has stood with Blak Rapp Madusa since the onset of these charges. It has been almost a year since the filming of this incident, and since that time the national focus has began a conversation on the violence and plight of Black Women and Girls. We hope that this win not only encourages people to get involved in court watching programs but to also become aware of the violence that many in the community face.  Organizing and community support is vital to defending the rights and lives of Black women and girls and others who are targeted by oppressive policing practices.

 

“I didn’t know if I was going to survive that attack….but I knew that if I did, that it was my duty to say something about it, to use my platform as an artivist and an organizer and tell America to stop the violence against black women.” ~ Blak Rapp Madusa

 

Media Alert: Community Pre-Trial Press Conference for Blak Rapp Madusa on January 10 to Highlight the Disparities and Injustices Facing Black Women and Girls.

 

For Immediate Release

January 08, 2019

(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Over the last couple of weeks, the national discourse has been on highlighting the realities that Black Women face. From #survivingrkelly to #jasminebarnes to #metoo,Black women have asked the community at large to stand up and protect Black women and that discourse is true right here in Allegheny County from #JadeMartin to the women incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail.

But what happens when one protects or tries to defend Black women? Well, if you are Blak Rapp Madusa (Melanie Carter), you get violently taken to the ground and arrested for standing up for black girls. In a viral video,  Blak Rapp intervened on behalf of young Black teen girls who were being violently removed by a local officer. After hearing the girls being dehumanized and called “animals”, Blak Rapp tried to intervene on their behalf. Blak Rapp stood up for Black girls and is now fighting for their freedom. Blak Rapp was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, defiant trespassing and failure to disperse even though the manager was fired, and the district attorney admitted the incident “does raise concerns.” These charges are indicative of the barrier’s individuals face while trying to protect Black women and girls from violence and injustice. Blak Rapp is being represented by the Abolitionist Law Center.

On January 10 at 9:30 AM BLAK RAPP MADUSA will go on trial at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas with Judge Cashman presiding. Prior to the trial, a press conference is scheduled for 8:30 AM. Per Blak Rapp’s request (due to the violent threats they continue to receive), the press conference will not only include brief remarks about their case but also the plight of Black women and girls in Allegheny County. In highlighting the injustices facing Black Women and girls the press conference will include remarks from the following:

Blak Rapp Madusa: Survivor of violence, Community organizer and artist. Blak uses their talent to highlight injustices and inspire creativity.

Kelli Shaker: Survivor of violence and Founder of FroGang an organization that seeks to inspire and encourage young black girls to love themselves and accomplish their goals.

Jade Martin: Mother and survivor of violence. She made headlines last year after being assaulted in a pizzeria.

Brandi Fisher: President of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) is dedicated to criminal justice reconstruction and putting an end to police brutality and racial profiling through advocacy, education, and policy.

Nicky Jo Dawson: Community organizer and founder of BLAQK OPS an organization that seeks to empower and educate the local community on their history and their rights.

Miracle Jones: Director of Communications for the Abolitionist Law Center a Pittsburg based legal nonprofit that works to end mass incarceration.

Additionally, supporters of Blak RAPP will be wearing purple and red to show support as they go on trial and will be using the hashtags #JusticeforBlakRAPP, #protectblackwomen, #rehumanizeBlackwomen to show their support.

JUSTICE FOR BLAK RAPP
Thursday JANUARY 10, 2019
8:20 AM Press Conference
9:00 AM Pack the Court
Administrative Judge David Cashman’s room
308 Allegheny County Courthouse
436 Grant Street 15219

Press Contact:

Miracle Jones, Director of Communications, Abolitionist Law Center, Communications@alcenter.org.

Melanie Carter Habeas Corpus petition – Filed

Melanie Carter – Preliminary Hearing Transcript

Action Alert: A Message From Saleem

Greetings From Saleem!

Happy New Year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hello Everyone,

As this year comes to a close, I want to first thank you so much for your support over the years. Your encouragement and dedication to justice is the reason why I am home today. After spending all of those years behind bars, I am finally home and still fighting for justice. It has been an amazing journey since my release this past February. For those of you who do not know, I took a position at the Abolitionist Law Center after my release. The Abolitionist Law Center is a Prison Litigation legal nonprofit that works to help individuals such as myself fight back against mass incarceration. It is my hope that my testimony will encourage you to become a monthly sustainers so the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) can continue to keep me on board to do the incredible work I have been doing this year.

Leading The Fight Against Death By Incarceration


The Abolitionist Law Center utilizes education and advocacy in order to further the prison abolition movement. Since coming home I have been at the forefront of ALC’s organizing. Being sentenced to life in prison or as we call it, death by incarceration, I know so many of the people languishing in Pennsylvania prisons, and I am committed to doing everything I can to bring our people home.  In June of this year, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel at the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence here in Pittsburgh that ALC hosted. We had hundreds of people attend workshops and training sessions to better understand how environmental issues are associated with mass incarceration. I discussed the role of prisoners and families in creating the Human Rights Coalition in 2001 and how that has contributed to the work of prison abolition. For instance, ALC’s Legal Director Bret Grote started out as a HRC investigator.

ALC works closely with movement partners the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI). Formed in Philadelphia, at the urging of people serving life-without-parole sentences, CADBI has made impressive strides in its short existence. Since my release in February, my primary organizing has revolved around building CADBI chapters statewide and forming alliances with progressive movements across the state to pass legislation that would provide parole eligibility for lifers in Pennsylvania.
In addition to helping build and sustain CADBI chapters that have been started in Reading, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Delaware, and Chester County, I facilitated CADBI meetings and workshops for the families of the incarcerated. In early October, I worked with  CADBI to mobilize over 400 people (photos)  to rally in Harrisburg against DBI sentences by forging relationships with  Reclaim Philadelphia, ReHumanize International, and Lancaster Stands Up.

I am beyond fortunate to cross the state, building CADBI chapters and support for parole for lifers, and ultimately building a strong movement that will be able to roll back mass incarceration in the state of Pennsylvania. At the moment I am developing new CADBI chapters in Lancaster, York and Erie, Pennsylvania. In addition to organizing in Pennsylvania, my travels have extended to Denver, Buffalo and Washington DC representing the Abolitionist Law Center and CADBI to raise awareness about Death By Incarceration sentences and the need for the communities and people most impacted by these sentences to be at the forefront of fighting to abolish them.

Expanding Our Offices

I was able to officially return back home when the Abolitionist Law Center opened a satellite office in Philadelphia due to the high incidents of incarceration, legal caseloads and organizing in Philadelphia.  To better serve our community and to provide for more direct engagement, the office in Philadelphia also serves as a hub for community organizing and abolitionist work. I have the fortune of supervising legal interns as they learn about movement lawyering through a community lens. Additionally, the office became an organizing center when we all had to unexpectedly mobilize to fight against the inhumane mail policies that were introduced in the state prisons.  The office is a space for loved ones of the incarcerated to learn, to advocate, and organize for abolition.  Philadelphia has the largest population of those impacted by death incarceration sentences and PADOC policies.  I was sentenced to a death by incarceration sentence as a juvenile in Philadelphia, now I am leading the fight against it from our office because of supporters like yourself.

Leading The Fight Against Solitary Confinement

Working in community organizing, my new responsibilities include leading a statewide campaign the Abolitionist Law Center is spearheading to end long term solitary confinement. Working in partnership with the ACLU’s Unlock The Box Campaign to End Solitary Confinement, I am organizing family members of prisoners in solitary confinement and movement allies to force the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to end long term indefinite solitary confinement. This November, I facilitated a workshop at the Unlock The Box Conference in Baltimore on best practices to incorporate families and prisoners in the work to end solitary confinement. As a result of the conference the Abolitionist Law Center is now a national partnership with legal advocates across the country to end long term solitary confinement.

In October, the Human Rights Coalition staged an Art Against Abuse event in Philadelphia to highlight the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. The event featured a one woman play by a formerly incarcerated Black woman who was held in solitary confinement. It was my distinct honor to serve as an organizer and cohost of the showcase which was inspired by my passion for the arts. The event was a success and dozens of people and organizations signed on to pledge to work towards abolishing long term solitary confinement in Pennsylvania.

What’s Next ?

I was recently promoted to Director of Community Organizing based on my knowledge and experience organizing directly impacted communities. My vision going forward is to build a movement to end mass incarceration that possesses teeth and a strong bite so that policy makers and politicians will take notice of the communities their laws have been devastating.  Help us accomplish this vision. I am asking that you please consider a monthly donation of between $25.00 and $50.00 to our sustainers fund so we can continue this great work.

In closing, thank you for your support. Happy New Year to you and yours.

In Solidarity,

Saleem

“Abolitionist Law Center registers with agencies in many states. Some of them will supply you with the financial and registration information they have on file. Residents of the following states may request information from the offices indicated (toll-free numbers are for use only within the respective states): Pennsylvania – Department of State, Bureau of Charitable Organizations, Harrisburg, PA 17120, 1-800-732-0999; Maryland – Office of the Secretary of State, Statehouse, Annapolis, MD 21401, 1-800-825-4510; New York – Office of Charities Registration, 162 Washington St., Albany, NY 12231; Virginia – Division of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209, 1-800-552-9963; Washington – Office of the Secretary of State, Charitable Solicitation Division, Olympia, WA 98504, 1-800-332-4483. Registration with a state agency does not imply the state’s endorsement.”

Media Release: Court rules Incarcerated Woman’s Lawsuit Challenging Deprivation of Pain Medication and Mobility Devices May Proceed.

Court rules Incarcerated Woman’s Lawsuit Challenging Deprivation of Pain Medication and Mobility Devices May Proceed.

For Immediate Release

December 31, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA. On Friday, The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected motions to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and medical staff violated the rights of an incarcerated woman who is disabled. The case is being litigated by the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) on behalf of Ms. Tracey Nadirah Shaw, who is currently imprisoned at State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs (SCI Cambridge Springs). Ms. Shaw brought the lawsuit after the DOC and medical staff violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment and ignored protections guaranteed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by denying her necessary pain medication and mobility accommodations, including a wheelchair, for over two years.

Ms. Shaw suffers from chronic medical conditions that cause intense neuropathic pain in her back and legs. For years, she was prescribed medication by DOC staff that stabilized her pain and allowed her to engage in daily tasks, including janitorial labor. In 2015, without the benefit of an examination or consultation, medical staff terminated Ms. Shaw’s effective pain management prescription, which resulted in debilitating pain and substantial reduction in her mobility. Ms. Shaw began to depend on additional assistive devices and accommodations to attempt to navigate life at SCI-Cambridge Springs. However, DOC staff took away her wheelchair, depriving her of the ability to travel the extended distances to educational classes, worship programs, and the dining hall. The DOC then used her worsening medical condition to temporarily remove her from her janitorial duties, resulting in a loss of essential income.

Ms. Shaw lost over twenty pounds because she was not able to physically walk to the cafeteria to get her meals and eventually, she suffered a broken leg requiring surgery and the insertion of six screws when she fell trying to walk with the absence of a wheelchair.

“Depriving Ms. Shaw of a medication that she had been effectively prescribed for years and taking away a wheelchair as her condition worsened highlight the gratuitous cruelty that all too often is present in prison medical care,” said ALC Legal Director, Bret Grote.

The court found that at this beginning stage, Ms. Shaw has raised colorable claims that depriving her of pain medication and mobility accommodations, including the use of a wheelchair, violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment, the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

 

While recognizing the “high bar the [plaintiff] must meet in order to ultimately prevail” on her medical indifference claim, Plaintiff’s allegations of a complete deprivation of meaningful care for her serious medical needs are sufficient, at this nascent stage of the proceedings, to state a claim for relief.

 

“The Court recognized that the DOC must ensure that everyone within their prisons has meaningful access to vital services,” stated Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney for PILP, “This is an important step forward as we continue to challenge the DOC’s ongoing reluctance to adhere to the requirements of the ADA.”

The case now moves on to the discovery stage.

Press Contact:

Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

Alex Morgan-Kurtz, PILP, amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org

Case Links

Shaw v. DOC – Motion to Dismiss Decision

Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

DOC Brief in Support of MtD

Brief in Opposition to MtD-as filed

Shaw v. DOC-as Filed