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

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.

###

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.

 

###

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