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.
Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Morgan-Kurtz, PILP, email@example.com
The Abolitionist Law Center is partnering with GroupRaise as we move toward our end of the year goal of raising $50,000.00. Join us on Monday, December 17th, from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm at Choolah Indian BBQ as we #shareameal and #raisesomefunds. The Abolitionist Law Center is a legal nonprofit based out of #Pittsburgh. We are a group of movement lawyers fighting for restorative justice and abolition. We have an acute need to raise unrestricted funds in order to continue the direct representation of the people who need us the most. Join us on Monday to help us continue the fight. #groupraise vegan and vegetarians options are available #give2alc #choolahgives
For Immediate Release 11/27/18
Emily Posner, Attorney for Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, (207) 930-5232
Prisoners File Lawsuit Against New Federal Facility on Toxic Strip Mine Site in Kentucky
Washington, DC — Lawyers with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and have filed a federal environmental lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) representing prisoners from across the country who say they were not properly informed about $444 million dollar plans to construct a new federal prison on top of a former coal mine, next to an active mine and coal sludge pond, which could house them in the near future.
The lawsuit comes after more than three years of a controversial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process conducted by the BOP and the consulting firm, Cardno. Public comments submitted by attorney Emily Posner in 2017 on behalf of the ALC can be found here.
The lawsuit states that federal prisoners should have been considered as parties with legally-required access to EIS documents, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIS process outlines a wide range of social and environmental impacts, including potential health risks and alternatives to construction, which prisoners are uniquely situated to provide insight on and particularly vulnerable to the results stemming from the final EIS approval which occurred earlier this year.
The prisoners are asking the courts to halt progress on the plan until they have received access to documents for review and comment.
One prisoner listed on the lawsuit, Manuel Gauna, stated: “I believe that construction of this particular prison is neglecting the people in Letcher and the people in the prison system. We as prisoners should have had the opportunity to participate in this public comment period for this project. Correctional officers are overworked at my facility [FCI Mendota]. I wish that the BOP would spend the money that it wants to use to build a new prison to properly staff this prison.”
Another prisoner named in the suit, Mark Jordan, currently at USP Tucson, explained, “Just last week President Trump publicly announced his support for the FIRST STEP Act, a reform bill aimed at reducing the federal prison population. The Letcher County project flies directly in the face of this reform narrative.”
Jordan continues, “Despite serious environmental and health hazards, the Justice Department solicited public comment from everyone except those most directly impacted by the project, the prisoners themselves. Health and safety issues aside, this is but a needless pork barrel project ushered through by Kentucky Representative Hal Rogers at a time when public opinion and policy-makers are trying to reduce the population of the federal prison system, not build more prisons merely for the sake of building more prisons.”
Prisoners aren’t the only ones concerned about the facility. Letcher County resident Elvenia Blair, who lives close the proposed prison, is also opposed to the plan.
Blair, who has been contesting the prison for several years, states that “Eastern Kentucky has the highest cancer rate in the nation. Forcing prisoners, correctional officers and their families to live, work and visit this environment is discrimination.”
Blair is also a board member of Friends of the Lilley Cornett Woods and North Fork Watershed, one of multiple local organizations which have expressed concerns about the impact of prison construction.
She continues, “With coal mining on its way out, the natural history of our mountains and wildlife is what we have left to attract people to the area. That will be disturbed with barbed wire, shooting ranges, heavy traffic flow of transporting prisoners. We won’t see economic growth from this.”
Emily Posner, Attorney for the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, also notes, “Federal legislation indicates a downward trend in prison population. My clients are in agreement with local residents who feel that there are much better ways to generate federal support in Appalachian communities than wasting hundreds of millions on an unnecessary prison.”
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 has participated in every NEPA public comment period related to BOP’s 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.
The Abolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at censoring and silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging decades-long solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Over the last few years, the Abolitionist Law Center has:
- Released a comprehensive report detailing how Pennsylvania is a world leader in death by incarceration sentencing and how we must change this reality
- Secured the release of MOVE members and political prisoners Debbie and Mike Africa after nearly forty years in prison.
- Challenged the new legal mail policies of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that mandate photocopying all legal mail in violation of the right to confidential attorney-client communications
- Won the first court order in the country forcing prison officials to provide new hepatitis C medications in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and helped other clients get access to treatment
- Successfully fought against indefinite, long-term solitary confinement in several cases, and ended the solitary confinement of pregnant women in Allegheny County Jail
Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.
SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT
The Abolitionist Law Center is a prison litigation firm committed to ending mass incarceration through movement work. Our staff is compromised not only of lawyers but of activists and those who are formerly incarcerated. As a movement lawyering organization, our primary method for winning the abolition of mass incarceration is to amplify the voices of activists inside and outside the prison walls. We understand that social change is a political process, and the most effective way to achieve deep and sustained improvements is through the organization and mobilization of communities. With this in mind, we have successfully fought to protect the rights of prisoners to engage in political speech and self-education. We have successfully helped to push back on the overuse of solitary confinement (which is often used as retaliation for advocacy from within the prisons). We have expanded our work to defend movement activists who are not incarcerated to ensure the work continues. We have volunteered as legal observers to support the right to protest, and we have helped educate our communities about paths to ending mass incarceration.
With your support, we increased our efforts to abolish Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, to end long-term solitary confinement, and to force prison administrators to provide curative treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C. We hired new staff members focused on these issues, co-founded the western Pennsylvania chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI West), and we increased collaboration with our friends at the Amistad Law Project.
ABOLISHING DEATH BY INCARCERATION
This summer, we published a landmark report: A Way Out: Abolishing Death by Incarceration in Pennsylvania. This groundbreaking report not only found tremendous racial disparities in the DBI sentencing but also found age as a significant factor in these incidents. Even though science shows that many age out of violent behaviors and inclinations, a large and growing number of people serving DBI sentences are considered elderly and pose no risk to society. This report found that Pennsylvania is a world leader in death by incarceration sentencing despite changing national trends. Our report also found:
- 51% of people serving DBI sentences were between 18-25 years old when they entered the DOC
- Nearly 40% of people serving DBI are Black and were 25 or younger when they entered the DOC
- Over 70% of people serving DBI are at least 40 years old and 45% are at least 50 years old. More than 1 in 5 are 60 or older
- Black Pennsylvanians are serving DBI at a rate more than 18-times higher than white Pennsylvanians
More importantly, we featured many people who are currently serving DBI sentences and prominently placed their stories throughout the report. This report was widely shared and covered in the press, provoking favorable op-eds in the Philadelphia Inquirer, pennlive.com, and support from legislators who are pushing legislation to end DBI in Pennsylvania. We also advocated for total transformation of the criminal legal system so that it is centered around restorative justice approaches.
Abolitionist Law Center is currently representing 7 individuals who were 18-20 years old at the time of their offense. Three of our cases seek to win the release of our clients, Charmaine Pfender, Avis Lee, and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson, while establishing that the ruling in Miller v. Alabama applies to people who were over 18 years old when they committed or allegedly committed a crime. Our leading case in this effort is Commonwealth v. Avis Lee, which has achieved a partial breakthrough when we argued in October in front of an en banc panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, asking the court to overrule their precedent prohibiting our claim from advancing to the merits. Our clients were sentenced to Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, without any consideration given to mitigating circumstances (such as youth, intellectual disability, or lack of intent). If the court agrees that our clients’ sentences should be reviewed on the merits, then it will permit us to build a record based on expert testimony showing that 18 year olds (and potentially 18-21 year olds) possess the same attributes of youth that render LWOP an excessive sentence for those under 18 years old. This would open the door to thousands of other prisoners to have their sentences reviewed on the merits and potentially win parole eligibility and release from prison.
Fighting For Humane Communications
This year created a new pathway for the Abolitionist Law Center as we were forced to fight the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) on a number of unexpected fronts. The PADOC suddenly announced a new communications policy that would prevent individuals who are incarcerated from receiving any material from the outside world. Instead, they would be forced to buy expensive, digital books as well an electronic-tablet to read them on and receive photocopies of all legal and regular mail. If the individuals were too poor to purchase either item, they would no longer be able to receive any more papers, books, magazines, and other periodicals. The PADOC asserted the changes were necessary in order to prevent drug trafficking and increase safety. However, they did not present any evidence to prove drugs were coming into the facilities through the book program or via attorney communications. While this created an immediate backlash, it also had a chilling effect on the attorney client privilege. Many institutions around the state went on lockdown status preventing any communications in or outside of the prison, then mail was being opened outside and screened outside the presence of the recipients. The new mail policies have led to missing mail, incorrectly copied mail, and returned mail. Moreover, as DOC could not guarantee the confidentiality of the mail, many attorneys ceased contacting their clients who were incarcerated. As such, the ALC joined with many organizations to file a major class action lawsuit against the PADOC in late October challenging the legal mail policy. While that suit is ongoing, we were able to successfully lobby along with organizations such as Book’ Em and Books Thru Bars to get the PADOC to back down on their efforts to censor and limit reading in prisons and exploit the incarcerated: the books-to-prisoner programs are resuming operations and able to send books to people incarcerated in the PADOC once again.
Advocating for Release
The Abolitionist Law Center partnered with the People’s Law Office in Chicago to represent the MOVE 9 pro bono. For over a decade, the MOVE9 have all been eligible for parole, but were denied until now. This year we were able to help get Debbie and Mike Africa released from prison after they served over a combined 80 years of incarceration. Their release was the result of a long-fought battle with the parole board. This partnership represents our commitment to fight for political prisoners in Pennsylvania. We still have so much work to be done as there are still fiv more MOVE members that we have yet to help come home: Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert. We have filed federal habeas corpus petitions for Janet and Janine Africa, whose parole was denied based on misrepresentations of the record by the Parole Board. The MOVE members who are still in prison are all entitled to release on parole given their exemplary prison record, examples of mentorship, and the complete lack of any risk they present to public safety.
HEPATITIS C TREATMENT FOR PRISONERS
Last year, we won an injunction forcing the PA DOC to provide treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal using direct acting antiviral (DAA) medications to cure his hepatitis C infection. This was the first court order in the country requiring prison administrators to provide DAA medications to an incarcerated patient. Mumia announced that he was free of the hepatitis C virus .Since then, we started a new program to increase legal support for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Mumia’s case was an important initial victory, but we used this as a springing board to file more cases seeking to force accountability on the PA DOC for refusing to provide the new curative treatments, and for the injuries and deaths caused by those failures. We were able to survey individuals who were incarcerated to effectively understand how widespread the lack of treatment was in the DOC facilities and to inform them of our litigation services. This summer we published a Pro Se Litigation Manual to provide guidance to incarcerated patients who wanted to file their own lawsuit seeking treatment; this soon resulted in 5 lawsuits being filed for treatment within the first two months after publication of the manual. One such individual was Lester Eaddy, who was denied treatment protocol even though he met the medical necessity requirements. Our representation efforts resulted in an immediate guarantee of treatment for Lester’s Hep C.
ENDING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
The Abolitionist Law Center’s work to abolish solitary confinement resulted in some important victories over the last two year. Arthur Cetewayo Johnson walked out of his solitary confinement cell and into the general prison population following 37 years in solitary, after we won a preliminary injunction on his behalf (Johnson v. Wetzel). One of our lawsuits (Seitz v. Allegheny County) successfully stopped the Allegheny County Jail from putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. And we obtained the first circuit court holding in the country recognizing that solitary confinement of persons with serious mental illness states a claim under the Eighth Amendment (Palakovic v. Wetzel).
In January 2018, we filed a class action seeking to end solitary confinement of those sentenced to death in Pennsylvania, which is currently about 150 people. We are joined in this litigation by the ACLU-PA and ACLU-National Prison Project, among other firms. Soon after filing the DOC began implementing changes to increase out of cell time and group activities. This case is ongoing and we are pushing for a permanent end to solitary confinement of death-sentenced individuals in Pennsylvania.
In 2017-18 we litigated three cases to long-term solitary confinement on behalf of individuals on death row whose sentences had been vacated, yet who remained (or remain in one instance) on the row in contravention of a February 2017 holding of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In February 2018, we were granted a preliminary injunction in the case of Darrick Hall following a two-day evidentiary hearing the month before. Darrick has since been released to general population where he had his first contact visits in 23 years, has taken every program he can, and been accepted into a program through Villanova University. Another case, that of Shawnfatee Bridges, has been favorably resolved and our client remains in general population. A third case, that of Ernest Porter, who has been on death row for 32 years, is currently being appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Abolitionist Law Center utilizes education and advocacy in order to further the prison abolition movement. This year we were able to host the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence here in Pittsburgh. We had hundreds of people attend workshops and training to better understand how environmental issues are associated with mass incarceration. More importantly we were able to bring in organizers from around the nation to share their stories and here from those who are incarcerated. In our movement work, it is important that we provide an intersectional approach to our work. Sponsoring the conference, helped to inform many about the toxic lands the prisons are built on that may create potentially hazardous situations for those who are incarcerated.
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 in Pennsylvania in 2014, CADBI has made impressive strides in its short existence. Groundbreaking legislation that would make all people serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania eligible for parole after 15 years has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate. CADBI chapters have been started in Reading, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Delaware, and Chester County. Formerly incarcerated people and the family and loved ones of those serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania have been driving this growing movement. In early October CADBI successfully mobilized more than 400 people to rally in Harrisburg against DBI sentences. ALC’s work against DBI, in the courts and in the streets, is done in close collaboration and comradeship with and service to CADBI and our shared goals.
Expanding Our Offices
This fall the Abolitionist Law Center opened a satellite office in Philadelphia due to the high incidents of incarceration. The office is home to our mitigation specialist Lauren and our Director of Organizing Saleem. To better serve our community and to provide for more direct engagement our office in Philadelphia also serves as space for legal research and education. The office was especially useful during the past few months, where so many people impacted by the inhumane mail policy restrictions were able to share resources and tract complaints. Philadelphia has the largest population of those impacted by death incarceration sentences and PADOC policies. The office will have interns working to create narratives and more for our clients. The office serves a hub for abolitionist organizing and legal work in Philadelphia.
Your support makes it possible for us to win these fights. Please donate and together we can keep building the movement to abolish mass incarceration. Take it one step further and consider making a reoccurring monthly donation.
Help the Fight to Free MOVE Members
Who Have Been Wrongfully Incarcerated for 40 Years
Please contribute to the MOVE 9 legal fund to continue the efforts to free all MOVE political prisoners. On June 16, 2018, Debbie Africa became the first member of the MOVE 9 to be released from prison when she was granted parole after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Mike Africa, Debbie’s husband, became the next member of the MOVE 9 to get out of prison, when he was released on parole on October 23, 2018.
Lawyers from the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and People’s Law Office (PLO) represented both Debbie and Mike in their successful parole petitions and are committed to fighting for the release of the remaining MOVE 9.
There is a need for funds to support parole review and litigation, such as expert witnesses, travel for court dates and client visits, copy costs of prison and court records, postage and shipping, fees for court filings and other expenses that are likely to arise. (The attorneys are representing the MOVE 9 pro bono and this fund will only go to pay for out-of-pocket expenses.)
The MOVE members who are still in prison are all entitled to release on parole given their exemplary prison record, examples of mentorship, and the complete lack of any risk they present to public safety.
But it will take a fight to get them out – please contribute today* and help them win that fight.
Who are the MOVE 9?
The MOVE 9 are innocent men and women who have been unjustly imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following a massive police attack on their home in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed during the attack. Despite forensic evidence that the bullet that killed him did not come from inside the MOVE house, 9 MOVE members were convicted of 3rd Degree Murder and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. This was seven years before the government dropped a bomb on MOVE in 1985, killing 11 people, including 5 children.
Two of the MOVE 9, Merle and Phil Africa, have died in DOC custody. There are now five surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still in prison: Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert.
Background on Fight to Free Janet and Janine Africa:
In May of 2018, MOVE members Debbie, Janet and Janine Africa went before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Attorneys from ALC and PLO prepared packets in support of each of the three women. Debbie Africa was granted parole and released from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs on June 16, after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Janet and Janine Africa, however, were denied parole despite having virtually identical Department of Corrections records as Debbie.
Jane and Janine both:
- Have gone more than 20 years without a misconduct for any rule violation
- Were recommended for parole by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
- Were recommended for parole by former PA DOC Secretary Martin Horn
- Were recommended for parole by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
These factors demonstrate that Janet and Janine pose no threat to public safety and deserve parole.
The Parole Board has denied them the opportunity to return home based on unlawful factors. Claiming the two minimized the offense and did not express remorse, the Board ignored the only relevant assessment under Pennsylvania law: that the two do not present a threat to public safety.
The Parole Board also lied, claiming that Janet and Janine received the negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney, when in truth Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Larry Krasner, recommended all three women – Debbie, Janet, and Janine – for parole. In a letter to parole to the Parole Board, Krasner’s office stated that it “was “confident” that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community” and that their “continued incarceration does not make our city safer.”
Janet and Janine’s lawyers have challenged this unlawful determination, filing petitions for habeas corpus in federal court on October 1, 2018. The petitions argue that the Parole Board violated the constitutional rights of Janet and Janine by arbitrarily denying them parole without any rational basis.
The legal team at ALC and PLO is committed to freeing all MOVE political prisoners. This work includes challenging the erroneous denials for Janet and Janine and preparing packets for upcoming parole hearings – the next of which is Charles (Chuck) Africa, who will be going before the parole board in December of 2018, followed by Edward (Eddie) Africa in January of 2019. In addition, the lawyers are exploring all legal avenues that could potentially obtain release for the five surviving members of the MOVE 9.
*Please make sure you designate MOVE in the specific case or project section*
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 30, 2018
CONTACT: Andy Hoover, firstname.lastname@example.org, 717-236-6827 x213
HARRISBURG— The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the Abolitionist Law Center, Amistad Law Project, and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed two federal civil rights lawsuits today challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (DOC) new policy of copying and retaining confidential mail from attorneys to their prisoner clients. The lawsuits, one on behalf of the four organizations and a related one for a DOC prisoner, claim that the practice violates the First Amendment rights of the organizations’ attorneys and DOC prisoners to confidential legal communications.
The new policy follows a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons last month, which the DOC alleges was necessary to protect guards from “unknown substances” that have entered the facilities.
In an attempt to prevent these “unknown substances” from entering state prisons through the mail, DOC officials have been confiscating all incoming legal mail and holding it for 45 days, only allowing prisoners a photocopy of their correspondence. This policy interferes with the ability of prisoners and lawyers to discuss legal matters confidentially.
“No other corrections institution in the nation screens and duplicates legal mail in this way,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Attorney-client privilege is a cornerstone of legal representation. The Department of Corrections’ new mail policy undermines that privilege in violation of First Amendment protections for both the prisoners and their attorneys.”
The two lawsuits, which are separate but are likely to be consolidated, allege that DOC’s changes to processing legal mail are unwarranted and unnecessary because there’s no evidence that legal mail is a major source of illegal drugs. The suits claim DOC’s new legal mail policy is an “exaggerated, irrational response to a non-problem that deprives Plaintiff legal organizations of an indispensable – and often the only viable — means of communicating with their imprisoned clients, thereby seriously undermining the lawyers’ ability to provide zealous and effective legal representation.”
“The DOC concocted an emergency and rolled out all of these policies at once while completely lacking any examples of drugs getting into PA prisons through attorneys and the mail we send to our imprisoned clients,” said Kris Henderson, legal director of Amistad Law Project.
The challenged policy is part of a number of new restrictions imposed by DOC on prisoners’ access to mail, visitors, and books and publications. Prisoners are not permitted to receive original copies of any mail and are currently prohibited from ordering books or publications.
“These post lockdown policies represent a devastating shift in Pennsylvania’s prisons,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “By interfering with legal mail, preventing people from holding onto cards and letters from loved ones and limiting their access to reading materials, the DOC has entered a new regime of isolation, further separating incarcerated people from meaningful access to the outside world.”
“These new policies, as well as the shock and awe manner in which they were implemented, now place the Pennsylvania DOC as the national vanguard when it comes to repressing the First Amendment rights of the incarcerated and their families, communities, and correspondents,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center.
“Attorneys are ethically required to keep communications with their clients confidential, and when that is threatened, they must act to prevent unauthorized access to those communications. Because of these requirements, and the new Pennsylvania policy on legal mail, public defenders, other attorneys and legal organizations have ceased communicating by mail with their incarcerated clients,” said Keith E. Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. “This is a tremendous hardship and interferes with the attorney-client relationship.”
The lawsuits, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project v. Wetzel and Hayes v. Wetzel, were filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; Deneekie Grant and Kris Henderson of the Amistad Law Project; Angus Love and Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Danielle Bruno, Stephanie Short, Paul Titus, and Keith E. Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.
The complaints are available at aclupa.org/PILP.
October 23, 2018
Earlier today, MOVE member Mike Africa was released from prison after 40 years of incarceration. Mike was released on parole from SCI Phoenix in Skippak Township this morning.
Mike was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Mike is one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the altercation.
Mike’s wife Debbie Africa was also one of the MOVE 9. Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and gave birth in jail to their son, Mike Africa Jr. Mike Sr. has been incarcerated for his son’s entire life and today was the first opportunity for the father and son to spend time together outside of prison.
Mike Sr. and his wife Debbie maintained their relationship despite both being in incarcerated and separated from one other for 40 years. In June of this year, Debbie became the first member of the MOVE 9 to be released from prison. Today marks the first time that Mike Sr., Debbie and their son Mike Jr. have ever spent time all together.
“After being born in jail and never being with my parents, I’m happy to be with my mom and dad at home for the first time ever in forty years,” said Mike Africa, Jr. He continued “But this struggle isn’t over. There are still MOVE members behind bars who deserve to be reunited with their families and loved ones, just like my mom and dad can now be with me and the rest of their family.”
Mike Sr. has been eligible for parole since 2008 and went before the Pennsylvania Board or Probation and Parole (PBPP) for the tenth time in September of this year. Mike’s legal team submitted a packet in support of his parole petition, detailing Mike’s exemplary prison record, his educational accomplishments in prison and over 75 letters in support of parole. These included letters from religious leaders, retired DOC staff who knew him personally and former prisoners who described the positive influence Mike had on them. Mike also received recommendations for parole from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
One of Mike’s lawyers, Brad Thomson, of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, said, “Mike’s record in prison was exceptional and demonstrated that he was an excellent candidate for parole. With this decision, the Parole Board recognizes that Mike, like Debbie, and the rest of the MOVE 9, poses absolutely no threat to the community.” Thomson went on to say, “This victory would not have been possible without the decades of organizing and advocacy spearheaded by the MOVE organization and their supporters.”
Bret Grote, of Abolitionist Law Center, another lawyer for the MOVE 9, stated, “This historic release of Mike Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny the rest of the MOVE 9 all the more incomprehensible. For example, Janet and Janine Africa have both maintained DOC records that are as exemplary as Mike’s and essentially identical to that of Debbie, yet they were inexplicably denied parole this past May.” Grote and Thomson recently filed petitions for habeas corpus on behalf of Janet and Janine in federal court, challenging their parole denials.
In addition to Janet and Janine, three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, as two (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. All five surviving members of the MOVE 9 (Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert Africa) have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have been repeatedly denied parole when appearing before the PBPP.
During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized and controversial trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third-degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison.
Brad Thomson, bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com ,773-297-9689
Mike Africa Jr., MikeAfricaJr@gmail.com,
For Immediate Release
October 16, 2018
On Tuesday, October 23, at 9:30 a.m. the Abolitionist Law Center will argue at an En Banc hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Superior Court in the case is the Commonwealth v Lee, where the petitioner, Avis Lee, is arguing that the right established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana decisions applies to all adolescents and not just strictly to those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. This groundbreaking case has the potential to alter the way the Commonwealth treats mandatory life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
The petitioner in this case, Avis Lee, has served over thirty-eight years in prison. Like many people in Pennsylvania, Avis received a mandatory life sentence under a felony-murder charge. At the age of 18, Avis served as a lookout while her brother and his friend attempted a robbery. After a brief struggle, the victim was shot by Avis’s brother and collapsed in a parking lot. Avis flagged down a bus driver in order to get the victim help, but despite her efforts, he still passed away. Avis was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. Since her incarceration, Avis has completed extensive rehabilitative programming and performed countless hours serving others through her work in the prison and with community groups, including being a mentor and assisting in braille translations.
As described in ALC’s recently published report, A Way Out: Abolishing Death by Incarceration in Pennsylvania, as people mature, they are less likely to engage in criminal conduct. Of the more than 5,300 people serving life-without-parole in Pennsylvania, approximately half committed the offense resulting in their LWOP sentence before the age of 25.
This case therefore is representative of hundreds of individuals who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole in their youth but who are currently ineligible to be resentenced due solely to an arbitrary age cut-off.
Petitioner has argued to the Superior Court that the same scientific and legal reasoning behind Miller and Montgomery apply with equal force to those who were younger than 18 and those like Avis, who were adolescents and possessed the same characteristics of youth. The Court has decided to take the rare step of hearing the case en banc, meaning that 9 judges will hear the matter and will possess the power to overrule the Court’s earlier cases that upheld a cutoff at 18 years of age.
Allegheny County is the place where the crime occurred. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, headed by DA Zappala, is opposing the petition and has not shown a willingness to reconsider the pursuit of LWOP sentences. By contrast, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner came out in support of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 942 this month, legislation introduced by Senator Street that would allow parole consideration for all serving life sentences after 15 years.
That Avis Lee, who was 18 at the time of her offense and who had repeated and severe experiences of trauma in her childhood and adolescence, committed her offense during a time of ongoing maturation and development is a historical fact at this point. The question in front of the Court is whether she can proceed to a merits determination as to whether her sentence is excessive in light of Miller and Montgomery.
Contact: Miracle Jones, Abolitionist Law Center, email@example.com
October 04, 2018
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Today, the Abolitionist Law Center and the Peoples Law Office filed Habeas motions in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Janet Hollaway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9, to appeal the decision of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) to deny them parole in May of 2018. Despite maintaining favorable recommendations and receiving no disciplinary infractions for decades, Janet and Janine were denied parole even though others similarly situated were released by the board.
In May of 2018, the board ruled the petitioners should not be granted parole due to their lack of remorse, minimization of the offenses committed, and an unfavorable recommendation of the prosecutor. One of the many issues the petitioners, through their attorneys, raise is the erroneous justifications used to deny them parole because the board’s false allegations are contradicted in the record. While the board stated there was opposition to their release, there was in fact support from the district attorney’s office. As such the motion argues the board violated substantive due process rights of Janet and Janine by denying them appeal for reasons that do not include rehabilitative and deterrent purposes. Not only do the petitioners have a favorable recommendation in support of their release, they also have family and community support, employment options, and access to stable housing. Moreover, the petitioners have accepted responsibility for their actions before the board, in their community,and with their advocacy works.
The Parole Board’s decision to deny Janet and Janine was completely arbitrary and lacked any rational basis. The justifications provided by the Board are contradicted by the evidence, including the false claim that the District Attorney’s Office opposed parole. Janet and Janine are well deserving of parole-DOC staff describe both women as model prisoners, they have not had a disciplinary incident in decades and they’ve both participated in community fundraisers, the dog training program and other social programs inside of prison. ~ Attorney Brad Thomson
In addition to Janet, Janine and Mike Sr., three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, as two died in custody. During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third-degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. The six surviving members of the MOVE 9 are all eligible for parole.
Brad Thomson, People’s Law Office, 773.235.0070 ext. 123, BradJayThomson@gmail.com
Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, 412.654.9070, firstname.lastname@example.org