The Fight to Free Avis Lee Continues Despite the Denial of Appeal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied our Petition for Allowance of Appeal in the case of Commonwealth v. Avis Lee. The Appeal would have allowed people given life without parole sentences while young and with their judgment/impulse control still developing (but were over 17 years at the time of their offense) to apply for resentencing, like many juvenile lifers who were given that chance and are now thriving outside prison walls in our state.

Despite the scientific consensus on brain development indisputably supporting our argument, the Court denied the Appeal without explanation or justification; we’re disappointed since we believe that an honest, science-based review of Avis’ death by incarceration sentence would’ve found it unconstitutional and void, but we also have no illusions that the Superior and Supreme Courts serve the interest of justice.

For centuries, the higher courts have given legal cover to our country’s and state’s most appalling class- and race-based oppression, and only on rare occasions (and under intense public pressure) have they set aside the interests of money and power and ruled in the interests of justice. We have always seen legal strategy as one part of a larger movement of people most impacted by the justice system to challenge power, and we know that meaningful changes in the justice system will come from people organizing and resisting—and not from the morality and reason of judges or legislators.

While we will keep the legal fight up with three other litigation plans that challenge DBI sentences for those 18 as well as those serving DBI for second degree murder, we urge everyone to continue to organize, gather, lift up voices, and commit to dismantling this system brick by brick. We look forward to working with Avis on her commutation packet and know that she will be home one day.

At this time we are also reminded that our comrades at the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) are convening in Harrisburg this Wednesday, the 23rd, in support of SB942. We stand in solidarity with CADBI and echo the call of the Superior Court for the legislature to end death by incarceration. No one is free until we all are.

In Solidarity Always,

The Abolitionist Law Center

Third Circuit Court of Appeals to Hear Argument in Challenge to 33 Years of Solitary Confinement on Death Row

On Tuesday, October 22nd at 10:00 a.m. in The Albert Branson Maris Courtroom, (19th Floor, U.S. Courthouse, 6th & Market Sts., Philadelphia, PA), a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Federal Court will hear argument in Ernest Porter v. Pennsylvania DOC, a case challenging 33 years of solitary confinement on death row as violating the 8th and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Porter has been held in solitary confinement since 1986 despite having a perfect disciplinary record in DOC custody. His death sentence was overturned in 2003, but he has yet to be resentenced due to ongoing appeals by the Commonwealth and himself regarding his death sentence and guilt-phase claims in his criminal case. The PA DOC is arguing that his ongoing appeals require his being buried in conditions that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred to as a “penal tomb.”

In 2017, the Third Circuit held in Williams v. Secretary, that incarcerated people whose death sentences have been vacated had a liberty interest in removal from solitary confinement that entitled them to due process rights to challenge their isolation and be released to the general population of the prison. Despite that ruling, Porter remains in the capital case unit.

Porter filed suit in 2017 arguing that his indefinite solitary confinement which began in 1986 constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment, and that the Third Circuit’s 2017 ruling entitled him to due process protections under the 14th Amendment. The Federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granted defendants summary judgment, throwing out Porter’s suit and leading to his appeal to the Third Circuit.

Porter is represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Daniel Greenfield of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern School of Law. Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, will be arguing for Mr. Porter.

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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: 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.

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,

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,


“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.”

Action Alert: Support the MOVE 9 Legal Fund!!!!

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.

Support Today!!!


*Please make sure you designate MOVE in the specific case or project section*

Media Release: Legal Advocates Challenge Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ New Procedures for Legal Mail



October 30, 2018


CONTACT: Andy Hoover,, 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


MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE 9 Member Mike Africa Released on Parole After 40 Years in Prison

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] ,773-297-9689

Mike Africa Jr.,,