MEDIA RELEASE: Settlement reached in Shoatz v. Wetzel

Maroon after his release from solitary confinement
Maroon after his release from solitary confinement

russellmaroonshoatz.com 

July 11, 2016: Pittsburgh PA —A settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged the 22-year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. This brings an end to litigation begun in 2013. In February 2014, following an international campaign on behalf of Shoatz, he was released from solitary confinement.

In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.

Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: “I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, said: “This settlement is a major contribution to the quest to outlaw prolonged solitary confinement in the US and around the world. I congratulate Mr. Shoatz and his family for not giving up and his team of lawyers for a committed and highly professional approach to justice.”

Shoatz had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.

The case challenged the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz also challenged violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights.

As noted by Judge Eddy in her February 2016 decision ordering a trial in the case, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) – which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”

The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:

“The conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.”

Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).

Shoatz was represented in this case by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Harold J. Engel; and Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt.

Contact:

Russell Shoatz III                    rshoatz@gmail.com                             347-697-5390

Theresa Shoatz                        tiye1120@gmail.com                          267-456-7882

Bret Grote                        bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org             412-654-9070

 

MEDIA RELEASE: Trial ordered in challenge to 22 years of solitary confinement in Shoatz v. Wetzel

February 22, 2016: Pittsburgh PA — On Friday, February 12, United States District Magistrate for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Reed Eddy, issued a decision denying both parties’ motions for summary judgment and ordering a trial in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenges the 22 year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. The trial will mark the first in the country in a case challenging long-term solitary confinement.

Shoatz had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he had filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.

The case challenges the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz will also go to trial on his procedural and substantive due process claims.

As noted by Judge Eddy, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) – which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”

The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:

the conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.

Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).

Shoatz is represented by Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt; Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Daniel Kovalik of the United Steelworkers; and retired Reed Smith partner, Hal Engel.

Contact:             Bret Grote                        bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org             412-654-9070

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Law and Disorder Radio Program on Release of Russell Maroon Shoatz from Solitary Confinement

ALC Attorney, Bret Grote, was recently interviewed on Law and Disorder Radio about the release of Russell Maroon Shoatz after 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. More from the producers of Law and Disorder Radio:

Here on Law and Disorder we’ve been keeping you updated on the campaign to release Russell “Maroon” Shoatz from solitary confinement. We’re heartened to broadcast the news that he has been released from solitary confinement and is now in the general prison population. Maroon has spent 40 years in the U.S. prison system and 22 of those years were spent under intense lock down. He was allowed only one hour a day outside of that cell. In May of 2013 Maroon brought a lawsuit on the grounds that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of to the U.S. Constitution and that he was denied his due process rights.

You can listen to the interview here, beginning at 8:44, or you can download the program at this link.

MEDIA RELEASE: Russell Maroon Shoatz released from solitary confinement – first time in general population in more than 22 years

Maroon in Gen Pop

February 20, 2014: Pittsburgh PA —  Russell Maroon Shoatz was released from solitary confinement into the general prison population at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford this morning, ending more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. The news was confirmed by Maroon during a legal call with an attorney from the Abolitionist Law Center.

Maroon’s son, Russell Shoatz III, said, “We are very excited that this day has finally come. My father being released from solitary confinement is proof of the power of people organizing against injustice, and the importance of building strong coalitions. I especially want to thank all of those who have supported the collective struggle to end my father’s solitary confinement, including my siblings and members of the Shoatz family, the Human Rights Coalition, Abolitionist Law Center, Scientific Soul Sessions, the entire legal team, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, the 5 Nobel Peace Laureates, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the dozens of other organizations and thousands of individuals who have participated in this effort.”

The move comes after Maroon, who turned 70-years-old in August 2013, was transferred to three different Pennsylvania prisons in the past nine months. It marks the first time that Shoatz has been in the general prison population in the state of Pennsylvania since 1983, when he was placed in solitary confinement due to his work with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers to abolish life-without-parole sentences. For a 17-month period between 1989-1991, Maroon was held in the general prison population at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Maroon brought suit in May 2013 on the grounds that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that prison officials have deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights for keeping him in solitary confinement without meaningful review and on insufficient grounds. He is represented by Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt; Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Daniel Kovalik of the United Steelworkers; and retired Reed Smith partner, Hal Engel.

On Monday, January 27, United States District Magistrate for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Reed Eddy, issued a decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel. The ruling allowed Russell Maroon Shoatz to move forward with the legal challenge to his more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement.

The campaign to release Shoatz from solitary confinement has also been gathering increasing international attention, including the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations endorsed his release from isolation, as well as growing number of clergy. In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez discussing Maroon at this link).

Abolitionist Law Center Executive Director, Bret Grote, said, “My talk with Maroon today was very moving. There are no words to adequately convey the significance of his release to the general population for him and his family. This is a significant victory for a growing people’s movement against solitary confinement and the human rights violations inherent in mass incarceration. If we continue to work hard and support one another in this movement, these victories could very well become a habit.”

The Abolitionist Law Center would also like to thank all our donors for your support, without which this victory would not be possible. The fight continues, both on behalf of Maroon and the many other prisoners being subjected to inhumane conditions. Please consider adding to your support by donating to our current fundraiser, so we can continue to press for justice in the Pennsylvania prison system.

Contact:             Bret Grote                 bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org             412-654-9070

JURIST Podcast Interviews ALC on First and Eighth Amendment Rights in the Prisons

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Representatives from the Abolitionist Law Center joined JURIST podcast moderator Ian Everhart to discuss their efforts at reform in the Pennsylvania criminal justice and prison system in this episode. ALC Executive Director Bret Grote and ALC staff attorney Dustin McDaniel shared information about their organization, the mission of which is to abolish “class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.”

Grote and McDaniel shared information about Russell Maroon Shoatz, currently a plaintiff in a case filed by the ALC against the state prison system. Shoatz was convicted of homicide in the 1970s, escaped from prison twice and was placed in solitary confinement after he became involved with a prisoners’ rights movement as an inmate. Grote and McDaniel argue that the state prison system’s treatment of Shoatz, who has now spent decades in solitary confinement with no history of disciplinary problems, is unconstitutional. The ALC is currently raising funds for this and other solitary confinement cases.

Grote and McDaniel also discussed a case involving inmates’ First Amendment rights to receive news and other material related to prisoners’ rights. Holbrook v. Jellen challenges the way prison censors restrict mail sent to inmates; in particular, they object to the prison officials’ determination that certain politically-oriented documents are likely to encourage disruptions among the prison population.

Federal court rules litigation can proceed in Shoatz v. Wetzel

MEDIA RELEASE: Federal court rules litigation can proceed in Shoatz v. Wetzel

Defendants’ motion to dismiss denied on all counts

January 27, 2014: Pittsburgh PA —  On Monday, January 27, United States District Magistrate for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Reed Eddy, issued a decision denying defendants’ motion to dismiss in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel. The ruling allows Russell Maroon Shoatz to move forward with the legal challenge to his more than 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement.

Shoatz brought suit in May 2013 on the grounds that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that prison officials have deprived him of his procedural and substantive due process rights for keeping him in solitary confinement without meaningful review and on insufficient grounds.

Quoting the federal court ruling in the case of Wilkerson v. Stalder (aka the Angola 3 case), Judge Eddy observed that “[a]ny person in the United States who reads or watches television should be aware that lack of adequate exercise, sleep, social isolation, and lack of environmental stimulation are seriously detrimental to a human being’s physical and mental health.” She found that “The duration of Plaintiff’s solitary confinement has continued for a sufficient length of time that relief on his Eighth Amendment claim is plausible.”

The court also held that Shoatz stated a plausible claim that his right to procedural due process was violated by insufficient notice of when he is reviewed, the actual reasons for his continued solitary confinement, and what he must do in order to be released to the general population.

Finally, the court held that Shoatz stated a plausible claim that his substantive due process rights were being violated by conduct that – if proven – would “shock the contemporary conscience.” Here Shoatz alleged that continuing to hold him in solitary confinement on the irrational basis that he is an escape risk, despite being a 70-year-old man with an array of medical issues,  demonstrated a deliberate indifference to his due process rights which was conscience-shocking.

The decision comes approximately two weeks after Shoatz was transferred for the third time in 9 months – this time to State Correctional Institution (SCI) Graterford in southeastern Pennsylvania. Prior to the transfer, Shoatz had successfully completed a 60-day step-down program at SCI Frackville. Although Shoatz has been given reassurances he will be placed in the general population soon, he currently remains in solitary confinement.

The campaign to release Shoatz from solitary confinement has been gathering increasing international attention, including the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations have already endorsed his release from isolation, as have a growing number of clergy.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez discussing Maroon at this link).

Shoatz is represented by Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt; Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Daniel Kovalik of the United Steelworkers; and retired partner from Reed Smith, Hal Engel.

Shoatz v. Wetzel – Denial of Motion to Dismiss

Contact:             Bret Grote                        bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org             412-654-9070

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ACTION ALERT: MAROON’S RELEASE FROM SOLITARY THWARTED BY PA DOC

GOOD FAITH, BAD FAITH – URGENT HOLIDAY UPDATE: MAROON’S PROCESS OUT OF SOLITARY THWARTED BY PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

It is with some surprise and sadness that we must report that once again the progress of wrongfully incarcerated Russell Maroon Shoatz has been delayed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), thereby continuing his over twenty years of torturous uninterrupted solitary confinement. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, prison officials at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Frackville informed Maroon that the prison would not release him into its general population, claiming that there is another prisoner at SCI Frackville who Maroon has a “separation” from (the two cannot have contact with one another). For this reason, SCI Frackville stated that the prison would not be sending the required documentation for review of his solitary confinement to PA DOC Secretary Wetzel. Instead, Maroon was told that SCI Frackville intended to transfer him to another prison that could then consider him for release into the general population.

After Maroon’s successful completion of a prison-initiated “step down program” designed for the very purpose of ending his long-endured torture, his family, friends, and legal team were cautiously optimistic that the consistently positive reports coming directly from prison authorities would result in his humanitarian release, at least into prison general population. Every twenty days during the sixty-day “step down” initiative, Maroon’s case came under administrative review, and he passed all areas of concern – including the evaluations of some of the most conservative of guards – with flying colors. SCI Frackville’s position is contrary to what Maroon had previously been told: complete the 60-day step-down program successfully, and the formal review of his solitary confinement will occur. Now, prison officials are declaring that it is necessary to transfer Maroon for the third time in less than a year despite his perfect record of compliance.

Maroon has carefully observed, and supporters have followed, the strictest of adherence to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections policies, in a clear decision to abide by the DOC efforts to correct an inhumane injustice which has begun to gain world-wide attention. Maroon continues to act in good faith. This callous, bad-faith reversal on the part of the Program Review Committee puts the case back into the court system and the political sphere – where we must once again raise the stakes in spotlighting this unprecedented and cruel behavior. As we are well aware, the continued solitary confinement of Maroon violates every United Nations and international legal guideline against the treatment of the incarcerated, especially long-held prisoners who are now senior citizens.

As the world mourns the passing of unrepentant former political prisoner Nelson Mandela, and prepares for the season celebrating peace on earth, good will towards others, this news raises the question of who is truly behind Maroon’s continued torture? Free Maroon Campaign chair Matt Meyer noted, “As someone fortunate enough to have met with President Mandela personally, and in direct contact with South African Archbishop Tutu who remains extremely concerned with the ongoing condition of Russell Maroon Shoatz, it is clear that those in Pennsylvania in positions of power have not taken to heart the most basic human rights issues involved. Mandela always reminded us that the truest test of the legitimacy of a government is how it treats its prisoners. Archbishop Tutu, so well known for his commitment to reconciliation, understands that this set-back, however temporary, reveals that the current government of Pennsylvania has utter disregard for basic decency and the lives of its less well-to-do citizens.”

The Campaign is currently developing strategies in response to this new situation, and reminds supporters that this holiday season is an especially important moment to collect names of clergy, lay people, and community leaders – to add to the Call by the three Nobel Peace laureates who are demanding Maroon’s immediate release (see attached). Names and titles of new signers of this Call should be forwarded to the Campaign (freemaroonshoatz@gmail.com) by the end of business day, Friday, January 10, 2014.

Maroon asks that all supporters and friends be sure to “stay vigilant.” As we work to protect our incarcerated elder, let us re-commit ourselves to creative and powerful work in Maroon’s tradition and upholding his legacy – keeping our focus “straight ahead” towards freedom.

** ASK YOUR LOCAL MINISTERS, IMAMS, COMMUNITY LEADERS & OTHERS TO ADD THEIR NAME!!

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound – Isaiah 61:1

Russell Maroon Shoatz, a senior citizen (age 70) and grandfather who currently suffers from impaired vision because of cataracts, was originally imprisoned in January 1972, after years of playing a leading role in the Black freedom movement of his native Philadelphia PA. As was an endemic pattern during the 1960s and 70s, prominent community organizers doing civil and human rights work were prime targets of the FBI’s illegal Counter-Intellience Program, with special focus on Dr. Martin Luther Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers – which Shoatz was a member of. He has been held for thirty-plus years in solitary confinement. Such “prolonged” solitary confinement is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, according to UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez.In April and May 2013, in the wake of Maroon’s transfer to a different prison, many concerned activists called and wrote letters to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) on his behalf. They received replies suggesting that his transfer to the general prison population was in process. In August, however, Shoatz was transferred once again to a third facility, with no change in the conditions of his confinement.To mark the date of Maroon’s 70th birthday on August 23, 2013, three Nobel laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, President Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland – sent a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read, in part: “We affirm, in the strongest possible humanitarian terms, that now is the time for the immediate and unconditional release from solitary confinement and restricted housing of Russell Maroon Shoatz. After decades of solitary confinement – including the past 22 consecutive years – there is no reason for further delay. Continued confinement in 23-hour-a-day isolation is nothing short of torture.”

We, religious and other community leaders, join these three distinguished voices, along with a host of others, calling on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to release Russell Maroon Shoatz into the general prison population. The time has long since passed. It would be an appropriate step to mark that time of year when we should all attempt, once again, to remind ourselves of our humanity.

Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz

The U.S.’s 64-Square-Foot “Torture Chambers”

By Pam Johnson

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 2013 (IPS) – He has not had human contact or a good night’s sleep in nearly three decades. Every single day, he wakes to the sound of metal doors clanging open and a pair of disembodied hands pushing a tray of food through a slot into his 64-square-foot cell.

For the next 23 hours, he will stare at the same four walls. If he is lucky, he’ll be escorted, shackled at his ankles and wrists, into a “yard” – an enclosure only slightly larger than his cell – for an hour of solitary exercise.

This is how Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, a prisoner in the restricted housing unit at the State Correctional Institute (SCI) Frackville in northern Pennsylvania, has spent the past 22 consecutive years.

On Thursday, Shoatz’s lawyers submitted a communication to Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, urging him to inquire into why a “father, grandfather and great grandfather” is being held in extreme isolation despite having a near-perfect disciplinary record for over 20 years.

Read the rest here

Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz submit request to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

October 17, 2013: Pittsburgh PA — Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz submitted a Communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – Fall 2013, Juan Mendez, requesting that he inquire into Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of solitary confinement within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC). Shoatz is a 70-year-old, former Black Panther Party member who has been locked in solitary confinement at various state prisons for the past 22 consecutive years, and 28 of the past 30 years.

The request comes at a time when the campaign to release Shoatz from solitary confinement has been gathering increasing international attention. In August, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa marked the occasion of Maroon’s 70th birthday by sending a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read: “We also affirm, in the strongest possible humanitarian terms, that now is the time for the immediate and unconditional release from solitary confinement and restricted housing of Russell Maroon Shoatz. After decades of solitary confinement – including the past 22 consecutive years – there is no reason for further delay. Continued confinement in 23-hour-a-day isolation is nothing short of torture.”

For the last 23 years, Shoatz has had an impeccable disciplinary record, and has not received on serious rule violation during this time. Despite his model behavior, advancing years, and health problems, the PA DOC has refused to release this father, grandfather, great-grandfather, human rights advocate, and published author into the general prison population.

“The Special Rapporteur on Torture has recently spoken out about similar instances of extraordinary long-term solitary confinement in the United States in Pelican Bay state prison and in the case of the Angola 3. Like these cases, the solitary confinement of Russell Shoatz is yet another extreme violation of international human rights standards,” said Jules Lobel, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the attorney who submitted the document to the Special Rapporteur on Shoatz’s behalf.

Although Shoatz is still held in the solitary confinement unit, he has been permitted more out of cell time in recent weeks, as prison officials inform him that he is being assessed for release from isolation. On September 23, 2013, Shoatz began a 60-day step-down program where he is permitted out of his cell as a block worker for approximately one-hour Monday through Friday.

Although this program represents the most out-of-cell time Shoatz has been afforded since he was in federal prison in 1991, and the most in a PA DOC prison since 1983, there is no guarantee that he will eventually be released into the general population. Prison officials have stated that he will merely be considered for release after the completion of the program.

The communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was submitted by Jules Lobel; Dan Kovalik, Senior Associate General Counsel for the United Steelworkers; Dustin McDaniel and Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; and attorney Hal Engel.

The 14-page document observes that a 2011 report issued by the Special Rapporteur provided a “legal analysis . . . that resoundingly affirms the conclusion that U.S.-style solitary confinement units are prohibited under international law.” It called on the Special Rapporteur to “immediately initiate a prompt and comprehensive investigation into the facts surrounding Russell Maroon Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of solitary confinement in the PA DOC.”

The communication concluded by recognizing that even if he is soon released from isolation, “It is vital that the egregious violations of Shoatz’s human rights are recognized by your office and the international human rights community more broadly, both for his own sake, and for the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who have been subjected to these conditions of social isolation and sensory deprivation in U.S. jails and prisons over the years.”