The Abolitionist Framework Must Combat Ableism in Order To Ensure the Freedom and Equity of Those Behind Bars

The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce our Board President, Jamelia Morgan has published a journal article calling for the abolition of ableism while fighting back against mass incarceration. REFLECTIONS ON REPRESENTING INCARCERATED PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: ABLEISM IN PRISON REFORM LITIGATION explores the intersections of disabilities and abolition while tasking legal advocates to combat ableism with holistic representation of clients and a raising of a multidimensional consciousness. While the conditions in prisons and jails are often discussed, what is often overlooked is how these inhumane facilities often target and mistreat those living with mental and physical disabilities. Disability Justice is important part of the abolition framework as those with disabilities are overrepresented in the criminal system as a result of failed health policies and systematic disparities. Due to the fact prisons and jails are not inherently designed to treat people in humane ways, those who enter into incarceration with a disability or develop a disability while incarcerated, face a lack of services and programming which leads to debilitation and trauma. What is even worse is that many lawyers lack the requisite training and understanding to represent clients who have disabilities and often perpetuate ableism.

lawyers representing people with disabilities are forced to represent their clients as physically, mentally, and emotionally damaged. In the typical, wellpleaded Section 1983 complaint brought on behalf of incarcerated people with disabilities, the weaknesses and challenges of disability are on full display, not because of any individual plaintiff’s inability to overcome obstacles or challenges in carceral settings (as is often the nature of ableism reflected in rhetoric about people with disabilities in free society) but, rather, because prisons inherently were not built to meet the needs of people with physical or mental disabilities.

In combating ableism and amplifying disability justice as a practice, lawyers and advocates must not simply create an awareness of the issues impacting those living with disabilities but must also change the culture of the abolition framework to recognize the negative and often violent implications that arise as the result of ableist legal practices. As such, abolitionist may move to using better language in fighting for freedom and can use court filings to highlight the inherent structural injustices in the designs of prisons and jails.

As prisoners’ rights advocates, we must strategically and consciously resist ableist discourses and ideologies that present our clients as deserving of constitutional protection only where physical or psychological damage is readily apparent or diagnosable. Advocates must acknowledge structural disablement within carceral spaces and use language that affirms the humanity of people with disabilities locked up behind bars or steel doors.

Due to current systems, those living with disability while incarcerated are often from marginalized populations. In order to effectively advocate for this population of individuals, intersectionality dicates that abolitionists examine their complicity in ableist behaviors and ensure they are including impacted peoples in developing strategies and policies for transformative change.

Citation: Morgan, Jamelia, Reflections on Representing Incarcerated People with Disabilities: Ableism in Prison Reform Litigation (July 22, 2019). Denver Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 4, 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3424341 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3424341

Media Release: Emergency Petition Filed For Young Woman Placed In Solitary Confinement During Her Birthday

On Monday the Abolitionist Law Center along with the law office of Timothy P. O’Brien and attorney Jules Lobel, filed an emergency petition against the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to remove a young woman from solitary confinement housing after spending more than 70 days – including her birthday – in the restrictive housing unit at ACJ since February, resulting in severe mental health crises and three suicide attempts.

The ALC and co-counsel are representing Kimberly Andrews, a 20-year-old woman awaiting disposition on misdemeanor cases who has been in solitary confinement off and on since February of 2019, despite having known mental health issues. While at the ACJ, Ms. Andrews has tried to self-harm at least three times due to the decompensation associated with the placement in solitary confinement and harsh prison conditions within the restrictive housing unit. Ms. Andrews suffers from known mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. Instead of receiving access to treatment and waiting for the adjudications of her case, Ms. Andrews has undergone repeated dehumanizing encounters with abusive ACJ staff.

For instance, on one occasion Ms. Andrews spent at least 8 consecutive hours in the restraint chair, strapped in so tight that it caused bruising around her wrists and shoulder areas. She was again deprived food, water, bathroom breaks, or any ability to move her limbs. Staff returned at one point to loosen the strap on her right wrist, as it was cutting into her flesh. Ms. Andrews asked for her inhaler, but her request was denied; no other medical checks were conducted.

 

The treatment of Ms. Andrews highlights the inability of the ACJ to create policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of those incarcerated with medically diagnosed disorders. Ms. Andrews has been able to successfully interact in general population and was able to have a job when briefly removed from solitary confinement. Despite previous attempts to resolve this situation, Ms. Andrews remains in solitary confinement where she continues to struggle to acclimate based on her health history and continues to self-harm as a result.

 

She has been kept in solitary confinement for over 70 days by Defendants at the jail, although she has not been either charged with or convicted of any violent conduct by officials at the jail. She has a history of mental illness, which is greatly exacerbated by her placement and retention in isolation. She has attempted suicide three times since being placed in solitary confinement.

The petition is asking the court to grant Ms. Andrews as temporary restraining order which would prevent her from being placed in solitary confinement as well as prevent specific ACJ staff from contacting her due to their denial of medical treatment and triggering conduct. The ACJ spent more than $200,000 on bedding, replacing sheets with anti-suicide blankets due to the number of suicide and suicide attempts in the facility.

 

Andrews v. Harper – Complaint-As Filed

Brief in Support of TRO-as Filed

Motion for TRO-as Filed

Order to Show Cause-as Filed

Action Alert: Rally Against Family Separation in Allegheny County Criminal Courts

For Immediate Release
April 23, 2019

(Pittsburgh, PA) Rally to  support Joss Deuerling being permitted to seek treatment- not prison – and remain with her newborn baby

Speakers: Representative Summer Lee; Bethany Hallam, plus speakers from ALC, ACLU-PA, Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, FAMM, SWOP Behind Bars, PA Institutional Law Project, and Americans for Prosperity.

A rally and press conference will be held on Friday, April 26 at 12:00 noon in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to speak out against the criminal legal system’s role in separating families and punishing substance abuse disorder. #BringJossHome #TreatmentNotJail 

On February 5, 2019, 31-year-old Joss Deuerling – already a mother of three and 9 months pregnant – was taken to Allegheny County Jail because of a technical probation violation. She had tested positive on a random drug test.

Two days later she gave birth in West Penn Hospital without her partner or any family, not permitted to tell anybody where she was at or that she was in labor, and with an officer from the Sheriff’s Department insisting on staying in the room throughout her birth. She was told by the officer that her partner would be arrested if he tried to come to the hospital. The officers then deprived her of showers for two days after she gave birth and severely restricted the amount of time she was permitted to hold her newborn baby.

After spending the next 6 weeks in ACJ, separated from her 4 children and her partner for a technical violation caused by substance abuse disorder, a medical condition, Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani has decided to revoke her probation and separate her from her family by sending her to state prison.

This is an injustice and we are calling on the community to rally in support of allowing Joss to remain with her family and seek the treatment she wants – and deserves – in her own community.

Relapse is a common part of recovery. Over the last three years Joss has been in treatment. She has been improving and wants to stay drug-free and with her family. A loving environment, family and community support is essential for successful recovery.

Substance abuse disorder should not be criminalized any longer, and the courts and other officials are called upon to handle these cases in therapeutic and medically appropriate ways.

Join us as we rally in support of Joss and her family, protest family separation, and advocate for treating substance abuse disorder as the medical condition it is.

Media Contact: 
Miracle Jones 
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
Abolitionist Law Center 
communications@alcenter.org

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

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

For Immediate Release

December 31, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

The case now moves on to the discovery stage.

Press Contact:

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

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

Case Links

Shaw v. DOC – Motion to Dismiss Decision

Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

DOC Brief in Support of MtD

Brief in Opposition to MtD-as filed

Shaw v. DOC-as Filed

Media Release: Prisoners File Lawsuit Against New Federal Facility on Toxic Strip Mine Site in Kentucky

For Immediate Release 11/27/18

Image of USP Letcher proximity to slurry and LCW old-growth biological research station managed by Eastern Kentucky University

Contacts:

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

PICTURES AVAILABLE

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.

Twenty-one prisoners are listed as plaintiffs, along with the ALC. The complete court filing can be found here. Pictures from the lawsuit and the prison site here.

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.

Map of active coal sites near USP Letcher proposal

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.

Media Release: Habeas Petitions Filed To Free Move Members Janet and Janine Africa

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.

 

Contact

Brad Thomson, People’s Law Office, 773.235.0070 ext. 123, BradJayThomson@gmail.com

Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, 412.654.9070,  bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

Lawsuit Filed Seeking Immediate Treatment for Hepatitis C

 

September 26, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). The Amistad Law Project, The Abolitionist Law Center, and the Law Office of Carey Shenkman on Monday  filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to compel the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to treat Lester Eaddy for Hepatitis C. Since 2012, Lester Eaddy, housed at SCI Mahanoy, has unsuccessfully petitioned the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to treat his medical condition, even though the DOC has known about his Hepatitis C diagnosis for over two decades.

At issue is the refusal of the  DOC to give Mr. Eaddy Direct Acting Anti-Viral drugs (“DAAs”) to cure his Hepatitis C. The DAA medication is known to have a 90% success rate in treating individuals who suffer from chronic Hepatitis C, but the DOC denies providing potentially life-saving DAAs in favor of a costly and burdensome monitoring program. Mr. Eaddy’s illness is exacerbated by the fact he also suffers from diabetes, anemia, and kidney disease which means the denial of medical care not only subjects him to irreversible harm but also places him at risk of death.

Morally and legally, the DOC is failing in its job to ensure Mr. Eaddy receives appropriate medical care. We demand he receive DAA treatment immediately.

While there are over 5,000 incarcerated persons who have Hepatitis C, the DOC ceased treating incarcerated persons in 2013, when DAA medications became readily available. The DOC instead created a treatment protocol to limit incarcerated persons access to DAA medications despite the epidemic levels of diagnosis. This protocol was found to be “a conscious disregard of a known risk of advanced cirrhosis and death…” and ruled unconstitutional in 2017.  The DOC refuses to treat Hepatitis C patients with DAA medication instead chooses to ration care to preserve their bottom line risking lives such as Mr. Eaddy’s in the process.  Moreover, the DOC protocol falls below the recommendations set forth by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) and supported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Plaintiffs submitted an expert report from Dr. Stacey Beth Trookin , who sits on the Treatment Guidance Panel for the AASLD and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), finding the current DOC protocol is substandard care that is medically indefensible. Additionally, she found the DAA treatments are cost effective and medically necessary as a matter of public health, especially when the individuals are suffering from other illnesses such as diabetes.

Even though Lester Eaddy’s preexisting medical conditions put him at a Priority level 3, signaling the necessity of the treatment, he has yet to receive the DAA medications. Since the DOC continuously fails to live up to the recommended standard of care and treat individual with the DAA treatments by ignoring Mr. Eaddy’s repeated request for medical care, this lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to ensure Lester Eaddy receives the DAA treatment.

Contact:

Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org, 412-654-9070

 

Fighting for the Right to the Cure – ALC’s Hepatitis C Pro Se Litigation Manual

A Guide for Filing a Lawsuit to Win Treatment with the Breakthrough
Cure for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C Pro Se Litigation Manual

The Abolitionist Law Center’s Hepatitis C Project was developed to
assist incarcerated people throughout the state of Pennsylvania obtain
Hepatitis C treatment. The Hepatitis C Project developed out of our
work in _Mumia Abu Jamal v. Kerestes_. Since the project’s inception,
we have corresponded with many throughout the state prisons that are
living with Hepatitis C.

ALC does not have the capacity to represent every prisoner with
Hepatitis C. In order to reach as many people as possible, we have
created this pro se litigation packet for incarcerated patients who will
represent themselves in court. This packet can be used by any
incarcerated patient with Hepatitis C to draft pro se litigation in an
effort to obtain Hepatitis C treatment. The components of this packet
include:

  • Hepatitis C factsheet
  • The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases Guide on
    When and in Whom to Initiate HCV Therapy
  • List of common medical terms associated with Hepatitis C
  • List of medical tests associated with Hepatitis C
  • List of questions to ask your medical provider regarding your
    Hepatitis C
  • The PA DOC Hepatitis C treatment protocol
  • Instructions on how to file a grievance
  • Draft grievance
  • Jailhouse lawyer’s manual (written by Mumia Abu Jamal)
  • Legal brief instructions
  • Draft legal brief
  • Draft complaint

Please use this packet to assist in securing treatment. There is now a
safe and effective cure for Hepatitis C, and there is no reason why so
many should go without access to this cure. We hope this pro se
litigation packet will help you get the Hepatitis C treatment that you
are entitled to.

Allegheny County Jail to Cease Housing Pregnant Women in Isolation

Agreement Reached in Settlement of a Lawsuit

Brought by Women who Were Housed in Solitary While Pregnant

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County has settled a lawsuit filed last December by five women who challenged the county jail’s practice of housing pregnant inmates in solitary confinement.

The women are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the law firm of Reed Smith LLP. Four of the plaintiffs spent time ranging from six to 22 days in solitary confinement while pregnant and incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail (ACJ).

“We are grateful that officials in Allegheny County have recognized how harmful it is to keep pregnant women in solitary confinement,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It’s unfortunate that it took a federal lawsuit for them to recognize this, but we’re pleased the county has agreed to a progressive, comprehensive, and humane policy. People who are incarcerated have a right to basic healthcare needs and to be treated humanely.”

The plaintiffs were typically placed in isolation for minor, non-violent rules infractions, including possession of too many pairs of shoes in one case and possession of a library book in another. During their time in solitary, they stayed in their cells for 23 to 24 hours per day and were rarely given the opportunity to even shower. They were also denied access to proper nutrition for pregnancy throughout their incarceration.

“The women who brought this lawsuit exhibited tremendous courage under harsh and despairing conditions, and through their efforts they have secured important human rights protections for pregnant women at the Allegheny County Jail,” said Abolitionist Law Center Legal Director Bret Grote.

As part of the settlement, officials from Allegheny County have agreed to numerous new policies and accountability measures that are among the most comprehensive and progressive procedures for housing pregnant inmates in the United States. The settlement prohibits the jail from placing pregnant women in restrictive housing except in rare instances where the inmate poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm, and decisions to place pregnant women in restrictive housing must be reviewed by the deputy warden and cleared by a medical professional.

In addition, administrators at the jail will provide appropriate diets for pregnant inmates and will track the distribution of meals, and women who are lactating will be allowed to use a breast pump.

The county also agreed to specific enforcement measures. The federal district court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement’s terms for three years. ACJ will also provide a current list of all pregnant women at the jail to the plaintiffs’ lawyers on request and will provide copies of documents related to the placement of any pregnant women in restrictive housing to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“Allegheny County has taken an important step in joining the national trend that recognizes there are better alternatives to solitary confinement within our prisons and jails,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “These policy changes will provide a healthier and safer environment for pregnant women detained at ACJ.”

The case is Seitz v. Allegheny County, and the plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and David Fawcett and Aleksandra Phillips of the law firm Reed Smith LLP.

More information about the case is available at www.aclupa.org/seitz.

MEDIA RELEASE: Federal Court Orders DOC to Provide Hepatitis C Treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-JamalMumia to receive treatment with direct-acting antiviral medications within 21-days

January 3, 2017: Federal district court Judge Robert Mariani granted political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s request for a preliminary injunction, forcing the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide him with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs capable of curing his chronic hepatitis C infection. During an evidentiary hearing in December 2015, it was shown that Abu-Jamal had a chronic hepatitis C infection that was progressively attacking his liver, causing scarring, a severe, itchy, painful skin rash that had lasted more than 18 months, and anemia of chronic disease.

Mr. Abu-Jamal is represented by Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center and attorney Robert J. Boyle. “We are gratified by Judge Mariani’s decision and urge the PA DOC to administer these life saving drugs to Mr. Abu Jamal without further delay,” said Robert J. Boyle on hearing the news of the courts decision. Bret Grote, Legal Director at the Abolitionist Law Center and attorney representing Mumia Abu-Jamal said, “This is the first case in the country in which a federal court has ordered prison officials to provide an incarcerated patient with the new [hepatitis C] medications that came on the market in 2013.”

The legal victory comes after Judge Mariani denied an earlier request for a preliminary injunction, holding that Abu-Jamal had failed to file his lawsuit against the correct defendants. However, the judge also held at that time that the DOC’s treatment protocol for hepatitis C violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and once members of the DOC’s Hepatitis C Treatment Committee were added as defendants the judge could issue a favorable injunction. The current decision follows the filing of a related case by attorneys for Abu-Jamal on September 30, 2016, which included members of the Hepatitis C Treatment Committee as defendants.

Quoting from his earlier decision, Judge Mariani described the DOC’s protocol for hepatitis C treatment:

[T]he effect of the protocol is to delay administration of DAA medications until the inmate faces the imminent prospect of “catastrophic” rupture and bleeding out of the esophageal vessels. Additionally, by denying treatment until inmates have “advanced disease” as marked by esophageal varices, the interim protocol prolongs the suffering of those who have been diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C and allows the progression of the disease to accelerate so that it presents a greater threat of cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and death of the inmate with such disease.

The judge also rejected the DOC’s argument that recent changes to the protocol had resolved the constitutional violation, holding that the new protocol “suffers from the same fatal flaw as the interim protocol” because it “refuses, without medical justification, to provide treatment… and also imposes an unreasonable condition—having vast fibrosis or cirrhosis—on treatment.”

There are more than 5,400 people in DOC custody with chronic hepatitis C, and more than 99% of them are not receiving treatment. Newly developed medications have a cure rate of 95% or more in clinical trials, but the DOC has been refusing to provide the cure due to its high cost.

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

Memorandum Opinion – Abu-Jamal v. Wetzel

Court Order Granting Preliminary Injunction – Abu-Jamal v. Wetzel