ALC, PILP and ACLU send letter to Allegheny County demanding COVID-19 testing and contact tracing after alarming reports and denied tests

November 24, 2020 

John Bacharach, Esq. 

Counsel for Defendants 

RE: Graham v. Allegheny County 

Dear Counsel, 

We are writing in regard to recent reports of COVID-19 symptoms experienced by persons incarcerated in the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). The reports are especially concerning given the disclosure that 10 ACJ staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and another 50 have been quarantined as close contacts of staff members who have tested positive.

We have received reports that since Friday, November 20, 2020, multiple women incarcerated on  4F and 4E have submitted sick call slips and asked correctional staff to contact medical staff  because they have been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. There has been no response by ACJ despite the fact that at least one of the guards who tested positive was in direct physical contact  with women on 4F on the same day she was placed in quarantine. 

Because you have asked us to provide identifying information so that you can conduct your own  investigation into concerns relayed to us, we are providing details for the following individuals:

• [REDACTED] – On 4F, reports vomiting a couple of days ago, and currently has a  scratchy throat. Gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, are established symptoms of  COVID-19. 
• [REDACTED] – She reportedly has diarrhea, a possible symptom of COVID-19. She  was in a fist fight with [REDACTED] that was broken up by C/O [REDACTED] the  same day C/O [REDACTED] was placed on quarantine. Everyone’s masks were down  during the fight. 
• [REDACTED] – Also has diarrhea, a possible COVID-19 symptom. Was involved in the  fight with [REDACTED] that was broken up by C/O [REDACTED].  
• [REDACTED] – Also on 4F, has had headaches and a scratchy throat.  • [REDACTED] – Also reportedly has symptoms. We have also been informed that correctional officer [REDACTED] tested positive for COVID 19. [REDACTED] works on pod 4F. Officer [REDACTED] was believed to be infected at a  community event at which other staff were present. After these events, C/O [REDACTED] worked at ACJ for two days, during which time [REDACTED] had repeated contacts with ACJ staff and incarcerated people, until [REDACTED] was placed on quarantine on Nov. 20, 2020.  Prior to being placed on quarantine, Officer [REDACTED] broke up a fight between two women  on 4F. We have been told that those two women and their cellmates have been exhibiting  symptoms of the virus. Additionally, it has been reported that incarcerated workers who  distribute meal trays and hygiene products to the people who reside on the housing pod are  exhibiting symptoms of the virus. 

We are further troubled that ACJ has apparently not conducted any contact tracing of Officer’s  [REDACTED]’s interactions with the women incarcerated on level 4, as none of the incarcerated  women have been consulted, advised, or tested by medical staff. 

The jail’s Emergency Preparedness Plan, which must be followed pursuant to the Consent Order  in this matter, provides that testing is recommended in situations that “include, but are not  limited to, a new onset of symptoms (99.0 degrees Fahrenheit or above, respiratory symptoms,  shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of taste/smell).” Emergency Preparedness Plan, p. 10 (emphasis added). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes headache, diarrhea,  nausea, and sore throat – symptoms reportedly experienced by the women named in this letter – as symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, it is critical to note that the availability of testing and the recommendations for  correctional facilities have evolved since the consent order was issued in this case. The  Emergency Preparedness Plan also notes that “As treatment, testing, or vaccinations become  available, a coordinated plan will be developed and executed to reduce further spread of illness.”  Emergency Preparedness Plan, p. 4. As noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, experts at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security’s National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice have urged “widespread and continuous” testing of incarcerated people and staff. This  recommendation was echoed by the CDC in August 2020 when it recommended mass testing in  correctional facilities based on extant research showing such testing to be a critical measure for  protecting public health, limiting transmission of the virus, and mitigating risk. 

We are requesting that the jail test the above-named individuals pursuant to the consent order in  this case. Given the extraordinary rates of COVID-19 in the community at the moment, prudence  and reason also dictate testing everybody on 4F, as well as all other pods where staff who tested positive interacted directly with incarcerated people. We also want to emphasize that decisions  regarding whether to test an individual for COVID-19 are medical decisions and must be made by a trained medical professional. Testing decisions, including decisions not to test, must be documented, and include notes on interviews with incarcerated people and their reported  symptoms. 

Additionally, we are requesting that contact tracing be performed in regard to all incarcerated  people who have been in proximity to staff who have tested positive or are on quarantine. 

Please respond within 24 hours regarding these requests. We are in the midst of the worst public  health crisis of our lifetimes, and time is of the essence.

Respectfully submitted, 

/s/ Sara J. Rose 

Sara J. Rose, Esq. 

PA ID No.: 204936 

/s/ Witold J. Walczak 

Witold J. Walczak, Esq. 

PA ID No.: 62976 

American Civil Liberties Union of  Pennsylvania 

PO Box 23058 

Pittsburgh, PA 15222 

T: (412) 681-7864 (tel.) 

F: (412) 681-8707 

srose@aclupa.org  

vwalczak@aclupa.org  

/s/ Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz 

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Esq. 

PA ID No. 312631 

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project

100 Fifth Ave, Ste. 900 

Pittsburgh, Pa 15222 

T: (412) 434-6175 

amorgan-kurtz@pailp.org  

Attorneys for Petitioners/Plaintiffs 

/s/ Bret Grote 

Bret D. Grote, Esq. 

PA ID No. 317273 

/s/ Jaclyn Kurin 

Jaclyn Kurin, Esq. 

D.C. Bar ID No. 1600719 

/s/ Swain Uber 

Swain Uber, Esq. 

Of Counsel 

PA I.D. No. 323477 

Abolitionist Law Center 

P.O. Box 8654 

Pittsburgh, PA 15221 

T: (412) 654-9070 

bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org  qcozzens@alcenter.org

Prisoners’ Rights Advocates File Class Action Lawsuit Against Allegheny County Over Failed Mental Health Care System at ACJ.

September 15, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
William Lukas, Abolitionist Law Center, wjlukas@alcenter.org
Rebecca Susman, PA Institutional Law Project, rsusman@pailp.org

PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed a class action lawsuit today on behalf of people with psychiatric disabilities incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). The lawsuit alleges severe and systemic constitutional violations, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for the jail’s failure to provide adequate mental health care and its discriminatory and brutal treatment of people with psychiatric disabilities.

The lawsuit asserts that although ACJ houses hundreds of people with psychiatric disabilities, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, ACJ is lacking a functioning mental health care system.   Every aspect of a comprehensive system for mental health care, from intake screening, to medication management, provision of counseling and therapy, suicide prevention, and training is either non-existent or wholly deficient at ACJ.  

“We recognize there are many employees at ACJ who try their best to provide care, yet face an impossible task due to inadequate systems, resources and direction,” said Keith Whitson, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.  “This lawsuit focuses primarily on the illegal systemic failures that make treatment nearly nonexistent, and the frequent imposition of punishment in place of treatment.”

The complaint contends that instead of ensuring proper staff training and adequate mental health staffing levels, or creating policies that provide adequate care, Warden Orlando Harper and Deputy Warden Laura Williams oversee a system that responds to people in mental health crisis with brutal levels of force and solitary confinement. People with psychiatric disabilities are tased, sprayed with OC, beaten, and placed in restraint chairs for several hours for minor infractions and for simply requesting mental health care. They are commonly placed in solitary confinement for weeks and months on end, often without having a hearing, in conditions universally acknowledged by correctional experts, courts and the United Nations as torture.

“An extensive investigation of the conditions at ACJ, including hundreds of interviews of those currently and formerly incarcerated at ACJ as well as former employees, and review of medical records, have reinforced what we already knew–the system of mental health care at ACJ is appallingly and unconstitutionally inadequate,” said Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney for the Abolitionist Law Center.

As a result of the systemic lack of mental health care and discrimination against people with psychiatric disabilities, the jail has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. These dehumanizing conditions leave a lasting impact on communities outside of the jail, primarily Black communities. While Black people only make up 13.4% of the population of Allegheny County, they constitute a striking 61% of those held at ACJ. Most people invariably leave ACJ worse off than they enter it, making it more difficult to re-integrate into their communities and further fueling the cycles of incarceration, poverty, and trauma.

“Allegheny County is failing its most vulnerable communities by incarcerating people with psychiatric disabilities and then refusing to uphold its moral and constitutional obligation to provide treatment,” stated Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Managing Attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.  “Without a complete overhaul of the practices at ACJ, people will continue to suffer long lasting trauma and grievous harm.”

The class action lawsuit seeks to represent all people with psychiatric disabilities who are currently, or will in the future, be held at the Allegheny County Jail. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and names Laura Williams, Orlando Harper, Michael Barfield, and Allegheny County as defendants. The plaintiffs are represented by Bret Grote, Quinn Cozzens, Swain Uber, and Jacklyn Kurin of the Abolitionist Law Center; Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Keith Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

A copy of the complaint is available here:

We Demand Universal Testing at ACJ

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
436 Grant St #101
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Director Debra Bogen, MD
542 Fourth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Warden Orlando Harper
950 Second Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Dear County Executive Fitzgerald, Director Bogen, and Warden Harper:

As you are all aware, there have now been cumulatively 28 positive results for COVID-19 amongst those incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). An additional 5 staff members have also tested positive.

Limiting further spread of COVID-19 within the jail is paramount, but without taking stock of the current situation, other measures will prove to be at best inadequate to curb the outbreak. That is why we, the undersigned, are calling for an immediate implementation of a universal testing policy for the ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to encompass both incarcerated persons and staff.

Social distancing is impossible in correctional facilities, where individuals are confined to their cells, which they often share, and frequently recreate, shower, and take meals in communal settings. According to a recent study [1], closed facilities are more vulnerable to “secondary transmission of COVID-19 and promote superspreading events”. Robust and extensive testing is critical to any comprehensive plan to address the outbreak, limit its transmission, and mitigate its most harmful effects.

Twenty of the 28 positive cases amongst incarcerated persons were announced in the past 10 days. Perhaps more worryingly, the current positive-to-overall-tests ratio is 51%—the recommended benchmark for such a ratio is 10% [2]. Such a high ratio hints there are likely positive cases that remain untested, a worrying indication we will see an explosion of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.

We saw a similar explosion in cases in the Allegheny County Treatment Alternative, an alternative housing facility in the county, where 65% of the residents recently tested positive for COVID-19 (11 of 17, overall). According to information provided by the County, ACTA was following “guidance provided by the Allegheny County Health Department and the CDC as it relates to COVID-19, including educating employees and residents on the virus, stressing personal hygiene and regular hand washing, maintaining facility cleanliness, social/physical distancing, visitor restrictions and the availability of PPE.” The guidance and safeguards proved inadequate at ACTA and without a proper universal testing policy and implementation, it will prove similarly inadequate at ACJ.

To date, 1.7% of the jail’s population has tested positive for COVID-19, yet, only 3.3% of the jail’s population has been tested. The County should immediately implement a policy of universal testing, and conduct tests of every individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and of every staff member who works at the facility.

Many other correctional facilities throughout the country have taken great strides to expand testing, with several realizing universal testing within their facilities [3], and greatly increasing their ability to combat the virus through doing so. Just across the state, Montgomery County Correctional facility recently tested every individual [4] held therein (938 in total). They discovered the contagion was 30 times more widespread than initial testing had shown, and a large majority of those testing positive were asymptomatic. Unfortunately, a similar dynamic is likely to present in Allegheny County, given the 51% rate of positive results.

Yet, Allegheny County is home to multiple world-class hospitals and medical research centers. One of them—UPMC—recently announced it would be instituting universal testing policies [5] for both its patients and employees, including those who display no symptoms. As tests have become more readily available, testing policies have become less restrictive and more expansive to meet the great need. Exemplifying this development, a testing site recently opened in North Philadelphia, which will provide universally-accessible testing [6]: “patients don’t need [to] be presenting symptoms, health insurance isn’t needed, and a doctor’s referral isn’t required.” Such progress seems to be manifesting here as well, as County Spokesperson Amie Downs recently relayed, “the [Jail’s] ability to test [has] expanded, [and] results are turned around more quickly.” [7]

As recently as April 29, 2020, Allegheny County Director of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen, stated that, “Both testing and our capacity to test have also increased in our County…We estimate that we now have the capacity in our own County to do at least 2,000 tests per day [8] …but we expect that this will also increase.” She affirmed that, with regards to testing, “There is availability and capacity in our community, as needed.”

Funding cannot and must not be a limiting factor. Under federal guidance for the use of the CARES Act, received funds can be used for “costs of providing COVID-19 testing, including serological testing” as well as “COVID-19-related expenses of maintaining state prisons and county jails, including as relates to sanitation and improvement of social distancing measures, to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” Furthermore, Allegheny County has had budgetary surpluses over the past several years that would more than account for any costs associated with universal testing.

We, the undersigned, call on Allegheny County, the Health Department, and the jail’s administration to immediately implement a policy of universal testing at ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to protect both those who are detained and those work inside, as well as the greater community more broadly.

————————————————————————————————————–

Signatories:
ORGANIZATIONS
-1Hood
-Abolitionist Law Center
-ACLU of Pennsylvania
-Autonomous Student Coalition
-Bukit Bail Fund
-Casa San Jose
-Green Party of Allegheny County
-Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!
-Jailbreak PGH
-Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
-National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter
-The Nightshade Collective
-Opportunity Fund
-Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates
-Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality
-Pittsburghers for Public Transit
-Prisoner Legal Support Project of University of Pittsburgh School of Law
-Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV)
-Thomas Merton Center
-Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People
-Volunteers with the Allegheny Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
-West End P.O.W.E.R.
-Words Without Walls

ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
-Chelsa Wagner – Allegheny County Controller
-Bethany Hallam – Allegheny County Council, At-Large
-Olivia Bennett – Allegheny County Council, District 13

INDIVIDUALS
-Garret Wassermann, Candidate for State Rep, 45th District
-Darwin Leuba, O’Hara Township Auditor
-Spencer Liberto
-Diana Clarke
-Morgan Foreback
-Isabelle Ouyang
-Jorj Smith
-Krysta Beam
-Johnny Patterson
-Emmy Targosky
-Hana Jimenez
-Melanie Root
-Anna Azizzy Rosati
-Marie Platts
-Emerson O’Donnell
-Yusef Jones
-Jacob Klinger
-Philippa Zang
-Ivy Haffling
-Izzy Monroe
-Rachael Neffshade
-MJ Flott
-Bonnie Fan
-Melissa Bosh
-Tiffany Towns
-Jay Ting Walker
-Michael Kennedy
-Birdie Radford
-Gabriel McMorland
-Daeja Baker
-Terri Minor-Spencer
-Sarah Shotland
-Shandre Delaney
-Richard S. Matesic, Attorney at Law
-Fawn Walker Montgomery
-Jodi Lincoln
-Jake Goodman
-Laura Perkins
-Celena Todora
-Miracle Jones
-Matthew Lamberti
-Nisha Krishnan
-Beth Schongar
-Monica Ruiz
-Jasmine Duncan
-Timothy Gaughan
-Debby Rabold
-Laura Wiens
-Leslie Stem
-Anne Parsons
-Juliette Rando
-Joe Piette
-Lee Markovitz, Attorney at Law
-Stephen Stallings, Esq.
-Michael J. Healey
————————————————————————————————————–

Notes:

[1] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272v2
[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/30/824127807/if-most-of-your-coronavirus-tests-come-back-positive-youre-not-testing-enough
[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/25/coronavirus-testing-prisons-reveals-hidden-asymptomatic-infections/3003307001/
[4] https://www.inquirer.com/news/coronavirus-testing-montgomery-county-jail-asymptomatic-philadelphia-prisons-20200428.html
[5] https://triblive.com/local/regional/upmc-to-test-all-patients-for-covid-19-even-those-without-symptoms/
[6] https://6abc.com/covid19-philly-cases-coronavirus/6133674/
[7] https://www.pittsburghcurrent.com/allegheny-county-jail-reports-11-new-cases-of-covid-in-a-12-hour-period-number-of-infected-climbs-to-19/
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKIRTgHWd5E&feature=youtu.be&t=736

VIEW AND SIGN-ON VIA GOOGLEFORM HERE

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.”

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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