Groups tell Expert Mechanism on Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement: Life imprisonment violates human rights, including bans on torture and racial discrimination
April 28, 2023 – Amid the historic visit of the U.N. Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement, a coalition of civil rights, legal, and prisoners’ rights groups working on the issue of life imprisonment, also known as Death by Incarceration, released the following statement:
We welcome the EMLER experts and the light they are shining on racial injustice in the U.S. criminal legal system and its roots in slavery and colonialism. Our groups work in coalition with other organizations participating in the visit on many interconnected issues – from policing and immigration enforcement to incarceration, political prisoners, and the death penalty – and we welcome EMLER’s examination of all aspects of the U.S. criminal legal system. We hope EMLER’s areas of focus during its visit include life imprisonment, which we call Death by Incarceration (DBI). This is the term people serving these sentences and their loved ones use to emphasize the reality of their impact: premature death in prison.
We urge EMLER to call for an end of DBI sentences in the U.S. They harm not only individuals but entire communities, rupturing family ties and perpetuating intergenerational cycles of poverty and pain. As we wrote in a submission to EMLER – which supplements a complaint sent to U.N experts in September 2022 – DBI sentences are the devastating consequence of a cruel and racially discriminatory criminal legal system that begins with violent policing and ends with the permanent abandonment of people in prisons, where lives – particularly Black lives – are cut short. While in 2020 only 12.4 percent of the U.S. population was Black, 46 percent of all of those serving DBI sentences nationwide were Black.
Though hardly confined to this country, DBI sentences are more prevalent here than anywhere else: a 2019 study found that more people are serving them in the United States than in the other 113 surveyed countries combined, and that people serving life without parole in the United States make up more than 80 percent of those serving it worldwide. The number of people sentenced to DBI in the United States has grown exponentially since the 1970s, helping to drive mass incarceration. In 2020, 203,865 people were serving DBI sentences. Compounding this rise is the large decrease in grants of clemency and the increasing uncertainty of parole.
DBI sentences are a form of torture. Any sentence that deprives incarcerated people of a meaningful opportunity for release is cruel and inhuman, in violation of the international prohibition on torture. People sentenced to life without parole have no meaningful prospect of release. While people sentenced to other forms of DBI may be technically eligible for parole, parole processes across the United States fail to meet basic human rights standards and cannot be considered meaningful opportunities for release.
Though billed as a crime-fighting tactic, DBI sentences do not, in fact, make communities safer; rather, they divert resources away from systems and approaches that do. Rooted in the legacy of slavery and racial hierarchy, these sentences are common in the United States precisely because they disproportionately harm Black people and Black communities. We have seen the U.N. influence the debate and policy in the United States on crucial human rights issues. It was U.N. leadership that, for example, contributed to the momentum for change on long-term solitary confinement. We believe EMLER has the capacity and the mandate to do the same on Death by Incarceration.
January 26, 2023, Pittsburgh: The Abolitionist Law Center is demanding that the Allegheny County Jail provide immediate medical care for Denzelle Kendrick, a medically vulnerable individual currently incarcerated at the facility.
Mr. Kendrick has suffered his entire life from sickle cell disease, which often results in severe episodes of pain that can develop into seizures, stroke, and death if untreated. Dr. Ines Kanandra reportedly discontinued Mr. Kendrick’s prescribed pain medications in August 2022, leading to numerous such pain episodes for Mr. Kendrick. In total, he reports approximately 30 such episodes and 6 seizures since he was transferred to ACJ in July 2022. In all of these instances, correctional staff and/or medical staff have, at best, an extremely delayed response. Often, there is no medical response at all.
“The jail is withholding medication for his life threatening illness that he was born with, Sickle Cell,” said Cadiadra Kendrick, mother of Denzelle Kendrick. “I had to watch a YouTube where three medical emergencies were called and no medical aid was rendered while my child was unresponsive. This is totally neglectful.”
The videos Cadiadra Kendrick describes were uploaded by another incarcerated individual, James Byrd, and depict an incident on or around December 4, 2022 wherein Mr. Kendrick requested to be seen immediately by medical staff due to feeling on the verge of an impending sickle cell pain episode. He was ignored by medical staff until his situation had become so severe that he had to be taken out in a stretcher, despite laying on the floor of his cell unresponsive for over an hour.
“It is concerning that, but for the leaked videos, we would never have learned of Mr. Kendrick’s situation,” said ALC Staff Attorney Dolly Prabhu. “It’s clear that ACJ appears more focused on punishing anyone who makes them look bad rather than providing anything resembling adequate medical care. There are, undeniably, countless others with similar experiences who the public will never hear about.”
Due to the grossly inadequate medical response in these incidences, and the jail’s failure to provide Mr. Kendrick with his prescribed medications, we sent the attached letter to Warden Harper’s counsel, an assistant county solicitor, on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, demanding appropriate care moving forward and an investigation into Dr. Kanandra’s conduct.
See below for the full letter with additional details.
As I reflect upon my two-year anniversary as the Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, I am compelled to think about what has changed and the work we have left to do – as an abolitionist organization and as a decarceral movement.
Today, we bear – in real time – collective witness to the state-sponsored retrenchment of basic human rights amid a literal coup on democracy. At the same time, in Philadelphia and cities across the country, we watch as the response to gun violence parrots the racist dog whistling of the 1990s that has promoted a return to law and order – obscuring the profound impact COVID-19 and its attendant economic crises have had on our communities. In some ways, particularly in public discourse, the world feels not unlike 1990 when I was sent to prison on a life sentence without parole as a sixteen-year-old child offender. Yet, in other critical ways, I am emboldened with a sense of possibility, if not for any other reason but because ALC exists and exists in a movement that takes its lead from those of us who survived through “life is life,” through years in solitary confinement, and through numerous iterations of state-sponsored violence that attempted to break our quest for liberation.
In 1990, my mother was one of the many mothers whose children were stolen as a part of the rise of the carceral state. My mom was my first advocate. She spent hours upon hours calling the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the ACLU, and other organizations trying to find anyone who would help her fight against my life sentence. Inevitably, we had to help ourselves.
There were seven of us who founded the Human Rights Coalition in 2001 from behind the walls of a prison, an organization of incarcerated peoples and their families. At the time, none of us thought we would ever see freedom. By 2013, when I was first introduced to ALC, we had built solidarity in prisons and communities throughout the state and ALC would represent many of us. Now, only two of our cohort remain inside. Our fight will continue until we all see the other side of prison bars. And then our work will continue anew. One critical difference, however, is now, mothers need not look any further than ALC. We exist so that no mother is alone in this struggle to release our sons and daughters from a system designed to oppress Black, brown, and poor people. I understand why so many of us in this moment want to spend our time imagining a future- because the present is filled with brutality. And yet, for ALC, the work must remain focused on the fight ahead. Ours is a protracted struggle for liberation as we dismantle the carceral state and state-sponsored repression that keeps our people tethered to shackles – be it prison or poverty. In the words of our ancestors, “A luta continua” – the struggle continues.
– Robert Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director • August 5, 2022
Friends and family members of Abolitionist Law Center client John ‘Yahya’ Moore launched their official supporter campaign on social media for the 49 year-old Philadelphian on his birthday last week. Moore, who also goes by Yahya, was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death by incarceration (life without parole) 26 years ago.
Yahya currently studies law and has worked as a legal reference aid, attended and facilitated peer-to-peer group workshops ranging from Alternatives to Violence, Just Listening (listening justly), Let’s Circle Up (restorative justice), and others. He is also attending courses thru Villanova University while in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree.
Join the movement to bring our client home by following @FreeJohnMoore on Twitter and Instagram.
Over 60 judicial misconduct complaints filed against Judge Anthony Mariani as ALC releases report detailing Mariani’s abusive, racist behavior and roles of Pittsburgh policing, probation, and punishment systems in death of Gerald Thomas
The 48-page report authored by ALC Staff Attorney Dolly Prabhu connects the death of 26 year-old Gerald Thomas to the racialized violence of Allegheny County institutions and state actors, “Pittsburgh City Police, County Probation, County Courts, and the County Jail all contributed to the manner of Mr. Thomas’s death. At each phase, racism likely played a role in Mr. Thomas’s arrest and continued detention. And, at each phase, common sense reforms could have prevented his needless incarceration and perhaps even his death.”
Prabhu examines how instruments of policing and punishment including pretextual traffic stops and pretrial detention, and the use of probation detainers and solitary confinement, support the maintenance of local “death-making institutions,” a term coined by abolitionist Mariame Kaba.
According to the report, Black people made up 23% of the Pittsburgh population in 2019, yet accounted for 63% of all arrests carried out by the Pittsburgh Police. Roughly 38% of the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) population currently has a county probation detainer lodged against them, while only 6% of all individuals held at ACJ are actually serving a sentence for a crime committed (the rest are awaiting trial or some other proceeding). Since March 2020, at least 14 people have died at ACJ. The warden of ACJ, who is a defendant in several lawsuits filed by ALC, ranging from excessive force to medical neglect, has been called to resign by both his own staff and impacted community community members like Juana Suanders, the mother of Gerald Thomas.
Saunders spoke out against Warden Harper and Judge Mariani last month at a press conference and the monthly Jail Oversight Board meeting, days after local media reported that she had filed her own judicial misconduct complaint against Mariani.
Mariani is a focal point in the report; his probation detainer lodged against Gerald Thomas kept Thomas incarcerated at ACJ (in solitary confinement) for nearly a year prior to his death, on the basis of charges that were the product of illegal police conduct, and were eventually dropped. Prabhu says, probation detainers, “serve virtually no justifiable public safety purpose. Instead, the courts’ overuse of this tool keeps the Allegheny County Jail full, and ensures that a large proportion of those on probation will be trapped in destabilizing and traumatic cycles of incarceration and supervision.”
In addition to illustrating the unconstitutional, overuse of probation detainers by local Judge Mariani, Prabhu accentuates Mariani’s violations of the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct, “Defendants on supervision with Judge Mariani are punished for mere allegations: they are detained for months at minimum and ultimately must endure verbal abuse in open court before there is any hope for release.”
From March 2021 to March 2022, Prabhu and volunteers with ALC Court Watch observed Mariani’s court proceedings and recorded countless instances of Mariani verbally abusing defendants, attorneys, and his own staff, demonstrating a lack of understanding of relevant legal standards, and making racist comments about Black defendants’ physiques.
Statements made by Mariani featured in the report emphasize the judge’s racist stereotyping of Black men: “They’re all nice guys… Did you leave your halo in your cells?” Mariani said mockingly to a defense attorney who asserted his client’s good character. In one case, Maraini asked a defendant, “You look pretty meaty, how many pushups can you do without stopping?” In another hearing, the judge indicated that there was nothing stopping a “six foot tall 180 lb lean and mean man from using that weapon—his body—on other people.”
Prabhu, who was present at Gerald Thomas’s Gagnon II hearing writes, “One of the last comments Judge Mariani made during this hearing is particularly chilling in light of Mr. Thomas’s subsequent death in ACJ, evoking vivid racist imagery from this country’s past and present.” According to official court transcripts, Mariani declared to Thomas, “I don’t want to see you dead in the street on Friday or any other day of the week, but you won’t quit. I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you because you won’t quit.”
The report concludes by calling for an investigation and sanctioning of Judge Mariani by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania, in addition to implementing organized abolitionist interventions that will save lives. This includes removing police from traffic enforcement and prohibiting the use of split sentences, along with decarcerating ACJ and abolishing probation detainers for individuals who have been deemed bailable or merely accused of technical violations.
Currently there are no local or state level rules that address probation detainers, yet over a third of the ACJ population is held on some sort of probation detainer.
The appendix of the report includes summaries of the 62 judicial misconduct complaints filed by ALC Court Watch in which Mariani is likely in violation of the PA Judicial Code of Conduct. The Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania is based in Harrisburg and received the complaints by mail on June 27th.
Read the report, “Death-Making Institutions’: How Police, Probation and the Judiciary Caused Gerald Thomas to Die in Jail” in the embedded PDF viewer below or download directly here
Over the past four months, ALC’s passionate lawyers and organizers have waged major advances in our abolitionist litigation and movement-building across Pennsylvania. In the face of reactionary politicians and racial capitalism’s compounding crises that leave our most vulnerable community members subject to increased brutality and neglect, we remain steadfast in our mission to bring people home and create life-affirming alternatives to the punishment system. Read up on the dynamic ways we are carrying out abolition by visiting the hyperlinked content below.
McCray v. Allegheny County– After a year of being routinely denied medical care, outside treatment, and prescribed medical devices inside Allegheny County Jail, 26-year-old Clayton McCray was forced to have a below the knee amputation. Represented by ALC Staff Attorney Jaclyn Kurin, Clayton is now suing the ACJ Medical Director, medical staff, and former Deputy Warden, Laura Williams, for ADA violations, unconstitutional medical care, and medical malpractice. Check out the filed complaint and Clayton’s GoFundMe, along with interviews of Clayton and Jaclyn here.
Scott v. PA Board of Probation and Parole– With support from Amistad Law Project and Center for Constitutional Rights, ALC Legal Director Bret Grote traveled to Pittsburgh to present an oral argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of our clients challenging the lifetime ban on parole for those sentenced to death by incarceration (DBI) for “felony murder”. After the lower courts ruled against our clients last year, citing lack of jurisdiction, Grote urged the PA Supreme Court to overturn this decision and allow the case – and the voices of the over 1,100 people serving DBI sentences for felony murder in PA – to be heard. Learn more about this historic case here and read the play-by-play of the April oral argument in Pittsburgh City Paper.
Compassionate release for Bradford Gamble – ALC Staff Attorney Rupalee Rashatwar successfully petitioned for the freedom of Bradford Gamble, an elder living with late-stage cancer who had been incarcerated for more than 40 years. Under a 2009 statute, a terminally ill incarcerated individual in Pennsylvania can be transferred from a state prison to a home or hospital setting – but only with the caveat that they forgo life-saving treatment for their debilitating illness. Following Gamble’s homecoming, Rupalee said, “We must bring our medically vulnerable elders, like Mr. Gamble, home. His case is one that truly demonstrates how cruel and callous the prison medical system can be towards a dying man. Reforming our laws so that more of our elders can access this kind of relief must be an urgent priority for us all.” Learn more about the restrictions of compassionate release and Bradford Gamble’s return home in Spotlight PAandWorkers World.
ALC in Harrisburg– Sustained opposition to the deceitful probation reform bill SB 913 and mounting legislative interest in meaningful bail reforms continued this spring. Introduced last year, SB913 has drawn fierce protest from “virtually all of the major decerceral grassroots orgs” in Pennsylvania. While Dolly Prabhu, John Thompson, and Robert Saleem Holbrook of ALC educated elected officials on the harms of the bill, ALC Movement Director, Autumn Redcross, testified before the PA House Democratic Policy Committee. Autumn informed legislators of how cash bail and pretrial detention function as forms of racialized punishment. Watch Autumn’s full testimony on YouTube, and read Dolly’s op-ed denouncing SB 913 here.
Shakaboona is FREE! –On May 11th, after over 30 years in prison, incarcerated since 1998 when he was just 17-years-old, ALC client, friend, and comrade, Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall stepped out into the free world. Resentenced to time served, Shakaboona’s hard fought freedom signals a huge victory for inside-outside family organizing in Pennsylvania. Shakaboona and his mother, Patricia Vickers, co-founded the Human Rights Coalition in 2000 alongside other incarcerated community members, including ALC’s Executive Director, Robert Saleem Holbook. ALC Legal Director and Shakaboona’s lawyer, Bret Grote, began volunteering with HRC in 2007 and six years later Bret co-founded ALC with ALC Director of Operations, Dustin McDaniel. Read more about Shakaboona’s freedom struggle in this blog post by Amistad Law Project.
2022 Prison Law & Advocacy Conference (PLAC) – At the biennial conference in Chicago, ALC Co-Founder and Director of Operations, Dustin McDaniel, presented on ALC’s innovative litigation and coalition-building strategies that stopped the construction of the most expensive proposed federal prison in US history from being built in Kentucky in 2019. ALC Board President, Jamelia Morgan, who was named 2022 Professor of the Year at University of California-Irvine School of Law, also presented on her disability justice work, while ALC Paralegal, Jonas Cabellero, presented on his pro-se litigation.
Justice for Gerald Thomas – On June 2nd, ALC joined the family and friends of Gerald Thomas, alongside victims and survivors of Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in Pittsburgh to call attention to both the ongoing crises of deaths and medical neglect overseen by Warden Orlando Harper, and the racist judicial misconduct deployed by local Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani. The event took place just days after Juana Sanders, the mother of Gerald Thomas, went public with her judicial misconduct filing against Mariani. Thomas was 26 years old when he died in ACJ on March 6, 2022 – 17 days after Judge Mariani chose to keep Thomas trapped inside ACJ despite all of his charges being dropped. More info on the misconduct complaint against Mariani, along with media coverage from the rally and Jail Oversight Board meeting that followed available here.
Howard v. Williams – After a 20-month investigation, ALC lawyers and co-counsel, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP), and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, filed a motion in federal court seeking authorization to pursue class action relief for all incarcerated people at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) requiring mental health care now and in the future. The motion contains compelling evidence that AJC has been violating the rights of incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities by failing to provide them with proper treatment and subjecting them to prolonged solitary confinement and routine excessive force. Read the press release on the motion here and visit our Howard v. Williams case page.
Juneteenth Bailout! – ALC Court Watch’s first-ever Juneteenth Bailout was a huge success thanks to the hard work of volunteers in Pittsburgh. Court watchers observed dozens of preliminary bail hearings throughout the 48-hour event, surveilling local judges’ behavior, and coordinating with local bail funds to get neighbors out of pretrial detention. Aftercare volunteers gave out bus passes, snacks, Lyft rides and more to those released from Allegheny County Jail. Check out ALC Court Watch on Mobilize for upcoming events and trainings.
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ALC uses two main tactics in our fight for freedom: public interest litigation, and grassroots community organizing.
We get people out of jail and prison. We work to protect people who are still inside. We strive to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated in the first place. And we extract financial resources from carceral institutions and redirect them to the people the system has harmed.
Since our founding in 2013, we’ve been notching groundbreaking progress on winning the release of people serving multi-decade sentences, curtailing the use of solitary confinement, ending death by incarceration (life without parole), mandating appropriate care for incarcerated people with psychiatric and other disabilities, and protecting the rights and wellbeing of people inside in a host of other ways.
And in all that we do, we center the leadership of and take direction from those who are directly impacted by the criminal punishment system, especially people who are currently or formerly incarcerated and their loved ones.
We know that those who are most impacted by state violence must lead the fight to end it. But we also know that we need the backing and support of a broad community.
“This collection of poems gives a raw and emotional insight into the far-reaching and soul crushing effects of a carceral system that disproportionately targets Black men. By using a mix of free verse poetry and narratives crafted through real redacted court transcripts, Betts gives readers a fresh but heartbreaking look into the way formerly incarcerated individuals navigate life forever changed by incarceration. Felon: Poems will have the reader cycling through moments of grief, anger, humor, inspiration, and hope as Betts lays bare the true cost of incarceration.”
“I was drawn to this book as someone whose work involves elevating the stories of folks impacted by and working to transform the criminal punishment system which overwhelmingly targets Black and Brown people. Out of the Sun focuses on Black representation in visual art, literature, and film, filtered through the intimate lens of the author’s lived experience as a Black Canadian who has held fellowships in the U.S., Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium. The book examines historical and current events and works of art as it explores ‘what happens when we begin to consider stories at the margins, when we grant them centrality,’ and how that affects ‘our certainties about who we are, as individuals, as nations, as human beings.’”
“Are Prisons Obsolete? was one of the first books I read in the prison abolition canon. Professor Davis’s focus on social movements throughout history showed me that another world is possible. The book highlights that through the work of the people, we can make these present systems untenable to bring forth new horizons.”
“This collection of poems is dedicated to ‘children and the women, like [herself] who struggled to reason bringing them into this world.’ Monet’s poems don’t turn away from the violence and traumas that often make it feel hard to care for each other, but her belief in the powers of ‘risk and ruthless radical love’ provides optimism and a vision of a better future. A future where we hold each other with care and nurturance.”
“This is the textbook for anyone who wants to understand what the abolitionist organizing movement is about. This book compiles a series of essays that delve into the heart of prison abolition and that center important questions like what accountability and transformative justice can look like and how the current system does nothing to deliver on those promises. You’ll also find tips in here for evaluating police ‘reformist reforms’ that ought to be opposed, and frameworks for how we can organize against prisons, policing, and the criminal punishment system . For anyone who wants to learn more about practical ways to organize around abolition, who wants to find and explore answers to commonly asked questions or concerns about the prison abolitionist movement, I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book.”
– Rupalee Rashatwar, Staff Attorney
HELP US FIGHT THE ALT-RIGHT
Pennsylvania is not only home to some of the most extreme carceral practices in the nation, it’s also a key battleground in this country’s urgent, existential struggle against the surging alt-Right.
We’re fighting with everything we’ve got to resist the rise of bold-faced racism and fascism that’s threatening to strip away our hard won rights and set us back decades in our collective movement for freedom and equality for all.
We’re wielding groundbreaking litigation to protect and liberate incarcerated people. We’re mounting pressure campaigns and mobilizing affected communities. And we’re reshaping the narratives around the criminal punishment system, and targeting every point on its conveyor belt, including policing, the courts, cash bail, probation, parole, jails, and prisons.
The motion contains compelling evidence obtained during an exhaustive 20-month period of discovery that Allegheny County has been violating the rights of incarcerated people with psychiatric disabilities by failing to provide them with proper treatment and subjecting them to prolonged solitary confinement and routine excessive force.
“ACJ is failing to provide any meaningful mental health care to those in its custody, and in many cases is actually punishing individuals for seeking help,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “We have seen evidence that people incarcerated at ACJ have suffered as the staff at best turned a blind eye and at other times assaulted individuals for manifestations of their mental illness. Their conditions have worsened and ACJ’s already high suicide completion and attempt rates have continued to increase. It’s absolutely intolerable and inhumane.”
Through this Motion, Plaintiffs seek to certify a class of individuals defined as:
All individuals currently or in the future incarcerated at Allegheny County Jail and who have, or will in the future have, a serious mental health diagnosis, disorder or disability as recognized in the DSM-V, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.
The brief in support of the motion provides extensive evidence that ACJ fails to meet state and national standards for the provision of mental healthcare in virtually every aspect- grossly insufficient mental health staffing; minimal or non-existent training; ineffective intake procedures that fail to identify patient need; insufficient treatment plans; lack of counseling or therapy; and no quality improvement program to assess their own policies and practices. Instead of mental health care, ACJ uses force at rates that are far and away the highest in the entire Commonwealth. According to County data provided by Defendants, ACJ had 585 incidents involving use of force in 2020 and 720 such incidents in 2019. The next highest county in Pennsylvania each of those years had fewer than half that number of incidents
“This comprehensive investigation of the conditions at ACJ has reinforced what we already knew–the staff at ACJ is woefully unprepared and the system of mental health care at ACJ is appallingly and unconstitutionally inadequate,” said Jaclyn Kurin, staff attorney for the Abolitionist Law Center.
If granted, plaintiffs will be able to seek a court order providing remedies for unlawful policies and practices on behalf of all those with mental health conditions at ACJ.
Howard v. Williams is a class-action lawsuit filed 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 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 Jaclyn Kurin of the Abolitionist Law Center; Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz and Richardo Brown-Whitt of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Keith Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.
About Us: The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is a nonprofit law firm fighting to defend prisoners and abolitionists, and a community organizing project aiming to build a world without police and prisons. Our work is currently based in Pennsylvania, where we have sued the Department of Corrections, local jails, and the Commonwealth to defend prisoners from abuse and to win release for as many people as possible. Our organizing work is statewide and focused on abolishing the use of solitary confinement and ending life without parole sentences (aka death by incarceration), among other things. As the movement to end racist state violence and abolish police and prisons has grown, so has our work.
Position Overview: The Abolitionist Law Center is hiring a full-time paralegal for our Pittsburgh office. The paralegal will assist our legal department in managing correspondence with incarcerated people, tracking human rights violations in jails and prisons, and assisting in litigation. The paralegal will work with incarcerated clients and their communities and advocates to challenge state violence in all its forms and contribute to building powerful movements for liberation.
· Manage, database, and respond to correspondence from incarcerated people.
· Work with ALC attorneys on litigation-related tasks, including organizing and reviewing discovery, conducting research, and assisting with client communication.
· Visits with clients and potential clients who are incarcerated.
· Assist in investigations into conditions of confinement in jails and prisons in Pennsylvania.
· Attending weekly staff meetings, providing feedback to leadership and staff to improve organizational effectiveness.
· Commitment to an abolitionist politics and movement-lawyering approach to our work that seeks to replace punitive justice with healing justice, promotes decarceration and the elimination of the use of jails/prisons to deal with social problems, and centers the political agency and organizing activity of those individuals and communities most impacted by the criminal legal system.
· Exceptional organizational skills, capable of maintaining voluminous case and correspondence files.
· Able to track, organize, and respond to a large amount of correspondence.
· Excellent writing ability.
· Legal research skills are a plus.
Salary and Benefits: This position will be based in Pittsburgh and is expected to require both remote (work-from-home) and in-person (office) work. The starting salary for the paralegal position is $50,000 per year, with a health insurance benefit of up to $450/month and 35 days (280hrs) of paid time off annually.
Reports to: Legal Director
Start date: July 1, 2022 – open until filled. *Flexible start, early to mid July.
Application Process: Please send your resume, three professional references, and a detailed cover letter explaining your interest in the position as a single PDF to email@example.com.
Applications will be accepted and reviewed on a rolling basis. This position remains open until filled. Applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible to receive priority consideration.
Abolitionist Law Center is an equal opportunity employer. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, women, LGBTQI-GNC people, and formerly incarcerated people are strongly encouraged to apply.
To learn more about our staff and board members, click here.
Location: City County Building at 414 Grant St, Pittsburgh, PA 15219
PITTSBURGH – This Thursday, the family of Gerald Thomas, alongside victims and survivors of Allegheny County Jail (ACJ), will gather on the steps Pittsburgh’s City County Building to call attention to both the ongoing crises of deaths and medical neglect overseen by Warden Orlando Harper, and the racist judicial misconduct deployed by local Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani.
Mariani’s probation detainer kept Thomas incarcerated at ACJ for almost a year prior to his death on the basis of charges that were the product of illegal police conduct. Instead of lifting Thomas’ probation detainer during a February 17th probation hearing and releasing him from ACJ, Mariani decided to keep Thomas incarcerated. He justified this decision by using anti-Black racist dog whistles and illegally obtained evidence, thereby openly defying a 2016 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that held evidence obtained via an illegal search is inadmissible in probation proceeding.
Judge Mariani’s racist retribution towards Thomas was most exemplified by his statement, “I don’t want to see you dead in the street on Friday or any other day of the week, but you won’t quit. I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you because you won’t quit.” Community members can read all of Mariani’s remarks in the official court transcript of the February Gagnon II hearing here.
The death of Gerald Thomas is one of three known deaths to occur at ACJ this year. At least fourteen people have died under Warden Harper’s watch since the beginning of the pandemic. During a March 7th press conference, the day after Thomas died, his familyrevealedthat they were not notified by Harper or the jail surrounding Thomas’ condition, but instead, received news via an incarcerated individual that, “Thomas had collapsed, hit his head and was unresponsive.” When his family called the jail but they were refused information about whether Thomas was hospitalized or ACJ, whether he was dead or alive.
Allegheny County Jail’s next of kin policy and how the Jail Oversight Board (JOB) is notified of medical emergencies and deaths have come under fire over the past year. Speakers at Thursday’s rally, including members of the Abolitionist Law Center, 1Hood, and Alliance for Police Accountability will call for policy changes in how jail staff respond to incarcerated individuals’ requests for medical attention, and how emergency contacts and impacted family members are notified.
Allegheny County Jail has one of the highest suicide rates of local jails in the nation and in 2019,had more uses of force than any other jail in Pennsylvania. Since 2020, sustained pressure from community groups and mounting lawsuits filed by prisoners’ rights groups like ALC have exposed how incarcerated community members under Warden Harper’s administration are not only routinely denied adequate medical and mental healthcare, but are also violently brutalized and endure solitary confinement as a form of punishment.
Attendees for Thursday’s event are asked to wear white shirts in solidarity with Gerald Thomas’ family and loved ones lost to ACJ. Following the rally and press conference, participants are encouraged to join families and advocates at the monthly JOB Meeting at 4pm (436 Grant St, Allegheny County Courthouse, 4th Fl Gold Room), where they will provide public comment to Warden Orlando Harper and JOB members.
Comrade, client, and human rights activist Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall – imprisoned since age 17 – is free after more than 33 years!
At approximately 10:30 am yesterday morning, Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall walked out of the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia and into the free world.
Imprisoned in 1988 as a 17-year-old child and sentenced to death by incarceration in 1990, Shakaboona’s hard fought freedom marks a huge victory for inside-outside family organizing in Pennsylvania that began with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) in 2000.
Shakaboona and his mother, Patricia Vickers, co-founded HRC in 2000 alongside other incarcerated and impacted community members, including ALC’s current Executive Director, Robert Saleem Holbook, who was imprisoned at SCI-Huntingdon at the time. ALC Legal Director and Shakaboona’s lawyer, Bret Grote, began volunteering with HRC in 2007 and six years later he co-founded ALC.
As a result of landmark Supreme Court cases Miller (2012) and Montgomery (2016) that deemed mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, Shakaboona was resentenced in 2018 to 29-to-life. Upon parole in 2021, he was transferred to federal custody to serve time on a federal sentence of 110 months imposed in 2001. That sentence was revised to time served in federal court last week after a successful petition under the federal First Step Act.
His freedom is a testament to a protracted struggle led by Shakaboona himself and his mother Patricia, collaborating with impacted families and allied abolitionist lawyers at ALC, Amistad Law Project, and All Rise Law, who’ve fought tirelessly against unconstitutional sentencing schemes such as “juvenile life without parole,” and to protect loved ones against abuse, censorship, and medical neglect while centering the mission of bringing ALL lifers – like Shakaboona – home to their communities. In an uncommon judicial decision in March 2022, a federal judge cited Shakaboona’s work with prison and political advocacy organizations, including HRC and ALC, as evidence of rehabilitation justifying re-sentencing along with other factors.
From within the confines of a prison cell, Shakaboona co-founded the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) and HRC’s The Movement magazine. He’s held numerous leadership positions: VP of the PA Lifers Association at SCI-Huntingdon, Committee Chairperson of the NAACP Graterford Branch, President of the Paraprofessional Law Clinic at SCI-Graterford, and Secretary of the Regents Betterment Organization at SCI-Mahanoy. To date, Shakaboona has published over 120 commentaries on Prison Radio and was also a lead plaintiff (alongside Saleem and Mumia Abul Jamal) in ALC’s 2015 lawsuit that successfully overturned a state statute that would’ve silenced prisoner free speech and censored publications of incarcerated peoples’ writings.
ALC’s Legal Director, Bret Grote, noted: “Shakaboona’s family and his movement family packed the courtroom wall-to-wall and showed by their presence and participation that further incarceration was not warranted. They came to court to request that Shakaboona, who has given himself in tireless service to our movement, be returned to us and the judge was more than happy to oblige.”
Today is a proud and emotional day for our movement. We continue to be inspired by the unrelenting activism of Shakaboona and his mother Patricia.