Media Release: Janet and Janine Africa are paroled after forty years of incarceration!!!

The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to share that Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9 have been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, the MOVE sisters were finally released on parole from SCI Cambridge Springs and are now with family and friends. The sisters have been battling for their freedom after being consistently denied parole for a decade despite an impeccable disciplinary record and extensive record of mentorship and community service during their time in prison.

Following their 2018 parole denial, attorneys from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office filed petitions for habeas corpus seeking their release from prison. The habeas petitions challenged their parole denials on the grounds that the decisions were arbitrary and lacking in any evidence that janet or Janine presented a risk to public safety. Under pressure from litigation and with a court date for May 28 looming, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) granted Janet and Janine parole on May 14, 2019, just one day after the anniversary of the notorious May 13, 1985 bombing of the MOVE home.

“The release of Janet and Janine is a victory not only for them and their loved ones, but also for the MOVE Organization and the movement to free all political prisoners,” said attorney Brad Thomson of People’s Law Office. “Janet and Janine were excellent candidates for parole. They have been described by DOC staff as model prisoners and neither of them has had a single disciplinary incident in over twenty years. While in prison, they have participated in community fundraisers, and social programs, including training service dogs. They are remarkable women to deserve to be free.”

Like Debbie and Mike Africa, who were released last year, Janet and Janine are now able to experience holding their loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. The release of Janet and Janine after forty years is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.

Three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck, Delbert and Eddie Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Chuck, Delbert and Eddie in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.

Press Contact:

Mike Africa Jr.,MikeAfricaJr [at] gmail.com

Brad Thomson bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com 773-297-9689

 

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

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

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

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

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

Wear Your Support for ALC !!!

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is proud to announce we have merchandise!!!! Many of you have asked for innovative ways to support us, as we near our sixth year of existence. So, we have partnered with a local vendor to bring you a wide array of clothing options to allow you to wear your support for ALC whenever you can.

The online store is only available until the 8th of May so make your purchase today. As always, thank you for your support. #ALC #abolitionnow #wearyoursupport #somethingnew #merch ONLY available til May 8, 2019.

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

Petition for Allowance of Appeal Filed on Behalf of Avis Lee to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

#FreeAvisLee

For Immediate Release

(Pittsburgh) In following the recommendations of the Superior Court, Attorneys on behalf of Avis Lee filed Petition for Allowance of Appeal  to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in order continue fighting for her freedom. Just after her eighteenth birthday, Avis was an accomplice to a robbery gone wrong that resulted in the death of another. As a result, she was given a mandatory life sentence as a result, even though she possessed no intent to murder and utilized subsequent remedial measures to help the victim.

The groundbreaking petition seeks to not only bring Avis home, but also create a framework for other young adults who are similarly situated to have a chance before the parole board to earn an opportunity at redemption. While mandatory life without parole (LWOP) or as we call it death by incarceration (DBI) continues to plague the Commonwealth.

… the questions presented challenge the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s sentencing statute for second-degree murder, which violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as applied to Petitioner. Due to the weight of these considerations both individually and in combination, this Court should grant this Petition for Allowance of Appeal and address the questions presented for review herein.

We hope that our petition sets the ground work for a way out of the DBI sentencing structure as it has a disproportionate impact on Black defendants. Moreover, it ignores the rehabilitative impacts made by those who have spent decades behind bars.

Avis is a remarkable person who deserves to see her family and friends outside the confines of prison walls. We are simply asking for the right to have a judge evaluate evidence that demonstrates this, and determine for the first time whether she should spend the rest of her life in prison or have the opportunity to come home.~Quinn Cozzens, Abolitionist Law Center

In conjunction with said petition, The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems filed an amicus brief in support of the petition relying on a multitude of arguments including how the construction and implementation of a right found by the Supreme Court of the United States should guide this case.

The Abolitionist Law Center represents Avis, along with Duquesne Law School Professor Tiffany Sizemore and University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Jules Lobel.

 


Press Contact:

Miracle Jones
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
communications@alcenter.org

Media Release: Civil Rights Groups and PA Department of Corrections Near Settlement of Lawsuit Over Legal Mail

February 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – Lawyers for four civil rights organizations and one person who is currently incarcerated announced today that they are finalizing the details of a settlement of their lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of copying and storing legal mail. The four organizations challenging the policy issued the following statement in response to the developments in the case:

“We appreciate that the department has agreed that, beginning April 6, they will stop copying and storing prisoners’ legal mail. The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department’s efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”

The organizational plaintiffs, Pennsylvania’s four largest prisoners’ rights groups, are the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP). Volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, led by partner Keith Whitson, are also representing the plaintiffs. PILP, et al. v. Wetzel was combined with another challenge, Hayes v. Wetzel, which was brought by Davon Hayes, who is a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon.

More information is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

Media Alert: Trial Begins in Challenge to State Prisons’ Legal Mail Policy

February 19, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT: Andy Hoover, media@aclupa.org, 717-236-6827 x213

Miracle Jones, communications@alcenter.org, 412-346-6537

Rebecca Susman, rsusman@pailp.org, 412-434-6004

 

HARRISBURG – The trial in two lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania state prison system’s policy of copying and storing mail between lawyers and their clients who are incarcerated began today in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg. The two lawsuits – one brought by four prisoners’ rights organizations and the other by a person who is incarcerated – ask the court to overturn the practice by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) as a violation of the confidentiality guaranteed between lawyers and their clients, as protected by the First Amendment.

 

The department altered its process for incoming legal mail last fall, triggering the lawsuits. Under the new practice, legal mail is opened in the presence of the intended recipient and copied. The prisoner is given the copy while the prison stores the original for at least 45 days.

 

“The right to confidentiality between a lawyer and their client is fundamental,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “The DOC has compromised that basic right with its policy.

 

“The bar for limiting First Amendment rights is extremely high, and the department has not met that standard. They’re not even close.”

 

The organizational plaintiffs in Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, et al. v. Wetzel are the Abolitionist Law Center, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. All of the organizations have stopped communicating by mail with people who are incarcerated, based on advice from legal ethicists. The organizations are also representing Davon Hayes, a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon whose communication with his lawyers representing him in his federal appeal has been compromised.

 

“The DOC’s policy of photocopying and retaining legal mail is the only one of its kind in the country,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “It is a solution in search of a problem, and we intend to prove it utterly lacking in justification.”

 

The lawsuit is a first-of-its-kind civil rights challenge. The plaintiffs are not aware of any other state prison system that copies and stores legal mail in the same way. Federal district court Judge John E. Jones III is presiding over the trial.

 

“Our ability to send confidential mail is essential to our representation of people incarcerated throughout Pennsylvania,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “Our clients need to know that our discussions of sensitive matters such as medical care and sexual assault will not be compromised by the DOC.”

 

The legal mail policy is part of a broader set of changes to mail processing in Pennsylvania’s state prison system. The Department of Corrections now requires non-legal mail to be sent to a facility in Florida, where the mail is scanned and then emailed to the prison that houses the intended recipient.

 

The trial in the two cases is expected to last about a week. More information, including relevant legal documents, is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

 

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Media Alert: All Charges Dropped Against Blak Rapp Madusa

The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce that all charges against Blak Rapp Madusa were dismissed on Thursday as our Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was granted by Judge Cashman.

The courtroom was filled to capacity as Bret Grote and Quinn Cozzens presented arguments to the judge. Immediately prior to dismissing the charges, Judge Cashman called the incident leading to Blak Rapp’s arrest “unfortunate.” At issue was whether the testimony of North Versailles Township Police Officer Christopher Kelly was sufficient to require Blak Rapp to stand trial on the charges against her. This case stemmed from Blak Rapp’s arrest while filming the officer as he removed a group of black girls from a movie theatre and arcade. Blak Rapp was facing charges of disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting arrest. The habeas corpus petition argued that even if all of Officer Kelly’s testimony was true, none of the conduct he described was criminal. The case brought up many issues for the community that centered on violence and the dehumanization of Black Women and girls. For many, this was a flagrant case of police abuse of power involving an officer arresting a person who was exercising their constitutional right to film the police.

 

The Habeas petition focused on the merits of the case and raised multiple arguments to prove that the sufficiency of the evidence failed to prove Blak Rapp was guilty on any charge. Judge Cashman agreed and granted the motion in full.

The community made its presence felt. They showed up for Madusa just as she showed up for the children who were being bullied and mistreated at that movie theater.As Madusa said afterward: “When we fight we win.” ~Attorney Bret Grote

This win is not only credited to the legal team of the Abolitionist Law Center but also to every community member and organizer that has stood with Blak Rapp Madusa since the onset of these charges. It has been almost a year since the filming of this incident, and since that time the national focus has began a conversation on the violence and plight of Black Women and Girls. We hope that this win not only encourages people to get involved in court watching programs but to also become aware of the violence that many in the community face.  Organizing and community support is vital to defending the rights and lives of Black women and girls and others who are targeted by oppressive policing practices.

 

“I didn’t know if I was going to survive that attack….but I knew that if I did, that it was my duty to say something about it, to use my platform as an artivist and an organizer and tell America to stop the violence against black women.” ~ Blak Rapp Madusa

 

Action Alert: A Message From Saleem

Greetings From Saleem!

Happy New Year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hello Everyone,

As this year comes to a close, I want to first thank you so much for your support over the years. Your encouragement and dedication to justice is the reason why I am home today. After spending all of those years behind bars, I am finally home and still fighting for justice. It has been an amazing journey since my release this past February. For those of you who do not know, I took a position at the Abolitionist Law Center after my release. The Abolitionist Law Center is a Prison Litigation legal nonprofit that works to help individuals such as myself fight back against mass incarceration. It is my hope that my testimony will encourage you to become a monthly sustainers so the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) can continue to keep me on board to do the incredible work I have been doing this year.

Leading The Fight Against Death By Incarceration


The Abolitionist Law Center utilizes education and advocacy in order to further the prison abolition movement. Since coming home I have been at the forefront of ALC’s organizing. Being sentenced to life in prison or as we call it, death by incarceration, I know so many of the people languishing in Pennsylvania prisons, and I am committed to doing everything I can to bring our people home.  In June of this year, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel at the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence here in Pittsburgh that ALC hosted. We had hundreds of people attend workshops and training sessions to better understand how environmental issues are associated with mass incarceration. I discussed the role of prisoners and families in creating the Human Rights Coalition in 2001 and how that has contributed to the work of prison abolition. For instance, ALC’s Legal Director Bret Grote started out as a HRC investigator.

ALC works closely with movement partners the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI). Formed in Philadelphia, at the urging of people serving life-without-parole sentences, CADBI has made impressive strides in its short existence. Since my release in February, my primary organizing has revolved around building CADBI chapters statewide and forming alliances with progressive movements across the state to pass legislation that would provide parole eligibility for lifers in Pennsylvania.
In addition to helping build and sustain CADBI chapters that have been started in Reading, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Delaware, and Chester County, I facilitated CADBI meetings and workshops for the families of the incarcerated. In early October, I worked with  CADBI to mobilize over 400 people (photos)  to rally in Harrisburg against DBI sentences by forging relationships with  Reclaim Philadelphia, ReHumanize International, and Lancaster Stands Up.

I am beyond fortunate to cross the state, building CADBI chapters and support for parole for lifers, and ultimately building a strong movement that will be able to roll back mass incarceration in the state of Pennsylvania. At the moment I am developing new CADBI chapters in Lancaster, York and Erie, Pennsylvania. In addition to organizing in Pennsylvania, my travels have extended to Denver, Buffalo and Washington DC representing the Abolitionist Law Center and CADBI to raise awareness about Death By Incarceration sentences and the need for the communities and people most impacted by these sentences to be at the forefront of fighting to abolish them.

Expanding Our Offices

I was able to officially return back home when the Abolitionist Law Center opened a satellite office in Philadelphia due to the high incidents of incarceration, legal caseloads and organizing in Philadelphia.  To better serve our community and to provide for more direct engagement, the office in Philadelphia also serves as a hub for community organizing and abolitionist work. I have the fortune of supervising legal interns as they learn about movement lawyering through a community lens. Additionally, the office became an organizing center when we all had to unexpectedly mobilize to fight against the inhumane mail policies that were introduced in the state prisons.  The office is a space for loved ones of the incarcerated to learn, to advocate, and organize for abolition.  Philadelphia has the largest population of those impacted by death incarceration sentences and PADOC policies.  I was sentenced to a death by incarceration sentence as a juvenile in Philadelphia, now I am leading the fight against it from our office because of supporters like yourself.

Leading The Fight Against Solitary Confinement

Working in community organizing, my new responsibilities include leading a statewide campaign the Abolitionist Law Center is spearheading to end long term solitary confinement. Working in partnership with the ACLU’s Unlock The Box Campaign to End Solitary Confinement, I am organizing family members of prisoners in solitary confinement and movement allies to force the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to end long term indefinite solitary confinement. This November, I facilitated a workshop at the Unlock The Box Conference in Baltimore on best practices to incorporate families and prisoners in the work to end solitary confinement. As a result of the conference the Abolitionist Law Center is now a national partnership with legal advocates across the country to end long term solitary confinement.

In October, the Human Rights Coalition staged an Art Against Abuse event in Philadelphia to highlight the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. The event featured a one woman play by a formerly incarcerated Black woman who was held in solitary confinement. It was my distinct honor to serve as an organizer and cohost of the showcase which was inspired by my passion for the arts. The event was a success and dozens of people and organizations signed on to pledge to work towards abolishing long term solitary confinement in Pennsylvania.

What’s Next ?

I was recently promoted to Director of Community Organizing based on my knowledge and experience organizing directly impacted communities. My vision going forward is to build a movement to end mass incarceration that possesses teeth and a strong bite so that policy makers and politicians will take notice of the communities their laws have been devastating.  Help us accomplish this vision. I am asking that you please consider a monthly donation of between $25.00 and $50.00 to our sustainers fund so we can continue this great work.

In closing, thank you for your support. Happy New Year to you and yours.

In Solidarity,

Saleem

“Abolitionist Law Center registers with agencies in many states. Some of them will supply you with the financial and registration information they have on file. Residents of the following states may request information from the offices indicated (toll-free numbers are for use only within the respective states): Pennsylvania – Department of State, Bureau of Charitable Organizations, Harrisburg, PA 17120, 1-800-732-0999; Maryland – Office of the Secretary of State, Statehouse, Annapolis, MD 21401, 1-800-825-4510; New York – Office of Charities Registration, 162 Washington St., Albany, NY 12231; Virginia – Division of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209, 1-800-552-9963; Washington – Office of the Secretary of State, Charitable Solicitation Division, Olympia, WA 98504, 1-800-332-4483. Registration with a state agency does not imply the state’s endorsement.”

Action Alert: Join Us On Monday for A Meal

The Abolitionist Law Center is partnering with GroupRaise as we move toward our end of the year goal of raising $50,000.00. Join us on Monday, December 17th, from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm at Choolah Indian BBQ as we #shareameal and #raisesomefunds. The Abolitionist Law Center is a legal nonprofit based out of #Pittsburgh. We are a group of movement lawyers fighting for restorative justice and abolition. We have an acute need to raise unrestricted funds in order to continue the direct representation of the people who need us the most. Join us on Monday to help us continue the fight. #groupraise vegan and vegetarians options are available #give2alc #choolahgives