Thank You for Your Support!
In the past year, Abolitionist Law Center has worked tirelessly and won several important victories in the ongoing struggle to keep people out of prison, free others from prison, stop new prisons from being built, and to win life-saving medicine for incarcerated people, all while actively helping to organize the movements to abolish Death By Incarceration and Solitary Confinement in Pennsylvania.
These victories belong to the incarcerated, their families, and to the activists fighting to end the punitive and cruel excesses of the criminal legal system and to build an empowering future. They only happen because people in need trust us and reach out to us for help. They are only possible because the movement supports our work, sharing information with us, sending encouragement, and donating money to fund the work.
Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. We are doing that work. DONATE to our efforts so we can build off our successes, win more cases, organize more advocates, empower more prisoners, and build more power for our communities.
Abolishing Solitary Confinement
On November 18, 2019, we abolished death row solitary confinement in Pennsylvania, when we filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement that permanently ends solitary confinement for all death-sentenced people in Pennsylvania. Up to now, every person sentenced to death in Pennsylvania had been forced to live in austere conditions of isolation that have been recognized as torture by the UN and the human rights movement around the world. With this settlement, we achieved a legally enforceable agreement to ensure that the 136 people living with death sentences can await a full adjudication of their cases without the added cruelty of solitary confinement being imposed on them.
Despite decades spent in inhumane isolation on death row, our clients organized and persevered in this historic achievement for the movement to abolish solitary confinement in Pennsylvania. They set a powerful precedent for ending solitary confinement of capital case prisoners — and eventually the death penalty as a whole — across the country. With this victory, many of our clients have been able to embrace loved ones for the first time in decades in recent months.
In June we filed an emergency lawsuit seeking the immediate removal of Kimberly Andrews from solitary confinement. Kim, a 20 year old with serious psychiatric disabilities, was being subject to extreme social deprivation and psychological deterioration resulting in multiple self-harm attempts. After dragging the County into court they agreed to release her from solitary, and she remained out of solitary until her release from jail later in June.
We’ve also been very active this year in advocating against the use of long-term solitary confinement, working with our partners in Human Rights Coalition to expose the current uses of isolation in PA prisons and also work up a statewide campaign against it. We developed informational packets detailing how putting a hard limit of 15 days on solitary confinement creates better prison conditions and saves money, with info from other states as well as testimony from experts. Because of the DOC’s lack of transparency around their use of solitary, we sent out nearly 1000 surveys to allies in PA state prisons asking them about their experiences in solitary to gather information and identify leaders inside the prisons.
This campaign is looking to work closely with faith leaders, so we’ve also developed partnerships with faith-based advocacy groups like Healing Communities and POWER to develop and push the conversation in the media and general public. Our coalition of people in prison, faith leaders, and impacted people around the state is still taking shape but we’ve already drawn some media attention.
Defending Activists against Criminal Charges
In January we successfully argued a habeas corpus motion in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and got all charges dismissed in the case against Melanie Carter, the hip-hop activist also known as Blak Rapp Madusa, after they were assaulted and arrested under false pretenses by a police officer while they were filming the cop and a movie theater employee mistreating teenage Black girls. Madusa stood up for the children and we were proud to get these bogus charges dismissed.
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. 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.
Bringing People Home from Prison
For over a decade, the MOVE9 have all been eligible for parole, but were denied until now. Last year we were able to help get Debbie and Mike Africa released from prison after they served over a combined 80 years of incarceration. Their release was the result of a long-fought battle with the parole board.
Along with Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office, we litigated a federal habeas corpus action challenging the parole denial of Janet and Janine Africa. In May of this year, on the eve of a pending court decision, the Parole Board conducted a new hearing and granted Janet and Janine parole. A month later, Eddie Africa was granted parole and released from prison.
Eddie was the fifth member of the MOVE 9 to be released on parole, all represented by lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office. Eddie was a father when he was arrested and has four adult children and several grandchildren who he has been able to maintain strong relationships with. Eddie is now able to experience holding his loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades, like Debbie, Janet, Janine, and Mike Africa before him.
Two more members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck and Delbert Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office continue to represent Delbert and Chuck in the struggle for their freedom.
Abolishing Death By Incarceration
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 in Pennsylvania, CADBI has made impressive strides in its short existence. Groundbreaking legislation that would make all people serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania eligible for parole has been introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate. In 2018, CADBI chapters were started in Reading, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Delaware, and Chester County. Formerly incarcerated people and the family and loved ones of those serving DBI sentences in Pennsylvania have been driving this growing movement.
ALC has devoted two of our staff members to supporting CADBI, as well as statewide organizing against solitary confinement. Having new statewide staff provided by ALC has allowed CADBI to start and support 3 new chapters this year in Allentown, Lancaster, and Coatesville, some of the cities in Pennsylvania most impacted by mass incarceration. We’ve also been able to provide much more support and structure for chapters that were started the year before in Reading, Harrisburg, and York. In these chapters, family members and supporters of lifers learned about the political systems and roadblocks to criminal justice reform, as well as the vital importance of grassroots groups and directly impacted people in moving these obstacles by changing the narratives that underpin mass incarceration.
Throughout much of the work this year, we’ve also been pushing a larger conversation about victimhood, victim’s services, and the role of PA’s Office of Victim Advocate. Since tough-on-crime policies require the narrative of violent perpetrators who need to be punished for attacking innocent victims, we’ve been working to organize a counter-narrative that both emphasizes how people are frequently on both sides of that binary and advocates for community healing instead of vengeance as a solution. We’ve been developing documentary shorts with people whose families have suffered both from mass incarceration and street violence, which allows for the more complicated reality of street violence to emerge as well as showing that regular people want solutions and commonsense approaches rather than endless incarceration. This work has resulted in multiple articles placed in national media outlets as well as some Pennsylvania media. We’ve also been working with anti-violence and victim-service groups to advocate for ways of addressing crime and violence beyond incarceration, hosting events that draw attention to the fact that there are more productive ways to honor and respect victims than what the current Office of Victim Advocate supports.
Stopping New Prison Construction
In June, the construction of the most expensive proposed federal prison in US history was stopped, after the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) withdrew its Record Of Decision (ROD) following a prolonged Environmental Impact review that began in 2015. The withdrawal of the ROD means the BOP cannot move forward to acquire land for the prison or make any other preparations for construction at the Roxana Site in Letcher County, Ky.
This result was the culmination of over 4 years of organizing and litigation by Abolitionist Law Center, The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP), and (most importantly) local residents in eastern Kentucky. While FTP organized national opposition to the prison, and helped build connections with eastern Kentucky locals, local landowner Mitch Whitaker stalled the prison by refusing to sell his land (forcing a year long delay for the BOP to redraw the site-plan for the prison), while other county residents organized the Letcher Governance Project and its #Our444Million campaign demanding that the money budgeted for the prison be used instead to directly support the people of Letcher County (which is one of the most impoverished counties in the US).
The Abolitionist Law Center along with attorney Emily Posner developed a litigation strategy in cooperation with local and national opponents of the prison filing a lawsuitin the fall of 2018, with Abolitionist Law Center and 21 federal prisoners as plaintiffs. This lawsuit was later amended, with lawyers from Green Justice Legal joining the team, and added a local group of east Kentucky residents and activists (Friends of the Lilley Cornett Woods and Northfork Watershed) as plaintiffs. The combination of the organizing and legal work ultimately forced the BOP to abandon its ROD stopping the prison construction project before it even began.
The BOP is now faced with the decision of either abandoning the prison project altogether or starting a new cycle of the NEPA process with new opportunities to organize opposition and new comment periods for public participation. If the BOP decides to renew its NEPA process (trying to cure the weaknesses in its prior Environmental Impact Statement), we estimate a delay of 1-2yrs before they can get back to an ROD that clears the way for construction. And of course, we will be preparing to sue them if they ever get that far.
Hepatitis C Treatment for Incarcerated People
In 2017, we won an injunction forcing the PA DOC to provide treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal using direct acting antiviral (DAA) medications to cure his hepatitis C infection. This was the first court order in the country requiring prison administrators to provide DAA medications to an incarcerated patient. This last summer we won an important decision in the Court of Appeals beating back a qualified immunity defense and clearing the way for Mumia’s damages claims to go forward.
We used Mumia’s case as a springboard to file more cases seeking to force accountability on the PA DOC for refusing to provide the new curative treatments, and for the injuries and deaths caused by those failures. We have since been able to force treatment through lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits for several prisoners in Pennsylvania.
We’ve also supported prisoners in winning treatment on their own, distributing over 300 copies of our Hepatitis C Pro Se Manual to prisoners around the country. Within two months of publishing the Manual, five pro se lawsuits had been filed by prisoners seeking treatment. We regularly get correspondence from prisoners requesting copies of the Manual, or reporting on their successes in using the Manual to win treatment. It is not an exaggeration to say that this work has saved lives, and has helped to spur the use of DAA medications in the prison system.
Your support makes it possible for us to win these fights. DONATE today and together we can keep building the movement to abolish mass incarceration. Take it one step further and consider making a reoccurring monthly donation.