The Abolitionist Law Center regularly publishes ground-breaking reports that interrogate the carceral logics of our time and offer abolitionist alternatives, calling for dignity, self-determination, and total freedom. The contents of the following reports range from the impacts of toxic waste on state prisoners’ health to the punitive implementation of cash bail and practices of apartheid policing.
Reports are featured chronologically from most recent to earliest publication date (2022-2014).
In ‘Death-Making Institutions’ (2022), 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. 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.
Judge Anthony Mariani of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas is a focal point of 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.
This report was published the same day that ALC Court Watch announced it had filed 62 judicial misconduct complaints against Mariani. Prabhu and volunteers with ALC Court Watch observed Mariani’s court proceedings from March 2021 to March 2021, 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.
Date of Publication: July 5, 2022
Lead Author: Dolly Prabhu; design by William Lukas
Direct Download: ‘Death-Making Institutions’ (2.4 MB)
ALC Court Watch’s Docket Report #02 Maintaining Apartheid: Arrest and Cash Bail in Allegheny County (2021) is based on the arrest and arraignment data from 5,950 individual docket sheets compiled over the course of 140 days. The report examines two key actors in the development and maintenance of racial apartheid in the Pittsburgh region: police and judges. The jurisdictions of West Mifflin, Brentwood, Frazer Township and Pittsburgh are used as case studies for contextualizing state-sanctioned violence and white supremacy in the region. Several police officers noted in the report were members of a now deleted racist and transphobic Facebook group; had brutalized a young Black girl on a bus in 2020; and in the case of Pittsburgh, had salaries of more than $140,000 in 2019. The report illustrates how bail setting practices of local magistrates vary wildly and are arbitrarily set, revealing there is no real standard for how cash bail is imposed in Allegheny County.
Date of Publication: April 27, 2021
Lead Authors / Contributors: Autumn Redcross, William Lukas, Court Watch Volunteers; design by William Lukas
Direct Download: Docket Report No. 02 ALC Court Watch (5.7 MB)
Direct Download: Plain Text Regression Analysis Version (640 KB)
The Pennsylvania OVA: Criminalization, Punishment, And Retribution Under Jennifer Storm (2021) illuminates how the Office of the Victim Advocate under former Commonwealth Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm has functioned as a pro-retribution lobbying arm funded by taxpayers, rather than a department that provides meaningful programming to survivors of violence and impacted communities. The report examines how throughout Storm’s seven-year tenure, the OVA advanced a reactionary anti-criminal justice reform agenda by advocating for harsh punitive legislation and increased criminalization, and opposing rehabilitation and decarceration. Pointing to the data and legislative records left in the wake of Storm’s January 2021 resignation shows that the OVA only spoke for victims when there was an opportunity for punishment and that the agency failed to recognize victims of police brutality, carceral violence, and poverty – who are disproportionately Black – along with crime victims who advocate for healing justice over retribution.
Date of Publication: February 15, 2021
Lead Authors / Contributors: Dolly Prabhu and Jonathan Feingold; design by William Lukas
Direct Download: The Pennsylvania OVA (503 KB)
Apartheid Policing in PGH: Why Defunding the Police Can’t Wait (2020) highlights the ongoing glaring racial disparities in traffic stops, frisks, warrantless search and seizures, arrests, and use of force by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The report notes that in 2019, Black people made up only 23.2% of the Pittsburgh population, and yet they made up 43.6% of individuals involved in traffic stops, 71.4% of all frisks, 69% of individuals subject to warrantless search and seizures, and 63% of all arrests conducted by the Pittsburgh Police. The report illustrates how the alleged “peacekeeping” role of police is exaggerated: only 6% of all crimes reported to the Pittsburgh Police in 2019 were violent crimes. The vast majority of crimes reported were minor infractions like disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and vandalism. In in cases of violent crime, police had a very low clearance rate, especially when victims were Black. The report calls for an immediate $40 million cut to the City’s police budget and reallocation of these funds to social services, including education, housing, and healthcare.
Date of Publication: December 15, 2020
Lead Authors / Contributors: Dolly Prabhu; design by William Lukas
Direct Download: Apartheid Policing in Pittsburgh (11 MB)
ALC Court Watch was launched by the Abolitionist Law Center in January 2020 to keep courts accountable through data collection and public reporting. The group’s debut Docket Report, Cash Bail, Arbitrary Detention and Apartheid in Allegheny County Jail (2020) examines municipal court docket information from May 11, 2020 through June 8, 2020, analyzing trends in arrests and bail decisions, highlighting the impact of police and judicial discretion. The vast racial disparities described in the report lay bare an undeniable system of racial apartheid.
Date of Publication: December 1, 2020
Lead Authors / Contributors: Autumn Redcross, ALC Court Watch Volunteers; design by William Lukas
Direct Download: Summer 2020 ALC Court Watch Docket Report (1.65 MB)
A Way Out: Abolishing Death By Incarceration in Pennsylvania (2018) is a seminal report grounding the struggle against mass incarceration in the state of Pennsylvania and beyond. According the report, Philadelphia County has 2,694 people serving life without parole sentences (LWOP), more accurately described as “death by incarceration” (DBI). This figure is more than any other county in the United States and far more than any other country in the world. Pennsylvania has 5,346 people serving DBI sentences, making Pennsylvania state a national leader in the use of the punishment; only Florida, with twice the population, has more people serving DBI sentences. Researchers of this report found that most of the people serving DBI were convicted and sentenced when they were 25 or younger (a period of life when brain development and maturation remains ongoing) and more than 70% of those serving DBI are over 40 and nearly half (2,377 people) are over 50.
Date of Publication: September 18, 2018
Lead Authors / Contributors: Quinn Cozzens, Bret Grote
Direct Download: A Way Out – Full Report (1.2 MB)
Direct Download: A Way Out – Abridged Report (444 KB)
No Escape: Exposure to Toxic Coal Waste at State Correctional Institution Fayette (2014) represents the preliminary findings of a year-long investigation launched by ALC, The Human Rights Coalition, and The Center for Coalfield Justice. The prison, SCI-Fayette, was constructed on and surrounded by “about 40 million tons of waste, two coal slurry ponds, and millions of cubic yards of coal combustion waste.” This report examines the detrimental health impacts of the prisoners’ proximity to the massive toxic dump: overlapping symptoms and diseases, including chronic sore throats, extreme throat swelling, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, vision problems, stomach pain, and sores, cysts, and tumors of the mouth, nose, and throat, and high rates of thyroid disorders or cancers among incarcerated community members. The report’s findings raise important legal questions surrounding the Constitutionality of the prison location and its direct relationship to harm caused by toxic pollutants.
Date of Publication: September 2, 2014
Lead Authors / Contributors: Dustin McDaniel, Bret Grote, Ben Fiorillo, Devon Cohen, Quin Cozzens
Direct Download: No Escape (3.11 MB)