Our litigators, organizers, and volunteers, and the larger abolition and decarceration movement we’re part of, have been running at full speed the last few months.
We’ve been in the streets and in the courts, in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, fighting for freedom and an end to state violence.
FREEDOM, FIVE YEARS ON
February 20, 2023 was the five year anniversary of the day that ALC executive director Robert Saleem Holbrook, walked out of SCI Greene after serving 27 years of a death by incarceration sentence for an offense he was involved with as a 16-year-old child. In this essay Saleem reflects on his journey since 2018 (which includes recently being named to the transition team for PA Governor Josh Shapiro), and his unwavering dedication to the people he left behind on the inside, and their families on the outside.
ON THE LEGAL FRONT
In the fall of 2022, ALC and our allies at Civil Rights Corps filed Horton v. Rangos, a major new lawsuit challenging the illegal detention of hundreds of people in the Allegheny County Jail. The suit claims that the manner in which the County detains individuals accused of violating the conditions of their probation is unconstitutional, leading to excessive pre-trial incarceration.
People accused of having violated their probation – whether for technical reasons such as not attending a required meeting, or for allegedly committing new offenses – are often detained pending a probation violation hearing, which can take months and even sometimes years to be scheduled. Even if a judge sets bail, people held pursuant to probation detainers must remain incarcerated. Probation detainers are the primary driver of pretrial incarceration at the Allegheny County Jail.
The lawsuit alleges that when probation hearing officers are ruling on whether to lift people’s detainers (that is, whether to release them from incarceration), the officers do not consider any evidence and do not make any findings about whether there’s a good reason to jail the person. Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that in certain categories of cases, the hearing officers apply a mandatory detention policy; no matter the facts or circumstances, they refuse to lift the probation detainers.
In October 2022, ALC filed a motion for preliminary injunction asking defendants (including Adult Probation and Judges Rangos, Bigley, and Mariani) to cease those mandatory detention practices. A hearing on that motion is coming up in April, as we continue building a powerful case to end these egregiously unconstitutional and repressive practices in Allegheny County.
In other ALC legal news:
- Advocacy group sues Lackawanna County election board over solitary confinement ballot question: In the run-up to the Nov 2022 elections, more than 13,000 Lackawanna County residents signed a petition to place on the ballot a referendum seeking to curtail the use of solitary confinement at the county jail. When election officials refused to place the question on the November ballot, ALC sued on behalf of residents who were denied the right to hold a referendum about conditions in their local prison. The lower court dismissed the case on Jan 31, 2023. In early March, we filed an appeal to ensure that the residents of Lackawanna County can make social and political decisions concerning their local carceral facilities and residents in other Pennsylvania counties can do the same. The fight continues!
- Lawyers demand immediate intervention in alleged medical neglect of incarcerated man
- Kitchen conditions, medical care lead discussion at jail oversight board meeting
SHOWING UP FOR OUR COMMUNITIES
There is a deadly crisis in Philadelphia’s jails. Our community members are being abused and neglected, and just during the pandemic time period alone, 29 people have died.
ALC is working on legislation to establish a Prison Oversight Board over Philly’s four jails to create oversight, transparency, and accountability where currently none exists. Our vision is that the Board will be an independent civilian body whose members will include those who are the experts on Philly’s carceral system — formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones — who will have the power to investigate abuses, audit prison practices and policies, and have full access to the facilities.
You can learn more about Philly jail conditions and the work we’re doing by checking out videos of POWER’s Town Hall on the Tragedy of Philly’s Jails and one we hosted last year. To get involved, email ALC’s Philly Jails Organizer Sam Lew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The campaign to end abuses at the Allegheny County Jail remains the primary focus of our Pittsburgh-area organizing work presently. We’re continuing to engage relentlessly with jail oversight board meetings and board members, educate the community on carceral issues, and build a coalition with our partners at APA (Alliance for Police Accountability).
We’ve been advocating for incarcerated people to receive medicine while caged at the jail; organizing court support for people who have hearings; and focusing especially on the children incarcerated at the ACJ, as well as those with psychiatric and other disabilities, whose conditions tend to be catastrophically exacerbated by confinement at the jail.
This excellent recent article in Spotlight PA exemplifies the abysmal situations that are all too often experienced by people with psychiatric issues who encounter the criminal legal system in Allegheny County, and describes the sort of intensely hands-on interventions by our staff and other advocates who are fighting for better outcomes for these vulnerable people: A CRIMINAL SOLUTION: Determining whether someone is mentally fit to stand trial in Pennsylvania often traps them in the very place making them worse — jail. This is the story of one woman’s fight to get out.
And in another form of advocacy, we’re lifting up this fundraiser to buy a headstone for Gerald Thomas, who died at ACJ a year ago, and whose experience was detailed in the ALC report, “Death-Making Institutions.”
SPOTLIGHT ON AN EMERGING LEADER
Sergio “Serg” Hyland joined ALC’s staff as the executive assistant in 2022, several months after being released following two decades in prison.
While inside, Serg pursued an education; was mentored by ALC’s first client, political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz; and became a published writer and a correspondent for Prison Radio.
Today Serg is still a writer. He’s also an in-demand speaker, a political organizer, and the editor-in-chief of The Movement magazine of the Human Rights Coalition.
In addition to all of these activities, Serg was recently named to the Emerging Leaders Corp, a new collaborative learning program just launched by the Pew Charitable trust. This initiative “aims to help rising Philadelphia leaders tackle some of the city’s biggest challenges by strengthening their ability to use data effectively to assess policy options and inform decision-making… Over the course of the sessions, participants will also develop their visions for the city’s future. And the program will culminate with participants sharing their action plans for advancing those visions through continued learning, collaboration, and advocacy with policymakers and civic leaders.”
We send a huge shout-out to this dynamic and driven member of our staff!
In February 2023, ALC turned 10! We’re working on plans to celebrate a decade of freeing people and fighting state violence, and we’ll share more news about that as the year unfolds.
As we look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed, we gratefully acknowledge the vital role our community plays in enhancing and sustaining our work. And we’re counting on our supporters to invest in another decade of decarceration.
Please consider marking this milestone by increasing your total annual support by 10% this year; setting up a recurring $10/month donation; or even simply adding $10 to your one-time gift.
DONATE TO DECARCERATE
Help us sustain the fight to free people from incarceration and other forms of racist state violence by making a tax-deductible donation to the Abolitionist Law Center today.
Your gift fuels our collective liberation struggle and powers the transformative change we’re fighting for in the courts, in the streets, behind bars, and on the outside.
We need your partnership to keep the pressure on, and we appreciate your contribution of any amount today. There’s so much more for us to do together!
Contributions to the Abolitionist Law Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.