Welcome ALC’s New Philly Staff Attorneys, Nia and Rupalee!

Nia Holston (left) and Rupalee Rashatwar (right)

NIA HOLSTON was born and raised in and around Philly, she is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania. She graduated from New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern public interest scholar, participated in civil rights and youth justice defender clinics, led an organization that trains law school students to represent children at their school suspension hearings, and organized around racial justice issues on campus.  Prior to joining ALC, she worked as a public defender at the Defender Association of Philadelphia.  Before law school, she worked as a paralegal at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

RUPALEE RASHATWAR is an ALC Staff Attorney barred in Florida. Rupalee received her J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 2018, where she was a Public Interest/ Public Service (PIPS) Scholar. Prior to joining ALC, Rupalee was a public defender at the Office of the Miami Dade Public Defender where she represented clients facing misdemeanors, felonies, and juvenile charges. In law school, Rupalee interned with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia where she worked on mortgage and foreclosure issues and with the Capital Habeas Corpus Unit at The Federal Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania where she worked on post conviction death penalty litigation.

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: Support the MOVE 9 Legal Fund!!!!

Help the Fight to Free MOVE Members
Who Have Been Wrongfully Incarcerated for 40 Years 

Please contribute to the MOVE 9 legal fund to continue the efforts to free all MOVE political prisoners. On June 16, 2018, Debbie Africa became the first member of the MOVE 9 to be released from prison when she was granted parole after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Mike Africa, Debbie’s husband, became the next member of the MOVE 9 to get out of prison, when he was released on parole on October 23, 2018.

Lawyers from the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and People’s Law Office (PLO) represented both Debbie and Mike in their successful parole petitions and are committed to fighting for the release of the remaining MOVE 9.

There is a need for funds to support parole review and litigation, such as expert witnesses, travel for court dates and client visits, copy costs of prison and court records, postage and shipping, fees for court filings and other expenses that are likely to arise. (The attorneys are representing the MOVE 9 pro bono and this fund will only go to pay for out-of-pocket expenses.)

The MOVE members who are still in prison are all entitled to release on parole given their exemplary prison record, examples of mentorship, and the complete lack of any risk they present to public safety.

But it will take a fight to get them out – please contribute today* and help them win that fight.

Who are the MOVE 9?

The MOVE 9 are innocent men and women who have been unjustly imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following a massive police attack on their home in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed during the attack. Despite forensic evidence that the bullet that killed him did not come from inside the MOVE house, 9 MOVE members were convicted of 3rd Degree Murder and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. This was seven years before the government dropped a bomb on MOVE in 1985, killing 11 people, including 5 children.

Two of the MOVE 9, Merle and Phil Africa, have died in DOC custody. There are now five surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still in prison: Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert.


Background on Fight to Free Janet and Janine Africa:

In May of 2018, MOVE members Debbie, Janet and Janine Africa went before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Attorneys from ALC and PLO prepared packets in support of each of the three women. Debbie Africa was granted parole and released from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs on June 16, after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Janet and Janine Africa, however, were denied parole despite having virtually identical Department of Corrections records as Debbie.

Jane and Janine both:

  • Have gone more than 20 years without a misconduct for any rule violation
  • Were recommended for parole by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
  • Were recommended for parole by former PA DOC Secretary Martin Horn
  • Were recommended for parole by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

These factors demonstrate that Janet and Janine pose no threat to public safety and deserve parole.

The Parole Board has denied them the opportunity to return home based on unlawful factors. Claiming the two minimized the offense and did not express remorse, the Board ignored the only relevant assessment under Pennsylvania law: that the two do not present a threat to public safety.

The Parole Board also lied, claiming that Janet and Janine received the negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney, when in truth Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Larry Krasner, recommended all three women – Debbie, Janet, and Janine – for parole. In a letter to parole to the Parole Board, Krasner’s office stated that it “was “confident” that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community” and that their “continued incarceration does not make our city safer.”

Janet and Janine’s lawyers have challenged this unlawful determination, filing petitions for habeas corpus in federal court on October 1, 2018. The petitions argue that the Parole Board violated the constitutional rights of Janet and Janine by arbitrarily denying them parole without any rational basis.

The legal team at ALC and PLO is committed to freeing all MOVE political prisoners. This work includes challenging the erroneous denials for Janet and Janine and preparing packets for upcoming parole hearings – the next of which is Charles (Chuck) Africa, who will be going before the parole board in December of 2018, followed by Edward (Eddie) Africa in January of 2019. In addition, the lawyers are exploring all legal avenues that could potentially obtain release for the five surviving members of the MOVE 9.

Support Today!!!


*Please make sure you designate MOVE in the specific case or project section*

Keep ALC in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration!

Abolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at censoring and silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging decades-long solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Over the last few years, lawsuits filed by Abolitionist Law Center have:
  • Ended solitary confinement of pregnant women at the Allegheny County Jail
  • Won the first court order in the country forcing prison officials to provide new hepatitis C medications
  • Won release from decades-long solitary confinement for Russell Maroon Shoatz and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson
  • Overturned a statute that would have silenced prisoners and anyone who published the speech of prisoners
Your support makes it possible for us to win these fights. Please donate and together we can keep building the movement to abolish mass incarceration.


Lauren, Shakaboona, Bret and Quinn

As a movement lawyering organization, our primary method for winning the abolition of mass incarceration is to amplify the voices of activists inside and outside the prison walls. We understand that social change is a political process and the most effective way to achieve deep and sustained improvements is through the organization and mobilization of communities. With this in mind, we have successfully fought to protect the rights of prisoners to engage in political speech and self-education, and we have successfully helped to push back on the overuse of solitary confinement (which is often used as retaliation for advocacy from within the prisons). We have also expanded our work to defend movement activists who are not incarcerated, such as Saundra Cole and George Ciccariello-Maher, against harassment from police and white supremacist individuals and hate groups.

Bret, Ghani, Sean, and Jamelia

With your support, we increased our efforts to ban Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, abolish long-term solitary confinement, and force prison administrators to provide curative treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C. We hired three new staff members  focused on these issues: Jamelia Morgan, Lauren Johnson and Quinn Cozzens (pictured above and right). We co-founded the western Pennsylvania chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI West),  and we increased collaboration with our friends at the Amistad Law Project.


Arthur Cetewayo Johnson and family

The Abolitionist Law Center’s work to abolish solitary confinement resulted in some important victories over the last year. At the beginning of this year Arthur Cetewayo Johnson walked out of his solitary confinement cell and into the general prison population following 36 years in solitary, after we won a preliminary injunction on his behalf (Johnson v. Wetzel). One of our lawsuits (Seitz v. Allegheny County) successfully stopped the Allegheny County Jail from putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. And we obtained the first circuit court holding in the country recognizing that solitary confinement of persons with serious mental illness states a claim under the Eighth Amendment (Palakovic v. Wetzel).
With the help of our new staff attorney, Jamelia Morgan, we are currently litigating three (soon to be four) cases challenging long-term solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row, which is being imposed on prisoners even though they have had their death sentences overturned. PA DOC contends that the mere possibility that these men may be re-sentenced to death after a new trial or sentencing hearing requires them to be held in solitary confinement. This is happening despite the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a landmark decision earlier this year, which held that continued use of solitary confinement on Death Row of individuals who have obtained relief on their death sentence violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Williams v. Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 848 F.3d 459 (3d Cir. 2017).


Charmaine and her mother Donna.

The Abolitionist Law Center is working actively to roll back race- and class-based mass incarceration through our ongoing decarceration efforts. As part of these effort, we’ve also been working to get people released from prison, including three clients who were 18 years old when the crimes they were convicted of occurred. All three of them were sentenced to Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, without any consideration given to mitigating circumstances (such as youth, intellectual disability, or lack of intent). Their youth raises the same issues of diminished culpability that the Supreme Court relied on in deciding Miller v. Alabama, which effectively ended DBI sentences for juveniles. State prosecutors and courts are trying to limit the holding to people who were under 18 years old, despite the fact that the same developmental science that the Supreme Court relied on in Miller shows that brain development continues well past the 18th birthday. Our cases seek to win the release Charmaine Pfender, Avis Lee, and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson, while establishing that the ruling in Miller v. Alabama applies to people who were over 18 years old when they committed or allegedly committed a crime.
In addition to working on the above cases, a report on DBI sentencing in Pennsylvania is being prepared by our new staff-member Quinn Cozzens. Research for this report is already being used to help support the work of movement activists pushing to abolish Death By Incarceration, and over the next few months we will be launching a program to assist the movement in lobbying for statutory changes to end all DBI sentences.


Mumia Abu-JamalAt the beginning of this year, 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. Mumia announced that he was free of the hepatitis C virus at the end of May.
Late last year we started a new program to increase legal support for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Mumia’s case was an important initial victory, but we will be filing more cases before the end of the year 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.

Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.

Keep ALC in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration!

alc_donate_header_mergedAbolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging long-term solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. None of this would have been possible without the support of our donors, and so much more is possible with increased support. Please donate so we can keep fighting to abolish mass incarceration.
Our recent victories were more than just precedents and press. They contributed to the growing momentum of the Movement to End Mass Incarceration. Maroon’s public statement on the Settlement won in his case puts it best:

Maroon and Bret“Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”

We plan on being right there beside Maroon in the struggle for Human Rights, and with your support we will continue to push “Straight Ahead!” But we need your help to do that, so please show your commitment to our work – and to abolition – by contributing today.



Brandon PalakovicThis lawsuit against the DOC for repeatedly placing a mentally ill prisoner in solitary confinement, leading to his suicide, will be argued in the Third Circuit this winter, as we seek to reverse improper dismissal by the district court.






This case against Allegheny County Jail officials and Corizon for starving a prisoner nearly to death, causing him to have a heart attack at the age of 28, reveals how decisions to cut costs in medical care of the incarcerated can have potentially lethal consequences.






Nikki, Saleem, Kris and BretCase against the DOC for censoring the correspondence, communications, and written works of prisoner-activist Robert Saleem Holbrook. We are waiting for a decision on cross motions for summary judgement, but we already compelled the DOC to institute changes to its censorship policies, including providing due process for non-prisoners when their mail is intercepted by prison censors.


Mumia Abu-JamalIn this case, suing the DOC to get Mumia Abu-Jamal life-saving treatment for his hepatitis C infection, the judge has already ruled that the DOC’s hepatitis C protocol is unconstitutional, though he has not yet granted the injunction ordering treatment for our client. We have several motions pending that can be ruled on any day in this groundbreaking case seeking to establish a right to a cure for incarcerated patients with chronic hepatitis C.





Expanding litigation to win hepatitis C treatment for many prisoners by training a network of pro bono attorneys and connecting them with prisoner-plaintiffs.


Continuing to bring cases challenging and seeking to abolish the practice if keeping prisoners in long-term solitary confinement.


Increasing support to the movement to end Life Without Parole (LWOP), representing juvenile lifers during their re-sentencing and bringing cases on behalf of clients who were 18-years-old at the time of the offense giving rise to their mandatory LWOP sentence, arguing for reversal of their sentences.

Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.