We Demand Universal Testing at ACJ

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald
436 Grant St #101
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Director Debra Bogen, MD
542 Fourth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Warden Orlando Harper
950 Second Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Dear County Executive Fitzgerald, Director Bogen, and Warden Harper:

As you are all aware, there have now been cumulatively 28 positive results for COVID-19 amongst those incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). An additional 5 staff members have also tested positive.

Limiting further spread of COVID-19 within the jail is paramount, but without taking stock of the current situation, other measures will prove to be at best inadequate to curb the outbreak. That is why we, the undersigned, are calling for an immediate implementation of a universal testing policy for the ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to encompass both incarcerated persons and staff.

Social distancing is impossible in correctional facilities, where individuals are confined to their cells, which they often share, and frequently recreate, shower, and take meals in communal settings. According to a recent study [1], closed facilities are more vulnerable to “secondary transmission of COVID-19 and promote superspreading events”. Robust and extensive testing is critical to any comprehensive plan to address the outbreak, limit its transmission, and mitigate its most harmful effects.

Twenty of the 28 positive cases amongst incarcerated persons were announced in the past 10 days. Perhaps more worryingly, the current positive-to-overall-tests ratio is 51%—the recommended benchmark for such a ratio is 10% [2]. Such a high ratio hints there are likely positive cases that remain untested, a worrying indication we will see an explosion of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks.

We saw a similar explosion in cases in the Allegheny County Treatment Alternative, an alternative housing facility in the county, where 65% of the residents recently tested positive for COVID-19 (11 of 17, overall). According to information provided by the County, ACTA was following “guidance provided by the Allegheny County Health Department and the CDC as it relates to COVID-19, including educating employees and residents on the virus, stressing personal hygiene and regular hand washing, maintaining facility cleanliness, social/physical distancing, visitor restrictions and the availability of PPE.” The guidance and safeguards proved inadequate at ACTA and without a proper universal testing policy and implementation, it will prove similarly inadequate at ACJ.

To date, 1.7% of the jail’s population has tested positive for COVID-19, yet, only 3.3% of the jail’s population has been tested. The County should immediately implement a policy of universal testing, and conduct tests of every individual incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail and of every staff member who works at the facility.

Many other correctional facilities throughout the country have taken great strides to expand testing, with several realizing universal testing within their facilities [3], and greatly increasing their ability to combat the virus through doing so. Just across the state, Montgomery County Correctional facility recently tested every individual [4] held therein (938 in total). They discovered the contagion was 30 times more widespread than initial testing had shown, and a large majority of those testing positive were asymptomatic. Unfortunately, a similar dynamic is likely to present in Allegheny County, given the 51% rate of positive results.

Yet, Allegheny County is home to multiple world-class hospitals and medical research centers. One of them—UPMC—recently announced it would be instituting universal testing policies [5] for both its patients and employees, including those who display no symptoms. As tests have become more readily available, testing policies have become less restrictive and more expansive to meet the great need. Exemplifying this development, a testing site recently opened in North Philadelphia, which will provide universally-accessible testing [6]: “patients don’t need [to] be presenting symptoms, health insurance isn’t needed, and a doctor’s referral isn’t required.” Such progress seems to be manifesting here as well, as County Spokesperson Amie Downs recently relayed, “the [Jail’s] ability to test [has] expanded, [and] results are turned around more quickly.” [7]

As recently as April 29, 2020, Allegheny County Director of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen, stated that, “Both testing and our capacity to test have also increased in our County…We estimate that we now have the capacity in our own County to do at least 2,000 tests per day [8] …but we expect that this will also increase.” She affirmed that, with regards to testing, “There is availability and capacity in our community, as needed.”

Funding cannot and must not be a limiting factor. Under federal guidance for the use of the CARES Act, received funds can be used for “costs of providing COVID-19 testing, including serological testing” as well as “COVID-19-related expenses of maintaining state prisons and county jails, including as relates to sanitation and improvement of social distancing measures, to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” Furthermore, Allegheny County has had budgetary surpluses over the past several years that would more than account for any costs associated with universal testing.

We, the undersigned, call on Allegheny County, the Health Department, and the jail’s administration to immediately implement a policy of universal testing at ACJ and alternative housing facilities, to protect both those who are detained and those work inside, as well as the greater community more broadly.

————————————————————————————————————–

Signatories:
ORGANIZATIONS
-1Hood
-Abolitionist Law Center
-ACLU of Pennsylvania
-Autonomous Student Coalition
-Bukit Bail Fund
-Casa San Jose
-Green Party of Allegheny County
-Human Rights Coalition Fed-Up!
-Jailbreak PGH
-Let’s Get Free: The Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee
-National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter
-The Nightshade Collective
-Opportunity Fund
-Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates
-Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality
-Pittsburghers for Public Transit
-Prisoner Legal Support Project of University of Pittsburgh School of Law
-Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV)
-Thomas Merton Center
-Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People
-Volunteers with the Allegheny Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society
-West End P.O.W.E.R.
-Words Without Walls

ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES
-Chelsa Wagner – Allegheny County Controller
-Bethany Hallam – Allegheny County Council, At-Large
-Olivia Bennett – Allegheny County Council, District 13

INDIVIDUALS
-Garret Wassermann, Candidate for State Rep, 45th District
-Darwin Leuba, O’Hara Township Auditor
-Spencer Liberto
-Diana Clarke
-Morgan Foreback
-Isabelle Ouyang
-Jorj Smith
-Krysta Beam
-Johnny Patterson
-Emmy Targosky
-Hana Jimenez
-Melanie Root
-Anna Azizzy Rosati
-Marie Platts
-Emerson O’Donnell
-Yusef Jones
-Jacob Klinger
-Philippa Zang
-Ivy Haffling
-Izzy Monroe
-Rachael Neffshade
-MJ Flott
-Bonnie Fan
-Melissa Bosh
-Tiffany Towns
-Jay Ting Walker
-Michael Kennedy
-Birdie Radford
-Gabriel McMorland
-Daeja Baker
-Terri Minor-Spencer
-Sarah Shotland
-Shandre Delaney
-Richard S. Matesic, Attorney at Law
-Fawn Walker Montgomery
-Jodi Lincoln
-Jake Goodman
-Laura Perkins
-Celena Todora
-Miracle Jones
-Matthew Lamberti
-Nisha Krishnan
-Beth Schongar
-Monica Ruiz
-Jasmine Duncan
-Timothy Gaughan
-Debby Rabold
-Laura Wiens
-Leslie Stem
-Anne Parsons
-Juliette Rando
-Joe Piette
-Lee Markovitz, Attorney at Law
-Stephen Stallings, Esq.
-Michael J. Healey
————————————————————————————————————–

Notes:

[1] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272v2
[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/30/824127807/if-most-of-your-coronavirus-tests-come-back-positive-youre-not-testing-enough
[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/25/coronavirus-testing-prisons-reveals-hidden-asymptomatic-infections/3003307001/
[4] https://www.inquirer.com/news/coronavirus-testing-montgomery-county-jail-asymptomatic-philadelphia-prisons-20200428.html
[5] https://triblive.com/local/regional/upmc-to-test-all-patients-for-covid-19-even-those-without-symptoms/
[6] https://6abc.com/covid19-philly-cases-coronavirus/6133674/
[7] https://www.pittsburghcurrent.com/allegheny-county-jail-reports-11-new-cases-of-covid-in-a-12-hour-period-number-of-infected-climbs-to-19/
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKIRTgHWd5E&feature=youtu.be&t=736

VIEW AND SIGN-ON VIA GOOGLEFORM HERE

Prison Reform Advocates File Class Action Lawsuit Against Allegheny County Over Jail Conditions and Increased Risk of COVID-19

Allegheny County Jail

April 8, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Andy Hoover, ACLU-PA, media@aclupa.org, 717-514-2747
Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org, 412-654-9070
Rebecca Susman, PA Institutional Law Project, rsusman@pailp.org, 412-254-4771

PITTSBURGH – In the wake of the global pandemic, three people detained at the Allegheny County Jail filed a federal class action lawsuit today against the county, seeking relief from the dangerous conditions putting them and others at risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus and the disease COVID-19. The three plaintiffs are represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, and the law firm Dechert LLP.

The Allegheny County Jail reports the release of as many as 600 people in recent weeks, reflecting a 20 percent population drop and earning the county praise for its efforts. However, as the lawsuit notes, Warden Orlando Harper has failed to properly take advantage of the decrease in the population by consolidating housing units in the jail, leaving at least one entire floor completely unoccupied and continuing to house two people per cell.

 “When the prime directive for protecting public health and limiting the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is social distancing, the decision of Warden Harper to increase population density inside the jail defies belief,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “It is reckless and will result in higher infection rates and deaths in the jail and throughout the county unless there is immediate judicial intervention.”

As the nation responds to the pandemic in accordance with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued a stay-at home order and urged Pennsylvania residents to adhere to guidelines that people incarcerated in the jail are unable to follow.

The dimensions of the cells make it impossible for people in jail to follow the CDC recommendation of remaining six feet away from others. And the people in the cells share a toilet, sink, and a desk, increasing the likelihood of transmission of the virus.

“Jails are already the epicenter of COVID-19 spread in cities across the country, with infection rates at Rikers Island in New York seven times higher than the city itself,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, managing attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “ACJ’s inability to follow CDC guidelines for a virus as deadly as COVID-19 will have devastating consequences for our clients and the community.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that their health conditions, including hepatitis C, hypertension, and asthma, increase the likelihood that they will suffer serious or permanent harm from COVID-19. They argue that jail administrators are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as all of the plaintiffs are being held pretrial on minor charges.

”Our clients are at heightened risk because of their underlying health conditions,” said Sara Rose, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The leadership at the jail has been utterly irresponsible and has failed to protect them. We need the court to intervene to guarantee our clients’ rights and their safety.”

The lawsuit seeks to represent all people who are currently and will be held at the Allegheny County Jail during the COVID-19 crisis, including those who are considered high risk for contracting COVID-19 due to age, medical condition, or disability. The plaintiffs have asked the court to order their release and the release of people in the jail who are medically vulnerable. In addition, the lawsuit requests that the court order Harper to implement practices in the jail that are consistent with CDC guidelines.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and names Harper and Allegheny County as defendants. The plaintiffs are represented by Bret Grote, Quinn Cozzens, and Jackie Kurin of the Abolitionist Law Center; Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; David Fathi of the ACLU National Prison Project; Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; Sozi Tulante, Will Sachse, Cory Ward, Ryan Moore, and Rebecca Rosenberg of Dechert LLP; and volunteer attorneys Jules Lobel and Swain Uber. A copy of the complaint and declaration are available for download below:

COVID-19 – Protecting Public Health in Allegheny County: Release and Divert People from Allegheny County Jail

Endorse this statement as an organization using this Google Form.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has created an international public health crisis. It has now been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and declared a national emergency by the United States. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all K-12 schools to close and prohibited all public gatherings of over 250 people, and most major universities have switched to online learning for the remainder of the school year. Both City of Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald have declared a state of emergency in their respective regions. The nationwide attempt to “flatten the curve” — to slow the infection rate so as not to overwhelm our healthcare system — has led to the implementation of many measures that prevent large groups of people from congregating in close quarters.

However, these measures do not take into account one of the most vulnerable, highly concentrated populations: the county’s jail population, composed of over 2300 individuals packed into tight quarters and often lacking basic hygiene items. Additionally, prevalence of health conditions that increase vulnerability to COVID-19 — including tuberculosis, asthma, HIV, hypertension, diabetes, heart conditions — are all significantly higher among the jail and prison populations. To make matters worse, the jail’s medical capacity isn’t nearly high enough to deal with a potential outbreak within the jail; it is woefully understaffed to deal with the medical needs of incarcerated individuals as is. Many individuals will likely need to be transported to and from the hospital, further increasing the likelihood of exposure and transmission.

Because 81% of individuals at the Allegheny County Jail have not been convicted of a crime, and the rest are serving relatively short sentences, there is a high turnover rate at the jail. Over 100 individuals pass through intake on a daily basis. The result is that many individuals will enter an environment where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is relatively high, and simultaneously many individuals will also be leaving and potentially spreading the illness to others. This high turnover also increases the likelihood that staff at the jail will contract and spread the disease. All of these factors converge to create the perfect storm for a potential COVID-19 outbreak to spread quickly amongst the incarcerated population. Emergency efforts to decarcerate the jail are more crucial now than ever. Doing so will decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading amongst the ACJ population and staff and subsequently throughout the region. It will also make it more manageable for the jail to provide adequate medical care to those affected.

Other counties have already taken steps towards emergency decarceration, and Allegheny County ought to follow their lead to slow the spread of the disease in the region. San Francisco County’s Public Defender has announced that his office’s attorneys will be seeking the immediate release of pre-trial clients who have a high susceptibility to the virus, and the County’s District Attorney has instructed his office’s prosecutors to not oppose these motions for individuals not deemed a threat to public safety and to strongly consider sentences of time served in plea deals. Additionally, the judges, the Public Defender, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff of Cuyahoga County in Ohio, where Cleveland is located, have agreed to hold mass plea and bond reduction hearings in an effort to release as many people as possible from the jail and reduce the impact of potential outbreak of coronavirus among this population. Many other regions are calling for or implementing similar measures. Other countries are taking strong preventive action as well. Iran plans to release 70,000 people from its prisons. Counties in the United States, the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, ought to be taking similarly urgent measures. The potential of COVID-19 to spread among the incarcerated population was seen in China, where the incarceration rate is six times lower than in the United States. Over 500 cases of coronavirus were reported from just four prisons in China, two of which were in the region at the epicenter of the outbreak. It is imperative that public officials act now to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the region to prevent a similar outcome.

We are calling on the county executive, county council, and all of county government and administration; judges, prosecutors, and public defenders; police, parole and probation officers to all unite on emergency decarceration initiatives to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Allegheny County.

The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania should:

  • Immediately lift/postpone imposition of detainers of every individual held on alleged probation violations based on new charges or for technical violations;
  • Immediately modify bond of those held pretrial to nonmonetary and/or “release on their own recognizance” (‘ROR’);
  • Cease parole and probation revocation proceedings and terminate long tails;
  • Release all individuals with less than 6 months left in their sentence;
  • Release all individuals incarcerated for misdemeanors, whether pretrial or serving a sentence;
  • Release all individuals incarcerated for drug possession, sex work, and other nonviolent offenses;
  • Release all elderly individuals (over 50) and those at high risk of vulnerability, including but not limited those with respiratory conditions, heart conditions, diabetes, cancer, or other autoimmune diseases;
  • Release all pregnant individuals;
  • Transfer all non-releasable individuals to less restrictive forms of custody, including electronic monitoring and house arrest, where individuals can self-quarantine as needed.
  • Review individuals on probation or otherwise confined to halfway houses and release those individuals to home confinement automatically;
  • Terminate in-person reporting for those on pre- or post-trial supervision indefinitely.

The District Attorney of Allegheny County should:

  • Postpone the convening of grand juries;
  • Affirmatively support and not oppose the above-mentioned motions and petitions for relief;
  • Withdraw and drop all pending charges for drug possession, sex work, and other nonviolent offenses.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Allegheny County should:

  • Recall all pending warrants (that have not been served/executed);
  • Delay dates of voluntary surrender for incarceration sentences as requested by defense;
  • Immediately cease arresting individuals for all offenses not directly implicating public safety or an individual’s physical well-being;
  • Immediately cease arrests on warrants for probation violations — technical and otherwise;
  • Avoid new bookings into the jail at all costs, limiting incarceration for only the most immediate and severe instances of harm reduction.
  • Given the similarly dangerous conditions in immigrant detention centers and those jails and prisons that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), we demand that Allegheny County Jail and county criminal justice officials NOT facilitate the detention of undocumented immigrants or the transfer of them to ICE custody.

County government and the jail administration should immediately:

  • Issue an emergency order making phone calls free for individuals detained at ACJ;
  • Ensure all incarcerated people have unlimited and free access to: soap, hand sanitizer, hygiene products, showers and laundry service, NOT monetized through commissary;
  • Provide free access to books and other reading and writing materials to all individuals incarcerated at the jail;
  • Provide additional commissary items at-, below-, or no-cost to all individuals, to boost morale during the trying times ahead;
  • Facilitate the use of video visitation, including confidential video visitations for attorney visits.

We call on our colleagues both in the Office of the Public Defender and in the private criminal defense bar to begin to file motions and petitions, in a pro bono capacity, for all individuals held in Allegheny County Jail under a probation detainer, unaffordable or unjustifiably restrictive bond, and serving long probation or parole terms.

We are demanding that all governmental agencies collaborate on this initiative in order to protect public health. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 — and its mortality rate — requires that we free as many of our neighbors as possible, as they are part of our families and communities. Protecting them and our greater community from avoidable harm go hand in hand, and this must be our shared imperative.

We are calling on other organizations in Allegheny County to endorse and circulate this statement and help shape the course of the response to COVID-19 in our community.

To sign on to the statement, email acjcovidresponse@gmail.com with the name of your organization or fill out via our GoogleForm.

Endorsing Individuals and Organizations:

1Hood Media

Abolitionist Law Center

ACLU-PA

Allegheny County Elders Council

Alliance for Police Accountability

​ANSWER Coalition – Pittsburgh Branch

Bargaining Team 1199 NW Neighborcare Health

Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh

Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County Council

Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project

Book ‘em

Brilliantly Blessed Community Health and Wellness

Bukit Bail Fund

CAIR - Pittsburgh

Casa San Jose

Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County Controller, Member of Jail Oversight Board

Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration – West 

Community Forge

Community Gone Rogue 

Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ)

Fossil Free Pitt Organizing Committee

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) Pittsburgh

Green Party of Allegheny County

Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!

Jerry Dickinson for Congress

Jews Organizing for Liberation and Transformation (JOLT)

Let’s Get Free: Women & Trans Prisoner Defense Committee

Liberation/Ukombozi 

Mark Lewis Taylor, Princeton Theological Seminary and EMAJ

National Lawyers Guild – Pittsburgh Chapter

New Evangelistic Ministries

Olivia Bennett, Allegheny County Council

Opportunity Fund

Party for Socialism and Liberation, Pittsburgh Branch

Pennsylvania Prison Society - Allegheny County

Peter Odell Campbell, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Pitt Legal Income Sharing Foundation (PLISF)

Pitt Prison Outreach

Pittsburghers for Public Transit

Prison Radio

Put People First! PA

Radical Youth Collective

Ratzon : Center for Healing and Resistance

Rep. Sara Innamorato, 21st Legislative District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Rep. Summer Lee, 34th Legislative District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Richard S. Matesic, Attorney at Law

Steve Macek, North Central College

Take Action Mon Valley

Teach The Change, Chicago

The Big Idea Bookstore & Cooperative

The Lusory

Thomas Merton Center

Three Rivers Free Clinic for the People

UNITE

Veterans for Peace of Western PA (Chapter 47)

West End P.O.W.E.R.

Words Without Walls

Family Calls for Justice in Death of Tyrone Briggs

Tyron Briggs’ parents Shaleda and Ervin Busbee

Last week Tyrone Briggs, a 29-year-old from Philadelphia, died after Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) staff at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Mahanoy reportedly used force against him. Mr. Briggs had been incarcerated since he was 15 years-old, and he and his family were eagerly anticipating his release on parole in the near future; instead, his parents, friends, and community find themselves mourning and awaiting answers about why the life of their beloved son, cousin, and friend was taken.

While very little information has been released about Mr. Briggs’ death, there is strong reason to believe that aggressive conduct of DOC staff directly caused it. As the family seeks answers for the death of their beloved son, the Abolitionist Law Center will be representing Mr. Briggs’ parents, Shaleda and Ervin Busbee. We will accompany and fight with them to ensure that Mr. Brigg’s death does not become yet another extrajudicial killing by the state that goes by without justice and accountability.

Tyrone’s father, Ervin Busbee, said: “The lives of the inmates in there matter, they are someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother or uncle. They are human. Why are you painting my son as an animal? Tyrone’s life mattered. His Mother will never get to see him again. The last time she saw him was behind glass on a visit, and the next time she’ll see him will be in a box. We took pictures of Tyrone to church every week so our congregation would get to know him and they were awaiting his presence at service when he came home. Now our church will be burying him. Why hasn’t the prison offered its condolences? We want justice.”  

ALC’s Director of Community Organizing, Robert Saleem Holbrook, emphasized the importance of supporting Mr. Briggs’ family and pursuing systemic change: “The Busbees are victims. Their son Tyrone was violently taken from them. We will not only pursue justice in this case but will also ensure that measures are taken in the future to prevent such reckless use of force on prisoners, whether restrained or unrestrained. As investigations proceed we want to be clear at the outset that victims of state violence are entitled to the full range of victim services in the Commonwealth.”

Legal Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, Bret Grote, stated that “Whether committed by a police officer or a prison guard, extrajudicial killings of Black people in this country are an epidemic. Our clients have joined a tragic community of those who have lost loved ones to state violence. We are asking our larger movement family to come together and support them in this time of grief.”

A GoFundMe page has been established by the family to help with costs associated with Tyrone’s death. Please visit this LINK, contribute, and share widely.

We Abolished Death Row Solitary Confinement in Pennsylvania!

This morning we filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement that permanently ends solitary confinement for all death-sentenced people in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).

Up to now, every person sentenced to death in Pennsylvania has 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. Pennsylvania hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1999 and currently has a moratorium on executions, so many prisoners on Death Row have been living in solitary for decades. The last three executions were of people who had “volunteered” by giving up their appeals, quite possibly to escape the torturous conditions. Today, we have 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.

According to the settlement, the DOC will still house people who are sentenced to death in specific prisons, but has agreed to offer the rights and privileges afforded to people in other state facilities. These changes are likely the most sweeping set of reforms to a capital case unit in the country: 

  • At least 42.5 hours out-of-cell activity every week, including yard and outdoor time, law library time, congregate meal time, treatment or counseling meetings, congregate religious worship, work assignment, and phased in contact visitation;
  • Permission to use the phone on a daily basis  for at least 15 minutes per usage;
  • Incarcerated people will not be subjected to strip-searches, shackling, or other restraints, unless security measures are required in response to a temporary, emergent situation;
  • Contact visits with family, lawyers and religious advisors; and
  • Resocialization assistance for individuals psychologically damaged by long periods in solitary confinement to help them in the transition to living in a general population setting, as well and physical and mental health baseline evaluations due to years of neglect.

Despite decades spent in inhumane isolation, our clients have organized and persevered in this historic achievement for the movement to abolish solitary confinement in Pennsylvania. They have set a powerful precedent for ending solitary confinement of capital case prisoners —  and eventually the death penalty as a whole — across the country. Many of our clients have been able to embrace loved ones for the first time in decades in recent months because of this settlement. 

Lots of gratitude to ALC President Jamelia Morgan, whose work on this was critical in driving the case, and to our co-counsel at the ACLU of PA, ACLU National Prison Project, Susan Lin of the Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin law firm, and Drinker, Biddle, & Reath.

Most of all, thank you to the Plaintiffs and class representatives who organized their own legal representation and pushed for this: Anthony Reid, Ronald Gibson, Mark Spotz, Jermont Cox, and Ricardo Natividad. We are proud to represent them.

Finally, your support is what makes this work possible. If you’d like to ensure more victories like this in the future, please DONATE to the Abolitionist Law Center.


More information about the lawsuit, Reid et al. v. Wetzel, is available at this link: https://www.aclupa.org/en/cases/reid-et-al-v-wetzel

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

MEDIA RELEASE: Mumia Abu-Jamal files suit over prison’s refusal to provide necessary medical care

Untreated Diabetes nearly killed Abu-Jamal in March, and the DOC is refusing to treat his active Hepatitis C

August 3, 2015: Attorneys for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal filed an amended lawsuit today in the Middle District of Pennsylvania federal court to challenge prison medical staff’s denial of necessary medical treatment – denial that nearly killed Abu-Jamal earlier this year.

See Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint and the Amended Complaint.

On March 30, 2015, Abu-Jamal was rushed to the hospital after losing consciousness and going into diabetic shock. Although prison medical staff were aware that Abu-Jamal had a dangerously high blood glucose level of 419 on March 6, they failed to treat, monitor, or even inform Abu-Jamal of his condition. Glucose levels like those that Abu-Jamal had can result in diabetic shock, diabetic coma, and death.

Abu-Jamal’s diabetic shock came in the midst of an escalating year-long health crisis that began with a rash in August 2014. The skin condition grew in intensity over the course of the next several months, eventually covering most of his body with a painful, severe rash that is resistant to conventional treatments. The skin condition is abnormal in its duration and intensity, and has led to lesions, open wounds, and swelling.

The lawsuit filed today seeks injunctive relief for prison medical staff’s failure to treat Abu-Jamal’s active Hepatitis C. Recent blood tests provided at the insistence of Abu-Jamal, his lawyers, and consulting doctors have confirmed that Abu-Jamal has active Hepatitis C, which is likely the underlying cause of his health crisis. Despite the undeniable medical evidence that he is in need of treatment for his Hepatitis C, prison medical staff are refusing to provide any.

Advances in Hepatitis C treatment in recent years have revolutionized the way the disease is treated, with new direct-acting anti-viral medications that have had over 95% success rates in curing the illness in clinical trials. The medications, however, are extraordinarily expensive in the United States due to monopoly pricing practices by the pharmaceutical companies that have patented them.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has yet to promulgate a new protocol for treating Hepatitis C with the new medications, meaning that the estimated 10,000-plus people in DOC custody who have Hepatitis C are not receiving any treatment.

This issue is the subject of a class action lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court in June 2015.

Abu-Jamal is represented by Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center and Robert J. Boyle of New York City.

 

Bret Grote            bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org                        412-654-9070