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ALC Newsletter #4 • February 22, 2016

In This Issue

  • A Victory for Maroon in Shoatz v. Wetzel
  • Fundraiser for the Campaign to Free Charmaine Pfender
  • Mumia in Court: Evidentiary Hearing Seeking Hepatitis C Treatment
  • Juveniles Given Life Without Parole Heading for Resentencing
A Victory for Maroon!

On Friday, February 12, United States District Magistrate for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Reed Eddy, issued a decision denying both parties’ motions for summary judgment and ordering a trial in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenges the 22 year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. The trial will mark the first in the country in a case challenging long-term solitary confinement.

Maroon had been held in solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) since 1983. For 19 months between 1989 and 1991 he was held in the general population of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. Upon return to the PADOC in 1991 he was immediately placed back in solitary confinement and held there until February 20, 2014, when he was released to the general population at State Correctional Institution Graterford, 10 months after he filed suit in Shoatz v. Wetzel.

The case challenges the more than 22 consecutive years that Maroon spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Maroon, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Maroon will also go to trial on his procedural and substantive due process claims.

As noted by Judge Eddy, plaintiff’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan, stated in his report in the case that Shoatz has spent “virtually his entire adult life in complete and coerced social isolation (and sensory deprivation) - which is among the most abnormal and pathogenic environments in which it is possible to place a human being.”

The decision also quoted United Nations Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, who was another expert for the plaintiff:

the conditions of detention of Mr. Russell Shoatz, in particular his indefinite solitary confinement eventually lasting 29 years, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment under customary international law standards. . . . [E]ven if isolation of inmates is not per se contrary to those practices, indefinite or excessively prolonged regimes of solitary confinement like the one suffered by Mr. Shoatz certainly do. In addition to the excessive duration and indefinite nature, his isolation contradicts the trend of all civilized Nations in that it was imposed on the basis of status determinations unrelated to any conduct in his part, and through a meaningless procedure that did not afford him a serious chance to challenge the outcome.

Maroon was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Maroon included the support of five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jody Williams from the United States, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina. Several U.S. civil and human rights organizations also endorsed his release from isolation.

Fundraiser to Free Charmaine Pfender


Charmaine Pfender was 18 years old when she shot and killed a man who was attempting to rape her. At age 19, she was sentenced to life without parole for this act of self-defense, and has served more than 30 years in prison. The Abolitionist Law Center is working with the Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee to raise funds to prepare legal filings and pay a private investigator to locate and interview the sole material witness in her case.

At her trial, the state’s sole material witness told a story full of holes and contradictions, Charmaine’s lawyer failed to provide an assertive self-defense claim or call critical character witnesses and experts on the psychological impact of sexual violence. Charmaine was found guilty and has been fighting this injustice ever since. A more in depth discussion of her case was recently published in an article titled: "When sexual assault is threatened, how do courts view self-defense?"

You can support our work to free Charmaine by DONATING to her fundraiser at Indiegogo.

Mumia in Court: Evidentiary Hearing Seeking Hepatitis C Treatment

In December, federal district court judge Robert Mariani heard three days of testimony in the case of Abu-Jamal v. Kerestes, on the issue of whether the Department of Corrections should be ordered to provide hepatitis C treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia and expert witness Dr. Joseph Harris offered extensive testimony and documentary evidence establishing that Mumia’s chronic hepatitis C infection has been responsible for a 16-month ongoing health crisis that has included a severe full-body skin condition, anemia of chronic disease, an episode of life-threatening diabetic shock, liver fibrosis and possibly even cirrhosis. Dr. Harris spoke of the revolutionary new medications that have a 95% cure rate for hepatitis C – the very medications the DOC is denying Mumia and which he is seeking a preliminary injunction to obtain. Dr. Suzanne Ross and Dr. Johanna Fernandez provided gripping first-hand testimony of the dramatic health decline of Mumia during this time. ALC legal director Bret Grote and co-counsel Robert Boyle represented Mumia at the hearing, and Amistad Law Project attorneys Ashley Henderson and Nikki Grant were present with Mumia at SCI Mahanoy during his testimony and as he observed the proceedings via video feed.
The DOC’s defense was shocking: the head of DOC medical, Dr. Paul Noel, testified in open court that there is no medical reason not to treat Mumia, but the DOC has a policy of not treating anybody who has chronic hepatitis C unless the life-threatening illness has progressed to advanced cirrhosis and the patient has esophageal varices, meaning the blood vessels in the esophagus are literally about to burst. If this is not the case the patient is denied treatment and further tests will be conducted months or even years in the future. Dr. Noel confirmed that the DOC policy is to deny treatment to all those with hepatitis C when he revealed that only 5 out of at least 6,000 prisoners with chronic hepatitis C are being treated, amounting to 0.08% of those with chronic hepatitis C.
ALC is confident that such refusal to provide any medical care for a life-threatening infectious disease, especially in light of the fact that there is a safe and effective cure, is a textbook example of cruel and unusual punishment. Briefing on Mumia’s motion for preliminary injunction will be due in early February and Judge Mariani assured the parties that this case is being given the highest priority of any on his docket.

Mumia's commentary on the transcripts can be heard here.

A copy of the hearing transcript is available for download here.

Juveniles Given Life Without Parole Heading for Resentencing

Pennsylvania is the world leader in sentencing children to die in prison, with more than 500 people serving such unconstitutional sentences. Philadelphia County, where Shakaboona is from, has sentenced more than 300 children to die in prison. No other country on the planet sentences children to die in prison.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Miller v. Alabama, held mandatory Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences unconstitutional when imposed on children. In the 2016 case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Court held that its decision in Miller applies retroactively to convictions that have long since been final. Prisoners serving LWOP sentences imposed for crimes committed as juveniles are now eligible for a re-sentencing, and may have the opportunity to be released from prison.

ALC client, Kerry Shakaboona Marshall, has been serving an unconstitutional sentence of life without parole (LWOP) that was imposed in 1988, when he was still a child of 17 years old. The Abolitionist Law Center is currently working on pursuing Shakaboona’s right to an individualized sentencing hearing under the Miller and Montgomery cases with an aim to ensure the earliest possible return home for our client.

From within the restraints of prison:
  • Shakaboona has held the positions of: Vice-President of the PA Lifers Association at SCI-Huntingdon, Committee Chairperson of the NAACP Graterford Branch, President of the Para-Professional Law Clinic at SCI-Graterford, and Secretary of the Regents Betterment Organization at SCI-Mahanoy.
  • He is the founder or co-founder of several groups that are located outside of prison walls, namely: Families United (FU), Families of Prisoners & Communities Union (FCU), and the Human Rights Coalition (HRC).
  • He is the co-founder and Editor of The Movement magazine, a human rights advocacy publication with subscribers nationwide; it serves as a tool for public awareness and connects prisoners to the outside world.
  • Shakaboona does popular radio commentary on social/political issues for Prison Radio and submits written commentary articles for the Socialist Viewpoint magazine, San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and Workers World.
The Abolitionist Law Center just finished an Indiegogo campaign for Shakaboona, but further donations are needed. If you would like to support our work to get Shakaboona released from prison, you can DONATE via PayPal or by mailing a check to PO Box 8654, Pittsburgh, PA 15221. Please note with your donation that it is to support re-sentencing for Kerry Shakaboona Marshall.

The Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm inspired by the struggle of political and politicized prisoners, and organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States.  ALC engages in litigation on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, produces educational programs to inform the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American penal system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions.   
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