Tag Archive: news

Settlement Reached in Shoatz vs. Wetzel

http://www.russellmaroonshoatz.com/

July 11, 2016: Pittsburgh PA —A settlement has been reached in the case of Shoatz v. Wetzel, which challenged the 22-year solitary confinement of Abolitionist Law Center client and political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. This brings an end to litigation begun in 2013. In February 2014, following an international campaign on behalf of Shoatz, he was released from solitary confinement.

In exchange for Shoatz ending the lawsuit the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed that it will not place Shoatz back in solitary confinement based on his prior disciplinary record or activities; Shoatz will have a single-cell status for life, meaning he will not have to experience the extreme hardship of being forced to share a cell following decades of enforced isolation; a full mental health evaluation will be provided; and the DOC has paid a monetary settlement.

Russell Maroon Shoatz had the following to say about the settlement: “I have nothing but praise for all of those who supported me and my family for all of the years I was in Solitary Confinement, as well as helped to effect my release. 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!”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez, said: “This settlement is a major contribution to the quest to outlaw prolonged solitary confinement in the US and around the world. I congratulate Mr. Shoatz and his family for not giving up and his team of lawyers for a committed and highly professional approach to justice.”
Shoatz 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 challenged the more than 22 consecutive years that Shoatz spent in conditions of solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment due to the severe deprivations of basic human needs imposed on Shoatz, including mental health, environmental stimulation, social interaction, sleep, physical health, and exercise. Shoatz also challenged violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights.

As noted by Judge Eddy in her February 2016 decision ordering a trial in the case, 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.”

Shoatz was released from solitary confinement after an international campaign led by his family and supporters. The campaign to release Shoatz 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.

In March 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan Mendez, called on the government “to cease the prolonged isolation of Mr. Shoat[z].” (see Democracy Now! interview with Juan Mendez and Matt Meyer discussing Maroon at this link).
Shoatz was represented in this case by Bret Grote and Dustin McDaniel of the Abolitionist Law Center; Harold J. Engel; and Reed Smith attorneys Rick Etter and Stefanie L. Burt.

Contact:
Russell Shoatz III rshoatz@gmail.com 347-697-5390
Theresa Shoatz tiye1120@gmail.com 267-456-7882
Bret Grote bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org 412-654-9070

Riots work: Wolf Blitzer and the Washington Post completely missed the real lesson from Baltimore

The police—not to mention capitalism—have done far more to damage Baltimore than any riot could

From Salon/ By

When Oscar Grant was shot by transit cop Johannes Mehserle in Oakland in the early hours of January 1, 2009, a week passed with no institutional response, while videos of Grant’s murder spread on YouTube like a prairie fire. Then people rebelled, rioted, and took over the streets of Oakland twice—on January 7 and January 14—and just like that, and with the threat of another rebellion hanging heavily in the air, the mayor and the governor leaned on the Alameda County district attorney to bring charges.

When Mike Brown was gunned down by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, the community exploded in massive and sustained resistance on the streets. Aside from galvanizing public opinion and sparking a national movement against white supremacist policing, this street insurgency first forced the replacement of Ferguson PD by the St. Louis County Sheriff, and later bythe  state Highway Patrol, as well as prompting both a federal investigation and a grand jury considering—but ultimately rejecting—Wilson’s indictment for murder.

And when Freddie Gray died on April 19, 2015, after a week in a coma provoked by Baltimore City Police, we all know what happened next: in a wave of resistance rivaling Ferguson in the national attention it garnered, Black youth across Baltimore responded as directly as possible to those terrorizing their communities, in some cases chasing the “forces of order” out with bricks. After nearly a week of resistance—including the occupation of Baltimore by heavily-armed National Guard—Maryland state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby stepped into the fray, announcing charges against six officers and admitting that her hand had been forced by the streets: “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’”

(more…)

Human Rights Groups and Environmentalists Oppose New Federal Prison on Abandoned Coal Mine in Kentucky

environmentHuman Rights Groups and Environmentalists Oppose New Federal Prison on Abandoned Coal Mine in Kentucky  

Organizations and individuals from across the country have joined the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) in filing a comment opposing a plan by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to build a new federal correctional facility in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky. The comment, filed on Monday pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), addresses multiple issues related to a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyses two potential locations for constructing the largest federal prison in the region—both on former coal mining sites.

The public comment, which can be read in its entirety here, follows several years of controversy surrounding this project in a rural region where the prison industry has made many unfulfilled promises of economic prosperity to local communities.

The comment provides a thorough analysis of the impact of the proposed facility siting and addresses social, economic and ecological concerns, including: (more…)

Seven Ways to Support People in Prison

For many people behind bars books are a sanity-saver.

For many people behind bars books are a sanity-saver.

From Waging Non Violence/ By Victoria Law

I recently received a letter from a person asking how to get involved with supporting women in prison. The return address was from a small town that takes up 2.4 square miles and has approximately 14,000 residents. As far as the letter writer knew, there were no organizations — or even individual advocates — working around these issues nearby. The letter reminded me that not everyone is blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) enough to live in a city with opportunities to get involved in advocacy or direct support.

So what are some ways to support people behind bars if you’re not near any existing organizations or grassroots groups? Here are seven places to start: (more…)