BREAKING: Civil Rights Groups and PA Department of Corrections Near Settlement of Lawsuit Over Legal Mail

February 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – Lawyers for four civil rights organizations and one person who is currently incarcerated announced today that they are finalizing the details of a settlement of their lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of copying and storing legal mail. The four organizations challenging the policy issued the following statement in response to the developments in the case:

“We appreciate that the department has agreed that, beginning April 6, they will stop copying and storing prisoners’ legal mail. The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department's efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”

The organizational plaintiffs, Pennsylvania’s four largest prisoners’ rights groups, are the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP). Volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, led by partner Keith Whitson, are also representing the plaintiffs. PILP, et al. v. Wetzel was combined with another challenge, Hayes v. Wetzel, which was brought by Davon Hayes, who is a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon.

More information is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

Pennsylvania prisons to roll back unprecedented mail policy in legal settlement

February 22, 2019 | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Samantha Melamed

As part of a legal settlement expected to be finalized in March, Pennsylvania’s state prisons will rescind a six-month-old policy lawyers said made it impossible for them to communicate confidentially with clients.

The controversial policy, under which legal mail was intercepted, photocopied, and then destroyed, had been announced last September as one of a series of new security measures — many without precedent in a state prison setting — intended to prevent the smuggling of drugs into the prisons. Four civil rights groups and a state prison inmate had filed suit in federal court seeking an emergency injunction.

Beginning April 6, the prisons will revert to some variation on the previous system, which did not involve photocopying and relied on individual attorney-identification numbers to track legal mail.

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Pennsylvania restricts inmate mail. Prison drugs are down. But is it legal? A federal judge will decide

February 19, 2019 | The Morning Call | Steve Esack

Criminal defense lawyers, including those who work with death row inmates, stopped sending legal documents in the mail to Pennsylvania prison inmates for fear their privacy was being compromised by government officials, according to testimony at a federal hearing Tuesday.

The lawyers testified in support of two consolidated lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. The lawsuits challenge the legality of a 2018 state policy of screening inmates’ mail for synthetic drugs.

The Department of Corrections’ policy prohibits inmates from getting mail delivered directly from lawyers, family and friends. It was instituted last summer in an attempt to stem an influx of illegal synthetic drugs, primarily k2, from being dipped and dried onto mail. The influx led to a rash of security and medical problems, and a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons.

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A juvenile lifer spent 50 years in prison. Now that he’s out, he may have nowhere to go.

February 5, 2019 | Philadelphia Daily News | Samantha Melamed

Freddie Nole was a teenager last time he walked free back in 1969, when Richard Nixon was president and City Hall was still the tallest building in Philadelphia.

In January 2019, at age 68, Nole was released on parole. He’s trying to catch up on nearly half a century of lost time: going to church with his wife of 34 years, Susan Beard-Nole, and sharing home-cooked meals for the first time in decades. But everything still seems strange and overwhelming: the expansive restaurant menus (he asks Beard-Nole, 72, to order for him); the complicated new iPhone (he kept hanging up midcall); the confusing power locks on his wife’s car.

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‘You’re Going to Let Me Die From This’: Prisoners Fight to Access a Hepatitis-C Cure

January 25, 2019 | The Nation | Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

On May 15, 2017, after serving 37 years, David Maldonado was released from prison. He had been sentenced to life for a murder he committed when he was 16. But for Maldonado, getting out was about more than freedom; his release might have also saved his life. In 1997, Maldonado was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C—a disease, now curable, that the state of Pennsylvania had refused to treat. “Society really didn’t care whether I lived or died,” he told me recently.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that infects and inflames the liver; it’s spread through blood, most often via intravenous drug use. Between 75 and 85 percent of those infected with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis C, which can lead to liver scarring, liver cancer, cirrhosis, and death. It’s the most deadly infectious disease in the United States, killing around 20,000 people a year—more than the next 60 infectious diseases combined.

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VICTORY V BERKS COUNTY: Order and Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law. Berks County must not treat the lowest risk Trusty inmates differently "based on their chromosomes"

January 15, 2019

Federal Judge Kearney ruled in favor of our client Theresa A. Victory stating that Berks County must allow her the same freedom of movement and opportunities provided to her male counterparts at the Berks County Community Reentry Center by Friday, January 18, 2019. These include 13 hours outside her cell when she is at the prison, no lock on her cell during, the evening and direct access to the rehabilitative programs she wishes to attend in the re-entry center.

Judge Kearney stated that “We find Berks County does not adequately justify its reasons for this substantially different treatment of lowest risk Trusty inmates working in our community on work release based on their chromosomes.” and “After too long, Berks County must act now to mitigate further harm to Ms. Victory and ensure her equal protection under the Law, without retaliating against her . . . because Berks County now needs to treat men and women Trusty inmates in the same manner.”

The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project is representing Ms. Victory in this class action lawsuit filed on behalf of fifteen female work release and Trusty inmates.

ORDER

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

PRESS RELEASE: Court rules Incarcerated Woman’s Lawsuit Challenging Deprivation of Pain Medication and Mobility Devices May Proceed.

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and Abolitionist Law Center

For Immediate Release

December 31, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA. On Friday, The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected motions to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) and medical staff violated the rights of an incarcerated woman who is disabled. The case is being litigated by the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP) on behalf of Ms. Tracey Nadirah Shaw, who is currently imprisoned at State Correctional Institution at Cambridge Springs (SCI Cambridge Springs). Ms. Shaw brought the lawsuit after the DOC and medical staff violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment and ignored protections guaranteed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act by denying her necessary pain medication and mobility accommodations, including a wheelchair, for over two years.

Ms. Shaw suffers from chronic medical conditions that cause intense neuropathic pain in her back and legs. For years, she was prescribed medication by DOC staff that stabilized her pain and allowed her to engage in daily tasks, including janitorial labor. In 2015, without the benefit of an examination or consultation, medical staff terminated Ms. Shaw’s effective pain management prescription, which resulted in debilitating pain and substantial reduction in her mobility. Ms. Shaw began to depend on additional assistive devices and accommodations to attempt to navigate life at SCI-Cambridge Springs. However, DOC staff took away her wheelchair, depriving her of the ability to travel the extended distances to educational classes, worship programs, and the dining hall. The DOC then used her worsening medical condition to temporarily remove her from her janitorial duties, resulting in a loss of essential income.

Ms. Shaw lost over twenty pounds because she was not able to physically walk to the cafeteria to get her meals and eventually, she suffered a broken leg requiring surgery and the insertion of six screws when she fell trying to walk with the absence of a wheelchair.

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2018 ANNUAL REPORT: Fighting abuse behind bars in court — Rights of pregnant women & transgender individuals, freedom from assault & sexual abuse, access to life-saving medical care and more!

It’s been a busy year packed with organizational growth and successes moving cases forward for prisoner’s rights with huge wins for our clients.

Some highlights are: thousands of incarcerated people will now have access to life saving medical care, pregnant women will no longer be held in solitary confinement, transgender people are now receiving hormone therapy, we are representing a migrant woman who was sexually assaulted at ICE’s Berks facility, and we sued the DOC over the new legal mail policy that denies attorney client confidentiality.

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