Quoted

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.

Read more →

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.

Read more →

‘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.

Read more →

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.

READ ENTIRE MEDIA RELEASE →

5,000 inmates with Hepatitis C sued Pa. prisons. Now, they’re on their way to getting treatment

November 20, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 2013, a cure for hepatitis C — a chronic viral infection that, if untreated, can lead to fatal liver disease — was brought to market. But who would get the $100,000 lifesaving treatment? That's been a subject of political and legal battles ever since.

In May 2017, the Wolf administration announced that Pennsylvania would expand Medicaid coverage of the treatment to anyone with hepatitis C, instead of treating only those with signs of liver damage.

Now, through a legal settlement filed for approval Monday in federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, approximately 5,000 incarcerated Pennsylvanians who have hepatitis C would also have access to direct-acting antiviral drugs, which are effective in about 95 percent of cases.

Read more →

Protesting DOC’s new book ban and mail scans - What qualifies as Prison Rights ?

October 20, 2018 | Cherri Gregg | Flashpoint on KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- This week on Flashpoint, host and KYW Newsradio Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg asks the burning questions about a recent policy change at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. DOC officials have ordered that all inmate mail is to be sent to a processing facility, in Florida, where it is scanned and then photo copies are set to the prisoners. In recent weeks, protests in Philadelphia and Harrisburg are calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to reverse the policy. This week on Flashpoint we'll walk folks through the flames of the inmates’ rights. Su Ming Yeh, managing attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Dr. Brian O'Neill, criminal justice radio host and West Chester University associate professor, and Michael Wilson a former juvenile lifer who spent nearly 47 years behind bars discuss various aspects of the new policies.

Listen here (first 20 minutes of the program) →

Are Pa. prisons’ drug screenings plagued by false positives?

October 3, 2018 | Samantha Melamed | The Philadelphia Inquirer

J-Nae Kettoman doesn't care if she looks strange, scrubbing in like a surgeon with Dial soap brought from home, then snapping on latex gloves before lining up to enter the visiting room at State Correctional Institution Phoenix.

It's just part of the regimen that Kettoman, a Dauphin County resident who works for the commonwealth as a clerk-typist, has devised to avoid setting off the prison's ion mobility spectrometer — a device that analyzes swabs of every visitor's hands and pockets to detect trace levels of narcotics.

Some scour their photo IDs and car keys with soap and water in the bathroom off the prison lobby. Others keep a pristine set of clothing for prison visits in a Ziploc baggie. One woman skips her medication on days she goes to visit, because she's been told it could set off the ion scanner.

"We just were thinking: How can we get around touching anything else once we've washed our hands?" Kettoman, whose husband is serving 10 to 20 years, said of the ritual she and a friend developed after her second alarm earlier this year. A third strike would lead to a six-month suspension of her visiting privileges. "It's just nerve-racking."

Read more → 

Concerned about new DOC policy, attorneys halt mail to PA inmates

September 19, 2018 | Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | WITF

(Harrisburg) -- A number of groups that provide legal assistance to inmates in Pennsylvania's state prisons have stopped mail correspondence with their clients.

They say they think the Department of Corrections' new protocols regarding legal mail could violate attorney-client privilege; if the policy isn't changed, they may sue.

In a letter to the department, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project argued that the new mail policy--aimed to keep drugs out of prisons--violates inmates' rights.

Under the old rules, legal mail was given to incarcerated people directly.

Now it's photocopied, the inmate gets the copy, and the prison retains the original for 15 days.

Read more →