† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
The Torture of Mumia Abu-Jamal Continues off Death Row –Supporters Demand Transfer to General Population
An interview with Bret Grote of Human Rights Coalition
By Hans Bennett of Prison Radio
On December 7, following the US Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the Philadelphia District Attorney’s final avenue of appeal, current DA Seth Williams announced that he would no longer be seeking a death sentence for the world-renowned death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal–on death row following his conviction at a 1982 trial deemed unfair by Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the Japanese Diet, Nelson Mandela, and many others. Abu-Jamal’s sentence of execution was first “overturned” by a federal court in December, 2001, and during the next ten years, he was never transferred from death row at the level five supermax prison, SCI Greene, in rural western Pennsylvania.
Shortly after the DA’s announcement in early December, Mumia Abu-Jamal, now 57 years old, was transferred to SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, PA, 100 miles from Philadelphia. Once there, it was expected that he would be released from solitary confinement and transferred into general population where he would finally have contact visits and generally less onerous conditions. However, he was immediately placed in “Administrative Custody,” in SCI Mahanoy’s “Restrictive Housing Unit” where his conditions of isolation and repression are now in many ways more extreme than they were on death row.
Presently at SCI Mahanoy, Mumia Abu-Jamal is shackled around his ankles and wrists whenever he is outside his cell, even to the shower and during already restricted visits–where he is already behind Plexiglas; Before going to the yard he is subject to strip searches before and after the visit; He is only allowed bits of paper to write notes on, with a rubber flex pen, and four books (no shelves); No access to news reports; Letters delayed; Glaring lights on 24 hours a day; Only one brief phone call to his wife and one to an attorney; No access to adequate food or commissary, and more.
(Artwork: Ascncios Mac)
In the first week of January, at Abu-Jamal’s request, supporters began a campaign directed at the PA Secretary of Corrections, SCI Mahanoy, and DA Seth Williams, demanding that Abu-Jamal be immediately transferred to the general population. The National Lawyers Guild (for whom Abu-Jamal serves as the Vice President) has released a statement and created an online petition demanding his transfer to general population.
Furthermore, Abu-Jamal has asked for supporters to not just call for his release from the hole, but to challenge the very practice of solitary confinement and what are called in Pennsylvania “Restricted Housing Units.” Supporting Abu-Jamal’s call to action, the Pennsylvania-based prison-activist organization called Human Rights Coalition explains that "Mumia may be in solitary, but he is not alone. The PA Department of Corrections holds approximately 2,500 people in solitary confinement on any given day, many of them for years at a time."