ACJ Health Justice Project - Launch

Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project to Launch at Jail Oversight Board meeting on Thursday (2/5)

HRC Fed Up!, along with jail workers, human rights advocates, community groups, and inmates’ family members seek an end to appalling health care at ACJ


CORRECTION: A press release sent out earlier in the week stated that there was going to be a meeting of the Jail Oversight Board this Thursday. This meeting has been postponed to next Thursday, February 12. The ACJ Health Justice Project will still launch on February 5 with a vigil for Frank Smart and a press conference.

PITTSBURGH- Allegheny County area advocacy organizations will announce the launch of the new Allegheny County Jail, Health Justice Project this Thursday, at 4:00 p.m. outside the Allegheny County courthouse, during a vigil for Frank Smart and a press conference.  The ACJ Health Justice Project seeks to ensure that members of our community incarcerated at ACJ receive comprehensive health care.

This Thursday marks one month since Frank Smart, 39, died, after less than a day in ACJ custody.  “I lost one whole child because of one pill. All he needed was one pill,” said Tomi Harris, mother of Frank Smart, who died at ACJ on January 5, 2015.  During a phone call hours before his death, Frank said that he was not being provided his anti-seizure medication.  Unfortunately, Mr. Smart was not the first member of our community to lose his life at the hands of Corizon Prison Health Management under the careless watch of Allegheny County officials.  It is time to act to ensure that no more fathers, sons, sisters or wives suffer dire health consequences as a result of unconstitutionally inadequate care created by Corizon’s poor management and cost cutting measures.

Over 18,000 residents of Allegheny County pass through ACJ each year.  Once there they are experiencing unacceptable delays in receiving medical care and the denial of necessary prescriptions simply because Corizon has deemed crucial medications too expensive.  Compounding matters, the medical staff at ACJ are being denied critical supplies and organizational supports they need to provide care: all with an almost $12 million annual cost to Allegheny County.

Despite repeated warnings and admonishments from public officials and private citizens alike, Corizon is refusing to even admit there is a problem.  This should come as no surprise from a national prison profiteer that has been named in over 660 medical malpractice lawsuits.

The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper and the members of the Jail Oversight Board: Judge Cashman, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen, and Dr. Walker to step up to the plate and sincerely oversee the abysmal medical care at ACJ.  They cannot continue to look the other way when the mortality rate at the ACJ is twice that of the national average.  The ACJ Health Justice Project calls on these members of our County government to ensure that members of our community are not being sentenced to death at the time of incarceration at ACJ.  Corizon Health has shown time and time again that they do not care about the health and well being of our community.

Rich Fitzgerald, Warden Harper, Judge McDaniel, Judge Williams, Ms. Lazlo, Ms. Moss, Sheriff Mullen and Dr. Walker, have the responsibility to stop these human rights abuses.  Do not commit another taxpayer dollar to Corizon Health, show them the door this September.  Our community deserves better.

Organizations endorsing the project include the Abolitionist Law Center, the PA Institutional Law Project, United Steelworkers, New Voices Pittsburgh, We Change Pittsburgh, the Garden of Peace Project, the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!, and Fight Back Pittsburgh.

Contact:    Randa Ruge (rruge[at]usw.org, 412-522-9687) or Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz (amorgan-kurtz[at]pailp.org, 412-434-6175)

Upcoming Event - Dissent Under Fire!


Dissent Under Fire!  Challenging the Prison Industrial Complex
A Revolutionary Party

Justice for Mumia Abu Jamal, the Dallas 6, and Jamal Knox

February 13th at 7:30pm
At the New Bohemian (887 Progress Street)

We're holding a fundraiser for the Dallas 6, prison whistleblowers being prosecuted for speaking out against torture in prisons, challenging SB 508 for Mumia Abu Jamal's case, and seeking justice for Jamal Knox, who was convicted for performing a rap song.

Speakers:  Pam Africa and Shandre Delaney
Performing:  Devyn Swain, 1Hood, Dos Noun

Help us raise $1000!
$10 to $20 suggested donation - no one turned away!

Parent and child friendly.

Facebook event:  http://www.facebook.com/events/566017466868962/

More information at:  
legalmeans.com/justice4jamalknox

Medical Neglect at SCI Muncy

The Human Rights Coalition received reports from Stacey Detwiler, a prisoner housed at SCI Muncy, who is experiencing health problems and deliberate indifference from medical staff at the prison . Two months after being admitted to SCI Muncy and prescribed 9 new medications, Detwiler lost regular leg function and has trouble walking or standing without collapsing. She suspects her medication is not correct and has tried meeting with medical staff to resolve the issue. Staff refuse to intervene, saying she must wait until she is released in two years.  Detwiler’s laundry job pays $12 a month making it impossible for her to meet the $5 charge per sick call to get appropriate care.  Staff refuse to grant Detwiler any privileges offered to prisoners with similar health problems, claiming that she is not old enough to qualify for privileges, such as obtaining a white card to move to the front of the medication line.

In December of last year, Detwiler and other women reported to prison officials, racial comments made by Guard Wolfe.  Wolfe was removed from line duty for a short time, but then came back. Shortly after, Wolfe accused Detwiler of cutting the med line and charged her with 30 days in the hole for being in an unauthorized area. Detwiler reported being freezing in the RHU in February and having trouble doing breathing treatments in the cold cell. Juan Mendez, the U.S. Special Rapporteur on torture suggests 15 days in solitary confinement as a psychological limit for punishing people, yet the DOC doles out 30 days commonly, often in retaliation for filing grievances.

Additionally, Detwiler reports being denied food by Guards McElroy and Cramer. After collapsing on the way to the chow hall because of leg problems, Detwiler was sent to the infirmary. When attempting to get her meal later, expecting a peanut butter sandwich, CO Cramer told her he would think about it. After an hour and a half she alerted Sgt McElroy who informed her that there was no food left. Detwiler reports that other women have been denied food by McElroy and Cramer.  In addition to being a human rights violation, denying a prisoner food is against DOC policy.

Detwiler was convicted of 3.5 to 7 years for witness intimidation, after stopping over a neighbor’s house to see if she was going to go court for her son’s case.  Detwiler knew the women and had helped take care of her when the neighbor was a teen, but believe the court inflated the story to get a conviction.  Detwiler fears that she will not regain regular leg function and will have become disabled due to her lengthy prison sentence and lack of medical treatment.


Update: Federal Court Denies Motion to Dismiss and Grants Motion to Amend Complaint in Human Rights Coalition’s Censorship Lawsuit

A challenge to prison censorship of political and human rights literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has seen two favorable developments in the past month.

On Thursday, May 15, United States Federal District court ruled that a lawsuit challenging censorship of political literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections will go forward. The court denied the defense’s request to dismiss some of the censorship claims and all of the supervisory officials named as defendants.

On June 13, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend and supplement the original complaint, adding new claims for relief and one new defendant: DOC Secretary John Wetzel. The new complaint adds due process challenges claiming that prison officials failed to provide non-prisoners with notice and an opportunity to challenge when prison staff censor their mail. Additional claims challenge the criteria used by the DOC to justify censorship as being impermissibly vague, permitting prison staff to impose arbitrary standards when making censorship decisions.

Plaintiffs are seeking monetary and injunctive relief.
The lawsuit, _Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al_., was filed in January on behalf of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the DOC for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC who is currently held at SCI Coal Township.

The suit details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor, scholarly essays from the anthology If They Come in the Morning, a Black history book, and a newsletter published by HRC, The Movementwhich focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system.

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by the Abolitionist Law Center, and David Shapiro, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law.

Dining Hall Protest: Prisoners Challenge Food Cutbacks at SCI Coal Township

On June 16, 2014 prisoners at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Coal Township in central Pennsylvania are embarking on a peaceful protest of the dining hall by refusing to go to eat due to the administration’s cutback to their food portions and rations.
Prisoners are once again taking the lead in the struggle for human rights. Support them today by calling the officials below and advocating for their demands.
On May 26, prisoners were told that the cutbacks were related to budget concerns and that their morning meal portions would be severely reduced. Prisoners are now served half a cup of cream of wheat or oatmeal, 2 pieces of toast and 2 sugar packets at the minimum 3 times per week. Rations such as syrup have been cut in half.
The budget cuts have not, however, had any effect on staff dining options. The administration has not made any cutbacks in portions provided to the Staff Dining Room, where staff have multiple menu selections and food options, salad bars, and multiple desert entries that drain from the prison food budget.
Prisoners are requesting that:
  1. The food portions and sugar rations be returned to levels prior to the May 26 memo from Superintendent Mooney authorizing cutbacks to food portions and rations.

  1. The Staff Dining Room’s unjustified and expansive entitlements be eliminated and staff be required to eat from the same Department of Corrections Master Menu, receiving the same menu as prisoners with the same portions and rations. No multiple menus, optional deserts, salad bars or other entitlements. Eliminating staff entitlements would save sufficient money from the DOC’s food budget and not require cutbacks to prisoners’ food.

  1. If the DOC continues to authorize cutbacks to prisoners nutritional needs then prisoners request that the DOC authorize policy and procedures allowing prisoners to receive monthly 60-pound food packages from family and friends as prisoners in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio are allowed to receive. If the DOC places the budget over our nutritional needs we request a means to provide for our own nutritional needs.
Food is a human right and the government must provide prisoners with adequate amounts of nutritional food to maintain physical and mental health. At a time when Governor Corbett and the DOC are seeking a record amount of money to warehouse people in prisons – more than $2 billion – there is no justification for forcing people to go hungry.
How you can help: Please contact the DOC officials below and inform them of the above requests by prisoners at SCI Coal Township:
DOC Secretary John Wetzel – 717-728-4901
SCI Coal Township Superintendent Vincent Mooney – 570-644-7890

Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson Rally in Harrisburg

Family and supporters of Lorenzo Johnson, a Pennsylvania prisoner framed for a homicide, will rally at the Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Thursday, May 29 at 2pm. Supporters demand that the Attorney General’s office drop its case against Lorenzo, which was built on police and prosecutor misconduct.

Although Johnson was not accused of participating in the shooting, only of allegedly being near the alley where the murder took place, he was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1996 at the age of 22. According to new evidence, Lorenzo was not in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the night of the murder of Tarajay Williams. He was 170 miles away, at home in New York, when the murder occurred.



Johnson has been released from prison once before, when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in 2011 due to insufficient evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision in May 2012, sending Johnson back to prison without following the usual process of allowing his lawyers the opportunity to file briefs or make oral arguments.

On August 5, 2013, Johnson’s attorney Michael Wiseman filed a motion (PCRA) seeking a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence. The filing contains new sworn affidavits from people who had knowledge of the murder and of the real killer(s), information that discredits key prosecution witness Carla Brown, and evidence that Johnson was in New York at the time of the murder and could not possibly have been involved.

The newly discovered evidence contains numerous instances of unconstitutional conduct on the part of the police and prosecution in Johnson’s case. Johnson and his trial counsel were never told that the prosecution’s star witness, Carla Brown, was questioned on the night of the shooting and had to be worked on for months in order to get her to implicate Johnson.

Suquan Ripply Boyd also provided an affidavit to Johnson, revealing for the first time that he was coerced by Detective Duffin into providing a false statement. Boyd and Johnson were in New York City on December 14-15, 1995, the same date the murder occurred. Prior to the trial, Boyd signed a statement that he could not recall the exact date after Duffin threatened him with a longer prison sentence than the one he was serving at the time.

On March 5, 2014, yet more evidence of state misconduct was filed in a supplemental petition, exposing that the lead detective in the case, Kevin Duffin, has a close, family-like relationship with witness Victoria Doubs and “looked out for her” in her encounters with other police on robbery and drug charges. Doubs was used by the prosecution to establish the fabricated motive for the murder despite the fact that she was with Lorenzo Johnson in New York City at the time of the shooting.

The Attorney General’s office has refused to consider the newly discovered evidence and is continuing the frame-up with the intention of forcing Johnson to spend the rest of his life in prison.



Lorenzo’s wife Tazza spoke at a press conference called by the Families of the Wrongfully Convicted in NYC on April 9, 2014:

“Greetings and support from my husband Lorenzo Johnson, an innocent man, sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania for a murder he did not commit eighteen years ago. He fought and won his freedom. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. The court said there was insufficient evidence. Lorenzo was home for four months. But the state of PA appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and ordered him back to prison. My husband along with his friend Jeff Deskovic drove himself back to prison—to a sentence of life without parole. He had the courage to do that, to fight for his exoneration and freedom.

“I am pleading to our “Justice System” to do what’s right and free Lorenzo Johnson today!!! Bring our nightmare to an end!!"

This rally, “Call to Free the Innocent! Free Lorenzo Johnson!” is supported by the Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted from Western PA, Families of the Wrongfully Convicted in NYC, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice (NYC), HRC-FedUp (Pittsburgh), the Abolitionist Law Center and others. Join Us!! Sign the petition to Free Lorenzo Johnson.

Federal Court Rules that Human Rights Coalition’s Censorship Lawsuit can Go Forward

On Thursday, May 15, United States Federal District court ruled that a lawsuit challenging censorship of political literature in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) can go forward. The court denied the defense’s request to dismiss some of the censorship claims and all of the supervisory officials named as defendants.

The lawsuit, _Holbrook et al. v. Jellen et al_., was filed in January on behalf of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC), politicized prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook, and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian against several employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Coal Township and the (PA DOC) for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC who is currently held at SCI Coal Township.

The suit details a series of confiscations of Holbrook’s mail since January 2012 that includes academic correspondence with a college professor, issues of The Movement, essays written by Angela Y. Davis and James Baldwin, and a newsletter published by HRC which focuses on prison abuse, solitary confinement, and ways that prisoners’ family members can come together to challenge human rights abuses and injustice in the criminal legal system. The content of the materials censored by SCI Coal Township and Central Office officials touch on the most vital issues of the operation of the prison system in Pennsylvania: juveniles sentenced to die in prison, deaths in solitary confinement, repression of human rights defenders inside prisons, advocacy efforts by families of prisoners, and the pervasive racism that defines the criminal legal system in Pennsylvania and the United States.

Plaintiffs are represented in the case by the Abolitionist Law Center and Necia Hobbes of the firm Jones Day.