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Court rules Human Rights Coalition’s prison censorship lawsuit can move forward

June 19, 2014
This picture, taken at a rally prior to an Aug. 2, 2010, Pennsylvania legislative hearing on solitary confinement by members of the Human Rights Coalition, And Justice for All, EXIT-US, International Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Back 2 Society, Reconstruction Inc. and the Republic of New Afrika, encouraged California prisoners as they undertook mass hunger strikes against solitary confinement in 2011 and 2013. The California and Pennsylvania prison systems share many similarities; Jeffrey Beard, previously head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, was sworn in as CDCR secretary on Dec. 27, 2012.

This picture, taken at a rally prior to an Aug. 2, 2010, Pennsylvania legislative hearing on solitary confinement by members of the Human Rights Coalition, And Justice for All, EXIT-US, International Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Back 2 Society, Reconstruction Inc. and the Republic of New Afrika, encouraged California prisoners as they undertook mass hunger strikes against solitary confinement in 2011 and 2013. The California and Pennsylvania prison systems share many similarities; Jeffrey Beard, previously head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, was sworn in as CDCR secretary on Dec. 27, 2012.

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.

Human Rights Coalition rally at Penn. legislative hearing on solitary confinement 091812, web

More than 100 formerly incarcerated people and families and supporters of prisoners rallied outside another Pennsylvania legislative hearing on solitary confinement, on Sept. 18, 2012.

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 Movement, 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.

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.

Copyright © 2014 Human Rights Coalition – FedUp!, All rights reserved. Contact HRC at Human Rights Coalition – FedUp!, 5129 Pennsylvania Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15224, or 267-293-9169 and visit http://hrcoalition.org/. We at the Bay View congratulate HRC for extraordinary organizing and litigating; we are encouraged and inspired by your progress.

 

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