NLG Submits Testimony to Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Solitary Confinement
NLG Calls on President Obama to Protect Consumer Privacy Rights
NJ Judge Dismisses Case Against NYPD Alleged Unconstitutional Surveillance of Muslims
Remembering Chokwe Lumumba
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz Released Into General Population After 22 Years of Solitary
Here on Law and Disorder we’ve been keeping you updated on the campaign to release Russell “Maroon” Shoatz from solitary confinement. We’re heartened to broadcast the news that he has been released from solitary confinement and is now in the general prison population. Maroon has spent 40 years in the U.S. prison system and 22 of those years were spent under intense lockdown. He was allowed only one hour a day outside of his cell. In May of 2013, Maroon brought a lawsuit on the grounds that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of to the U.S. Constitution and that he was denied his legal rights to proceed with a case.
- We had a legal phone call scheduled to take place Thursday, February 20, when we received notice from the prison that the restricted housing unit he was in was not going to be able to facilitate that phone call because he was not longer in the unit.
- I received a call from him at 1pm confirming that he had been released from solitary confinement just hours before that very morning. We notified his family. That same night he had his first contact visit in more than 20 years when his son Russell III and his daughter Sharon were able to go see him. There’s a really wonderful picture of the three of them circulating on the internet.
- A constellation of forces and various tactics and strategies that had been deployed over a course of 3 years of renewed, reinvigorated effort got Maroon out of solitary confinement.
- It started back in August of 2010, when State Representative Ron Waters held a hearing on solitary confinement in front of the House Judiciary Committee and Maroon’s daughter Theresa Shoatz was there. Seeing survivors of solitary confinement and advocates testify in the presence of DOC officials and state legislators inspired her.
- She said on that very day, I remember it crystal clear: “I’m going to get my dad out of solitary.”
- That began a series of advocacy efforts, including phone calls, including action alerts that saw the construction of a coalition of more than 30 organizations including the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Human Rights Coalition in Pennsylvania.
- There was no change in condition or indication that anything was going to change until late March of 2013. What had been happening at that time was Maroon was getting increasing visits from lawyers. There were more correspondence coming from the legal team.
- Right when we were about to send the Department of Corrections our demand letter that he be released in 30 days or else they’d be hit with a civil rights lawsuit, they abruptly, without any notice that this was going to happen, transferred him from the state correctional institution at Greene where he’d been for 18 years to SCI Mahanoy.
- In my experience of 6 years of being a human rights advocate for prisoners in Pennsylvania, I’ve never heard of prison officials going to somebody in the solitary units and telling them, we’re going to do what you want.
- In the process of constructing this massive imperial prison state they have resorted to similar ideology, punitive ideologies and tactics to manage that prison population once they’re behind the walls, and that includes widespread use solitary confinement in a way that is qualitatively different than it had been used throughout most of the 20th century.
- It has been used as a long term affirmative strategy for managing the prison population for warehousing for people that were problematic for prison officials because maybe they filed a lot of grievances, or they were jailhouse lawyers, maybe they were political prisoners or dissidents.
- In the 30 years that this has been ongoing, there have been waves of activism that really at the outset were led by people like Bonnie Kerness, director of AFSC’s Prison Watch Project.
Guest – Attorney Bret Grote, a member of the Russell Maroon Shoatz legal team and the Abolitionist Law Center. Bret has worked with the Human Rights Coalition since 2007 as an investigator, organizer, and researcher. He was the Isabel and Alger Hiss Racial Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in 2012. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Law School in May 2013 and was recognized as the school’s Distinguished Public Interest Scholar.
Here on Law and Disorder we continue to report on the work of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused By Priests in bringing accountability within the Catholic Church for widespread sexual violence against perhaps hundreds of thousands of victims, mainly children. Recently, the Vatican was summoned before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to respond to allegations of systemic sexual violence and practices that have allowed abuse to continue.
- We were in Geneva with members of the Survivors Network, those abused by priests, because the Vatican was having to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the first time ever on the issue of sexual violence.
- This is in the wake of more than a decade of scandals that have broken out in different parts of the world and investigations in different countries which really revealed that the Vatican has a system in place that actually facilitates this widespread sexual violence.
The treaty set up a committee of independent experts. Their job is to ensure compliance with the treaty and review different countries that have ratified this convention, basically in a dialogue with them in how they’re complying with the treaty, protecting children’s rights.
- The committee had asked for data on the scope of sexual violence: the information the Vatican has about it, what was done in these cases, with individual priests but also evidence of higher officials who helped cover up these crimes around the world.
- Vatican officials are claiming that this is a thing of the past and that they’ve made changes. They point to 2011 when Pope Benedict issued a new set of guidelines, essentially an instruction to Catholic authorities around the world that they should comply with civil laws.
- We’ve seen similar types of policy and language in the U.S. We’ve seen similar language in Ireland. But what has happened in Ireland and the U.S. is in that realm, officials at the Vatican have overridden the national level bishops’ plans to require mandatory reporting of sexual violence.
- The same practices are happening behind the policies, and the policies have no teeth.
- You have a former archbishop in Wisconsin who has talked about shredding documents on a routine basis under sworn testimony, he had admitted to this, but the priest-shifting is just common. One lawyer said it’s part of the DNA of the church.
- We know sexual violence can occur in every institution but when you have a closed system like the Vatican that is saying it can police itself and it’s really not; it’s actually continuing to enable – the committee got the way it was operating and it was really important for the survivors to be there, and they called them out on that.
- It’s not just putting the blame on individual perpetrators, it’s about changing the system fundamentally and the way it operates.
- We’ve seen Vatican officials come out in two ways and criticize the report. One is the focus on the committee’s questions about non-discrimination issues.
- The treaty is a wide ranging treaty that sets out a number of rights that are to be protected, respected and fulfilled by the state’s parties.
- The Vatican has operated as a state when it’s convenient and then falls back to its religious entity status when it’s not convenient to be a state.
- What’s coming up next is that the UN Committee Against Torture has decided to call the Holy See for review. That will be happening in April, again in Geneva.
Guest – Pam Spees, senior staff attorney in the international human rights program at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). She has a background in international criminal and human rights law with a gender focus, as well as criminal trial practice. She serves as lead counsel on several of CCR’s cases and initiatives, including Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively, a case brought against a U.S.-based anti-gay extremist for his role in the persecution of LGBTI people in Uganda; Murillo v. Micheletti, a case brought by the parents of a youth killed by the coup regime in Honduras; and in the legal effort to hold Vatican officials criminally responsible for the crimes against humanity of rape and sexual violence within the church.