After Death Row Transfer, Mumia Abu-Jamal Languishes in Solitary

January 11, 2012
Nathan Tempey
Communications Coordinator
212-679-5100, ext. 15

Over a month after National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Vice President Mumia Abu-Jamal was moved from death row, he remains in transitional solitary confinement under harsh restrictions.

“Mumia’s move off death row is a hollow victory if it means he is subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian.

Since Mr. Abu-Jamal’s transfer to administrative custody at SCI Mahanoy on December 7, 2011 he has been held in conditions far more restrictive than death row at SCI Greene, where he spent the last 17 years. He is now shackled and handcuffed whenever outside his cell; his visitation is cut to one hour-long visit per week; the number of stamps and envelopes he can use is greatly limited; his phone call privileges are reduced; and his commissary privileges have been revoked. He is also barred from having a television, typewriter or radio in his cell, and access to personal possessions such as books is severely limited.

The National Lawyers Guild and the Human Rights Research Fund sent Pennsylvania corrections department secretary John Wetzel a letter yesterday, calling on him to move Mr. Abu-Jamal out of administrative custody in SCI Mahanoy’s Restrictive Housing Unit and into general population.

“Once the District Attorney announced that its office would not seek a new sentencing trial, Mr. Abu-Jamal should have been transferred into general population,” the letter reads. “Such a transfer is not dependent on a judge’s formal resentencing to life imprisonment. Given that, and given his exemplary disciplinary record, we can only conclude that Mr. Abu-Jamal’s prolonged detainment in solitary confinement is in retaliation for his highly publicized and internationally-supported efforts to secure a new trial, and intended to placate those who have been demanding his execution.”

A petition in support of the letter is now circulating. Convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist whose case and writings about the criminal justice system have garnered international attention.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s office ended its pursuit of the death penalty last month after a federal appeals court found that jury instructions at Mr. Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial were misleading. The NLG has long maintained that Mr. Abu-Jamal is entitled to a new and fair trial. Procedural irregularities plagued his case from the outset, including blatant constitutional violations.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has members in every state. Mr. Abu-Jamal has served as the NLG’s jailhouse lawyer vice president for over a decade.