Mumia Abu-Jamal in general population for first time in 31 years
For the first time since his arrest in 1981 for allegedly killing a Philadelphia police officer, world-renowned death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was transferred to general prison population on Jan. 27. He had been held in Administrative Custody, also known as “The Hole” or solitary confinement, at SCI Mahanoy since Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams announced he would not pursue the death penalty against the imprisoned journalist seven weeks ago.
The move to general population came within hours of the of delivery of over 5,500 signed petitions to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections headquarters and a complaint filed with the support of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.
Mumia’s supporters had launched a campaign in early January, directed at the Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections, SCI Mahanoy, and DA Seth Williams, calling for his immediate transfer to general population.
A statement circulated by Prison Radio and the Human Rights Coalition described Mumia’s conditions in solitary, noting that they were even worse than the conditions of his 30+ years on death row. The statement also highlighted the plight of the tens of thousands of other inmates being held in solitary confinement across the country.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is being held in extremely repressive conditions. And like thousands of prisoners, residents of solitary confinement and isolation units in every hole in every prison across the country, Mumia is being subject to draconian, dehumanizing and brutal conditions. Solitary confinement. He is shackled whenever he is outside his cell, even to the shower. He is shackled around his ankles, waist and wrist. He is shackled while behind Plexiglas during visits. Subject to strip searches before and after visits. Unable to walk freely. Having bits of paper to write notes on, with a rubber flex pen. No shelves, 4 books. No access to news reports, letters delayed. Restricted visiting. Glaring lights on 24 hours a day. Only one brief phone call to his wife. No access to adequate food or commissary. These conditions are worse than death row.
The National Lawyers Guild, for whom Mumia Abu-Jamal serves as vice president, noted that these conditions amount to torture under international law.
“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.
Indeed, as Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has stated, lengthy solitary confinement can cause serious mental and physical damage and should be considered torture.
Mendez has proposed that all solitary confinement longer than 15 days should be outlawed.
“It can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he said.
Studies show there are an estimated 20,000-25,000 individuals currently being held in solitary confinement in the United States.