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Maroon Transferred to SCI-Frackville

December 10, 2013

September 4, 2013 Campaign Update—Just five days after observing his 70th birthday, on August 28, 2013, former Black Panther and political prisoner Russell “Maroon” Shoatz was transferred to the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Frackville, a maximum security institution. He has once again been immediately placed in a restricted housing unit (RHU): solitary confinement of 23-hour-a-day lock down. Shoatz was not given a reason for the transfer.

The transfer came one week before Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PA DOC) officials, including Secretary John Wetzel, must report to a federal judge on the progress of Shoatz’s release into the general population. DOC defendants in the case Shoatz v. Wetzel have represented to the court on multiple occasions that they intend to release Shoatz into the general population, but have so far failed to do so.

Coming on the heels of a weekend of events held around the country in honor of Shoatz’s birthday, the transfer highlights the refusal of the PA DOC to respond to a major international campaign, launched in May 2012, to win the release of this senior citizen into General Population. In a birthday message sent jointly to Shoatz and PA DOC Secretary Wetzel, three Nobel Peace Prize recipients—Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Jose Ramos-Horta of East Timor and Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Ireland—demanded “in the strongest possible humanitarian terms” that “now is the time for the immediate and unconditional release” of Shoatz.

Archbishop Tutu, a founder of the Elders group which includes Nelson Mandela and former US President Jimmy Carter, and Ramos-Horta, former President of East Timor and a Special Representative of the United Nations, have vowed that they will continue to monitor the situation of Shoatz until his “unfair and unjust treatment” is alleviated. A report of Shoatz’s case has been formally filed with the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez.

Recognizing that the transfer to SCI Frackville represents an arbitrary and unjustifiable delay of his release to population, forcing Shoatz to wait for another indeterminate processing period in this new institution, now is the time to re-activate the phone calls, letters and faxes demanding Maroon’s immediate release!

It is important to remember that on March 28, shortly before a team of lawyers filed a suit against the PA DOC for violating Shoatz’s constitutional rights by holding him in an 8-by-12-foot cell for over 2 decades, prison officials moved Shoatz from SCI Greene (where he had spent a total of 18 years on lockdown) to SCI Mahanoy for the stated purpose of ending his 22 consecutive years in solitary confinement. That transfer coincided with the first leg of a 16-city national tour of Maroon’s recently published book of essays, which has since been banned by the PA DOC.

Juan E. Mendez, who reports directly to the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, has repeatedly likened conditions in restricted housing units to torture and called for a moratorium on isolation exceeding 15 days. Yet Maroon has endured these torturous conditions for almost half of his life, despite the fact that he has no disciplinary problems in over 20 years.

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