Incarceration Nation

On Death Row—With No Death Sentence!

By Mumia Abu-Jamal 

For several years now, well over a decade, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections kept dozens of men on Death Row, even though they didn’t have a pending death sentence.

These men, held at the state’s death rows in Greene County and Graterford, were people who had their death sentences overturned by state or federal courts, but they remained held in solitary confinement for months and years.

Until two men filed suits against this longstanding Department Of Corrections practice, that is.

Craig Williams of Greene and Shawn T. Walker of Graterford filed separate civil actions in federal court challenging this procedure, but both men lost.

Both men filed their suits pro se (without a lawyer), and both filed appeals before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, where both men won!

The federal appeals court ruled in a February 9th opinion that the continued detention of men in solitary confinement, who had no pending death sentences, was a violation of “a state-created liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment” of the Constitution.

Williams spent six years on death row without a death sentence; Walker spent eight years on death row without a death sentence!

In Williams v. Secretary, DOC, the 3rd Circuit found this confinement unconstitutional, but also granted the DOC the defense that, until now, this right wasn’t “clearly established.”

The Williams decision, being the first of its kind, put the DOC on notice that such a practice was per se unconstitutional, and a violation of a prisoner’s state-created liberty interest.

Williams was a talented jailhouse lawyer when he was on Death Row. He’s been off death row since 2012, and he’s still one helluva jailhouse lawyer.

Prison Radio, February 24, 2017