[Pnews] Maroon's Lawyers Submit Urgent Request to UN Rapporteur on Torture

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 17 10:27:41 EDT 2013

*MEDIA RELEASE: Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz submit request to UN 
Special Rapporteur on Torture*

Contact: Bret Grote bretgrote at abolitionistlawcenter.org 
<mailto:bretgrote at abolitionistlawcenter.org> 412-654-9070

October 17, 2013: Pittsburgh PA — Lawyers for Russell Maroon Shoatz 
submitted a communication to the United Nations Special Rapportuer on 
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 
Juan Mendez, requesting that he inquire into Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of 
solitary confinement within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections 
(PA DOC). Shoatz is a 70-year-old, former Black Panther Party member who 
has been locked in solitary confinement at various state prisons for the 
past 22 consecutive years, and 28 of the past 30 years.

The request comes at a time when the campaign to release Shoatz from 
solitary confinement has been gathering increasing international 
attention. In August, Nobel Peace Prize laureates Jose Ramos-Horta of 
East Timor, Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, and Archbishop 
Desmond Tutu of South Africa marked the occasion of Maroon’s 70th 
birthday by sending a letter to PA DOC Secretary John Wetzel that read: 
“We also affirm, in the strongest possible humanitarian terms, that now 
is the time for the immediate and unconditional release from solitary 
confinement and restricted housing of Russell Maroon Shoatz. After 
decades of solitary confinement – including the past 22 consecutive 
years – there is no reason for further delay. Continued confinement in 
23-hour-a-day isolation is nothing short of torture.”

For the last 23 years, Shoatz has had an impeccable disciplinary record, 
and has not received on serious rule violation during this time. Despite 
his model behavior, advancing years, and health problems, the PA DOC has 
refused to release this father, grandfather, great-grandfather, human 
rights advocate, and published author into the general prison population.

“The Special Rapporteur on Torture has recently spoken out about similar 
instances of extraordinary long-term solitary confinement in the United 
States in Pelican Bay state prison and in the case of the Angola 3. Like 
these cases, the solitary confinement of Russell Shoatz is yet another 
extreme violation of international human rights standards,” said Jules 
Lobel, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the 
attorney who submitted the document to the Special Rapporteur on 
Shoatz’s behalf.

Although Shoatz is still held in the solitary confinement unit, he has 
been permitted more out of cell time in recent weeks, as prison 
officials inform him that he is being assessed for release from 
isolation. On September 23, 2013, Shoatz began a 60-day step-down 
program where he is permitted out of his cell as a block worker for 
approximately one-hour Monday through Friday.

Although this program represents the most out-of-cell time Shoatz has 
been afforded since he was in federal prison in 1991, and the most in a 
PA DOC prison since 1983, there is no guarantee that he will eventually 
be released into the general population. Prison officials have stated 
that he will merely be considered for release after the completion of 
the program.

The communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture was submitted 
by Jules Lobel; Dan Kovalik, Senior Associate General Counsel for the 
United Steelworkers; Dustin McDaniel and Bret Grote of the Abolitionist 
Law Center; and attorney Hal Engel.

The 14-page document observes that a 2011 report issued by the Special 
Rapporteur provided a “legal analysis . . . that resoundingly affirms 
the conclusion that U.S.-style solitary confinement units are prohibited 
under international law.” It called on the Special Rapporteur to 
“immediately initiate a prompt and comprehensive investigation into the 
facts surrounding Russell Maroon Shoatz’s nearly 30 years of solitary 
confinement in the PA DOC.”

The communication concluded by recognizing that even if he is soon 
released from isolation, “It is vital that the egregious violations of 
Shoatz’s human rights are recognized by your office and the 
international human rights community more broadly, both for his own 
sake, and for the hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who 
have been subjected to these conditions of social isolation and sensory 
deprivation in U.S. jails and prisons over the years.”


Campaign to Free Russell Maroon Shoatz

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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