Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

On Death Row With No Death Sentence.

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 in Graterford, were people who had their death sentences overturned by a state or federal court and held in solitary confinement for months and years until two men filed suits against this long standing DOC practice.

Craig Williams of Greene and Sean T. Walker of Graterford filed separate civil actions in federal court, challenging this procedure, but both men initially lost. Both men began their actions by filing their suits pro se, or without a lawyer, and both filed appeals before the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where both men prevailed.

The federal appeals court ruled in a February 9th, 2007 opinion that the continued detention of men in solitary confinement who had no pending death sentences was violative of a state-created liberty interest under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. William 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 of DOC, the Third 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 now per se unconstitutional, and the violation of a prisoner’s state-created liberty interest. William’s proved a talented jailhouse lawyer when he was on the row. He’s been off death row since 2012, and he’s still one hell of a jailhouse lawyer, still making new law.

From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.