Angus- Institutional Law Center

“When I went to college there was a lot of social unrest. I was active and I educated myself. I became opposed to the war in Vietnam. Obviously I had a lot of personal stake at the time, subject to the draft. There was also a movement for Black Studies at my University, I supported that. We had a very nice coalition of the Blacks Supporting the war and supporting Black studies. We were successful more or less on both counts. So I had an activist background. My parents were activists. When I decided to go to law school I decided to do something of an activist nature. I wasn’t sure what, but I wanted to use law in a progressive manner. When I went to law school there was a clinical program at Morton reformatory which was DC’s penitentiary. So i spent three semesters going out to the reformatory representing inmates in disciplinary hearings. Doing a few small civil cases, I really enjoyed that. The whole idea in my mind was to take what you learned in school and take it into the real world. Start employing your skills for better. Morton gave me that opportunity and I really enjoyed that. So when I went out looking for a job, people saw that on my resume and they saw that I was a Vista Volunteer and they hired me because they wanted me to teach a clinic at Delaware County Prison. So I picked up a couple of cases at Delaware County Prison. I did well. I established some credibility in the profession. Then the Montgomery County legal Aid hired me and that’s when I started going to Graterford. It wasn’t like I was looking to become a prisoner’s rights advocate I was certainly looking to become a public interest lawyer. This provided me an opportunity to do that. I consider myself very fortunate to have a job in the county I grew up in.”

“Right now we have a class action against the Philadelphia Prison System for triple celling and restricted movement. Williams vs. the City of Philadelphia. We have another potential class action against the Lewisburg Penitentiary it’s been turned into a super max and there is a great deal of violence and there’s forced double celling and if you take the double cell that you don’t want to take you get beat up and if you don’t take it you’re restrained for weeks on end until you take it. So we filed that action. Then we filed the case about mentally ill people being put in restrictive housing units. Back when I started, Morristown State was pretty vibrant institution. It was 10 buildings that had people in them, a couple thousand people. And slowly they’ve phased out Morristown, they’ve closed Belgrade, they’ve closed Haverford State, and the mental health system is shutting down and the idea was to put them in the community. In nice group homes and then everyone would live happily ever after. That didn’t work. They weren’t properly funded unlike the mental retardation side when they challenged people. That worked very well with the group homes, but it didn’t work on the MH side. They drifted into the streets and into homelessness and picked up a lot of petty crimes. Public urination, disorderly conduct, breaking and entering. Eventually ran into habitual offender statutes where they were given state time. They couldn’t adjust to the life in the state institutions, the regimentation. Eventually they were chucked in the hole and then horrible things happened. Their mental health situation is exacerbated through the harsh conditions of the restrictive housing unit. Suicide, self mutilation, all kinds of terrible things happened. 

  We filed an action with the Disability Rights Network, the ACLU, Covington and Burling about a year ago. The U.S. Justice Department also jumped in and they did and investigation and has joined our case. The state, to the credit, said, “You’re right. It’s terrible. We’ll redo it.” So we’re reworking the whole mental health system. Initially we got them to recognize mental illness as a mitigating factor in disciplinary actions. Secondly we want to keep them out of solitary confinement units. We have not yet gotten an agreement on that right now. They say 30 days and evaluation then moved to a treatment area. We’re not sure we’re satisfied with that and we’re working on that. If a guys stabs a guard, they don’t want to just say, “O.K. He’s off the the MHU.” So they’re fighting us on that and that’s in negotiation. Out of cell time. We were up to 20 hours a week, we’d like to get more 10 of which would be for professional assistance. We want to talk about hiring more people to deal with all of these problems. Renaming all the units. They’re going to have three institutions for seriously mentally ill of which there’s over a thousand and 11 institutions for the mentally ill of which there’s 7 or 8,000. “

Angus Love- Institutional Law Project

The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project seeks to deliver civil legal services to the institutional population of our Commonwealth. Difficulties with access and the unique nature institutional legal issues require a specialized method of delivering such services.
The Project was created and designed to meet the needs of low income residents of our prisons, jails, state hospitals, and state centers.
The goal of the Institutional Law Project is to ensure equal access to justice for indigent institutionalized persons. We are a non-profit organization operating primarily with funding administered by the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.