by Mike Africa Jr. and Brad Thompson
The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to share the good news: Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa have been released from state custody after 40 years of incarceration. Early on the morning of May 25, the MOVE sisters were finally released from SCI Cambridge and are with family and friends. The sisters have been battling for their freedom after being consistently denied parole despite their stellar record and community service endeavors while behind bars.
Community pressure along with our habeas petition worked to keep the plight of the sisters on the hearts and minds of thousands across the world. Despite maintaining favorable recommendations and receiving no disciplinary infractions for decades, Janet and Janine were initially denied parole even though others similarly situated were released by the board.
The habeas petition sought to show the arbitrary standard used to deny their release and correct the record about their positive recommendations. In May, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole confirmed what we already knew, and the sisters were granted parole on the anniversary of the MOVE bombing.
“Janet and Janine are well deserving of parole. DOC staff describe both women as model prisoners, they have not had a disciplinary incident in decades and they’ve both participated in community fundraisers, the dog training program and other social programs inside of prison,” notes attorney Brad Thomson.
They are now able to join Debbie and Mike Africa in experiencing the ability to hold their loved ones for the first time in decades without prison walls and staff. The release of Janet and Janine comes at a time when the nation is having to reckon with the treatment and housing of elderly prisoners and the need for compassionate release.
The release also intersects with the overcrowding and stacking of charges that has resulted in death by incarceration sentences without an actual sentence of life without parole. The release of Janet and Janine after 40 years is the culmination of intense pressure from the MOVE organization, public support, legal action and policy changes.
Three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, and two, Merle Africa and Phil Africa, died in custody. Both were legendary. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners writes: “CCWP has memorialized the words of Merle Africa as part of our logo. Merle Africa died while in custody in March 1998 after 20 years of unjust imprisonment: “We must always stand together, fearless and unified against any intruder who tries to take our lives, our families, our freedom!”
All five surviving members of the MOVE 9 – Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert Africa – have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have been repeatedly denied parole when appearing before the PBPP. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE 9 Legal Fund.
During the Aug. 8, 1978, altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and, following a highly politicized and controversial trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third-degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison.
“For over 40 years,” Mike Africa Jr. observes, “we have been immersed in a fight that has been long and arduous. But thanks to the support locally from the MOVE family, following the teaching of John Africa, thanks to our supporters from all over the world, and our lawyers, Brad Thomson and Bret Grote, we are two steps closer to freeing all of the MOVE 9. Thank you to everyone who has ever supported freedom for the MOVE 9.”