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Children Prevail in March Against Death Penalty

Department of Corrections Proposes Settlement Granting Demonstrators Access to Prison

PITTSBURGH, August 18, 1997 - The Children's Crusade to Death Row can proceed as planned, according to a settlement reached today between the Department of Corrections and the Bruderhof Foundation, sponsors of the Crusade. The march, a protest against the death penalty conceived and organized by the Bruderhof children began today in Farmington and will end on Wednesday outside the gates of State Correctional Institute at Greene in Waynesburg.

Ten days ago, in a letter dated August 7, Prison Superintendent Ben Varner had informed the children that he would not allow them to march on Progress Drive. Six days later, the Bruderhof Foundation responded with a civil action filed in Federal Court asserting the First Amendment rights of the children to demonstrate outside the prison and requesting a preliminary injunction. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Lee scheduled a hearing for 10:30 this morning, promising a decision before the scheduled arrival of the march at SCI Greene. There followed two days of intense negotiation between the Bruderhof, their attorneys, and the Department of Corrections in Camp Hill, resulting in a settlement signed by Judge Lee this morning.

The settlement, in the form of a four-page letter from Corrections Department Chief Counsel Sarah Vandenbraak grants the Crusade access to the demonstration site they had originally selected and guarantees that prison officials and state police will not interfere in the demonstration as long as the march is peaceful and orderly and demonstrators "refrain from any violent conduct or conduct that is calculated to incite violence." The letter states, however, that the parties agree only to dismiss the motion for preliminary injunction, allowing the Crusade to proceed; the underlying first amendment issues addressed in the civil action will be dealt with later.

The Crusade has attracted international attention, with demonstrators arriving last night from cities throughout the northeast and further afield, including a contingent from England who arrived accompanied by a BBC film crew. Enthusiastic endorsements of the event have come in from around the world, including from people such as former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and former prison warden and executioner Don Cabana, as well as authors Jonathan Kozol and Sister Helen Prejean.

The Crusade will culminate in the march down Progress Drive on Wednesday with a one o'clock assembly outside the prison featuring songs written for the event, poetry, and speeches, including the reading of a statement by Mumia Abu-Jamal, the celebrated journalist and author who is incarcerated at SCI Greene's death row. One hundred seven of the State's 210 death row inmates are housed at SCI Greene.

Contact: Randall Gauger

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