About Us

“When groups go for criminal justice reform, they usually go for the low-hanging fruit. We’re not going for the low hanging fruit. We’re going to chop the whole damn tree down. That’s what makes us different.” - Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director

We are restoring justice

Straight Ahead is taking the abolition movement to the Pennsylvania state capitol. We are building a decarceration movement both through statewide organizing of those people impacted by carceral violence, and direct lobbying to  free people from prisons.

We are organizing a mass movement of directly impacted people within Pennsylvania to pressure legislators for bills to bring people home and back to their communities. Our work involves both transformative justice and political education, to transform the way we think about the carceral system and resolving harm.

Straight Ahead + Abolitionist Law Center

Our roots are in the movement

Straight Ahead emerged from the organizing and court battles of our sister organization, the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC). We developed out of the movements to abolish death by incarceration and solitary confinement in Pennsylvania including the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI). Our leadership is made up of formerly incarcerated people and those most impacted by the prison system, as we believe the people closest to the problem should be handed the tools to create solutions.

Straight Ahead’s namesake is an ode to Black Revolutionary, Political Prisoner, beloved mentor, abolitionist thinker and a surviving member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz. As his signature salutation, “Straight ahead!” seeks to carry out the unfinished project of abolition, with Maroon’s contributions—and his age and vulnerable health conditions in mind.

We strive toward abolition

Pennsylvania has some of the harshest sentencing in the world, mandating life without parole for both first and second degree offenses. Currently the only three ways for people serving a life sentence to be released are: commutation, exoneration, and death. For this reason, we refer to life without parole as a death by incarceration (DBI) sentence.

Pennsylvania also has one of the oldest incarcerated populations in the country because of DBI sentencing. People arrested at age 18 are still sitting in PA prisons at 65, without any reason other than permanent punishment. We believe every person is capable of change and no person deserves to spend their life within the violence of the US prison system.

Straight Ahead believes in building abolition. To us, that means a society where we invest funds directly in our communities instead of prisons, and resolve harm through healing rather than more harm.

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

Our paths to decarceration

Straight Ahead is undertaking a statewide campaign to pass legislation that offers a possibility for parole where none currently exists. This could change the lives of the over 10,000 people who are currently serving long or lengthy sentences that will likely end with their death in prison without parole reform.

We are taking two strategic paths — direct lobbying, and community organizing. As a 501c4, we are able to directly lobby politicians to push for legislative change. We are advocates for Geriatric Parole, which would offer parole eligibility to elderly and chronically sick people, through SB 835.  We are also fighting to End Death By Incarceration altogether, allowing parole eligibility to people incarcerated for lengthy sentences through SB 135.

Legislative change needs to be backed by deep community organizing to have real power. We have seen how the same communities hardest hit by having their loved ones incarcerated are the same ones who have lost many loved ones to gun violence. We believe that those communities have deep stakes in these questions and are closest to the solutions. Straight Ahead provides trainings, political workshops, community meetings and rallies to develop strong advocates and bring people together on a path toward abolition.

You can join us

We can’t take down the powerful mass incarceration system without support. You can get involved in the movement by connecting with our organizers. Those who can support financially can keep us going by making a donation.

Together we can free us.