Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa, two members of MOVE, the radical back-to-nature group, were freed on parole early Saturday morning, becoming the third and fourth activists from the organization to be released after spending more than 40 years in prison.
Their release, first reported by the Guardian and confirmed to The Inquirer by their lawyer Brad Thomson on Saturday afternoon, comes more than a year after both women’s petitions for parole were denied. Their legal team last year filed federal petitions challenging the parole board’s decision after two other members from MOVE were released in 2018.
In a brief interview, Pam Africa said Janet and Janine, who were released from SCI Cambridge Springs, located in Western Pennsylvania, “just got home and we’re giving them a minute.”
Thomson, who represented the women alongside Bret Grote from the Abolitionist Law Center, said Jane and Janine were staying with friends in the Philadelphia area and will be making a public appearance in the near future.
“I can say on their behalf that they are excited to be released and to be able to be with their community and loved ones outside of prison,” Thomson said. “They are appreciative of all the support that they have received over the years throughout the area and around the world.”
Janet and Janine — both of whom took the last name “Africa” in the 1970s when they joined the black liberation group — were imprisoned in 1978 and sentenced to 30 to 100 years after a standoff at MOVE’s Powelton Village compound, where members of the group lived for years in a communal setting. During the standoff, Philadelphia Police Officer James J. Ramp was killed and 18 police officers and firefighters were injured.
Members of MOVE maintained during the trial and after that they did not fire any shots. Ultimately, five men and four women were sentenced for the incident. They have since been referred to as the MOVE Nine.
In many ways, the 1978 police standoff has been overshadowed by the MOVE bombing, during which the city dropped a bomb on the Osage Avenue compound, destroying the block and killing 11 MOVE members, including five children. No city employee faced criminal charges in connection with the May 1985 deaths.
Thomson said Saturday that both Janet and Janine lost children who were killed during the bombing. By the time the infamous incident happened, however, the MOVE Nine had already been jailed.
“None of us believed it,” Debbie Africa, a member of the MOVE Nine, told The Inquirer last year. “When the officers came to tell us, we actually said, ‘Get away from our door, because it’s not true.’ ”
Debbie Africa, now in her 60s, was granted parole last year, becoming the first of the group to be released. Months later, Michael Africa Sr., Debbie’s husband, was also released. The pair had not seen each other for close to 40 years. Debbie had given birth to their son while in jail four decades ago.
According to Thomson, Janet and Janine, now both in their 60s as well, had a parole hearing in early May, and were granted parole roughly a week ago, nearly a year after they were denied.
“It was the definition of arbitrary,” Thomson said of the decision last year to grant Debbie parole, while denying Janet and Janine. “Identical recommendations were being characterized as positive [for Debbie] but negative for the other two.”
Two members of the MOVE Nine, Phil Africa and Merle Austin Africa, died in prison. Along with Debbie and Michael Sr., the women, along with their attorneys, will press for the release of the three remaining members of the MOVE Nine.