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Prisoners Rights

Texas Executes Intellectually Disabled Man, Violating Constitution

ACLU -- Death Penalty News - Thu, 01/29/2015 - 8:15pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-266, media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – Robert Ladd, an intellectually disabled person with an IQ of 67, was executed tonight at 7:02 CT in Huntsville, Texas. His death violates the Supreme Court's rulings that the Eighth Amendment prohibits executing the intellectually disabled as cruel and unusual punishment. In any other state Mr. Ladd would be considered ineligible for the death penalty because of his intellectual disability.

Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project and Mr. Ladd's attorney, had this comment:

"Texas aggressively pursued Mr. Ladd's execution, despite the fact that our constitution categorically prohibits the use of capital punishment against persons with intellectual disability. Mr. Ladd, whose IQ was 67, was executed because Texas uses idiosyncratic standards, based on stereotypes rather than science, to determine intellectual disability. His death is yet another example of how capital punishment routinely defies the rule of law and human decency. 

"We are eager for a court to address the fact that Texas' unscientific standards can't be reconciled with the Supreme Court's decision in Hall v. Florida,mandating that states must use universal medical diagnostic practices rather than inaccurate and self-invented methods for determining intellectual disability. However, no future ruling can undo the unconscionable fact that tonight Texas ended the life of an intellectually disabled man who deserved the protection of the Constitution."

For more information about the case Ex Parte Ladd, visit: https://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/ex-parte-ladd

For information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit: https://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Texas Court Denies Death Penalty Appeal of Intellectually Disabled Man

ACLU -- Death Penalty News - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 5:15pm

Court Standards for Determining Intellectual Disability Drawn From Novella 'Of Mice and Men'

January 27, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-266, media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – Robert Ladd, an intellectually disabled person with an IQ of 67, was denied a stay of execution today by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Although in any other state he would be considered ineligible for the death penalty because of his intellectual disability, Ladd doesn't meet the Texas courts' standards to determine whether a person is intellectually disabled, which were drawn in part on the character Lennie Small in "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck. Ladd will be executed by the state of Texas at 6:00 pm CT on Thursday, January 29, unless courts intervene.

"This case is indeed stranger than fiction. Anywhere else in the country, Mr. Ladd's IQ of 67 would have meant a life sentence, not death," said Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project and Ladd's attorney. "But the Texas courts insist on severely misjudging his intellectual capacity, relying on standards for gauging intelligence crafted from 'Of Mice and Men' and other sources that have nothing to do with science or medicine. Robert Ladd's fate shouldn't depend on a novella."

The Supreme Court has twice ruled to protect the intellectually disabled from capital punishment: Atkins v. Virginia (2002) and Hall v. Florida(2014). Those decisions should exempt Mr. Ladd from the death penalty, as he was labeled "fairly obviously retarded" at age 13 by the Texas Youth Commission in 1970. After the Atkins decision, the psychiatrist who had examined Mr. Ladd reviewed his notes and reaffirmed his initial diagnosis in an affidavit, stating his IQ test and "three separate interviews confirmed my diagnosis of mental retardation." At age 36, Mr. Ladd qualified for services at the Andrews Center in Tyler, Texas, which assists the intellectually disabled as well as the mentally ill.

"Robert Ladd's life is full of evidence of his intellectual disability, and he doesn't belong on death row," said Stull. "We will continue to ask the courts to uphold the protections of Atkins and Hall to spare him from execution."

For more information about the case Ex Parte Ladd, visit: https://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment/ex-parte-ladd

For information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit: https://www.aclu.org/capital-punishment

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Eight Months After Botched Execution, Oklahoma Gambles with Same Faulty Drug

ACLU -- Death Penalty News - Fri, 01/16/2015 - 9:51am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – At 7:28 PM CT, the state of Oklahoma executed Charles Warner by lethal injection. This was the first execution in the state since Clayton Lockett’s botched execution in April 2014. Says Cassandra Stubbs, Director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project:

Despite the public outcry over Clayton Lockett’s horrifically botched execution, Oklahoma has just picked up where it left off. Prison officials used midazolam on Charles Warner, a drug that had failed during Lockett’s execution and that doctors say has no place in lethal injection. In every state that has used it, midazolam has failed to render the prisoner unconscious, and has led to botched and torturous executions. Due to the paralyzing effects of other drugs Warner received tonight, we will never know whether he experienced excruciating pain throughout the execution. What we do know is that Oklahoma’s willingness to risk that pain violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and international human rights.

For more on the human rights violations, see the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decision in response to an ACLU petition on Charles Warner's behalf: https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/2014_may_20_resolucion_mc_177-14.pdf

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU Reaches Landmark Settlement over Rampant Violence and Abuse by Guards in L.A. County Jails

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP today announced a historic settlement in Rosas v. Baca, a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the jails. The L.A. County Jail system is the largest in the United States, with a current population of approximately 19,000.

“Today’s settlement is the culmination of an extraordinary campaign to bring daylight into a very dark place – the L.A. County jails,” said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Exposing the culture of savage abuse by deputies has been half the battle in putting an end to it – and the federal decree mandated by today’s settlement will take the parties the rest of the way towards a long-lasting and far-reaching change.”

Under the settlement agreement, the Sheriff’s Department will adopt a detailed and far-reaching plan – drawn up by a panel of three experts – to reform department policies and practices on use of force. As the ACLU documented in its 2011 report “Cruel and Usual Punishment,” the jails’ deputies regularly used excessive force on detainees, including those with mental illnesses, resulting in grave injuries and even death. This report prompted the Board of Supervisors in 2012 to convene the county’s Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, a blue-ribbon commission whose recommendations are reflected in today’s settlement. The corrective plan approved today is subject to federal court oversight and enforcement.

“For decades, the sheriff’s department has run the jails without any accountability or transparency,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU SoCal. “This agreement addresses those problems by establishing clear policies and practices the department must implement, and creating an enforcement mechanism to ensure it does. Put simply, the sheriff’s department must now follow the law or risk court intervention.”

Additionally, under the settlement agreement, the expert panel will monitor the department’s compliance with all aspects of the remedial plan.

If ultimately approved by the court, the key changes mandated by today’s agreement include:

  • The implementation of robust policies to prevent abuse of detainees with mental illness. A 2008 ACLU report concluded that use of force by deputies was disproportionately directed at detainees with mental illness. Former Sheriff Lee Baca confirmed that the ACLU’s conclusion still held in 2012.
  • Greatly enhanced training in use of force for all deputies, veterans as well as new hires. The Citizens Commission on Jail Violence found that training for custody by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is “far below both industry best practices and training standards in other corrections systems.”
  • Radically enhanced methods for tracking and review of use of force incidents and detainees’ complaints and grievances. 

“The settlement sends a clear message to our elected officials that we cannot tolerate the abuse of detainees in our jails,” said John Durrant, a partner with the law firm of Paul Hastings. “We expect this agreement to usher in a new era of oversight in the jails. It should significantly reduce the incidents of abuse and increase accountability when deputies apply excessive force. Paul Hastings is proud to have litigated this matter pro bono, to have done so vigorously, and to have worked alongside the ACLU in achieving this landmark settlement.”

The settlement comes nearly three years after the ACLU sued the county on behalf of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, two pretrial detainees who were viciously beaten by deputies. The federal suit alleged violations of the detainees’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and the rights of pretrial detainees not to be punished prior to conviction.

With today’s milestone agreement, Los Angeles County has an unprecedented opportunity to bring lasting reforms to the nation’s largest jail system, together with the U.S. Justice Department’s efforts to ensure court oversight of the treatment of detainees with mental illness in the jails, the 2012 recommendations by the Citizens’ Commission, and the election of a new sheriff.

More information about today’s settlement and the ACLU’s fight to improve conditions in the Los Angeles County jails is available here:

Settlement agreement, implementation plan, and other documents:
https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/rosas-et-al-v-baca-et-al

Timeline:
https://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/inmate-abuse-timeline/

Expert Biographies:
http://www.aclusocal.org/cases/rosas-v-baca/bios/

More information about the ACLU of Southern California:
https://www.aclusocal.org/

More information about the ACLU’s National Prison Project:
https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Arizona Agrees to Major Improvements in Prison Health Care, Crucial Limits on Solitary Confinement in Landmark Settlement

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:00am

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the Prison Law Office, and co-counsel today filed a settlement agreement in their class-action suit on behalf of more than 33,000 prisoners in Arizona’s state prisons. Under the settlement, the Arizona Department of Corrections must fix a broken health care system plagued by long-term and systemic problems that caused numerous deaths and preventable injuries. The settlement will also allow prisoners in solitary confinement who have serious mental illnesses to have more mental health treatment and time outside their cells, and will make other critical reforms in prison conditions.

"The Arizona Department of Corrections worked with us on a settlement that shows a commitment to protecting prisoners’ physical and mental health," said David Fathi, the Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. "We hope other states will now find ways to provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to their prisoners."

"The Arizona Department of Corrections has agreed to changes that will save lives," said Don Specter, Director of the Prison Law Office. "This settlement will bring more humane treatment for prisoners with serious health care needs, and the potential for their conditions to improve rather than worsen."

The settlement in Parsons v. Ryan requires the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to meet more than 100 health care performance measures, covering issues such as monitoring of prisoners with diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic conditions; care for pregnant prisoners; and dental care.

The settlement also requires ADC to overhaul the rules for prisoners with serious mental illnesses in solitary confinement. Instead of spending all but six hours a week in their cells, such prisoners will now have a minimum of 19 hours a week outside the cell, and this time must include mental health treatment and other programming. ADC must also restrict guards’ use of pepper spray on these prisoners, using it only as a last resort when necessary to prevent serious injury or escape.

The settlement provides for ongoing monitoring and oversight by the prisoners’ lawyers to make sure the state is complying with its terms.

The groups filed the federal lawsuit in 2012, challenging years of inattention to the health needs of state prisoners and improper and excessive use of solitary confinement, resulting in serious harm and unnecessary deaths. Judge Neil V. Wake of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix certified the case as a class action in March 2013, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling in June 2014. Last month, the groups filed reports by nationally recognized experts in corrections and in medical, mental health, and dental care, showing system-wide problems with the prisons’ health care and excessive use of solitary confinement.

In addition to the ACLU and the Prison Law Office, other attorneys on the case are Perkins Coie, Jones Day, and the Arizona Center for Disability Law, which is also a plaintiff in the case.

For information about the ACLU’s National Prison Project:
https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights

For information about the Prison Law Office:
www.prisonlaw.com

For information about the Arizona Center for Disability Law:
http://www.acdl.com/

Categories: Prisoners Rights

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