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Prisoners Rights

Kansas District Court Ends Wyandotte County Jail’s “Postcard-Only” Mail Policy

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:19am

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - United States District Judge Eric F. Melgren signed an order today reversing the Wyandotte County Jail’s “postcard-only” mail policy and ordering the Jail to again allow inmates to exchange letters through the U.S. Mail – the result of a legal challenge to the policy brought by the ACLU of Kansas and the Social Justice Law Collective (SJLC).

Judge Melgren’s ruling approves an agreement between Jail inmates and the Wyandotte County Sheriff.  According to the Court’s order, inmates in the Wyandotte County Jail will now be able to send an unlimited number of regular letters to friends and family members outside the Jail.  The Sheriff, who retains the ability to restrict the length of letters in certain circumstances, must also now provide free writing materials to indigent inmates.  The Sheriff has also agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the ACLU and SJLC for their efforts in securing the judgment

“Today’s reversal of the Wyandotte County Jail’s ‘postcard-only’ mail policy is a clear sign that unnecessary restrictions on the free speech rights of incarcerated individuals are illegal,” said Joshua Glickman, Founding Member Attorney of the Social Justice Law Collective, “the Wyandotte County Jail now joins the vast majority of Kansas jails which operate safe and secure facilities without the need to drastically curtail the ability of inmates to correspond with family, friends, and loved ones.”

The ACLU of Kansas and SJLC filed the federal class action lawsuit in October 2013, alleging that the Wyandotte County Jail’s “postcard-only” mail policy violated the constitutional rights of inmates and their friends and families to communicate with one another.  Given the typical distance between inmates and their families, as well as the prohibitive cost of telephone calls and in-person visits, the ACLU and SJLC argued that the Jail’s restrictive correspondence policies not only prevented inmates from privately corresponding with loved ones, but also hindered inmates’ ability to successfully re-integrate into their communities upon release.

“It’s a significant victory for the ability of incarcerated individuals to exercise their right to speak without undue government interference – a right these individuals retain even in Jail,” said Doug Bonney, Legal Director for the ACLU of Kansas, “in approving the parties’ agreement, the Court has made it clear that jail and prison rules that stifle free speech will not be permitted.”

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Court Approves Major Settlement Improving Health Care in Arizona Prisons

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Wed, 02/18/2015 - 8:00pm

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

PHOENIX – A federal court today approved a settlement that requires the Arizona Department of Corrections to fix its prisons’ health care system, which caused numerous deaths and preventable injuries. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona, the Prison Law Office, and co-counsel sued the department on behalf of more than 33,000 prisoners in the state’s prisons.

David Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said:

Today’s settlement will save lives, bringing drastic improvements to a prison system where the sick grew sicker and even died due to insufficient medical attention. At last, the Arizona Department of Corrections will provide its prisoners with adequate medical, mental health, and dental care. This is what the Constitution and our consciences demand.

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.

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 more information about Parsons v.


For information about the ACLU’s National Prison Project:

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU of Nebraska Announces Prison Litigation Advisory Panel

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Thu, 02/12/2015 - 1:46pm

Several trial attorneys join ACLU in efforts to reform crisis-ridden prison system

February 12, 2015

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

Lincoln, NE - Today the ACLU of Nebraska announced the formation of a trial lawyer’s panel to provide advice and oversight for potential prison litigation in Nebraska. According to the ACLU, the panel will advise on legal remedies for unconstitutional prison conditions including both individual cases and class actions. The unconstitutional prison conditions have been caused by overcrowding with the system currently at 159% of capacity. The ACLU says the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal laws could be violated by continued failure to meet minimum custodial standards, mistreatment and inadequate care for mentally ill and vulnerable inmates, abusive overuse of solitary confinement, and overall, a major reduction in the rehabilitation function of “corrections” in our state.

“Decades of misguided ‘throw away the key’ policies have led to a criminal justice system that is at a crisis point. Our current system comes with a high price tag for taxpayers and while experiencing a crisis of capacity the Department’s resources are stretched so thin it cannot meet public safety goals for the vast majority of those incarcerated who will be released back into our communities. The time for action is now,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad. “We urge the Nebraska Legislature to enact significant front end sentencing reforms that will reduce overcrowding and provide judges with more discretion to make sure the punishment fits the crime. We urge the Nebraska Legislature to enact alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders to reduce mass incarceration and ensure our criminal justice system investments are smart. We urge the Nebraska Legislature to enact immediate reforms to the use of solitary confinement and in particular its impact on those with serious mental illness. If meaningful reforms are not enacted we may use litigation to resolve the Eighth Amendment violations present in Nebraska’s prison system. The ACLU of Nebraska is grateful to have the support and expertise of these highly successful lawyers to guide our prison litigation efforts if and when the need arises.”

“The distinguished lawyers on this panel will help to accelerate reform efforts to pull Nebraska’s corrections system back from the brink. Nebraska law provides that ‘the Governor may declare a correctional system overcrowding emergency whenever the director certifies that the population is over one hundred forty percent of design capacity,’ Existing overload is at a level of about 159%. Many individual institutions have reached 200-300% of their design capacity. That is exactly what ‘the brink’ looks like.” said Alan Peterson of Lincoln, ACLU of Nebraska Senior Counsel.

In 2014, the ACLU of Nebraska authored three groundbreaking reports on prison conditions and risk of litigation. These reports documented conditions of confinement and identified legal issues ripe for litigation. The first of many potential lawsuits have already been placed on file against the state of Nebraska challenging conditions of confinement and alleging deliberate indifference to the serious deprivations of those incarcerated.

Initial members of the ACLU Nebraska Prison Litigation Advisory Panel include:

  • Robert F. Bartle- Bartle & Geier Law Firm, Lincoln NE. Former President of Nebraska State Bar Association, experienced litigator, including general trial practice, civil rights, wrongful imprisonment;
  • Marsha Fangmeyer- Knapp, Fangmeyer, Aschwege, Besse & Marsh, P.C.   Kearney, NE.  Former President of the Nebraska State Bar Association, general practice with emphasis on family law and a wide range of litigation.
  • Sean Brennan-Brennan and Nielsen law offices, Lincoln NE. Former President of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney’s Association, former president of the Lincoln Bar Association and frequently appointed to serve as special prosecutor to conduct grand jury investigations of “in custody” death cases. Counsel to the Special Investigative Committee of the Nebraska State Legislature concerning Nikko Jenkins case and wrongful inmate release issues;
  • David Fathi- Director of the Prison Project of the national ACLU, Washington D.C. Highly experienced litigation counsel in areas of prison overcrowding, abuse of prison "segregation," failure to treat mentally ill inmates and related issues. Conducted successful class action prison litigation strategies in numerous states;
  • Maren Chaloupka- Chaloupka, Holyoke, Hofmeister, Snyder & Chaloupka, LLO Scottsbluff NE. Experienced litigator with expertise in civil rights and criminal law. State leader on issues of abuse of inmates, deliberate indifference/ cruel and unusual punishment issues, neglect leading to self-harm by inmates, federal and state litigation practice and procedure;
  • Denise Frost- Johnson and Mock, Omaha NE. Former President of the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorney’s Association, experienced litigator with expertise in the fields of criminal defense and civil rights practice;
  • Michael D. Gooch- Omaha NE. Former correctional officer, longtime public defender in Lancaster County, experienced litigator in the fields of criminal defense and civil rights;
  • Robert W. Mullin- Houghton Vandenack Williams, Omaha NE. Former President of the Nebraska State Bar Association, experienced trial attorney, Fellow of the American College of Trial Attorneys, civil rights and general litigation;
  • Gerald "Jerry" Soucie- Lincoln, NE. 35 years of criminal defense - both trials and appellees. Lead counsel on several Nebraska cases involving sentencing and prison issues.
  • Amy Miller, Lincoln, NE, Legal Director of ACLU of Nebraska, experienced civil rights and civil liberties attorney;
  • Alan Peterson, Lincoln, NE, Senior Counsel to ACLU of Nebraska, general trial attorney, civil rights and liberties, death penalty defense litigation.
Categories: Prisoners Rights

Civil Rights Advocates Urge NJ State Senate Committee to Severely Restrict Solitary Confinement

ACLU -- Criminal Justice News - Thu, 02/12/2015 - 11:19am

Inhumane isolation damages mental health of prisoners and poses dangers to society

February 12, 2015

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

Members of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, a coalition of groups committed to ending solitary confinement as currently practiced in New Jersey's jails and prisons, testified today in favor of a bill to severely restrict its use. The bill, S-2588, sponsored by State Senators Peter Barnes III and Raymond Lesniak, would impose limits and safeguards that have been shown to improve both institutional and community safety.

“I’ve been on both sides of solitary confinement, and I know that many people think of it as a temporary punishment that lasts only as long as the isolation itself,” said Terrell A. Blount, a student in Rutgers University’s Master of Public Administration program, who previously served three months in solitary confinement. “Based on what I’ve seen working with men who have served long sentences, some who served 10 years in isolation, solitary confinement is a sentence that lasts a lifetime. At the age of 21, I entered solitary myself, and I was assaulted by a man twice my age with a sentence four times longer than my own. Most people who serve time in solitary will re-enter society. And when they do, we should ask ourselves if we want them to be haunted by the torture they endured, or if we want them in a position where they can make the greatest contributions to society as possible. New Jersey needs this bill signed into law, as do the countless men and women in our state who have been subjected to the unjust and inhumane practice most commonly called solitary confinement.”

Specifically, S-2588 would:

  • Reduce the length of time a person can be kept in solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days and no more than 20 in a 60-day period
  • Ban the solitary confinement of vulnerable populations, including children and prisoners with mental illness
  • Ensure access to due process, for people subjected to solitary confinement
  • Call on the Department of Corrections to develop safer and more humane alternatives

“Long-term solitary confinement is cruel, it’s expensive, and it’s ineffective,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “This bill has the potential to bring New Jersey in line with other states across the country, from New York to Mississippi, that have made their prisons safer and increased the safety of society. Long term solitary confinement is clearly recognized as torture, and it’s time New Jersey took steps to bring its use to an end. This bill is the best opportunity we’ve had.”

In effect, the bill would encourage corrections authorities to seek effective safe alternatives and use isolation only as a last resort, in contrast to its current status as a routine form of punishment.

Solitary confinement refers to the practice of locking people in small cells for 20 or more hours at a time, whether alone or with others, without any sensory or mental stimulation. Research has clearly shown that such confinement inflicts devastating, sometimes irreparable trauma, especially for young people and people with mental illnesses. Studies have widely shown solitary confinement to be an expensive and ineffective practice that compromises safety inside correctional institutions as well as public safety in the community, where it interferes with successful prisoner re-entry and is associated with increased recidivism.

“Roughly 95 percent of those currently incarcerated will one day return home to our communities,” said the Rev. Charles F. Boyer, pastor of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Somerset, NJ, and a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. “We believe it is a moral imperative that these individuals, our neighbors, return home prepared to contribute meaningfully within their communities.”

Across the country, other states have improved corrections operations and public safety by instituting alternatives to solitary confinement. Most recently, New York severely limited its use of solitary confinement with legislation similar to S-5288, banning the solitary confinement of juveniles and people with mental illness. Washington state uses segregated housing sparingly, incorporating tactics such as restricting privileges. Maine State Prison’s institutional violence decreased as a result of a reduction in use of solitary confinement. When Mississippi reduced its isolation of prisoners, the state not only saw drastic declines in prison violence, but saved more than $5 million.

“There are so many reasons not to use solitary confinement: the often permanent mental trauma, the increased violence, the added difficulties prisoners face upon reentry,” said Bonnie Kerness, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Prison Watch Program. “The isolation and lack of human contact is considered no-touch torture, and for the sake of human rights, civil rights, and political rights, we must abolish it, and that starts here today with this bill.”

The ACLU-NJ in 2013 filed a petition with the Juvenile Justice Commission to end the solitary confinement of children as punishment, and in 2014 filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate with multiple mental disorders held in solitary for months at a time in the Middlesex County Jail. While juveniles and people with mental illness in particular are most vulnerable to the devastating, permanent effects of solitary confinement, the practice inflicts heavy psychological damage in all groups of people.

“It is now past time to stop subjecting human beings in State custody to long term isolation, by supporting S2588 today, said attorney Jean Ross, a member of the People’s Organization for Progress. “In New Jersey, the time to end this practice is now, and the way to end it is with this legislation. Because our state was the first to legislatively abolish the death penalty, we are optimistic that the New Jersey Legislature will also take this step to demonstrate that there are more effective and humane ways to keep us safe.”

Read ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom's testimony at

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Texas Executes Intellectually Disabled Man, Violating Constitution

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

CONTACT: 212-549-266,

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:

For information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit:

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

CONTACT: 212-549-266,

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:

For information about the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, visit:

Categories: Prisoners Rights

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

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

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

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:

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

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

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:


Expert Biographies:

More information about the ACLU of Southern California:

More information about the ACLU’s National Prison Project:

Categories: Prisoners Rights

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