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ACLU -- Criminal Justice News

Nebraska Corrections Department selected for solitary confinement initiative

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:00am

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

LINCOLN - Today it was announced that the Nebraska Department of Corrections was selected by the Vera Institute of Justice as one of five corrections departments to participate in the Safe Alternatives to Segregation (SAS) initiative aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement and other forms of segregated prisoner housing. The state corrections departments in Nebraska, Oregon, and North Carolina, and local departments in New York City and Middlesex County, New Jersey were chosen after a competitive bidding process. For more information, including a quote from Scott Frakes, director, Nebraska Department of Corrections, please visit:
http://www.vera.org/news/vera-selects-five-corrections-departments-initiative-aimed-reducing-use-solitary-confinement

Statement from ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad

We commend the State of Nebraska for securing this important grant. The Vera Institute has an impressive track record for fostering meaningful reform efforts. Nebraska remains an outlier in the country with nearly 15% of prisoners in some type of restricted housing or solitary confinement. Nebraska needs all hands on deck to end these practices and make smart, effective investments in our criminal justice system rather than using litigation as our only option to cure constitutional violations, restore dignity, and ensure access to mental health treatment to improve public safety.
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ABOUT: The ACLU of Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU Comment on BOP's Closing of Willacy Private Prison

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 7:51pm

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

WASHINGTON – According to media reports, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has canceled its contract with the Management and Training Corporation for the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville City, Texas. This cancellation comes after a major uprising on February 20th in which almost 2,000 people incarcerated at Willacy took control of the prison, apparently in protest of inadequate medical services.

“The Bureau of Prisons’ decision to shut down the Willacy private prison is a welcome but long overdue move,” said Carl Takei, an attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project. “We hope the Bureau will sustain this momentum by ending the use of private prisons entirely. Additionally, Congress must pass sentencing reform legislation and take steps to address our country’s mass incarceration epidemic.”

Nicknamed “Ritmo,” the Gitmo of Raymondville by local advocates, the Willacy prison was first built in 2006 as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility. After numerous complaints of abuse, ICE cancelled its contract with Willacy in 2011, but the Bureau of Prisons quickly converted Willacy into a “Criminal Alien Requirement” prison – one of thirteen such private prisons around the country.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union profiled this network of private prisons in its June 2014 report, “Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System.” The report found that people incarcerated in these private prisons were subjected to shocking mistreatment and abusive conditions, with inadequate oversight by the Bureau of Prisons. Following the recent uprising, the ACLU called for an independent investigation into the causes and circumstances of the protest.

Categories: Prisoners Rights

Health Care Transparency Will Help Address Overincarceration and Violence at Rikers, According to NYCLU Testimony

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 10:58am

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

Regular reporting on the physical and mental health of people incarcerated on Rikers Island and the provision of care prisoners there receive will take New York City a step closer toward addressing the violence that plagues the jail, according to testimony to be delivered today before the New York City Council.

“The systemic failure to address the health care needs of those incarcerated on Rikers Island – a population challenged by mental health and medical issues so severe that they shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first place – exacerbates the culture of brutality that plagues Rikers Island,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “That culture itself is inexcusable and has to be met head on, but at the same time it must be acknowledged that corrections officers are simply not prepared or trained to deal with the level of suffering they are forced to confront at Rikers. Defining the magnitude of the problem will be a crucial first step toward ending it.”

In its testimony, the NYCLU called for the swift passage of Intro. 440, legislation that will permit the city to better assess the number of individuals detained at Rikers who suffer from mental health or medical conditions so serious that they should never be incarcerated and should instead be diverted to a more appropriate therapeutic setting.  The data will also permit a long overdue comprehensive assessment of medical and mental health care at Rikers that can be used to inform sweeping improvements in the quality and delivery of that care, a critical component for addressing the excessive and punitive use of force by correction officers against individuals who are suffering from a lack of adequate mental health treatment.

The NYCLU’s testimony also offers recommendations to clarify and expand the reporting requirements, including amending the bill to clarify that any agency involved in the delivery of health care must be required to collect and report relevant data; adding the reporting of key demographic data, including race, age and gender; and reporting on training of correctional staff on health care matters.

To read the NYCLU’s complete testimony and recommendations, visit:
http://www.nyclu.org/content/testimony-requiring-annual-report-regarding-health-of-inmates-city-correctional-facilities

Categories: Prisoners Rights

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

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 11:19am

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

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

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 8:00pm

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

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. Ryanaclu.org/prisoners-rights/parsons-v-ryan

 

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

Categories: Prisoners Rights

ACLU of Nebraska Announces Prison Litigation Advisory Panel

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 1:46pm

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

February 12, 2015

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

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

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 11:19am

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

February 12, 2015

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

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 www.aclu-nj.org.

Categories: Prisoners Rights