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Recognizing Youth Leadership in Civil Liberties and Human Rights: Rufus King Graduate Receives Award

27 Jun

Congrats to recent Rufus King High School graduate Zach Komes. During his high school career, Zach was a leader at his school and in the Milwaukee community in civil rights and human rights education and activism. To recognize his work, he received this year’s Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award.

Zach Komes receives the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award

“Participating in the Amnesty International Chapter and the ACLU Student Alliance at Rufus King High School as Student Coordinator for two years has been one of the best times of my life,” said Komes. “From promoting important issues through workshops and movie screenings to direct action campaigns like letter writing, vigils, and marches, our ACLU student alliance has done great work.

“It was a great honor to receive the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award at our chapter’s annual banquet.  Jackie Yang, who founded our chapter in 2009 and who also worked in the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Madison Area Office last semester, is an example of true leadership and dedication to civil liberties. Receiving this award in her name is very humbling. I am very excited to what our chapter does in the future under the leadership of new co-coordinators James Elias and Mary Poppings! The Amnesty International/ACLU Chapter at Rufus King will continue to work for justice and progress in our community, nation, and world!”

The Amnesty International Chapter at Rufus King High School is committed to engaging students in international human rights issues. Human rights standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide students’ research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination. The group partners with the ACLU Student Alliance to work on domestic civil rights and constitutional protection issues.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is looking forward to seeing Zach continue to be a leader in the work to defend individual rights. Want to find out if there is an ACLU Student Alliance at your school? Want to start one? Contact us at youth@aclu-wi.org to find out more.

ACLU of Wisconsin goes to residents for information concerning Milwaukee police strip searches

2 Apr

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has been trying to investigate the policies and practices of the Milwaukee Police Department regarding strip searches.  The ACLU’s investigation began after the MPD in March acknowledged that Milwaukee police officers may have been conducting unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches on the public streets.

On March 28, 2012 ACLU made a public records request to the MPD for copies of documents such as orders, memos and report that may help us to assess whether the department is following its own strip search and body cavity search procedures.  The department has not yet produced the documents requested or denied our request.

Because of the delay on the part of MPD and the public interest in this matter, the ACLU of Wisconsin has begun seeking alternative sources of information.

The ACLU is asking citizens for copies of any strip search authorization reports that MPD may have issued to them.  MPD procedures require MPD give the subject of a strip search a copy of a Strip Search Authorization Report.  The police ask the subject of the search to sign and affix a fingerprint to the report.

The ACLU is publicizing their request by means of social media and flyers distributed on the street, in public places, and through community organizations. While it is impossible to know how many Strip Search Authorization Reports the MPD issued by asking citizens, it should be possible to learn relevant information about MPD search practices.  The ACLU has promised to respect the privacy of those who submit copies of forms. The ACLU hopes that more information from the MPD will be forthcoming.  The ACLU will share the facts regarding any possible pattern or practice of improper strip searches with appropriate authorities and the public.

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service

2 Apr

Milwaukee residents living in every neighborhood deserve high quality professional police service. No one, regardless of where they live, should have to put up with police misconduct. Recent allegations  that several officers in District Five carried out unauthorized strip searches and illegal body cavity searches need to be investigated carefully, fairly, and comprehensively. While it is important to determine whether or not individual officers violated department policies or state law or civil rights laws, it is equally important that the department evaluate its own policies, practices, and strategies to see if they may have undermined police service and civil liberties.

It is in the interest of residents and the department that the department responds to the alleged incidents of police misconduct with candor, transparency, and self-evaluation. Without violating the due process rights of the officers involved and regardless of the outcome of investigations into their conduct, the department can learn from this controversy and provide better service in the future.

The department must consider what impact its own policies, practices, and strategies may have on the delivery of police services.

For instance, incredible as it sounds, if the officers were truly ignorant of the policies or the differences between a pat down or frisk, a strip search, or a body cavity search, then the department has to explain how its training and supervision failed. Is their training forgotten or ignored when officers detain residents on our public streets?

The department must also evaluate its proactive policing strategy to see if it makes incidents of police misconduct more likely to occur. Under this strategy the Milwaukee Police Department made 240,000 traffic and subject stops in 2010. Traffic stop figures through October 2011 show the department will have made a similar number of stops in 2011, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This extraordinary number of stops obviously increases the opportunity for interactions between officers and residents to go awry. What’s more as Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn told the newspaper, “Yes, of course we are going to stop lots of innocent people.”  The department should evaluate what message it is sending to officers when its proactive policing strategy disregards a person’s innocence. The message at best says civil liberties are expendable.

We pointed out in an op ed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that the department should also revisit its decision to create the Gang/Drug Unit when the Metropolitan Investigations Division, formed in August, 2010. It appears that the implicated officers including a sergeant belonged to District Five’s anti-gang unit. Many police managers across the country have moved away from special gang and drug units, especially after revelations of widespread abuse by such units of the Los Angeles Police Department. Perhaps, there is a legitimate use for such units, but it appears the type and level of supervision given to Milwaukee’s anti-gang unit was deficient.

Finally, because metropolitan Milwaukee is a hyper-segregated area along racial and income lines, one cannot address policing without addressing civil rights. In the light of the department’s inability to use traffic stop data to identify possible racially biased policing, it is imperative that the department clarify how it is identifying biased officers. We don’t know if these District Five officers are biased, but bias could be a contributing factor. The department needs to be more aggressive in identifying and remedying individual or systemic bias.

The Milwaukee Police Department has an opportunity to evaluate its policies, practices and strategies following the allegations regarding misconduct by officers from District Five. If it simply investigates the officers, it will be setting Milwaukee up for more frustration. Chief Flynn has the capacity to exercise leadership. He can demonstrate that the department will address possible systemic problems. If so, this controversy may be an opportunity to further improve police community relations.

If you have been the target of racial profiling in Milwaukee or in Wisconsin, tell the ACLU of Wisconsin your story.

Incarcerated Women at Taycheedah Now Have More Options for Psychiatric Care

12 Sep

The recent opining of the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric hospital for women prisoners, will go a long way towards providing desperately needed mental health care, the ACLU said today. Previously, the services that will be offered at the WWRC were available only to male prisoners. The ACLU filed a law suit in 2006 that challenged this unequal and unfair treatment. The WWRC, which can house 45 prisoners, will begin accepting patients this month.

“Until now, the Wisconsin prison system could not provide critical treatment to women suffering from severe and debilitating mental illnesses,” said Gabriel Eber, staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, DC, who represented women at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in a lawsuit against the state. The class action lawsuit challenged unconstitutional conditions at Taycheedah, the state’s maximum security women’s prison in Fond du Lac. In November 2009, federal district Judge Rudolph Randa found there was sufficient evidence that the lack of inpatient resources for female prisoners violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution to hold a trial.

The ACLU and the state settled the lawsuit in December 2010. The agreement requires the state to make substantial improvements to medical care and mental health care and to increase access to programs for women prisoners with disabilities. The agreement also enabled the ACLU to seek court sanctions if the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center was not completed in a timely manner.

“For too long, female prisoners needing psychiatric care in a hospital setting were treated by overworked staff in poorly equipped facilities at Taycheedah,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, who represented prisoners in the litigation. “We commend the Department of Corrections and are pleased that women prisoners will now have access to desperately needed inpatient mental health care services.” The WWRC is located in Waupun.

We Must Now Reclaim Our Liberties: Ten Years After 9/11

10 Sep

Ten years after the horrific events of September 11, 2001 the American people are right to remember and honor those who died in at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.  The ten-year mark of the 9/11 attacks also importantly provides an opportunity to reflect on the turbulent decade behind us, and to recommit ourselves to values that define our nation, including justice, due process, and the rule of law.

Nearly ten years ago on September 23, 2001, I wrote in the Journal Sentinel, “Americans, in and out of the Congress, will have to evaluate carefully, ‘anti-terrorism’ proposals that may have an impact on the civil liberties that protect our freedom.”   Much of the government’s response to the attacks against us was done without proper deliberation.  Much of the government’s response was initiated without the benefit of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation and report.  It is no wonder that we are still facing challenges, despite a “global war on terrorism” that seems to be an everywhere and forever war.

The records of the Bush and the Obama administrations reveal many actions that have undermined our ability to remain safe and free.  Congress has done no better.  Some in Congress are attempting to undermine the Constitution by giving the president a blank check for a worldwide, endless war.  This would be a clear abdication of Congress’s role in our system of checks and balances – the Constitution clearly gives only Congress the power to declare war.

Targeted killings in the name of our security continue without any way for us to know whether people our government kills are truly a threat to our country. Prisoners who have never had a trial are still held at Guantanamo.  Although evidence of torture and death at U.S.-run detention facilities like Abu Ghraib, Bagram and CIA “black sites” exists, no single victim of torture has had a day in court due to the “states secrets” privilege and immunity doctrines our government invokes to defend itself from being held accountable for these human rights abuses.

And, we need not look overseas to see how American freedoms are threatened in ways that may not make us safer, much less safe.

At the Mitchell Field, you get to choose between full-body scanners that reveal near-naked outlines of our bodies or an offensive pat-down by TSA workers. Phone companies are willing to hand over your call records to the government without warrants or suspicion of criminal activity of individuals. Taking pictures of landmarks is enough to make you the subject of a “suspicious activity report” in a terrorist behavior data base. Surveillance by the government has tracked racial minorities, religious groups, peace protesters, college students and journalists.

Government policies that target groups by race, ethnicity or religion are counterproductive and make us less safe.  Experienced intelligence and law-enforcement officials agree that profiling based on race, religion and ideology is ineffective, inefficient, and counter-productive.

This anniversary is a fitting time to remember and stirs deep emotion and concern among our fellow Americans.   This is entirely legitimate and to be expected ten years into a war. But, despite the passing of a decade and the changing of leadership in the White House and Congress, we continue to allow the fear of terrorism to cloud our political discourse.   We must have the courage to affirm what makes  America great.  What I wrote in 2001 is still valid: “Freedom is more than just a goal; it is the bulwark of our democracy and the spirit that lifts individuals and families in countless ways.  It makes us safer and stronger.”

- Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director, ACLU of Wisconsin

Read the report: A Call to Courage – Reclaiming Our Liberty Ten Years After 9/11 from the national American Civil Liberties Union

This opinion piece was also featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Crossroads on Sunday, September 11, 2011.

ACLU of WI Wins Federal Lawsuit Over Grossly Deficient Health Care in WI Women’s Prisons

19 Aug

Here is an update on how the ACLU is settling a lawsuit charging inadequate care at the Taycheedah women’s prison. Dramatic improvements in medical and mental health care will ensure female prisoners receive same levels of care as male inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm Jenner and Block have filed papers seeking court approval of an agreement to settle a longstanding class-action lawsuit charging that grossly deficient medical and mental health care jeopardized the lives of female prisoners at the state’s largest women’s prison.

As part of the agreement, filed on August 20th in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, state officials have agreed to implement a number of significant structural improvements aimed at ensuring that constitutionally adequate levels of care are provided to all prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), and that female prisoners receive the same levels of mental health care as the state’s male prisoners.

“Today’s settlement is a real victory for all female prisoners at TCI who will no longer have to suffer needlessly in a system that fails to comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “This settlement will lead to dramatic improvements in the quality of health care prisoners will receive.”

Under terms of the settlement agreement, state correctional officials must hire a full-time medical director who will oversee all health care at TCI, be on-site five-days-a-week and be devoted to administration and patient care. State officials will also be required to hire a consultant charged with regularly monitoring the medical care being provided to prisoners, provide recommendations about how to improve care and analyze TCI’s compliance with agreed-upon health care performance standards.

State officials must also complete construction by June 2012 of an off-site women’s resource center that will accept prisoners from TCI who need inpatient-level psychiatric services. Construction of planned annexes at TCI which will provide space for out-of-cell therapeutic activities and group and individual therapy for prisoners with serious mental illnesses must also be completed by June 2012.

Additionally, state officials must make a number of improvements to ensure the safety and access to core programs and services of prisoners with disabilities, including providing prisoners with hearing impairments access to sign language interpreters, reading assistance and Braille materials for prisoners with vision impairments and increased maintenance of paths, walkways and thoroughfares between buildings.

“The health care system at TCI has been in crisis for years and today’s settlement agreement is a monumental step toward achieving much-needed improvements and accountability,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The measures that will be put in place will have a positive impact not only on the prisoners at TCI but on the communities to which prisoners will return upon release.”

The first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit was filed in 2006 by the ACLU on behalf of women prisoners at TCI. The lawsuit charged that the state prison system put the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provided far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and failed to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services.

The lawsuit sought reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care be made available. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa entered a preliminary injunction ordering that significant changes be made immediately to TCI’s dangerous system of administering medications to prisoners.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charged that the prison’s health system violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and that the mental health care system violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women received mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available online.

We’ve blogged before about our progress in the case. As the lawsuit is being settled, the story is getting media attention from Wisconsin Public Radio (RealPlayer audio), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, UPI and News Talk WTAQ.com. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article has a lively comments section, so please post your comments in support of the continued work of the ACLU of Wisconsin to secure humane conditions in our state prison system.

On Mother’s Day, Do Mom a Favor – Take Action to Ratify CEDAW for Women’s Equality Worldwide

9 May

Happy Mother’s Day from the ACLU of Wisconsin! Today, you can do your mom and women around the world a favor….

CEDAW – The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the international treaty dedicated to gender equality. The U.S. played a major role in drafting the treaty and President Carter signed it in 1980, but we are one of only seven countries that has not ratified CEDAW.

Let’s make 2010 the year we of ratification. For the first time, there is a strategic, well-resourced coalition leading the effort, and we have strong support within the current administration and the US Senate. But getting 67 Senators to vote yes to ratification wont be easy and well need your help over the next 5-7 months.


Young people from Milwaukee created this video to help spread the word.

Please do your part to help:
Go to the ACLU’s action page on CEDAW to contact your Senators and urge them to ratify this treaty in 2010. You can also upload a video response to the ACLU of Wisconsin’s video to support CEDAW – forward it to your friends and keep the word going.

Visit the ACLU’s national page on CEDAW for more information. Or check out womenstreaty.org or ratifycedaw.org for updates on this movement.

Tortured logic: video on why torture memo authors need accountability

6 Aug

This week, the ACLU debuted a video featuring actors reading from the Bush administration’s torture memos. Watch Oliver Stone, Philip Glass, Rosie Perez and others read the chilling torture memos written by Bush’s lawyers, and demand a full investigation into the Bush torture program.

View the video here.


Buttons on the video page will allow you to send it to friends via Facebook and Twitter.

You can also send the video to US Attorney General Eric Holder and ask him to have an independent prosecutor appointed to investigate and hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture policies.

State Supreme Court says "no" to remedy for victims of jail overcrowding

21 Jul

On Tuesday, July 21 2009, the state Supreme Court made a ruling on a case in which the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation legal department along with Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee sued the Milwaukee County Jail for poor conditions. The Supreme Court held that a circuit court did not have the authority to provide a remedy to individuals who were held for more than 30 hours in the booking area of the Milwaukee County Jail in violation of a 2001 court order. While the decision is disappointing, conditions in the jail have improved since the class action lawsuit began years ago.

History
When the Milwaukee County Jail opened its doors in 1993, the design was only supposed to hold 798 people. Three years later, when an inmate named Milton J. Christensen filed a complaint about poor conditions, the jail held 1304 people. While no one thinks that being in jail should be like staying at the Hilton, the high overcrowding was a core part of pretty inhumane living conditions. According to the complaint:

“As a result of the high population of inmates, two inmates are confined to cells built for one. The second inmate is routinely forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor because each cell is equipped with only one bed. Because the mattress on the floor is so close to the toilet, the toilet “sweats” and water spills or urine splashes from the toilet onto the floor and gets the mattresses and bedding wet. For most inmates, there are no pillows for persons sleeping on the floor and there is only one blanket even when it is cold in the jail.”

Discoveries by lawyers researching the case found that the jail would have been closer to the original design if people with convictions could be sent to state prisons, those with probation violations could have alternative sentencing options and still others who were simply awaiting sentencing could have their final time in court.

Agreement to change jail conditions
After Christensen’s complaint was filed, some progress was made: in 2001, Milwaukee County Circuit Court settled on an agreement for the County to correct overcrowding and other unconstitutional conditions (including dealing with inmates with communicable diseases and a lack of mental or physical medical treatment) at the jail. Among other provisions, the consent decree imposed a limit of 30 hours on how long inmates could be held in the booking area of the jail, an area designed for very short-term detention until inmates could be assigned to longer-term quarters with beds and showers.

Unfortunately, between 2001 and 2004, the County violated this provision of the decree more than 16,000 times. According to affidavits filed in the case, inmates were held for days at a time in conditions that the Circuit Court later described as

“unacceptable, if not appalling,” including “overly crowded conditions, inmates who were forced to sit or sleep on the floor next to urinals, inmates who had to sit up for hours and hours, lack of hygiene, unsanitary conditions, inmates who were not given pillows or blankets to sleep on, cells that were infested with bugs, cold temperatures, bodily fluids on the floor and bad odors.”

Back to court. The County agreed to stop violating the agreement, but for those 16,000+ people who shouldn’t have been subject to the poor conditions, their harm needed a remedy. An attempt to get compensatory damages awarded was what failed in the Supreme Court’s decision today.

Legislative solution needed to demand humane jail conditions
Patrick Patterson, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff class, stated, “We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision. While it is significant that Milwaukee County was found to be in contempt of court for intentionally and systematically warehousing and mistreating thousands of people in direct violation of a valid court order, those people are now left without a remedy. We hope that future legislative action or judicial decisions will restore the courts’ authority to provide a remedy to the victims of parties who willfully violate court orders.”

For those who want to geek out on the full court decision, you can read it on the Wisconsin Courts website. Don’t let the legaleese scare you – it’s a good story. For the press release from the ACLU and Legal Aid, download the PDF on Wispolitics.

ACLU of WI Victory for Human Rights: Judge Orders Prison Health Fix

24 Apr

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa today ordered correctional officials in Wisconsin to take immediate steps toward fixing the error-prone system of ordering and administering medication to prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution, the state’s largest women’s prison.

In granting a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm Jenner & Block in January, Judge Randa ordered that correctional officials in Wisconsin begin using licensed practical nurses or medical personnel with equivalent training to distribute and administer prescriptions. Randa also ordered that correctional officials begin to process medication orders and dispense and administer prescribed medications in a timely, accurate and reliable manner.

“Today’s order will bring immediate and essential relief to prisoners at Taycheedah who have suffered for too long as a result of a dysfunctional medication system that jeopardizes their health and safety,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “The state will no longer have the option of ignoring the dangers and substantial risks posed by the current system of ordering and administering medications.”

According to the ACLU’s motion, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, women at Taycheedah in need of medicine for infections, life-threatening chronic diseases, pain and other serious medical conditions are forced to wait weeks on end and, if and when their medications do arrive, they often are the wrong medications in the wrong doses.

At Taycheedah, most medications – including powerful psychiatric medications – are administered to prisoners by correctional officers with no medical training. As a result, prisoners frequently receive medications prescribed for other prisoners and overdoses of their own medications. Expert witnesses for both parties agree that this is a dangerous practice. Taycheedah is one of the few state prisons in the nation that does not require nurses or similarly trained medical personnel to administer prisoners’ medications.

According to the motion, the failure of prison officials at Taycheedah to ensure that prisoners properly receive medication forces numerous women to endure unnecessary and prolonged illness, injury, pain and hospitalization, and all prisoners receiving medications are at a significant risk of harm and even death. The motion charged that prison officials have known for years that prisoners have been at significant risk, but despite knowing ways to reduce that risk have simply failed to take the actions necessary to do so.

“Judge Randa has taken a huge step toward alleviating the needless pain and suffering caused by Taycheedah’s failed medication system,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “We hope the Department of Corrections will move quickly to comply with the judge’s order and put an end to its unconstitutional medication practices.”

The motion was filed as part of a 2006 class action lawsuit in which Taycheedah prisoners charge that grossly deficient medical and mental health care at Taycheedah endangers the lives of prisoners.

Read more on our blog about earned release and prison overcrowding as a human rights issue.

A copy of today’s order is available online. Read the ACLU motion for preliminary injunction.

Find out more information about the ACLU National Prison Project and about the ACLU of Wisconsin online.

More than money: prison overcrowding is a human rights crisis

9 Apr

Wisconsin’s prisons are so overcrowded that they necessitate budget proposals to allow the early release of some eligible offenders into the community under supervision. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wrote to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance to describe the crisis in our prisons caused by overcrowding.

“These budget proposals will address this crisis to the extent that they allow eligible offenders to leave prison for supervision in the community, thereby making the prisons less crowded, more manageable and less dangerous,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

“We commend Governor Jim Doyle for facing reality and making a serious proposal, despite the predictable opposition from supporters of the untenable status quo. We can’t afford to waste tax dollars building more prisons, in effect supporting a ‘prison-industrial complex’,” Ahmuty said today.

Since 1991 Wisconsin’s prison population has tripled to over 22,000 men and women, a severely disproportionate number of whom are persons of color. The capacity of the prison system is a maximum of 18,000 prisoners.

“One of the most pernicious effects of overcrowding is that it makes the delivery of adequate medical services nearly impossible. Alleviating overcrowding and providing adequate space as well as enough health care workers, would at least give the system a chance,” Ahmuty added.

With early release programs, legislators should be reminded that when formerly incarcerated people return to their home communities, reentry programs need to be fortified. Without support and incentives to turn their lives around, prisons will continue to see revolving doors and the state will bear even more costs.

“The proposed sentence modifications and other program changes are long overdue. The ACLU believes all Wisconsin residents and taxpayers would be better off if the Legislature adopts them,” Ahmuty concluded.

Tuberculosis patients belong in hospitals, not jails

10 Feb

Wisconsin jails and prisons are warehousing people with criminal convictions. Most of us accept this without questioning how we deal with human rights in our justice system. But when those people need medical care, the system routinely fails human rights.

Take the recent death of Marshall Wilburn in the Milwaukee County Jail. Wilburn had tuberculosis when he was arrested for a minor disorderly conduct charge. But instead of quarantining him in a hospital or another secure health care facility, Marshall was kept in jail by a City of Milwaukee court order. The order was based on an argument that Wilburn’s homelessness and refusal to get treatment for the TB made him a danger to himself and others.

“Untreated tuberculosis is a serious public health concern, but jails are designed to hold people accused of crime, not those who are homeless and need medical treatment,” said Larry Dupuis, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal director. “Criminal conduct may justify time in jail, but being homeless and noncompliance with medical treatment don’t.”

Based on media reports, it isn’t clear whether his disease was infectious when he was arrested, but he did agree to stay in jail and said he wanted to get well. If he cooperated with police, he might have cooperated with treatment in a hospital. But unless this option was on the table, the bottom line is that a jail isn’t a health care facility and isn’t made to have the resources to deal with this situation that ultimately led to Wilburn’s death in custody.

The state Supreme Court recently decided in the 2007 case, City of Milwaukee v. Washington, that a person with tuberculosis may not be put in jail for failing to comply with treatment, unless a jail is the “least restrictive place” the person can be safely and adequately treated. With adequate resources, there should almost always be less drastic ways to treat tuberculosis patients who do not follow doctors’ orders than putting them in jail.