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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.

One Step Closer to Fixing Inadequate Care at WI Women’s Prison

29 Nov

ACLU Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Care At Women’s Prison To Proceed: Federal Judge Rejects State Request To Dismiss Class Action Lawsuit

This week, a federal judge denied a request by Wisconsin state officials to dismiss a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Jenner & Block charging that grossly deficient health care and mental health treatment jeopardizes the lives of women prisoners at a state prison.

In a sternly-worded ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa said there “is a great deal of evidence demonstrating that there are systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing, facilities and procedures” at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), Wisconsin’s largest women’s prison, and that the evidence suggests that state prison officials “are and have been subjectively aware of the risks that are posed by the administration of medical and mental health care at TCI.” Judge Randa described the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed as “curious” given that the state’s own expert witness described health care at TCI as a system “designed to let people ‘fall through the cracks.’”

“I am pleased that the court is allowing our litigation to proceed and look forward to bringing the case to trial,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Without court-ordered changes, women at TCI will continue to suffer needlessly in a system that still fails to comply with the requirements of the Constitution.”

In a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit filed in 2006 on behalf of women prisoners in Wisconsin, the ACLU charges that the state prison system puts the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provides far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and fails to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services. Judge Randa’s decision allows all three claims to proceed to trial.

The lawsuit asks the court to order reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care is made available. In April 2009, Judge 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 charges that the prison’s health system violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit also charges the health system violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women receive mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive. The ACLU says in the lawsuit that these lapses in mental health care occur against the backdrop of a prison system that has a suicide rate of twice the national average.

“Judge Randa’s decision recognizes a ‘mountain of evidence’ showing the continued failure of state officials to fix a system that has been in crisis for years,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It is far past time that state officials be held accountable.”

The lawsuit names as defendants a number of senior officials in the state corrections department as well as Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

A copy of Judge Randa’s ruling is available online as well as a copy of the ACLU complaint.

Denying H1N1 vaccines to prisoners would harm public health

30 Oct

Are pregnant women behind bars less worthy of the H1N1 flu shot than susceptible populations in Wisconsin communities? Recent media stories (such as Green Bay’s NBC 26 story) and a press release from State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon) are suggesting just that.

Statements encouraging state health officials to put the health of not just prisoners, but by extension the prison staff, correctional officers and their families in jeopardy by denying H1N1 vaccine to prisoners including pregnant female inmates garnered a response from the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin today. Chris Ahmuty said that denying or delaying appropriate preventive actions to control the spread of the flu, including vaccination in the close confines of the prison system, is neither rational nor effective.

“Taycheedah’s (Taycheedah Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac, WI) prisoners and guards are in just the kind of setting that needs aggressive preventive measures to avoid widespread infection,” said Ahmuty. “To suggest that prisoners should not receive vaccine because they are less important than the ‘law abiding citizens of our state,’ will only further the spread of H1N1 to everyone.”

The Centers for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Correctional and Detention Facilities on Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus (May 24 2009) recognized that:

“Correctional institutions pose special risks and considerations due to the nature of their unique environment. Inmates are in mandatory custody and options are limited for isolation and removal of ill persons from the environment. The workforce must be maintained and options are limited for work alternatives (e.g., work from home, reduced or alternate schedules, etc.). In addition, many inmates and workforce may have medical conditions that increase their risk of influenza-related complications.”

“In overcrowded jails and prisons, such as Taycheedah, the risk of H1N1 contagion spreading among prisoners and correctional officers and then to the officers’ families and communities must be addressed vigorously,” said Ahmuty.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in a May 1, 2009 media release urged public health officials “to implement a public health policy which is rational, effective and has the least intrusion possible on civil liberties.”

Ahmuty reminded the public, “Prisoners are serving their debt to society, but being subjected to disease and death is not part of a just sentence in any civilized society.”

Read more about the ACLU of Wisconsin’s work to address poor health conditions in Wisconsin prisons.

News roundup: ACLU weighs in on Tasers in Madison, returning prisoners and voting rights, upside-down flag case gets more press

14 Aug

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some civil liberties related news of the week…

Police Practices
ACLU of Wisconsin legal director quoted in Cap Times article on Taser use by Madison police.

Criminal Justice
Here’s a nice article in the Wisconsin State Journal about Madison-area support groups for returning prisoners. While we are working with a large coalition on important voting rights reform in Wisconsin, this is a good reminder about the barriers people face when trying to integrate back into society after incarceration.

Free Speech
We’re taking the case for the guy in Crivitz, WI who had his upside-down flag removed by police after community complaints. A Green Bay NBC-26 website shares some hostile emails between the DA and a constituent upset by the DA’s role in the flag issue. The news got a mention in On Milwaukee and on the TMJ-4 Milwaukee station website.

And the web is all atwitter about the Kenosha curse word issue. Did you catch our post earlier today? The news also gets attention on the Examiner Milwaukee blog. Share the Cap City Liberty blog post with your friends by clicking on the “share” button at the end of the section.

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.

News update: detention for immigrants an affront to justice, government spying and secrets update, and more

20 Mar

Voting Rights
Remember – you have until Monday to update your registration with the Statewide Voter Registration Database. With one of the biggest voter turnouts in recent history in November, this might not apply to you. But if you’ve moved since the last time you voted, contact your city clerk to make sure you’re ready to vote in the spring elections.

Immigration update: the other detainees
A recent AP article was written after a Freedom of Information Act letter was filed with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to get a snapshot of who was being detained in US immigrant jails.

The article points out that:
– the US has 32,000 people in detention for civil (not criminal) immigration violations
– 18,690 of those people have no other criminal conviction record; 400 of these people have been behind bars for more than a year. No convictions. Detained for over a year.
– 10,000 had been behind bars for over 31 days. Could you imagine being jailed for speeding and being behind bars for a month?
- 58% of immigrants went through their immigration hearings without an attorney
– electronic monitoring is cheaper than detention
– electronic monitoring is as effective as detention for people to show up to their hearings: 95-99%

The government is imprisoning immigrants without many of the rights criminals receive: no court-appointed attorney for indigent defendants, no standard habeas corpus, no protection from double jeopardy, no guarantee of a speedy trial. Anti-immigrant rhetoric says they are being detained because they broke the law. The bottom line is that we don’t even treat our citizen criminals this badly. On US soil, our laws and the Constitution should be for everyone. Read more about the ACLU’s work on immigrant rights.

Prisoner’s Rights and Rachel Maddow
Did anyone notice that Rachel Maddow’s speech at the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Bill of Rights Celebration got a shout out on the national ACLU Blog of Rights? Her story about her work with the ACLU and human rights in the prison system was just one of the fun tidbits she shared at the event. See the full video of her speech on the ACLU of Wisconsin You Tube channel.

Safe and Free: Rolling back the Ashcroft Doctrine and the Patriot Act
For those who are exhausted with frustration over how often the Bush administration said “no comment” when asked about their policies regarding torture, Guantanamo detainees and other human rights issues in the past eight years, the “Ashcroft Doctrine” may finally be challenged. Congress has introduced a state’s secrets bill that would restore appropriate limits to what the federal government can say is to be kept under wraps. Keeping America both safe and free requires a balance between power and transparency in our government: the Ashcroft Doctrine put that out of balance. Take action to thank Wisconsin Rep. Petri for his leadership on this bill.

While you’re at it, you can give a “boo” to Rep. Sensenbrenner for his support to renew the Patriot Act. The ACLU continues to fight to roll back or reform the Patriot Act which has allowed greater government interference in individual privacy rights.

Death Penalty
Thanks Senator Russ Feingold for reintroducing the bill to abolish the federal death penalty. The ACLU has been involved in fighting the death penalty in Wisconsin and across the country due to its ineffectiveness and disproportionate racial impact.

News update: prison rate quadrupled, ban racist mascots, Obama reviews BC denial regs, more

11 Mar

Prison population rate quadrupled
Wisconsin has been doing a great job warehousing people. Monday’s Pew Center on the States report on incarceration shows that our state quadrupled its prison population in the last 25 years. We’re in the top 10 of states with accelerated incarceration rates. Nationally, it’s more like one in 31 people is behind bars. It’s a complicated picture of why so many people are in jail, but the “truth in sentencing” trends in punishing crimes has led to the denial of parole for even non-violent crimes. You can see characters “getting out for good behavior” in old movies, but not in Wisconsin today. In his budget proposal, Governor Doyle suggests that we look at early release for some incarcerated people and put them on probation instead. Early release and probation is cheaper than the warehouse: $3.42 versus $78.95. Now if we can just let people with felony convictions vote when they are released, we might have a better budget for taxpayers and a truer democracy for citizens.

Ban racist mascots
There is some attention being paid to the proposed law to ban racist mascots, including this editorial from the Appleton Post Crescent. Having a law that recognizes why race-based mascots for public schools are inherently an act of government discrimination would be a step in the right direction. The proposed law is fair, gives the community a chance to raise their voice in opposition to the mascot, and gives the Department of Public Instruction the responsibility of having a hearing on it.

Obama reviewing Bush rule on birth control denial
On the reproductive rights front, <a href="
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022701104_pf.html”>President Obama is taking a look at what can be done about Bush’s end-of-term passage of the unbalanced Department of Health and Human Services regulations on religious-based refusals of reproductive health care, including birth control prescriptions. The ACLU took a stand against the HHS regs because they gave too much power to health care providers to refuse prescriptions and care, even at the expense of patient safety. In a time of recession, high unemployment rates and chronic numbers of uninsured women, access to birth control and other reproductive health care services should not be compromised. Now that the Obama administration is reviewing the regulations, the ACLU hopes that an effective solution can be found to restore the balance between health care workers’ right to religious liberty and patients’ rights to barrier-free reproductive health care.
Read more about how the ACLU was among the hundreds of thousands of comments about the HHS regs before their passage.

Local events:
Community potluck and film screening on the criminalization of free speech activity at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities 2008
Saturday, March 28, 7:00 pm, Madison Infoshop, 1019 Williamson St. Get an update on activists jailed for the political organizing of protesters. Suggested donation $5-10. www.terrorizingdissent.org

Prison issues film series (2nd Thursday of every month
Thursday, March 12, 7:00 pm, Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W Gillman St.
Wisconsin Books to Prisoners sponsors the films which will be shown in Wisconsin prisons one week and to the public the following week in order to facilitate a discussion between those inside and outside the system.
This month – “Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House”
“After gaining unprecedented permission from the Justice Department to gain access to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, two indie filmmakers spent 5 weeks inside ‘the walls’ and produced a hard-edged and shocking expose of incarceration in the U.S.”

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.

ACLU of Wisconsin takes action on broken prison health care system

23 Jan

Breaking news…

ACLU Says Failure To Properly Administer Medicines At Wisconsin Prison Puts Women’s Lives At Risk

While health care reform and universal health care are on the minds of many voters and politicians, women in Wisconsin prisons face an even worse reality.

The ACLU of Wisconsin, ACLU National Prison Project and the law firm of Jenner & Block today filed a motion in federal court seeking an immediate halt to the dangerously dysfunctional health care and drug system for prisoners at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Wisconsin’s largest women’s prison.

The failure of prison officials at Taycheedah to ensure that prisoners properly receive medication has forced 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 charges 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.

“The medication system at Taycheedah is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “For some medications, there is not even a system of checking for dangerous interactions between drugs before a prisoner starts taking a new prescription. The clock is ticking while the state gambles with the health and safety of over 700 women.”

No matter what their crime, medical neglect should not be a part of their sentence. And the lack of health care and insurance can be linked to crimes that land women in jail in the first place: from alcoholism to substance abuse and mental illness. Our prisons now are filled with people who once could get treatment from hospitals.

At Taycheedah, 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. 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.

“Taycheedah’s medication system causes needless pain and suffering,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The Constitution prohibits the state from ignoring a substantial threat to the health and safety of the women at Taycheedah.” The ACLU of Wisconsin first filed a class-action lawsuit in 2006 to get the state to provide accurate and timely prescriptions and health care for the female prisoners.

More on this issue is online: copy of the motion, information on the ACLU’s work for the rights of incarcerated people, and more information on how to support the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Tell Congress to rein in DHS travel abuses; action on books to prisoners

8 Aug

Action Alert from the ACLU:
Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security

If you travel outside the United States, you can kiss your right to privacy, and perhaps your laptop, digital camera and cell phone, goodbye.

With no suspicion and no explanation, the U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone, or PDA as you enter the United States and download all your private information — including your personal and business documents, emails, phone calls, and web history. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that this is the official policy.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

What happens if you refuse to let the agents download your personal photos? Or if you have encrypted your private information? Then Border Patrol — which is now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security — can simply copy your entire hard drive or even take your device and hang on to it indefinitely.

Unfortunately, seizing laptops and cameras at the border isn’t the only travel security measure that infringes on our civil liberties.

Just last month, the U.S. government’s “terrorist watch list” surpassed one million names and is growing by over twenty-thousand names per month. The watch list includes the names of prominent people, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), plus hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans — many of them with common names like Robert Johnson and James Robinson. Your name might be on the list, but there’s no way to know for sure until you are delayed — or even detained for hours in a back room. If you discover your name is on the list, it’s nearly impossible to get off. It actually took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela off the list. No joke. An Act of Congress.

These abuses have something in common: They make all of us into suspects, with no rule of law and no accountability.

It’s hard to know what surveillance-state bureaucrats will come up with next. For instance, many airports are using scanners that are so invasive that
they are like a virtual strip search! See-through body scanning machines are capable of showing an image of a passenger’s naked body. Security measures
like this are extremely intrusive — and should only be used when there is good cause to suspect that an individual is a security risk.

And recently, the TSA expressed interest in having every traveler wear an “electro-muscular disruption” bracelet that airline personnel or marshals could use to shock passengers into submission. Unless something is done, this plan may not be as far-fetched as one would think.

Traveling shouldn’t mean checking your rights when you’re checking your luggage. It’s time for some sanity when it comes to security. Please, speak out now.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
P.S. Many Americans don’t know about these travel abuses. Please forward this link on to anyone you know who travels and ask them to take action, too.

Action Alert from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice:
Tell the DOC to allow “Books to Prisoners”
After recent news articles about the challenges Wisconsin Books to Prisoners are having in getting the Department of Corrections to allow their commercial agent, Rainbow Books, to be recognized as an approved vendor of books, there is a call out to the public to phone in their concerns about the ban.

Those concerned with the denial of books to Wisconsin inmates are encouraged by the WNPJ to call Governor Jim Doyle (608-266-1212) and John Bett, the DOC administrator (608-240-5104) to express their concern and objection to this ban. This appeal is about protecting the First Amendment rights of prisoners; freedom to speak includes the right to read.