Mass Incarceration

  • November 11, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Matt Ford reports in The Atlantic that a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Friday against Obama’s executive actions on immigration, “frustrating the administration’s efforts to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and setting up a potential showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

    In The American Prospect, Douglas Najeime and ACS Board Member Reva Siegel examine the validity of religious conscience claims in today’s culture-war conflicts.

    At The Broad Side, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson discusses the disparity between standard sick leave policies for the highest and lowest income earners in America.

    Alia Wong at The Atlantic explains how parental incarceration can affect a child’s education and why schools need to develop policies that address these kids’ specific needs. 

  • November 6, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Huffington Post, Samantha Lachman explains why the Supreme Court might take its first abortion case in nine years.

    In The Boston Globe, ACS Board Member Nancy Gertner reflects on her experience as a federal judge during the era of mass incarceration, and details some of the efforts she and others are taking to address the grievous harm caused to African-American lives and communities nationwide. 

    In The New York Times, Clifford Krauss writes that “the opening of an investigation of Exxon Mobil by the New York attorney general’s office into the company’s record on climate change may well spur legal inquiries into other oil companies.”

    Keith Brekhus at PoliticusUSA reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has selected six pro-choice Democrats to serve on the Select Investigation Panel on reproductive rights, including Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who was recognized for her contributions to the field of reproductive justice at the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter’s Sixth Annual Gala Reception.

  • November 4, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Ari Berman at The Nation discusses new efforts by congressional Democrats to restore lost provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

    At Vox, German Lopez refutes the deeply misguided myths about transgendered individuals that civil rights opponents employed to block an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Houston.

    In The New York Times, Adam Liptak explains why activists opposed to the death penalty are divided on whether or not to bring a decisive case before the Supreme Court.

    Delphine Damora at Mother Jones reports that America’s prison population is not decreasing fast enough to remediate decades of mass incarceration.

  • October 15, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Sean J. Young, Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project

    Earlier this week, The New York Times published a column asserting that the American Civil Liberties Union has “seemed to take [] opposite position[s]” in two voting rights disputes. This is wrong.

    In the first dispute, which is pending before the Supreme Court, the question is whether states should be allowed to count all persons for the purposes of equally apportioning their legislative districts, as nearly all states currently do. The ACLU filed an amicus brief answering yes, for our country has long embraced the fundamental principle that all persons, whether or not they can vote, are entitled to equal representation. Given the democratic values of inclusion and equality built into the Constitution, we reject our opponents’ argument that this same Constitution now forces all states to exclude all ineligible voters from their population counts.  Millions of non-citizens are contributing members of our communities, and the vast majority of states that currently provide these individuals the same share of representation that citizens receive should be allowed to continue doing so. 

    In the second dispute, which is pending in the lower courts in Rhode Island and Florida, the question is where incarcerated persons should be counted for apportionment purposes: the place where they were lived prior to incarceration, or the place where they have been involuntarily confined?  The ACLU believes that for the 2.4 million individuals now incarcerated in this country, their “home” should be counted as being the place where they lived prior to incarceration. Counting these incarcerated individuals as “residents” of the district where they have been involuntarily confined artificially inflates the population of the districts in which the prison is based. This type of prison-based gerrymandering results in an unequal system of representation where, after prisoner bodies are siphoned into the district where the prison is based, their numbers are used to increase the district’s political power at the expense of the communities from which these incarcerated individuals had lived. 

  • October 14, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Sheila Bedi, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law; attorney, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic

    Prisons and jails are a revolving door of brutality where people held behind bars experience horrific abuse funded by taxpayers and meted out at the hands of the state. My practice is dedicated almost exclusively toworking with and for men, women and children who live behind bars, and most of the cases I’ve filed have to do with prison and jail conditions.

    The facts of some of my cases speak for themselves. A juvenile prison in Mississippi was notorious for subjecting the young women there to sexual abuse, and in the wake of a particularly horrific incident during which correctional officers sexually abused girls who were then left shackled together for over a month, the prison was permanently closed. In downstate Illinois, a young man whose only offense was a first-time drug possession endured over 12 hours of brutal rape. He joined the over 200,000 people who survive sexual abuse in our nation’s prisons. Another case involved a private prison company that raked in over $100 million in profits while subjecting men to abusive conditions. There, some prison staff exploited the youth by selling drugs inside the facility, and youths who were handcuffed and defenseless were kicked, punched and beaten. Other youths were stripped naked and held in isolation for weeks at a time. Young men with serious health needs languished without medical care, sometimes risking death or permanent injury. A federal court found that these conditions resulted in “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts . . . The sum of these actions and inactions . . . paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

    My work is about transforming—and hopefully dismantling—the criminal injustice system and enforcing the constitutional rights of people who live in the shadows. The challenge is to help the courts understand and reckon with the humanity of the 2.2 million men, women and children this country holds behinds bars. One of the ways that happens is when lawyers recognize the agency, courage and resilience of their clients. I am humbled and often awestruck by the courage of my clients, and the fact that they are willing to trust me with the truth of what they endure behind bars is an incredible privilege. Most of my cases are class actions seeking only injunctive relief. That means my clients aren’t getting any money from being involved in this work and instead put themselves at great risk of retaliation by speaking up and telling their stories to the court, all to ensure that others are protected from the abuses they endure.