Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘montana

Montana Prisoner, Held in Solitary, Sues Over English-Only Letter Policy

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The Montana ACLU has filed suit in federal court on behalf of a 26-year-old prisoner in solitary confinement at Montana State Prison, who alleges that prison officials are barring him from corresponding with his Spanish-speaking family in Guatemala. The AP reports:

Montana Department of Corrections policy allows prison officials to read any correspondence that isn’t a privileged letter from or to a judge, law clerk or the inmate’s attorney. The policy states any non-privileged correspondence will be withheld if it is in a “code or foreign language not understood by the reader.” …

[Plaintiff William] Diaz-Wassmer said he had no trouble receiving his mail during his first two years in prison. Some of those letters were in Spanish, and some in English.

But in May of last year, he received a notice from the prison staff that a letter from a friend was rejected because it was not written in English. Then a Spanish-language letter from his father also was rejected in August.

When Diaz-Wassmer complained, he said the mailroom supervisor told him the prison’s Spanish interpreter had departed, and that Diaz-Wassmer would receive letters again when another was hired.

Diaz-Wassmer is serving a 160-year term for “raping, killing and robbing a Livingston woman and then setting her house on fire to cover up the crimes.” According to the full complaint, which can be downloaded here (PDF), he has been held in solitary confinement since February 2010, spending 22 to 23 hours a day alone in his cell. Between prison restrictions and the high costs of phone calls and visits, letters are his primary way of communicating with his family. He claims that the prison’s effectively “English-only” policy violates his First Amendment rights as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

How Prison-based Gerrymandering Dilutes Native American Political Power

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While Prison Law Blog was enjoying last week’s Thanksgiving break, I noticed several reports from our friends at the Prison Policy Initiative on how prison-based gerrymandering can dilute Native American political power in states where natives are disproportionately incarcerated. That’s basically every state with a significant native population: here are charts showing how Native Americans are overrepresented in Hawaii, Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Colorado, Idaho, Vermont, Iowa, and Michigan, to name a few. Hawaii not only disproportionately incarcerates native Hawaiians but also ships most of its inmates to private prisons on the mainland, further skewing its Census results. But let’s look more closely at Montana. From a 2004 Prison Policy Initiative report:

How the incarcerated are counted in Montana is of critical importance to an accurate count of Native American communities. While Native Americans are 6% of the Montana population, more than 20% the incarcerated people in the state are Native American. Native American women are the same 6% of Montana women, but are 32% of the incarcerated women in the state. Native Americans in Montana are incarcerated at a rate more than 4 times higher than the White residents of the state.

Many critics of prison-based gerrymandering focus (rightly) on the practice’s effects on African-American communities, but it’s worth noting that prison-based gerrymandering (especially when combined with felon voting bans, although that’s a separate issue) dilutes the political power of any group that is disproportionately incarcerated. For that matter, prison-based gerrymandering also dilutes the political power of anyone who doesn’t live near a prison. As always, the Prisoners of the Census blog offers a wealth of resources on this topic.

Written by sara

November 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

ACLU of Montana Asks UN to Intervene in Solitary Confinement Case

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[Update after the jump] According to an ACLU press release, the ACLU of Montana appealed to the UN today for help in a tragic case (the ACLU’s letter can be downloaded here):

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Montana today asked a United Nations Special Rapporteur to intervene on behalf of a mentally ill prisoner, “Robert Doe,” who was placed in solitary confinement in the Montana State Prison when he was 17 and has been subjected to abuse so traumatizing that he has twice attempted to kill himself by biting through his wrist to puncture a vein. The request was made in a letter sent to Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“The conditions of Robert’s confinement are so appalling that they flout universally recognized human rights standards, including his absolute right to be free from torture and other inhumane forms of treatment,” said Steven Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. “Montana state prison officials are obliged to uphold these standards, which require Robert’s immediate release from solitary confinement and provision of treatment for the remainder of his sentence that will foster his reform, rehabilitation and eventual reintegration back into society.”

Robert was sent to the Montana State Prison in 2008 when he was 16 years old, and has spent nearly half that time in solitary confinement. He has been Tasered, pepper-sprayed, stripped naked in view of other inmates, deprived of human contact and disciplined through tortuous “behavior modification plans” that deny him proper bedding, clothing and recreation. The ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit in December against the state of Montana and the Montana Department of Corrections over Robert’s illegal, inhumane and degrading treatment. Today’s letter asks that the U.N. Special Rapporteur undertake an immediate review of Robert’s case, advise Montana state prison officials to refrain from subjecting him to inhumane conditions of confinement and treat him in a manner consistent with applicable international human rights laws and standards.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

February 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

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