Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘center for constitutional rights

Upcoming Event: “Isolation within U.S. Prisons,” April 5 in San Francisco

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A quick exception to the hiatus to note this event that should be of great interest to my Bay Area readers:

The Center for Constitutional Rights Presents:
Isolation Units Within U.S. Prisons: A Panel Discussion
featuring Dr. Terry Kupers; Keramet Reiter, PhD Candidate U.C. Berkeley, Zahra Billoo, Exec. Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR_SF), and CCR Staff Attorney Alexis Agathocleous.

Tuesday April 5, 2011
6:30 p.m.
Audre Lorde Room
The Women’s Building
3543 18th St. #8
San Francisco

More info here. More on Terry Kupers, a leading expert on prison mental health issues, here.

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Written by sara

March 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

Stories You May Have Missed

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A few notable news stories from the past couple of days:

With 8th suicide, appeals for change in prison system“–Boston Globe. The article begins:

Suicides in Massachusetts state prisons are occurring at a rate more than four times the national average this year, prompting advocates and inmates’ relatives to call for an urgent response from state officials — and spurring the Patrick administration yesterday to hire a suicide prevention specialist.

With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.

N.J.’s prison population declines, officials credit less crime, prisoner re-entry programs”–Newark Star-Ledger. Highlights:

With 25,263 inmates in the system as of this month, state prisons still hold more people than they were designed for. And 600 additional inmates will be double-bunked this year to save money. But officials say the overall population shrank because crime was cut, drug courts diverted many people from jail, and programs helped inmates prepare for life on the outside.

“It’s a pretty impressive reduction,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization. “We’re not just talking about a tinkering. It comes about through conscious changes in criminal justice policy.”

Groups sue over banned handbook at Virginia prisons“–Washington Post. Download the complaint PDF here. The basics:

Two civil rights groups have sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for banning a handbook from state prisons that explains the court system, methods for legal research and constitutional rights.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild filed suit Wednesday morning in the Western District of Virginia, claiming that the state violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Congress moves to crack down on prison cellphones“–Salon.

Help End Prison Rape, Preserve Due Process: Two Opportunities for Public Comment on Federal Prison Regulations

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If you have an extra five minutes today, here are two easy ways for you to share your opinion with the federal government and make your thoughts part of the public record. You can be sure that corrections officials and lobby groups will be seeking to influence the government on both these issues, so it’s important that ordinary citizens make their voices heard as well.

(1) Write to the DOJ urging adoption of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission Standards

As I’ve noted before, the Department of Justice is currently accepting public comments on whether it should adopt the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission standards. The public comment period ends soon (May 10), so take a few minutes today to submit your comment, if you haven’t already. The proposed standards are based on best practices from prison systems that have made concrete progress in reducing sexual abuse behind bars — so their adoption nationwide could make a real difference in combating what’s become a true human rights crisis in this country. If you feel that you need more information about the scope of the problem, check out the details and links at the Just Detention International website. Then, there are a number of easy ways to submit your comment into the public record:

  • Visit www.regulations.gov, search for “Docket No. OAG-131” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” You’ll be taken to a form where you can enter your comment as text or upload an attachment.
  • Sign this petition at Change.org, which will submit a form letter to Eric Holder on your behalf.
  • If you prefer snail mail, sample letters and addresses are available from Prison Fellowship.

(2) Write to the Bureau of Prisons about its so-called “Communications Management Units

As reported here by Politico, the Obama Administration is reviving a set of rules first proposed but later abandoned by the Bush Administration to keep terrorism-related federal prisoners in special, isolated facilities, with very extreme restrictions on their outside communications. These so-called “Communications Management Units” are actually already in use, and in a recently filed lawsuit, prisoners allege they’ve been transferred there with no notice or due process, and without any clear standards as to who qualifies for this treatment. By belatedly publishing a set of rules for the CMUs, the administration may be hoping to forestall that lawsuit’s claim that the use of CMUs was never subject to public notice and comment, as is generally required of new federal regulations. (I blogged about the lawsuit here).

Note that by definition these rules would affect not the so-called “worst of the worst” terrorism-related prisoners (who would likely be sent to the federal supermax in Colorado, if not whatever substitute for Guantanamo the administration comes up with) but rather, as Politico puts it, “prisoners who are perceived by the government or as a result of their crimes to be more likely to try to associate with terrorist networks” (my emphasis: note all the implicit “ifs”). Prisoners currently in the CMUs claim they’ve been singled out for their religious or political beliefs, or in retaliation for filing grievances against the prison system — not for legitimate safety reasons — and that they weren’t given any opportunity to view or challenge the evidence allegedly supporting their isolation.

  • If you choose to write to Eric Holder about this general issue, the Center for Constitutional Rights has some suggested language. You can also send a form letter through their website by clicking here.
  • If you want to comment specifically on the new federal regulations, you have until June 7. To submit your comment, go to www.regulations.gov and search for “BOP Docket No. 1148-P” as your keyword, then click “Submit a Comment.” Then upload your comment as text or an attachment. The Brennan Center for Justice makes some points about the proposed regs that you may want to incorporate into your comment.

A Tale of Two Lawsuits

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The other day my Google Reader brought me news of two new lawsuits filed this week against, respectively, the federal and California state prison systems. In the first, the Center for Constitutional Rights — which has coordinated much of the legal work on behalf of Guantanamo detainees — is challenging the federal Bureau of Prisons policy of moving certain inmates into isolated cells known as “Communications Management Units,” without any advance notice or meaningful review of their transfer. These inmates face very stringent limits on their communications with their family and with the outside world, and CCR alleges that the policy is an effort to create “a stateside Guantanamo” for prisoners with unpopular political beliefs. (Two-thirds of the inmates in these special prison units are Muslim.) In the second, Crime Victims United — the California organization well-known for receiving much of its funding from the state prison guards’ union, and for its staunch support of “tough-on-crime” legislation — is suing to block enforcement of a new law that would have the effect of releasing a relatively small number of the lowest-risk offenders. Says a San Diego citizen whose son was murdered, “The victims are being ignored.”

Though filed in the same week, these two lawsuits seem on the surface to be as different as could be. Read the rest of this entry »

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