Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘connecticut

Connecticut Lawmaker Calls for Ban on Violent Books in Prison Libraries

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American Libraries reports:

“It is important that we do our homework and establish a policy that not only keeps books like In Cold Blood out of the hands of violent criminals like Steven Hayes, but also a policy that will stand up to any legal challenges that are thrown its way,” Sen. [John] Kissel stated October 6. “Common sense is on our side and I believe we will be able to establish an effective policy without having to pass new legislation.”

Kissel and [Department of Corrections Commissioner Leo] Arnone confirmed that the corrections department would revise prison-library policy in about a month after examining how collection development is codified for federal prison libraries, and how those policies balance prison security against the threat of First Amendment lawsuits. …

“Somebody that is moved to commit a crime has much more going on in their lives than simply having read a few comic books or a novel or In Cold Blood,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy executive director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the AP October 3. The Prisoners’ Right to Read interpretation of ALA’s Library Bill of Rights acknowledges that prison librarians may be required by law “to prohibit material that instructs, incites, or advocates criminal action or bodily harm” but goes on to caution that “only those items that present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security should be restricted.”

This call comes, of course, in the wake of the murders in Cheshire, Conn., for which Steven Hayes was recently convicted and sentenced to death. Jonathan Simon has some thoughts on why Hayes’s particularly horrifying series of crimes is likely to shape policy for years to come; Jill Lepore wrote about the case last year.

Connecticut Judge OK’s Force-Feeding of Prisoner on Hunger Strike

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If you’re on a hunger strike and someone force-feeds you, that sort of ends your strike, interfering with your First Amendment right to protest, but also with your Fifth/Fourteenth Amendment due process right to refuse medical treatment, as well as various state privacy rights you may have. In some cases, force-feeding could violate the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment. By analogy, across the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights has in some cases found force-feeding to violate Europe’s provision against “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (see PDF p. 7).

On the other hand, in the United States, prisons have an Eighth Amendment obligation to keep prisoners alive — or at least, in legalese, not to demonstrate deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm — and may also have various obligations under state law. So, if you’re on a hunger strike and you’re in prison, can the prison staff force-feed you? A Connecticut state judge recently ruled that it’s OK for prison staff to continue force-feeding a prisoner who’s been on a hunger strike for over two years (see also this commentary, criticizing the decision, from the UConn student newspaper, and this AP report). In an amicus brief in support of the prisoner in this case, professors from the Yale, Northeastern, and Western New England law schools had argued that force-feeding could violate not only the Constitution but also international law, and noted that the World Medical Association has condemned force-feeding.

As the WMA’s Malta declaration begins, hunger strikes “are often a form of protest by people who lack other ways of making their demands known,” including prisoners wishing to call attention to an individual or collective grievance. There’s been some confusion lately about whether or not there’s a hunger strike on in California’s prisons to protest the Three Strikes Law. Terry Nichols, the (other) Oklahoma City bomber, announced a hunger strike back in February to demand more healthful food. Last year the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid was reportedly on a hunger strike in 2009. In Texas, immigration detainees have been hunger striking since January, protesting conditions at the Port Isabel Detention Center. Although the legal issues are technically distinct, force-feeding was also an issue for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Children with Parents Behind Bars Are Focus of Research, Discussion at Connecticut University

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Mass incarceration ripples out into every corner of society: Today, one in 15 black children, 1 in 42 Latino children, and 1 in 111 white children has a parent in prison. Although it’s well documented that children of incarcerated parents are at higher-than-average risk for being incarcerated themselves (see, for instance, this Sentencing Project report, which is also where I got the statistics above), I was still somewhat startled to read a Connecticut court official’s estimate that some 70% of juvenile detainees in the Constitution State have an incarcerated parent.

The figure comes via Central Connecticut State University’s Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, which is in the midst of an initiative focusing on children with incarcerated parents. The institute hosted a conference last week bringing together court officials, representatives of community organizations, and residents to identify and discuss the needs of the estimated 20,000 Connecticut children who have a parent behind bars. The New Britain Herald reports:

The conference focused on goals such as making prison visits more inviting and less intimidating for children.

Transportation can also be a problem with no bus lines leading directly to state prisons, which can mean that some children will not see their parent for their entire sentence.

The results can be traumatic, said Lauren Pedersen, a clinician at the Klingberg Family Centers.

“So many kids we see have long periods without seeing a parent and it results in behavioral problems,” said Pedersen, who estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the children’s cases she handles have parents who are incarcerated. “There’s a lot of shame involved in having a parent incarcerated.”

Another factor that [Connecticut court official and CCSU adjunct professor Trevor] Johnson stressed is the lack of coordination between child-service agencies that can lead to a lack of understanding of why the child is having problems at home and at school.

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