Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘washington state

New York Times: “Prisons Rethink Isolation”

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In light of the recently filed lawsuit against Arizona alleging overuse of solitary confinement, the New York Times has some timely reporting on other states that have decided to reduce their use of isolation as punishment — including Mississippi, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Washington State, and most recently, California:

The efforts represent an about-face to an approach that began three decades ago, when corrections departments — responding to increasing problems with prison gangs, stiffer sentencing policies that led to overcrowding and the “get tough on crime” demands of legislators — began removing ever larger numbers of inmates from the general population. They placed them in special prisons designed to house inmates in long-term isolation or in other types of segregation.

At least 25,000 prisoners — and probably tens of thousands more, criminal justice experts say — are still in solitary confinement in the United States. Some remain there for weeks or months; others for years or even decades. More inmates are held in solitary confinement here than in any other democratic nation, a fact highlighted in a United Nations report last week.

In particular, the article discusses the evidence that prolonged isolation can cause and/or exacerbate mental illness:  Read the rest of this entry »


Washington State Will Save Money with Monthly Prison Lockdowns

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Thanks to a law school classmate who alerted me to this press release (PDF) from the Washington Department of Corrections:

There will be a scheduled one-day lockdown each month between now and the end of the budget cycle, which ends June 30, 2011. The lockdowns will allow the Department of Corrections to expand the number of staff members who are impacted by temporary layoffs.

“This is just one of many unprecedented steps we’re taking to reduce spending and help the state overcome a historic budget crisis,” Prisons Director Bernie Warner said. “We will be adequately staffed to operate the prisons safely. Offenders just won’t have access to programs, education or work.”

According to the press release, every Washington state agency has been required to reduce spending by 6%, or in the DOC’s case, $53 million, this budget cycle.

Written by sara

November 17, 2010 at 9:22 am

En Banc Ninth Circuit Upholds Felon Voting Ban in Washington State, Reversing Three-Judge Panel

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Thanks to a reader who alerted me that the en banc Ninth Circuit has issued its ruling in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, the Washington inmate voting rights case in which it heard oral arguments just a few weeks ago. The SF Chronicle reports:

A state can prohibit felons from voting even if the ban disproportionately harms minorities, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a Washington state case that bolsters a similar law in California.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a 2-1 decision by one of its panels in January that struck down the Washington law on the grounds that the state’s criminal justice system was racially biased.

That ruling, the first of its kind in the nation, would have allowed prisoners as well as parolees to vote in Washington. It also could have invalidated laws in the eight other states in the circuit, including California, if courts found that a state’s system of arresting and prosecuting suspects was racially skewed.

Two quick thoughts upon my initial scan of the full ruling (PDF link here): Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow: Ninth Circuit Oral Argument in Important Felon Voting Rights Case

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, an important case that could affect the voting rights of prisoners in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Hawaii, and Arizona. Back in January, a split Ninth Circuit panel ruled that, in Washington State, “minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained, and ultimately prosecuted,” and that, because “some people becom[e] felons not just because they have committed a crime, but because of their race, then that felon status cannot, under section 2 of the [Voting Rights Act], disqualify felons from voting.” Washington State appealed for en banc review, which is what tomorrow’s proceeding will be.

The proceedings will be broadcast live at 2 PM PST/5 PM EST on C-SPAN 3 available on C-SPAN 3 at a later time.* If you are in or near San Francisco, you could also attend the hearing in person — it’s scheduled for 1:30 PM in the Ninth Circuit courthouse at Mission and 7th. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None are organizing a group to attend — here’s the flyer (.doc file).

* EDIT: When I first visited the NAACP LDF case page, it suggested there would be a live broadcast, but it looks like they’ve since edited the page to reflect otherwise.

Washington DOC Settles with Woman Shackled During Childbirth

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As reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Washington DOC will pay a $125,000 settlement to former inmate Casandra Brawley, who was shackled while giving birth in April 2007 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma. Partly in response to Brawley’s case, Washington has since passed legislation banning the practice of shackling inmates during childbirth. In her lawsuit, Brawley was represented by Legal Voice, a women’s rights nonprofit, and the Seattle law firm Peterson Young Putra. More information on this case as well as Legal Voice’s anti-shackling advocacy efforts more generally is available at the Legal Voice website.

Around the Country, Inmates Are Giving Back to Their Communities

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Apologies for the blogging hiatus of late; I hope to get back to regular posting soon. In the meantime, a reader recently sent along this article at that spotlights five prison charities around the country. The examples range from small, inmate-run volunteer organizations to comprehensive job training programs. Through these programs, inmates are quilting blankets for nearby hospitals, selling homemade crafts and donating the proceeds, preparing and serving food at a low-cost cafeteria for their local community, training puppies to serve as companion dogs for disabled military veterans, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, and more. Since I’m in California, I thought I’d highlight this organization at the Chowchilla women’s prison, but all the stories are well worth reading:

In the farmlands east of San Jose, behind the fences of the octagon-shaped Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), members of one of the country’s most active and effective women’s prison groups have an interesting new idea: they’d like to sponsor a Girl Scout troop.

The plan, if they can do it, is to start a troop made up of daughters of inmates that, with the aid of outside coordinators, would be just like any other troop in America—except it would occasionally gather at the institution.

A working Girl Scout troop would be one more way members of VSPW’s Long Termer’s Organization have found to give back to the community. During the group’s nearly 20-year history, the ladies have donated around $150,000 to charitable organizations.

It seems to me that the programs highlighted in this article do two really great things: they give inmates an opportunity to learn skills they could apply to a future job on the outside, while also giving them the valuable experience — an experience we all need to feel fulfilled — of taking control of a project and seeing it through. Along the same lines, a few months ago I blogged about the Sustainable Prisons Project, a partnership between Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections that involves inmates in beekeeping, spotted frog research, worm culture, organic gardening, and bicycle repair.

Unfortunately, prison education and rehabilitation programs around the country have been subject to crippling budget cuts in recent months, and in general, most inmates have precious few opportunities to do anything meaningful with their time while behind bars. Although true prison reform will require comprehensive statewide solutions, in the meantime, it would be great if more local nonprofits, job training programs, university labs, etc. would think creatively about ways to build bridges with nearby prisons and offer inmates an opportunity to get involved with their work. Perhaps these examples will spark some ideas!

Written by sara

April 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

Connecting Prisons with Nature

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Thanks to a post over at Grits for Breakfast, I came across the website of the Sustainable Prisons Project, whose motto is, “We connect prisons with nature.” Through this partnership between Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections, inmates participate in “green” projects like beekeeping, spotted frog research, worm culture, organic gardening, and bicycle repair.

Written by sara

February 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Washington State Considers Ban on Shackling Pregnant Women

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The Washington state legislature is currently considering a bill to restrict the use of shackling on pregnant women inmates:

If the legislation passes, Washington will become the seventh state in the country to ban the use of restraints on pregnant and laboring incarcerated women. Most recently, New York, New Mexico and Texas have all passed laws prohibiting the use of shackles on pregnant women in nearly all circumstances.

State governments have found the practice to be cruel and unusual punishment, inhumane, degrading and a violation of human rights standards. And medical organizations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association to the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) have forcefully condemned the practice as wholly unsafe for both mother and baby.

The question of shackling has been in the news lately, so I thought I’d provide a quick roundup of links: Here’s an article on a woman who was shackled while pregnant in Maricopa County, Ariz. (linked to earlier in last week’s Friday Roundup). The ACLU of Rhode Island is suing the state to obtain information on its shackling policy. The Eighth Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled in October 2009 that a prisoner’s lawsuit challenging the practice as a violation of the Eighth Amendment can proceed, and that it is a clearly established point of constitutional law “that an inmate in the final stages of labor cannot be shackled absent clear evidence that she is a security or flight risk” (Nelson v. CMS, et al., No. 07-2481, 8th Cir., Oct. 2, 2009, p. 19). The federal Bureau of Prisons revised its policy in 2008 to bar shackling of pregnant inmates in all but the most exceptional cases.

Written by sara

February 2, 2010 at 11:07 am

Ninth Circuit to Inmate Voters: Not So Fast

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A few weeks ago, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled that Washington State’s felon disenfranchisement law violates the Voting Rights Act (full opinion can be downloaded here), because it has the effect of disproportionately disenfranchising minority voters. (Three other federal circuits have upheld similar laws in other states.) Today, the panel granted Washington’s request to temporarily suspend its ruling, so as to give the state time to appeal to the Supreme Court (stay order can be downloaded here). Basically, the panel agreed not to issue right away a mandate that would have required state and county election officials to immediately begin allowing inmates and felons on community supervision to register and to cast ballots. That means inmates won’t be able to vote in the county special elections currently ongoing throughout Washington State.

Written by sara

January 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm

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