Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Does the Wyoming ACLU Represent Prisoners?

Because few, if any, other organizations in Wyoming do. Prisoners, though some have committed awful deeds, are a vulnerable population in our society. The ACLU subscribes to the principle that if the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everyone’s rights are at risk. And according to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, about 97% of people in our prisons will return to our communities -- how we treat prisoners should give us an idea of what we should expect from them when they come home.

For the first time, the Wyoming ACLU has released data based on the complaints we received in 2011 from prisoners in Wyoming. "Incarceration In Wyoming" (in pdf) gives an overview on our prison work over the past year. We hope that making this information available will increase public awareness, accountability and transparency of detention facilities in Wyoming.

Promoting humane conditions of confinement, consistent with constitutional protections like health, safety and human dignity, is one of our highest priorities. The Wyoming ACLU receives complaints about jail and prison conditions and other legal claims from prisoners, attorneys, friends and family members.

Deficiencies in medical and mental health care top the list of complaints from prisoners in Wyoming. These complaints are especially concerning in light of the fact that many mental health patients end up in Wyoming’s justice system. Other areas in which we received a high frequency of complaints include civil liberties, conditions of confinement and threats to personal safety.

The ACLU also works to combat over-incarceration in America. The U.S. imprisons more individuals – both in numbers and by percentage of the population – than any other country in the world, resulting in heavy costs to society, communities and taxpayers.

Did you know…

• With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population – that makes us the world’s largest jailer.
• Since 1970, U.S. prison population has risen 700%
• One in 99 adults are living behind bars in the U.S. This marks the highest rate of imprisonment in American history.
• One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, probation and parole populations.

A large part of the challenges jail officials face is how to handle an ever-growing prison population where inmates are getting longer sentences, despite limited resources and demands for budget cuts. Understaffing and overcrowding often play a significant role in the complaints received by the ACLU.

Wyoming has no statutes that address minimum standards for jails or prisons. The Wyoming ACLU is the only agency in the state that will investigate or review inmate complaints regarding the conditions of confinement.

"Incarceration" (in pdf) includes a directory of all Wyoming Department of Corrections institutions and county jails, along with “Know Your Rights” resource guides. We distribute “Know Your Rights” guides to inform prisoners of their constitutional rights based on the nature of their complaint.