Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Does the Wyoming ACLU Advocate For Prisoners?

Because the character of society is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members. In a country that imprisons more people than any other in the world, someone must look out for the vulnerable human beings behind bars — both for their sake while they are incarcerated and for society's sake when they are released. In fact, about 97% of Wyoming prisoners will eventually return to our communities. How we treat prisoners should give us an idea of what we should expect from them when they come home.

Data compiled from complaints received from prisoners in Wyoming is being released in the second annual report “Incarceration In Wyoming,” which provides details about the numbers and nature of complaints the organization received in 2012. Deficiencies in medical and mental health care continue to top the list of complaints from prisoners in Wyoming. Poor medical and mental health care generated thirty percent of complaints from prisons, and well over a quarter of the complaints from jails.

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.

We have also started to look at the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners in Wyoming – the practice of confining a prisoner alone in a cell for 22‐24 hours a day with little human contact and severe restrictions on privileges, such as reading material, television, visitation and participation in rehabilitative group activities. There is a popular misconception that solitary is used only for the most violent and dangerous prisoners. In fact, many low‐risk prisoners may be housed in solitary because they have broken minor rules or filed lawsuits. At WDOC institutions, 506 prisoners were held in solitary confinement in the past year, 146 of them diagnosed as mentally ill.

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

>>> Download<<<
“Incarceration in Wyoming: 2012 Report on Prison and Jail Complaints” (in pdf)

Friday, May 3, 2013

ESPC: A Great Organization for Wyoming

The Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) held its bi-annual retreat at the Saratoga Inn on April 24th. I have been a member of this organization for a number of years and have gained an enormous amount of fulfillment from this association. The bi-annual retreat gives us time to discuss past successes and failures, and plan for the next two years’ work.

The ESPC is a progressive “think-and-do tank” that utilizes research, public education and advocacy to advance a cooperative program of work designed to establish and maintain accountability in state government and to substantially increase public participation in and influence over public-policy decision-making. Its programs fall into three main areas: government accountability; tax and fiscal policy; and Wyoming working families.

The ESPC started in 1994 with a small group of dedicated individuals who were interested in a more transparent state government. The group originated a “lap book” which recorded legislative votes and donor connections. This led to more transparency and the recording of votes by the Wyoming Legislature. The current state legislative website provides a great deal of legislative information. The ESPC continues to work on greater accountability, and would like to see more legislative votes recorded.

Fair taxation, workers’ rights, voting and election issues are some of the other areas the ESPC staff and member organizations continue to address. The board finalized the priorities for the next two years: government accountability, water protection, workers’ rights and taxation issues. As with most organizations, the ESPC struggles with too many issues and too few resources.The ESPC and the ACLU of Wyoming work in tandem on many issues during legislative session, and it is an honor to work with such effective coalition partners.

The ESPC's next board meeting will be held on September 17th in Sheridan. The public is welcome to attend these meetings.

Linda Burt
Executive Director
ACLU of Wyoming