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.

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