ACLU Takes on Wisconsin Officials Operating Youth Correctional Facilities

On January 23, 2017, ACLU filed a class action suit against Wisconsin officials alleging severe human and children’s rights abuses. The complaint’s introduction states:

The State of Wisconsin operates the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerate approximately 150-200 youth who are as young as 14 years old, in remote northern Wisconsin. The State routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility. Currently, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections officials lock up approximately 15 to 20% percent or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. Officers also repeatedly and excessively use Bear Mace and other pepper sprays against the youth, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing. These practices constitute serious violations of the children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Related Readings:

New Jersey Overhauls Its Bail System

Effective January 1, 2017, New Jersey began implementing its newly revised bail system (P.L. 2014, Ch. 31 known as the “Bail Reform Law”).  As judges do under the Federal Bail Reform Act, New Jersey judges will now focus on whether an accused presents a significant flight risk, is threat to public safety, or both when deciding whether to detain the accused while awaiting trial.

A study by the Drug Policy Alliance in New Jersey, released in 2013, found that 39 percent of inmates were eligible to be released on bail, but that many could not meet amounts as low as $2,500.

The new system, of course, is not without controversy. While striving to achieve fairness and alleviate the overloaded system, many (particularly those in the bail bond business) rally against it stating that dangerous offenders are released out on the streets. But “judicial officials reject the idea that dangerous criminals are flooding communities.”

Related Readings:

Prof. Michael B. Mushlin Testifies at Briefing on Solitary Confinement in CT

Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights, testified on February 7, 2017 before the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as part of their scheduled Briefing on Solitary Confinement.

Prof. Mushlin has been advocating for more humane conditions in state and federal prisons and jails, he has testified in the past, and written extensively on the topic. He has been consistently calling to ban the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails coupled with instituting an external and independent oversight to ensure the reform is sustained.

Please read his entire testimony here.

Film Screening: William Kunstler – Disturbing the Universe

Please come and join the Criminal Justice Society at Pace and the Pace Criminal Justice Institute for a film screening on February 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm – 6:00 PM at Elisabeth Haub School of Law, Pace University, in Room G-02 in the Ottinger Classroom Building.