Archive for the 'Criminal Justice' Category

Sponsoring a Florida College Football Team Can’t Whitewash a Private Prison Company’s Atrocious Record

Image.

Note: The following blog post originally appeared on the National ACLU Blog of Rights. That post can be seen here

Riled up? Sign this petition urging Florida Atlantic University to walk away from its deal with the GEO Group. The Owl football team should not have to play in Owlcatraz.

In Florida, incarceration is big business. So is college football. There might be some twisted logic, then, to the GEO Group, Inc.’s latest scheme to whitewash its public image. The GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation headquartered in Boca Raton, announced on Tuesday that it had secured the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium in exchange for a $6 million donation to the university’s athletic program.

FAU president Mary Jane Saunders said of GEO, “We think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.” President Saunders must have been blinded by the size of GEO’s donation, because last time we checked the GEO Group had a horrific, well-publicized record of abuse and neglect. When the plans for the gray multi-story façade of the GEO Group Stadium, which has already been nicknamed “Owlcatraz” by students, were unveiled on Tuesday, so was a stark visual representation of FAU’s shameful willingness to associate itself with a company that is anything but “wonderful.”

To take just one example: last year, a federal judge issued a blistering order in a joint ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, a GEO prison that held children and teenaged prisoners in Mississippi. Calling the GEO prison a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions” and “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” the judge ordered mass transfers out of the prison and ordered the company to stop locking children in solitary confinement. This came not long after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a similar report describing staff sexual misconduct at Walnut Grove as “brazen” and among the worst that DOJ had seen “in any facility anywhere in the nation.” A month later, the State of Mississippi ended its relationship with GEO.

Making inroads into the Florida corrections system would indeed be a major business boon for the GEO Group. Currently, Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing over 100,000 inmates and another 115,000 on community supervision. The prison population has more than doubled since 1990 and nearly quadrupled since 1984.

Of all states, Florida imprisons the second-highest number of prisoners – over 11,000 or approximately 11% of the state prison population – in private facilities. And about 10 miles from the FAU stadium, GEO operates the 700-bed Broward Transition Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. The Broward facility is the only immigration detention center in Florida run by a private company, to the tune of an annual $20 million contract with the federal government. BTC is unique in that it is reserved for immigrants who have committed no crime or a nonviolent offense. While many of the detainees pose no threat to the public, the conditions at GEO pose a substantial threat to their health and well being.

Last year, two young people with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, both brought to the U.S. undocumented when they were children, turned themselves in to gain access to BTC and investigate the conditions. They reported seeing lengthy and unnecessary confinement and numerous incidents of substandard medical care. They report a woman returned to her cell bleeding the same day of her ovarian surgery, and a man denied access to medical care for days while he urinated blood. In response to their report, 26 members of Congress demanded an investigation into the quality of medical care provided at BTC.

The $6 million that FAU accepted from GEO this week should not be viewed as a philanthropic gift, but a purchase of 12 years of stadium naming rights, advertising to improve the company’s image after its highly publicized improper treatment of detainees.

It is particularly galling that FAU and GEO made their announcement in the midst ofFAU’s commemoration of Black History Month. Prison profiteers like GEO depend for their profits on the continued large-scale incarceration of young men and women – many of whom are people of color. Nationwide, 58% of the people in prison are African-American or Latino, and 30.3% are between the ages of 18 and 29. (Indeed, one researcher recently found that African Americans and Latinos are even more overrepresented in private prisons than public prisons.). So the FAU Owls football team (most of whom are themselves African-American) will be sponsored by a company whose core business depends on the continued overincarceration of young people who look much like themselves.

TAKE ACTION: Join the ACLU, Beyond Bars, and the FAU community and ask FAU to walk away from GEO’s tainted money.

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Report: Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era

The ACLU of Florida has just issued a report entitled, “Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era: A Two-Year Report on Combatting Assaults by the Legislature and the Administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Civil Liberties,” which illustrates the work the ACLU and other organizations have undertaken to defend civil rights in Florida over  the last two years.

“In order to defend the rights of Floridians from their own state government, the ACLU of Florida was involved in nine lawsuits challenging Gov. Scott’s policies and legislative attacks on civil liberties[.]”

Among the issues listed in the report were:

  • the right to vote,
  • the right to be free from unreasonable searches,
  • religious freedom and the separation of church and state,
  • women’s rights and reproductive freedom,
  • an independent judiciary, and
  • freedom of speech.

The report was released at the halfway point of Governor Rick Scott’s term and before the new session of the Florida legislature gets under way.

“With the 2012 elections behind us and the 2014 gubernatorial election  already effectively begun,  it appears that the Governor is attempting to moderate his views to make them palatable,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

“But no public relations campaign can paper over the picture described in our report,” continued Simon, “that for the last two years, whether it has been the right to vote, freedom from unreasonable searches by government officials, women’s rights, the protection of personal privacy, religious freedom or freedom of speech, the ACLU has had to protect Floridians from a wide-ranging assault on their rights by their own Legislature and Governor.”

Download the report. (PDF)

ACLU and Florida Immigrant Coalition host statewide Immigration Enforcement Summit – June 23, 2012 – University of Central Florida, Orlando

By Ron Bilbao, Advocacy Coordinator/Legislative Associate. ACLU of Florida.

Over 100 participants gathered at the University of Central Florida’s School of Business Administration on Saturday, June 23rd to get down to business on how to deal with the real problem with immigration in Florida these days – enforcement. On the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 law, advocates from seventeen different counties throughout Florida joined together to prepare for the worst. Despite Florida not being one of the six states with Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws in place, all sixty-seven counties have agreements with the federal government to implement the nefarious “Secure Communities” program which, among other things, gives local police authority to check the immigration status of anyone who is detained for any offense. The result has been increased mistrust between communities of color and local police, in many cases, crimes going unreported for fear of retribution and potential deportation leading to the separation of families and a constant fear throughout Hispanic neighborhoods. We don’t need a Florida-style SB 1070 law, we are already feeling the terrorizing effects of its discriminatory enforcement.

The summit brought together national and local speakers to discuss the impact of the Supreme Court decision on Florida, how to respond, and most importantly how to fight back against enforcement right now in our local communities. Andre Segura, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York kicked off the day with a keynote discussing the questions before the Court in Arizona v. United States to be decided the following Monday, and how that ruling could affect Florida now and in the near future. An all-star panel followed the keynote where national and regional leaders discussed how they are fighting back against racial profiling and enforcement practices in their respective areas. Panelists included Sian ófaoláin of Rights Working Group that is organizing states to pass anti-racial profiling legislation; Héctor Cruz from WeCount! who is leading a campaign to take local control over ICE holds; Mayron Payes of the Center for Community Change describing his work on family commissions; and Paola Everett of the ACLU of Florida’s Tampa office detailing their documentation and data-collecting study on racial profiling in three Florida counties. The panel was moderated by Dr. Joyce Hamilton-Henry, director of the mid-Florida regional office of the ACLU of Florida.

A series of workshops followed which aimed at training participants in the details of fighting back against enforcement locally. From Know Your Rights 101, to Documenting Racial Profiling, to Legal Defense and Rapid Response, to Voter Engagement. The trainings were thorough and led by experts in the field. After the workshops, participants broke into groups by regions and set specific goals by which to implement the work they trained for in the workshops. The summit closed with a group report-back and some inspiring words from Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Board Member of the ACLU of Florida.

Watch a video of the summit: here

See photos from the summit: here 

Watch media response to the summit: WESH and FOX

Download materials from the summit: http://bit.ly/materialsforsummit

Standing On Shaky Ground: Rick Scott’s Defense Of Selective Constitutional Rights

Guest Post
By Martha Jackovics
Beach Peanuts
beachpeanuts@gmail.com
@BeachPeanuts

On the very same day that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn sent a request to Gov. Rick Scott to restrict carrying firearms during the Republican Convention this summer, the governor responded:

No.

Not exactly a shocking response from the gun owner, NRA member, and the man who stacked the new Stand Your Ground Task Force with gun friendly lawmakers,some who actually wrote the law and have already defended it as it pertains to Trayvon Martin case in op-eds before they were appointed.

From The Tampa Tribune:

“The short answer to your request is found in the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in Article 1, Section 8 of the Florida Constitution,” Scott replied.

Both sections guarantee citizens’ rights to keep and bear guns, he noted.

In his letter, Buckhorn appealed to the governor to restrict carrying firearms during the RNC in downtown Tampa under the emergency powers granted to the governor during times of emergency. Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the RNC, placing no limits on gun possession could increase the threat to public safety, Buckhorn’s letter argued.

Scott replied that he understood Buckhorn’s concern. The city already plans to ban sticks, poles, water guns and lots of other potential weapons from a downtown “event zone.”

(In his letter, Scott adds this: “Firearms are noticeably included, however, in the 2nd Amendment. The choice to allow the government to ban sticks and poles, but not firearms, is one that the People made in enacting their state and federal constitutions.)

“But it is unclear how disarming law-abiding citizens would better protect them from the dangers and threats posed by those who would flout the law,” Scott wrote. “It is at just such times that the constitutional right to self defense is most precious and must be protected from government overreach.”

Scott said he was confident law enforcement would be able to protect Tampa’s citizens and visitors without the extra step of banning guns.

Buckhorn said he wasn’t concerned with people licensed to carry concealed weapons, a list that used to include him. He said he was more worried about one of those licensed weapons getting loose and landing in the wrong hands.

“Some of the people that will be here in August are not exactly model citizens,” he said. “I think even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporter would understand why I made that request.”

Yes, even the most ardent 2nd Amendment supporters would understand Buckhorn’s point, (not to mention law-enforcement officers) but this is Rick Scott we’re talking about, and we can add this to the very long list of things that he fails to understand about governing. 

Also not shocking is the hypocrisy employed in Scott’s decision. 

It seems Gov. Scott would prefer risking a “shootout at the O.K. Corral” situation rather than diss the NRA trample on one’s constitutional rights. After all, Scott is a well known defender of constitutional rights!

Except when he isn’t.

Also in his letter to Mayor Buckhorn, Scott wrote

“We have had political conventions in this country since the dawn of the Republic. They are an essential means of furthering our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote. “Our fundamental right to keep and bear arms has coexisted with those freedoms for just as long, and I see no reason to depart from that tradition this year.”

Surely you jest, Gov. Overreach? Our constitutional rights to free speech and to vote? In Rick Scott’s Florida, constitutional rights are selective.

For example, some would say that the concept of free speech ceased to exist once Scott bought his way into Tallahassee and declared Florida “Open For Business.Scott’s alliance with “big business” has been beneficial to both, and he seems to be a firm believer in the Mitt Romney school of thought:

“Corporations are people, my friends!”

That’s not the only similarity between the two. In fact, anyone thinking of voting for Romney might want to pay a visit to Florida or talk to a resident first. Florida under Scott’s slash and burn policies can provide an ugly preview of the potential disaster in the wake of a President Romney. The lower your income, if you have one, the less rights you have. Just ask a Florida welfare recipient.

Voting rights were one of the first things to come under assault in Florida after Scott arrived. Sure, we still have the “right” to vote, but thanks to Scott and the conservative majority in the legislature, it’s much harder to exercise that right. Where was Scott’s love of the Constitution when the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights and the Constitution was holding hearings on those voting restrictions? As you’ll recall, when asked what steps Scott’s administration planned to take to ensure Florida’s new laws didn’t disenfranchise Florida voters, he didn’t bother to respond. He never showed up for the hearings either.

In fact, Rick Scott spends a great deal of time AND money on issues dealing with the rights of Floridians. Unfortunately it’s taxpayer money, and it’s due to Scott restricting those rights rather than defending them, and we all pay dearly on both counts. Never mind that the courts have often ruled in our favor. Scott, or the “Supreme Executive”as he refers to himself, just declares those courts “wrong” and we’re forced to spend more on seemingly endless appeals. So many, in fact, when Scott “disagreed” with a judge recently who found an unconstitutional breach of contract where Scott cut state salaries to offset pensions, the governor’s press release began with: “As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong.

“As you would expect” will no doubt become boilerplate for many a future press release from the governor’s office, as the potential for appeal list is long. From drug testing welfare recipients and state employees, to privatizing prisons and education from elementary schools to colleges and universities, and on and on.

With so many challenges at such high costs, Scott’s method of governing seems to fly in the face of his philosophy as a fiscally conservative, “small government candidate,” but no matter. While Rick Scott disagrees with so many in the judicial branch, he’s come up with a “simple” solution for that too. Simply convince the legislature to give you the power to hand pick the judges yourself, pretend that your constituents would like nothing more than allowing their governor unchecked power, then give this response publicly to the media: “When you’re elected governor, people expect you to not have a limit on who you can appoint.” 

In Florida right now, Constitutional rights are fragile things and they need to be protected. Do you trust this man with yours?

Ending “Florida’s dirty shameful secret”

ImageMaria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

It was Florida’s dirty shameful secret:  for decades, Florida women who entered jail when pregnant often gave birth under extraordinarily inhumane conditions, with their hands and feet cuffed, and sometimes, with leg irons.  Doctors’ and nurses’ pleas to remove the restraints fell on deaf ears, as the corrections officers called the shots.

 In 2009, I received a letter from a woman in jail on the west coast of Florida; she told me that during labor, both of her hands and one foot were cuffed to the hospital bedrails.  During active labor, when it was time to push, she couldn’t pull up on her legs.  Ask any obstetrical nurse or physician:  that’s bad for the woman, and bad for the baby.  Then, after her baby was born, her handcuffs prevented her from holding her newborn.  Again – bad for the woman; bad for the baby.  

 This was just one letter I received from women in jail – there were many others, all of which told the same stories of the woman’s restraint during labor, delivery, and recovery.  Not all county jails subscribed to this cruel practice:  some had compassionate birthing practices that involved midwives and doulas.  However, there were no uniform guidelines, no statewide standards.  Whether a woman was shackled during labor and delivery depended on where she was incarcerated, and whether the corrections officer showed any compassion.

 But thanks to a bill awaiting Governor Scott’s approval, that’s all going to change.  The bill, sponsored in 2012 by Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and Rep. Betty Reed (D-Tampa) is named the “Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act,” and bans the use of restraints on prisoners during labor, delivery, and recovery unless they present a true security risk or flight risk.  In 2011, the bill, sponsored by then-Senator Tony Hill and Rep. Reed, passed the Florida Senate unanimously but stalled in the House.

Jail is a terrible place to be pregnant.  Now, however, women in Florida’s jails who have the misfortune of giving birth during their jail terms will at least be free of the hobbling restraints that were the norm rather than the exception across Florida.  Better for the women; better for their babies.  Thank you, Senators Joyner, Hill, and Rep. Reed, on behalf of all the women behind bars who can’t convey to you their personal thanks. We’ll tell them how you, and the entire Florida Legislature, stood up for them and their babies.

 

Debating Rights Restoration: Myths vs. Civics

Guest Contributor: Desmond Meade
President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

On Thursday, March 8th, Florida International University College of Law’s chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society held a debate concerning Felon Disfranchisement. Marc Mauer, president of The Sentencing Project and Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity offered their views on whether ex-felons should have the right to vote. A spirited debate which got testy at times, gave the audience an excellent view of the polarized viewpoints on an issue in the spotlight in Florida because of the upcoming Presidential election, the role that Florida will play in that election, and the current clemency policies of Governor Scott and his Cabinet.

Thursday’s event promoted a moral and legal discussion not just on felon voting rights, but on how disenfranchisement policies are tied to broader questions about the role of democracy in shaping political and social equality. Students pointed out the effects of systemic racism and the war on drugs to criticize Florida’s disenfranchisement policies, and expressed concern over the unprecedented expansion of the US prison system.

It instantly became apparent that in order to justify felon disfranchisement, a negative image of impacted individuals had to be developed. From the viewpoint of Mr. Clegg, it would seem that all felons were terrorist assassins who burned, and pillaged our cities. This fictional felon created by Mr. Clegg became the basis of his position that the fundamental right to vote should be denied to all felons, even after they have repaid their debt to society.

Mr. Clegg eventually had to admit that the fictional character he created was a grossly inaccurate depiction of the typical individual impacted by these policies. Mr. Clegg, however, chose to ignore the detrimental impact felon disfranchisement have on the families of formerly incarcerated individuals, and the communities in which they live. Mr. Clegg was unable to reason away the reality that every time a person is disenfranchised, their community loses a voice, and for every voice that a community loses, the more insignificant that community becomes in the eyes of elected officials who are driven by votes.

Florida currently has over 1 million disenfranchised residents, and that number will continue to grow due to clemency policies that make civil rights restoration virtually impossible. That’s over 1 million individuals who, while paying taxes, are prevented from voting, and are severely restricted from obtaining safe and affordable housing.

In the debate, Mr. Mauer correctly surmised that the basic principles of civility and citizenship dictate that all individuals are entitled to have the right to vote; the right to have their voices heard, and participate in the decisions that govern the society in which they live. Mr. Mauer also exposed the absurdity of the unfounded notion that civil rights restoration is a threat to the voting process. The fact is that the real threats to voting are preventing or restricting eligible voters from casting their vote freely, and adopting policies that disenfranchise citizens, in many cases for life.

In a recent CNN online poll, only 20% of responders believed that an ex-felon should not regain their rights to vote.

Obviously the majority of Americans do not believe in Mr. Clegg’s “boogie man” convict.

(Bobby Joe Bracy contributed material for this post).

Private Prison Disaster Averted (for now)

Julie Ebenstein
Policy and Advocacy Counsel, ACLU of Florida

Yesterday, the Florida Senate averted disaster by voting down (on a 19-21) a proposal to create the largest private prison system in America. The plan would have turned over nearly 30 Florida correctional facilities to private, for-profit companies, which have would run the prisons under contract with the state.

Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing nearly 101,000 inmates and another 112,800 on community supervision. The prison population has nearly quadrupled since harsh sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s – Florida incarcerated just 26,471 people in 1980.

Florida’s prison system needs reform, but private prisons aren’t reform – they deform the process by linking corporate profit to incarceration.

Last week I joined a group of national criminal justice experts for a press conference in the Capitol to tell lawmakers that if they want to save money, they should reform mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs and re-visit parole policies that feed the addiction to incarceration. Maybe they heard us.

Privatization schemes, often coupled with inflated claims of cost savings, distract policymakers from an inescapable truth: The best way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people we imprison.

For more on the problematic incentives injected into incarceration by the profit motive, see Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the ACLU’s recent, comprehensive report on the private prison industry.

Also check out this opinion piece in the Palm Beach Post by the ACLU National Prison Project’s David Shapiro. David was one of the experts who joined me at last week’s press conference and his article ran yesterday, the day of the successful Senate vote.

Welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida.

Hello and welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights! This blog is a resource for friends of liberty to learn about civil liberties news in Florida and the work that the ACLU is doing to defend the constitutional rights of Floridians.

In case you’re not familiar with the ACLU of Florida, we are freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Florida Constitution, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

On this blog, we will share news on civil liberties stories going on in Florida, projects that the ACLU of Florida is working on, and opportunities for you to get involved and help us protect civil liberties in our state!

If you have a story that you would like to have featured on the blog, feel free to send a message to bjohnson@aclufl.org with “Blog of Rights” in the subject line.

Thank you and once again, welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!



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