Prisoners Rights Tag - ACLU of North Carolina Mon, 22 May 2017 13:24:26 -0400 en-gb Justice Denied "If we are to right the ship, the Judicial Branch will need sufficient investment from this General Assembly to ensure that we adequately fund the basic operations of the court system. . . . If we cannot pay for these basic services, we cannot conduct timely trials. We all know that justice delayed is justice denied."

These comments were delivered by North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin on March 4, 2015 during the first State of the Judiciary address to the North Carolina General Assembly in 14 years.  The Chief Justice was referring to years of cuts to the Administrative Office of the Courts and he sought increased funding to make sure the judiciary could function at full capacity and resolve cases quickly and appropriately. 

While the Chief Justice accurately laid out the critical needs of North Carolina’s court system in 2015, he could not even begin to address the dire needs within the rest of the justice system during his speech.  As recently as last month, Commissioner David Guice, head of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice within the Department of Public Safety, spoke publicly regarding the mental health crisis in our prisons.  Commissioner Guice told the News and Observer, “Emergency rooms, jails, and prisons have become the de facto mental health hospitals,”and said he was calling on lawmakers to provide more funding for treatment for mental illness within prisons.  Commissioner Guice understands that in most cases, those behind bars are eventually released and everyone would be safer if their mental health concerns could be addressed in prison.

Some of the top administrators of the criminal justice system have made the needs of the system plain, but instead of addressing these needs in the budget, the Senate last week heard a planto cap the income tax rate at 5.5%.  The Senate’s plan would embed this cap in the state Constitution, requiring a two-thirds majority vote to increase the income tax rate in the future and cost the state millions in revenue.  It would have a crippling impact on the criminal justice system, making it difficult for future legislators to reverse the damage done by past cuts and adequately fund things like basic court operations and mental health services for currently incarcerated people.  Despite Department of Public Safety officials and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court making plain the needs for increased funding, the Senate is moving forward with a plan that would ensure no funding increases in current or future years. They passed the measure out of Committee and scheduled it for a floor vote in the coming days.

Neither Commissioner Guice, nor Chief Justice Martin brought up the very real fact that without adequate investments from the legislature, much of the current system is supported by user fees - court costs and fees associated with conducting a trial.  Court costs and fees applied to criminal defendants have quadrupled over the past 20 years, meaning that defendants charged with even minor crimes can accrue hundreds or even thousands of dollars of debt before their case is resolved.  These fees are difficult to pay with a criminal record hanging over your head, and without adequate funding for the court system, they are likely to continue to rise and negatively affect hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.

We also haven’t even begun to address the fact that North Carolina is one of only two states that treat all 16 and 17 year olds automatically as adultsfor purposes of charging, trying and detaining them in the adult criminal justice system, no matter the crime.  Removing 16 and 17 year olds from adult corrections and placing them in juvenile court is a concept with wide bi-partisan support, most recently recommended by the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, but this change will also require an initial investment by the state, an investment that would be next-to-impossible if the legislature approves this tax cap.

Instead of considering ways to increase revenue and address fully funding and reforming the criminal justice system, the Senate is moving forward with a plan that will tie the hands of future legislators and cost the state millions in revenue.  Such a move indicates that the Senate has no problem with justice delayed or denied.

spreston [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Sarah Preston) Uncategorized Fri, 24 Jun 2016 09:59:15 -0400
North Carolina Pledges to End Solitary Confinement of 16 and 17 Year Olds

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Public Safety yesterday announced plans to end the practice of placing youthful offenders in solitary confinement by September 2016. North Carolina is one of two states in the country that still charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults and places them in adult correctional facilities.

As of June 7, there were 67 children under the age of 18 in North Carolina prisons, 16 of which were segregated from the general population in some form of solitary confinement. Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced that it would end the solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons.

In 2015, a coalition of human rights organizations sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons.

Six of those groups—the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Lab, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and NC Stop Torture Now—released the following statement in response to yesterday’s news:

“If properly implemented, these much-needed reforms will save 16 and 17 year olds from the horrific trauma and psychological damage that is caused by locking someone in a cell for 23 hours a day without fresh air, human contact or appropriate treatment. 

“We applaud the Department of Public Safety for taking steps to address North Carolina’s overreliance on solitary confinement and for working to save young people from this cruel practice that can ruin lives and does nothing to enhance public safety. However, there is still much work that must be done to reform North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement, particularly with respect to inmates who suffer from mental illness.

“Today’s announcement shows once again that it is past due time for North Carolina to join 48 other states and finally raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 16 and 17 year olds are no longer automatically sent to the adult criminal justice system but rather protected and given a chance to turn their lives around.”

mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Student and Youth Rights Thu, 16 Jun 2016 10:41:27 -0400
Experts to Discuss Dismantling Mass Incarceration in Cary Oct. 1

CARY – Criminal justice experts from North Carolina and around the nation will gather in Cary on October 1 for a daylong symposium dedicated to exploring and identifying strategies to reduce or eliminate mass incarceration and its devastating impact on American communities.

While composing only 5 percent of the global population, the United States currently houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 6.89 million people in the United States are in jails, prisons, and under other forms of adult correctional control, and this population is characterized by extreme racial disparities. Symposium participants will identify the role that legal organizations and members of the public can play in supporting criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing or eliminating mass incarceration and its harmful consequences.

What: Understanding and Dismantling Mass Incarceration: What Solutions Exist for North Carolina? Speakers at this Symposium will discuss the history of mass incarceration, factors exacerbating the phenomenon, the economics of the mass incarceration, and strategies for achieving real criminal justice reform in North Carolina.

Who: The symposium will include prominent voices on mass incarceration including:

  • Professor Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Former Texas Representative Jerry Madden, Right on Crime
  • Nicole Porter, The Sentencing Project

The symposium will also feature practitioners and experts from the UNC School of Law, Durham County District Court, Wake Forest University School of Law, American University College of Law, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Fayetteville Police Department, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, and more. 

When:Thursday, October 1, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Reception to follow 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Where: North Carolina Bar Association, 8000 Weston Pkwy Cary, NC 27513

“There is a growing bipartisan consensus that it is time to rethink our society’s approach to criminal justice and incarceration. At this critical moment in the criminal justice reform movement, it is time to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing mass incarceration in North Carolina,” said James E. Williams, Jr., Chief Public Defender for District 15B and Chair of the Mass Incarceration Symposium Planning Committee. “This symposium will enable the establishment of a North Carolina coalition dedicated to dismantling mass incarceration and its devastating impact on individuals, families, communities, and our democracy.” 

Panelist and Senior Fellow at Right on Crime, Jerry Madden agrees, saying “Criminal Justice reform, including the dismantling of mass incarceration, is not a partisan issue but one that effects people from every walk of life in every community. The cost of mass incarceration, in both dollars and in human lives, is an issue that effects every political party and philosophy. In this symposium we will talk about how Criminal Justice reform will continue and grow."

The symposium will be hosted by the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System (NC-CRED). Cosponsors include the ACLU of North Carolina; the NC Advocates for Justice; the NC Bar Association; the NC Public Defender Association; the Southern Coalition for Social Justice; and Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, PLLC.

For more information or to register, visit

mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Legal News Thu, 17 Sep 2015 10:54:04 -0400
ACLU-NC & Others Ask U.S. Justice Department to Investigate Solitary Confinement in North Carolina

RALEIGH – A coalition of human rights groups today sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. The letter comes weeks after President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement across the country and criticized the practice in a major speech on criminal justice reform.  

The 15-page letter – signed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and North Carolina Stop Torture Now – chronicles the recent deaths of several inmates held in solitary confinement in North Carolina, as well as the mistreatment and horrific conditions suffered by countless more. One of those prisoners, Michael Anthony Kerr, a 53-year-old former Army sergeant diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, died of dehydration in March 2014 after spending 35 days in solitary confinement. In the letter, the groups document North Carolina’s failure to provide adequate resources for prison mental health services and explain how inmates with mental illness are disciplined for manifestations of their illness and often released directly to the community after months or years in isolation.  

“Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,” the letter reads. “However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform.  Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.”

Background: On any given day, as much as 14 percent of North Carolina’s 37,500 prison inmates are locked away in solitary confinement—often for such minor offenses as using profanity.  There, they are isolated for 23 to 24 hours a day, without sunlight, fresh air, or contact with human beings.  More than one in five of those prisoners placed in isolation require some type of treatment for mental health issues.

Read a copy of the letter here.

mmeno [AT] acluofnc [DOT] org (Mike Meno) Human Rights Tue, 11 Aug 2015 08:28:11 -0400