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The ACLU of Utah Activist

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Welcome to Fall - Part One: So...How's That Criminal Justice Reform Thing Going?

02 September 2014 Published in Prison Relocation & Justice Reinvestment in Utah
If you're anything like the rest of us, you've been blissfully tuned out of all the usual "work-and-society-and-boring-meetings" news for a couple of months. Well, summer's over, and it's time to get ourselves up to speed on how the state's criminal justice reform efforts are coming along. Note: if you've been tuned out so long that you can't even remember what I'm talking about, read this Tribune story by Robert Gehrke about the state's "Justice Reinvestment" initiative, undertaken with the Pew Public Safety Performance Project.  The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) officially launched the effort with Pew in April 2014. Since we are five months in (though the media are just now starting to pay attention!), this seems a good time to take stock of the effort. To refresh your memory of the Justice Reinvestment process and timeline: Justice Reinvestment began with Pew collecting data, conducting research and investigating Utah's criminal justice system.  Pew reviewed the data with CCJJ to identify what is driving Utah's prison population growth. Pew evaluated how well Utah is incorporating criminal justice "best practices" into various aspects of its system. CCJJ will work with Pew to craft legislation, to be put before the…

Op-ed: Board of Pardons and Parole needs support, attention and reform

22 August 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
The Tribune recently reported on Utah’s “Justice Reinvestment” effort, undertaken with support from the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. These reports mention reforms that, if adopted, could reduce Utah’s prison population: tweaking sentencing guidelines, improving community supervision practices, and ensuring that “evidence-based practices” are used by judges, agents and counselors.

Where Evidence-Based Practices Will Fail Us

As Utah's public agencies and criminal justice entities hum with enthusiasm about data-driven approaches and evidence-based practices (for example: here, here, here, here, you get the idea), I hate to be the one to point this out but... is inevitable that Utah's favorite criminal justice buzz term - "Evidence-Based Practices" - will run into the buzz saw of reality at some point. And by reality, I mean decades of policies - in law enforcement, housing, education, and other areas of government involvement - that discriminate against certain Americans based on their race and class. Luckily, I'm not the only one pointing this out. I highly recommend this excellent article in Time last week describing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's concerns about increased used of risk assessment tools, particularly in pre-sentencing processes. While this data-driven approach to criminal justice may save money, it is very likely to perpetuate terrible and unjustified racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Before we get too far in the weeds, let's take a second to define "evidence-based practices' as the term is used in the criminal justice world. An "evidence-based practice" or "EBP" is an approach or intervention that has been evaluated - with some academic…

The Shadow Economy of Lethal Injection Drug Deals

04 August 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
By Tanya Greene, Advocacy and Policy Counsel, ACLU  For all we know, the "pharmacy" might be a high school science class. That's how a federal appeals court judge described Missouri's secretive death penalty system back in the spring. Shady medical experiments masquerading as legal executions have gone horrifically wrong in four states already this year. During the most recent, Arizona officials shot 15 separate doses of experimental drugs into Mr. Joseph Wood. This bungled execution lasted for nearly two hours, during which Mr. Wood gasped for breath 660 times and then finally suffocated to death. Read more >>

Overheated Gang Rhetoric Contradicts Reform Efforts

For months now, responsible elected officials and earnest public servants have been speaking the encouraging language of criminal justice reform: "evidence-based practices"...."doing what works"...."making policy based on facts, not emotion." There is growing recognition across the political spectrum that there are too many mentally ill people cycling in and out of jail, too many people in prison who really just need substance abuse treatment, too many new felonies created each year by the state legislature. And then, just when you're feeling hopeful, something like this happens. Yes, gang violence is a serious problem. Usually, it is most serious for the men and women who are trapped in gang life, but it's also a serious problem for the community members and law enforcement officers who encounter it. Certainly, gang issues deserve our attention. Our careful, data-driven, constitutionally-sensitive, non-panicky attention. What we do not need - especially when Utah is on the verge of making real progress in reducing our prison population and solving our serious recidivism problem - is to encourage law enforcement to overreact to community safety issues in ways that threaten civil liberties and perpetuate mass incarceration. I'm not saying that Utahns shouldn't be concerned about "outlaw motorcycle gangs."…

The Director’s Chair: We are energized by our recent successes

10 July 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
We are energized by our recent successes. The federal district court just released its decision in La Raza v. Utah blocking parts of HB 497, Utah’s Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act and severely restricting other aspects of it. Great news! Our 2011 lawsuit initially resulted in the court’s granting of a restraining order which stopped the law from going into effect for the past three years pending this ruling.

The Definition of Insanity

18 June 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
By Cassandra Stubbs, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project Last night marked the first executions in this country since the horrifically botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April. In case you've forgotten, it took Mr. Lockett over 40 minutes to die. He remained conscious, writhing in pain, as an experimental cocktail of lethal injection drugs failed to carry out their intended purpose. And until last night, this country went seven weeks without subjecting someone to the same sort of medical experimentation. Read more >>

What is Driving Utah's Prison Population?

On May 15, analysts from the Pew Public Safety Performance Project made the first in a series of presentations about Utah’s criminal justice system. As part of a Justice Reinvestment process that Pew is undertaking with state leadership, this presentation offered information about specific “drivers” of Utah’s growing prison population. The information was derived from data obtained from the Department of Corrections and the state courts, then analyzed by Pew. This blog post is meant to be a quick recap of the Pew presentation, with a few thoughts from the ACLU of Utah thrown in! You can read the full presentation for yourself and draw your own conclusions: it is available for download at the bottom of this page.  While Utah does not incarcerate as much, per capita, as most other states, we are nonetheless bucking an important and positive national trend of prison de-population. Our state prison population grew 22% in the last decade, and is still going up. Nationally, prison and jail populations peaked in 2007, and have been declining since. The ACLU of Utah also likes to remind our fellow Utahns that while our rate of incarceration is relatively low, it is still inexcusably high by historical…

In Perverse Equation, Sketches + Skin Color = Gang Tagger

19 May 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
This article features the ACLU of Utah’s class-action lawsuit representing Salt Lake City public school students targeted by law enforcement during a gang sweep.

Congratulations, Utah couples!

19 May 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Sign a Utah Unites for Marriage card congratulating legally married same-sex couples across the state.

America's Mentally Ill Are Being Treated Behind Bars

Check out this excellent article by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones, which refers to a new report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a group that works to remove barriers to effective treatment of mental illness throughout the United States. Our nation has long since made the switch from treating the mentally ill in mental treating them (poorly, according to the TAC report) in jails and prisons. Sadly, as Mencimer points out, this vulnerable group is also more likely to be overrepresented in solitary confinement, which has be shown to have incredibly detrimental effects on even otherwise mentally healthy people. They are also much more likely to commit suicide while in custody. The ACLU of Utah is currently working with state and county partners to help connect criminal-justice-involved people with the treatment they need - most often for mental illness and also substance use disorders - and save them from damaging time spent behind bars. To learn more about the policy challenges facing Utah in this area, contact Anna Brower, ACLU of Utah Public Policy Advocate, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Are More Drug Courts Really The Answer?

An interesting new policy report by the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for a public health approach to drug policy, questions the long-term efficacy of drug courts in reducing prisoners' return to jail or prison. The report also discusses evidence that drug courts may not be producing the intended or expected cost-savings benefits.

Demonizing children does not improve public safety

02 May 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Putting destructive labels on a child accomplishes nothing positive for the child, his/her family or our communities.

Curious Cop Downloaded Hundreds of Private Prescription Records Because He Could

14 April 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Today, the ACLU and ACLU of Utah filed an amicus brief in support of a Utah paramedic whose Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police swept up his confidential prescription records in a dragnet search. Law enforcement’s disregard for basic legal protections in the case is shocking. 

Send Off Celebration: Utah Stands United!

07 April 2014 Published in Past Events
Monday, April 7, 6 pm, at Library Square in Salt Lake City. Join us for a send-off celebration of the plaintiff couples and legal team in Kitchen v. Herbert as they head to Denver.

Introducing the ACLU's NSA Documents Database

03 April 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
The national ACLU has created a complete, and easily searchable, database of documents to help facilitate the public debate on the legality and propriety of the government's surveillance practices.

Only in America: 16-Year-Old Locked Up for the Rest of His Life

31 March 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Juwan Wickware wasn't the shooter. But he and more than 2,500 others nationwide will enter prison as teenagers, grow into adults, and die – all behind bars.

Utah Legislators Stood Up For Fourth Amendment

17 March 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
The Utah Legislature was divided this year, but the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one place where legislators found common ground.

Court Hears Arguments in Marriage Equality Case

13 March 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
On Wednesday, March 12, 2014, U.S. Federal Judge Kimball heard oral arguments in the ACLU of Utah’s case Evans et al. v. State of Utah et al. We argued that Utah must recognize the marriages of all the same-sex couples who were given county licenses, and legally wed, after a Federal Court decision on December 20, 2013, declared that Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of that decision on January 6, 2014, halting all further same-sex marriages pending appeal. During that 17 day period over 1,000 couples were legally married. We felt that the hearing went well. The judge asked good questions from both sides and is now considering the arguments. We await his decision with great anticipation. We are grateful for our courageous plaintiffs and our co-counsels, Josh Block of the national ACLU LGBT Project, and the law firm of Strindberg & Scholnick. See some photos of the plaintiffs and attorneys after the hearing >> More information about this case, including all documents filed in court >> Salt Lake Tribune: Utah’s decision to freeze same-sex marriages debated in court (3/12/14) >> Fox 13 Video: Judge to decide if Utah…

Court Schedules Hearing in ACLU of Utah Suit for State to Honor Marriage

06 March 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
On February 4, 2014, the ACLU of Utah filed a motion with the federal court seeking an order that the State must immediately recognize marriages of all same-sex couples married in Utah.