Prisoners’ Rights

iStock_000000392120SmallIn 2013 a state-wide suit against AT&T for price gouging inmate telephone charges resulted in a $64 million dollar settlement in favor of inmates and their families. Of that money, some $16 million went unclaimed and was turned over to the Institute for Justice. That organization put out a call for grants and the Center for Justice was among a few of the grant recipients on the east-side of the State.

We have already received over several dozen letters from inmates seeking help with their conditions of confinement, with civil problems relating to their outside lives, and with basic pleas for help. Many of the letters do not reach the areas permitted under the grant and we are forced to write back with “decline letters.” But a significant number of the complaints we’ve received are being investigated and, where appropriate, we are moving forward with litigation.

Sample cases that we have received:

  • An inmate from Walla Walla family was owed workers’ compensation benefits from the period before he was convicted. The family has gone without benefits owed them since 2006. The Center is committed to seeing the injured workers’ beneficiaries obtain their lawful benefits and we are very optimistic the matter can be settled at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.
  • A young man with profound mental illness made arrangements with the prosecutor, the judge, and his doctors for continuation of his expensive medical care during a brief sentence in the local jail. Unfortunately, when he reported to jail with his medications in specially sealed pharmacy-issued security packs, the jail refused to accept the medications. The jail has internal policies permitting outside medications but the officials on site refused, and weeks went by before the jail was able to order the medications through their pharmacy (located on the East coast). The young man went without proper medication, putting him and everyone around him at risk.
  • A young woman with similar issues was denied her needed medications at another local jail. Again, despite policy permitting outside prescriptions, policy was disregarded and an inmate was placed at risk and made to suffer without proper treatment.
  • Jail officials accidentally cancelled the medications for a highly violent inmate who was serving time for killing a previous cell-mate. His medications cancelled, he went into a psychotic state and horribly disfigured and blinded a cell-mate and beat another. The Department of Corrections denied responsibility for three years but ultimately settled both claims.
  • Daily inmates and pretrial detainees are denied basic medical services that are required under law. The usual reason is budget, but the underlying problem is a the tendency to mistreat those who cannot advocate for themselves. With our local jails serving as a mainline medical provider for low income people with mental illness, it is urgent that the community not be placed into risk for further harm. It is also vital that persons with mental illness or clear medical problems receive necessary treatment.

The Prisoners’ Rights project is dedicated to giving these people, whether pretrial or convicted, regardless of their criminal background, access to basic medical care and treatment. If you or a family member suffered unfair treatment during incarceration, give us a call at 509-835-5211 and we may be able to assist you.