Blog of Rights


Will Matthews is the senior communications officer at the ACLU of Northern California, where he leads the strategic communications component of a statewide ACLU campaign to reform California’s criminal justice system. Previously he was the senior media relations associate at the ACLU’s national office in New York, where he primarily worked on the ACLU’s campaign to reduce over-incarceration. A graduate of Chapman University in Orange, Calif, and the recipient of the Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, Matthews formerly was an award-winning investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Death by Firing Squad Highlights Inhumanity of Death Penalty

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 4:46pm
When Ronnie Lee Gardner is strapped into a chair early on Friday morning, and a hood is placed over his head and a small white target is pinned over his heart, the citizens of Utah — and indeed the entire country — will be reminded in the most graphic of fashions of the nation's ongoing adherence to the barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment.


By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 2:40pm

It's a long way from Capshaw, Ala., home of the Limestone Prison, to hosting your own national cable television program from a swanky studio in the heart of New York City.

Most everyone by now knows Rachel Maddow as the host of the nightly…

Arizonans Deserves Better

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 8:20pm

Perhaps nothing better crystallizes the significance of yesterday's landmark judicial ruling mandating that infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio take a number of concrete and substantive steps to improve the conditions and level of health care delivered to prisoners at the Maricopa County Jail then a letter received by the ACLU of Arizona from a criminal justice and sociology professor in southern Kentucky.

The professor begins his letter by making clear that he has never been much of a fan of the ACLU. He writes that he’s a supporter of the death penalty and that he believes we often are too soft on the inmates in our nation’s prisons and jails. But then he acknowledges that a vast majority of the prisoners that spend time behind bars at some point or another return to their communities, that, as a result, rehabilitation needs to be a primary aspect of incarceration and that increased education and enhanced mental health for prisoners are in fact achievable goals if the taxpayer money used to lock them up was used effectively.

“In this case, you all are bringing attention to a bad situation that has been going on for too long,” the professor writes.

Warehousing the Mentally Ill

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 4:54pm

Ensuring proper care for incarcerated people with mental illness has increasingly become a hot button issue across the country. From Maine to Nevada and in between, state legislatures and department of corrections officials have been forced in recent…

The Big Business of Inhumane Detention of Immigrants

The Big Business of Inhumane Detention of Immigrants

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 5:13pm

The inhumane and abusive immigration detention system is good business for one particular special interest group — the private prison industry.

Death Row Inmate's Former Prosecutor Asks Texas to Halt His Execution

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 6:08pm

In an important development, a former assistant district attorney in Harris County, Texas on Friday sent a letter to members of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles and other state officials — including Gov. Rick Perry — urging them…

Act Now! Tell Gov. Strickland to Grant Kevin Keith Clemency

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 2:42pm

It is more important than ever that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland grant clemency to Kevin Keith, a 46-year-old man awaiting execution on Ohio’s death row, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit earlier this week denied one of Keith’s…

Improvements to Sheriff Joe's Maricopa County Jail Long Overdue

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 12:40pm

Sheriff Joe is still on the clock

In October 2008, a federal judge in Arizona ordered Maricopa County's infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio to make dramatic improvements to the conditions inside the Maricopa County Jail — one of the country's…

Immigrant Deaths Expose Need For Systemic Overhaul

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 2:02pm

In a front-page story last Sunday, the New York Times reported that internal government documents show how top government officials, many of whom remain in place in the Obama administration, carried out an intentional campaign of obfuscation to…

The Dirty Little Secret of Deaths in Detention

By Will Matthews, ACLU of Northern California at 3:32pm

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

In today’s New York Times, reporter Nina Bernstein authors a compelling narrative about Ahmad Tanveer, a Pakistani New Yorker whose 2005 death was only publicly revealed today — nearly four years after he passed away in anonymity at the Monmouth County Correctional Facility in Freehold, N.J.. Despite efforts by a number of news organizations and groups like the ACLU to get Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release any and all information in their possession about every detainee who has died in their custody, Tanveer’s case was not uncovered until the ACLU sued for information, and the Times diligently pushed hard for the truth. As Bernstein writes in her piece today, Tanveer’s case “underscores the secrecy and lack of legal accountability that continue to shield [our nation’s immigration detention] system from independent oversight.”

The Times’ story today is the direct result of thousands of documents obtained by the ACLU from ICE and other Department of Homeland Security entities through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in June 2007, and a subsequent lawsuit filed one year later. Tom Jawetz, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, has spent months poring through the documents and analyzing what they reveal — including Tanveer’s previously unknown death. We worked with Bernstein to cultivate this story, which includes some very strong original reporting that shows how it is that the death of a man in the custody of the U.S. government could so easily slip through the cracks. For years, ICE has been allowed to create a makeshift system of immigration detention centers across the country with little to no oversight, and no mandate for accountability or transparency. The result: hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year are thrown into detention facilities where they live for weeks, months and in some cases even years on end with little contact with the outside world. They have no access to adequate medical care, even in the face of life or death emergencies.

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