Blog of Rights

From NPP to MSNBC

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 Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. But long before she was basking in the limelight and adored by millions of fans across America, Maddow was doing the often unheralded work that ACLU attorneys engage in every single day — working to eradicate injustices from some of the farthest-flung corners of our country that might well otherwise go totally unnoticed.

As the keynote speaker at the ACLU of Wisconsin's annual Bill of Rights Celebration last month, Maddow devoted part of her speech to reflecting on her time six years ago as a part of the staff of the ACLU National Prison Project (NPP) which, at the time, was engaged in a campaign that Maddow says she called "No Lost Causes" — to persuade Alabama Department of Corrections officials to end their policy of segregating all Alabama HIV-positive prisoners and excluding them from participation in all the prison programs, services and privileges available to prisoners without HIV. As Maddow relates, never has she experienced "a more satisfyingly cinematic moment" then when she arrived at Limestone along with Margaret Winter, the National Prison Project's associate director, and Jackie Walker, the Project's HIV/AIDS policy coordinator (Maddow starts speaking at 3:10):

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Enormous strides have been made in the six years since Maddow and the ACLU took Limestone by storm. The ACLU has continued to push corrections officials in Alabama to extend equal treatment of prisoners living with HIV/AIDS, and as a result these prisoners now have access to educational and vocational training opportunities, substance abuse treatment and religious programs that previously had been denied to them. Currently the ACLU is pushing hard to end the last major remaining barrier for HIV-positive prisoners: access to work release and the other critically important early-release programs available to prisoners who don't have HIV, and from which HIV-positive prisoners are still categorically excluded.

Maddow doesn't work for the ACLU anymore, but she hasn't forgotten her roots.

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