Responding to ACLU Demands, California Prisons Allow Same-Sex Couples Access to Family Visitation

May 15, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@aclu.org

Public Hearing on Proposed Policy Change Today in Sacramento

SAN FRANCISCO - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has agreed that it will no longer bar lesbian and gay prisoners access to overnight family visitation with their registered domestic partners. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has requested the statewide policy change in response to demands by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a gay man who was told by prison officials that domestic partners were barred from family visits. As required by state law, the department is conducting a public hearing on the proposed policy change today in Sacramento.

"Giving those serving a prison sentence an opportunity to spend quality time with their loved ones has proven to be a critical tool in rehabilitation," said Alex Cleghorn, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. "We are pleased that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has recognized that lesbian and gay prisoners also form lasting commitments and are more likely to be productive members of society when they are given the opportunity to nurture their relationships through family visits."

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to the change after the ACLU sent a letter to prison officials on behalf of the registered domestic partner of Vernon Foeller who was serving 18 months for a burglary conviction. The men contacted the ACLU after their request for a family visit was denied even though they met all the other requirements to have a family visit. In the demand letter, the ACLU pointed out that it was illegal for the prison to continue to deny domestic partners family visits because California law requires that domestic partners be treated the same as married couples who have access to family visits. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed with the ACLU and allowed the couple to have a family visit in December 2006. Foeller was released from prison on April 22, 2007.

"Being able to spend quality time with my partner gave us the opportunity to reconnect to one another and to begin planning for our future together out of prison," said Foeller. "My partner really did stick with me through thick and thin. Just knowing that he still believes in me gave me the confidence to start believing in myself again."

In response to the ACLU's demands, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has proposed a statewide regulation change that would guarantee that lesbian and gay prisoners have the same access to family visits as married couples. As required by state law, the department is conducting a public hearing on the proposed change today. As a practical matter, however, the change is mandatory under the state domestic partner law.

"This is a perfect example of how the domestic partnership law falls short of marriage. Marriage has universal acceptance and recognition. Had my client said he wanted to visit with his spouse, this would have never been an issue," said Cleghorn. "The state, however, should be commended for recognizing the problem and taking the proper steps to correct it."

Cleghorn will be attending the hearing in Sacramento with Foeller. A copy of the testimony he will give in support of the policy change is available at www.aclu.org/lgbt/relationships/29727lgl20070515.html

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