ACLU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Women Prisoners Confined in Men’s Prison
NEWARK - In dual actions challenging the incarceration of 40 women in a men’s maximum security prison, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Jersey filed a civil rights lawsuit and joined more than a dozen other advocacy organizations in support of the women at a demonstration in front of the prison.
"For over half a year these women have been subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions," said Ed Barocas, ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director. "This is yet another consequence of the over-incarceration in our state that we desperately need to address."
In March 2007, the Department of Corrections arbitrarily pulled 40 women out of the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, New Jersey’s only women’s prison, and put them in lock-down conditions in New Jersey State Prison, the highest-security men’s prison in the state. Unlike other prisoners incarcerated for similar crimes at Edna Mahan and the New Jersey State Prison, the 40 women are confined in their cells for up to 22 hours a day and denied basic movement within the prison. They are also deprived of access to the prison law library and the prison school. When given time outdoors, the women are barred from the prison’s main yard and placed instead in a small pen overlooked by the men's yard, where they are subjected to catcalls and harassment. The women prisoners are also denied access to basic hygiene, including sufficient toilet paper and sanitary napkins, and cannot send their undergarments to be washed because they will be stolen by the male prisoners who do the laundry.
The ACLU’s lawsuit charges that by subjecting the women prisoners to more repressive conditions than male prisoners in the same prison, the Department of Corrections is violating the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The lawsuit also alleges that in several ways the department’s treatment of the women prisoners is so atrocious that it violates the Constitution’s ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
"The women prisoners are getting a raw deal just because they’re women," said Mie Lewis, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and lead counsel in the case. "The Department of Corrections has a moral and legal duty to provide these women with humane conditions and a chance at rehabilitation."
The ACLU has attempted since October to negotiate with the Department of Corrections for relief for the women prisoners but the department has refused even to discuss transferring the women to an appropriate custodial environment or to discuss its overall plan for women in the system.
"The failure of the state to plan for the number of women being imprisoned and ensure their health, safety and appropriate level of confinement has caused great suffering and harm," said Jean Ross, a member of the People’s Organization for Progress, the group that brought the issue to the attention of the ACLU on behalf of the women prisoners.
New Jersey, like many other states, incarcerates an ever growing proportion of women with grossly inadequate planning. Between 1977 and 2004, the number of women in prison in New Jersey grew by 717 percent to a total of 1,470.
Today’s demonstration was organized in partnership with the Women’s Committee of the New Jersey Prison Justice Coalition, the People’s Organization for Progress, National Organization for Women, American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Project, Women Who Never Give Up, Women in Support of the Million Man March, Elizabeth Branch NAACP, Sagewriters, the Anti-Lynching Campaign, Black Cops Against Police Brutality, Redeem-Her, Doorway to Hope, the Million Women March of Essex County, United Muslim Inc. Prison Ministry, Newark Pride Alliance, the Center for Family, Community and Social Justice, and Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey.
Attorneys on the case are Lewis and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Barocas from the ACLU of New Jersey.
The complaint and profiles of the incarcerated women can be found at: www.aclu.org/Stand4Justice