Healthcare while incarcerated:

Each day, men, women, and children behind bars suffer needlessly from lack of access to adequate medical and mental health care. Chronic illnesses go untreated, emergencies are ignored, and patients with serious mental illness fail to receive necessary care. For some patients, poor medical care turns a minor sentence into a death sentence.

The failure to provide prisoners with access to needed health care too often results in tragedy. It also violates the U.S. Constitution. Nearly forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble that ignoring a prisoner’s serious medical needs can amount to cruel and unusual punishment, noting that “[a]n inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may actually produce physical torture or a lingering death[.] … In less serious cases, denial of medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any penological purpose.”

Solitary Confinement:

The overwhelming majority of people behind bars will someday be released. Providing prisoners with care today means having healthier neighbors and communities tomorrow.

Across the country, states are waking up to the fact that we must address our overreliance on solitary confinement. Long-term isolation costs too much, does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners, and exacerbates mental illness - or even causes it in prisoners who were healthy when they entered solitary. Officials in some states that formerly relied heavily on solitary confinement are now realizing that they should use public resources on proven policies that promote safe communities and fair treatment, and are successfully reducing the use of solitary - at the same time saving their states millions and reducing violence in the prisons. It's time for more states, and the federal Bureau of Prisons, to follow suit.

Over the last two decades corrections systems have increasingly relied on solitary confinement as a prison management tool – even building entire institutions called “supermax prisons” where prisoners are held in conditions of extreme isolation, sometimes for years or decades. But solitary confinement jeopardizes our public safety, is fundamentally inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. We must insist on humane and more cost-effective methods of punishment and prison management.

Civil Liberties while Incarcerated:

The ACLU’s National Prison Project fights to protect the Constitution’s guarantee that individuals who are incarcerated retain basic rights, including the right to free speech, the freedom to practice their religion, and the right to access the courts and counsel. 

In Turner v. Safley (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that “[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating inmates from the protections of the Constitution.” Individuals retain certain fundamental rights, even when incarcerated. The Constitution protects these rights for good reason. Incarceration can have a drastic effect on a person. Oftentimes, a prisoner’s connections to their family or religious community may be their only source of hope. Stripped of these connections, a person will not only endure more difficulties during incarceration, but may also lack the community ties necessary to assist them upon release.  

Despite the important role that these rights play, correctional officials frequently attempt to restrict them, whether in the form of policies restricting a person’s ability to communicate with family members, limiting access to religious material, or inhibiting a person’s ability to seek relief for abuse suffered while incarcerated.

This is where the ACLU steps in. Prisoners often lack the resources and the opportunity to fight these unconstitutional policies. The ACLU’s National Prison Project works to ensure that prisoners are able to exercise these basic rights.

Women in Prisons and Jails:

In the last 25 years, the number of women and girls caught in the criminal justice system has skyrocketed; many have been swept up in the War on Drugs and subject to increasingly punitive sentencing policies for nonviolent offenders. There are now more than 200,000 women behind bars and more than one million on probation and parole. Many of these women struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, and histories of physical and sexual abuse. Few get the services they need. The toll on women, girls, and their families is devastating.

Every day, in courtrooms, legislatures, and the public square, the ACLU fights to ensure that the criminal justice system treats women and girls fairly, protects the health and safety of women and girls in its custody, and facilitates their successful reentry into their communities.

Our work to hold jails and prisons responsibile for equal opporunities and treatment of women has been a focus for the ACLU of Idaho for sometime. We have worked to keep pregnant inmates from being shackled during birth, as well as helping women in the Kootenai County jail receive the same options for work as the men.