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Tennessee Sheriff: Solitary Confinement for 16 year-old Girl is No Different Than a ‘Private Room’

ACLU/HRW report “Growing Up Locked Down”

Tennessee Sheriff: Solitary Confinement for 16 year-old Girl is No Different Than a ‘Private Room’

A 16-year-old Memphis girl charged with first-degree murder in the killing of a teen boy is being held in pretrial isolation at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

The Shelby County District Attorney’s office charged her as an adult in the April 3, 2017 shooting death of 17-year-old Deago Brown. She was just 15 when she was arrested and then transferred to the adult women’s prison.

Tennessee Prison for Women

A spokesperson for Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham’s office said the county sent her to the prison, which is 200 miles away from her home and family, because local facilities don’t have a secure place for her.

As the only inmate there under 18 years of age, however, she has spent the last four months alone inside of a cell the size of a walk-in closet, according to attorney Josh Spickler, the director of Just City, a criminal justice reform advocacy group. She has no contact with other prisoners. She is allowed 30 minutes three times a week to shower, with her hands and feet shackled each time she leaves her cell.

“A developing brain cannot tolerate this treatment,” Spickler said in a written statement.

“If the Sheriff lacks the facilities and staff to detain girls, he must follow the law and find the nearest sufficient jail,” he wrote. Spickler also noted that a youth facility near Nashville in Davidson County has offered to hold the young woman and provide her supportive services and safety.

The young woman has already spent roughly 131 days in solitary confinement, 101 days longer than the 30-day limit contained in the Army Field Manual for the “separation” of terrorism detainees, which is considered a “restricted” interrogation technique.

Yet in an interview with the Commercial Appeal, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Earle Farrell compared her conditions of confinement to a “private room.” Farrell’s claim about solitary confinement is not supported by data.

The devastating and lasting psychiatric effects of solitary confinement have been extensively documented. Solitary confinement is harmful to the mental health of inmates because it restricts social contact, which is a psychological stimulus that humans require to remain healthy and functioning. Prolonged isolation causes anxiety, panic, hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, aggression, depression, and an increased risk of suicide, especially for people with pre-existing mental health conditions.

For juveniles, whose brains are still developing, solitary confinement is even more brutal, its effects even more enduring.

Compounding the psychiatric effects of isolation, adolescents in solitary confinement “are frequently denied access to treatment, services, and programming adequate to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, and rehabilitative needs,” according to a 2011 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Department of Justice research found that more than half the children in juvenile facilities who committed suicide while detained were in isolated cells.

The United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment both prohibit solitary confinement for juveniles. And several local governments have also eliminated solitary confinement for youth detained in adult correctional facilities.

Speaking earlier this month in support of an American Bar Association measure urging state legislatures to curtail the use of solitary confinement, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice Donald pointed to the case of Kalief Browder, who was sent to Rikers Island at age 16 under suspicion of stealing a backpack and then spent three years waiting for a trial that never occurred, with two of those years spent in isolation. He attempted suicide several times while in solitary confinement, and tried again in 2013, six months after he left Rikers Island. In 2015, at the age of 22, Browder hung himself.

“Shelby County’s failure to provide a safe, age-appropriate detention setting for a 15-year-old girl is a serious matter,” Spickler told The Appeal. “To dismiss it and compare isolation like this to a ‘private room’ is appalling. The conditions of this girl’s detention are unacceptable, and everything we know about teenage brain development tells us we are doing irreparable harm.”

Police Accountability and Public Defender Groups Demand Transparency on NYPD Gang Policing

Police Accountability and Public Defender Groups Demand Transparency on NYPD Gang Policing

Since its initiation in 2013, the NYPD’s gang policing program has operated with little outside scrutiny. Based on evidence it has kept almost entirely hidden from public view, the police have targeted and surveilled entire social networks inside low-income communities, breaking down doors in pre-dawn military-style raids that have resulted in over 2,000 arrests in just the past year and a half.

Instead of local district attorneys charging the young men and women arrested by the NYPD, most of the indictments are in the form of federal RICO charges, which tie alleged members of the “gang” or “group” to the most serious offense any member has committed. Because of the severity of the federal sentences faced by many defendants, the overwhelming majority take plea deals, meaning that the NYPD and federal prosecutors often need not divulge evidence they have against these alleged “gangs.”

But some level of transparency may soon come to the NYPD’s gang policing program. In a letter sent February 5, a coalition of more than 25 police accountability and public defender groups called on the City Council to hold hearings about the constitutionality of the program, which uses a secret database of “gang members” to target communities of color and, in particular, those who live in public housing. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent a separate letter on the same day, urging the council to look into whether individuals can challenge their inclusion on a gang database, and whether this violates their “due process” rights.

“Right now, the program is being conducted with zero oversight,” Marne Lenox, an attorney for the Legal Defense Fund told The Appeal. There are “zero safety precautions to ensure that folks aren’t erroneously in the database, and it exposes the NYPD to zero accountability for their policing actions.”

The letter from the police accountability and public defender groups is addressed to Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety.

“We believe that, like the widespread stop-and-frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, gang designations are likely to be overinclusive and inaccurate,” the letter says. “Unlike the stop-and-frisk records, gang databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are often not subject to judicial review. Indeed, the NYPD has not publicly disclosed whether there is any way to challenge gang designations, or whether people may ‘age out’ of their designation, for example, as they mature and go away to college.”

CUNY law professor Babe Howell has researched the NYPD’s gang policing program for years, and has traced how the NYPD turned to large-scale gang raids shortly after a federal judge declared its stop-and-frisk program unconstitutional.

The advocacy and legal groups also point out that the NYPD’s designation of immigrants as potential gang members could make them targets of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through information sharing between the NYPD and ICE, even though New York City bills itself as a “sanctuary city,” in which that is, for the most part, not supposed to happen.

In Chicago, which is also a “sanctuary city,” a gang database error led to one man’s violent arrest by ICE, which may have accessed the information through the National Crime Information Center. New York City’s detainer lawprohibits this type of information-sharing, but advocates say that without knowing exactly who is on the database and who has access to it, holding the NYPD accountable is nearly impossible.

The letter from LDF and CCR, which is in support of the letter sent to Richards, questions the constitutionality of the program.

“The geographic targets of the raids, coupled with the resulting racially disproportionate arrests and the NYPD’s past conduct, warrants public hearings to determine whether the City is engaged in unconstitutional actions,” the letter reads.

Ritchie Torres, who chairs the council’s new Committee on Oversight and Investigations, told The Appeal that he’s open to holding joint hearings with Richards’s public safety committee on the NYPD’s use of gang policing.

“We’re seeing more gang takedowns than ever before, on a scale we’ve never seen before,” Torres said. “These takedowns have been so large that it leads to questions of whether we’re targeting the drivers of violence or are we casting the net too wide? If we’re casting the net too wide, then we’re undermining the end goal of criminal justice reform and of curbing over-criminaliztion.”

In previous City Council oversight hearings, the NYPD has been less than forthcoming about its surveillance and policing practices. Torres doesn’t think this time would be very different.

“The NYPD in my experience is almost never forthcoming,” said Torres. “It would be wishful thinking that they would. There will most likely be intense resistance to oversight.”

Councilman Richards declined to comment for this story.

Similar calls for transparency are also being made in Chicago, where activists and researchers have recently launched a reporting project to shed light on its gang database, in which 95 percent of the 65,000 individuals included are Black or Latino.

On February 7, the coalition of groups calling for more transparency into the NYPD’s gang policing program gathered on the steps of City Hall to demand that the city council begin oversight hearings. The LDF’s Lenox insists this is just one way the groups will attempt to bring transparency to the NYPD’s use of gang policing and further steps may be necessary to force the police to release more information.

Also that day, Legal Aid announced a new initative, dubbed the “Do It Yourself FOIL Campaign,” which will encourage and help people who think they might be on the NYPD’s gang database to use the Freedom of Information Law in the hope of shedding even more light on the secret database.

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New Orleans Strip Club Workers Battle ‘Age Ban’ In Federal Court

Dancers and allies protest Act №395
Photo courtesy of BARE NOLA

New Orleans Strip Club Workers Battle ‘Age Ban’ In Federal Court

Last week, days after dancers took to the streets of New Orleans to protest recent police raids on the city’s strip clubs, the state agency that led them was in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals fending off a challenge to a Louisiana law barring 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds from working as strip club dancers. In 2016, long before the raids, three dancers who lost their jobs because of the age ban sued the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) arguing that new age limits violated their labor rights.

The age ban, known officially as “Act № 395,” passed the state legislature in 2016 with little opposition, pushed by social service agencies that alleged a link between strip clubs and sex trafficking — the same allegations that prompted January’s raids. In March 2017, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction, preventing the age ban from being enforced; the state is now appealing.

After oral arguments before the federal appeals court on February 7, the dancers’ case is now in the hands of a three-judge panel.

Dancers in New Orleans reject the claim that their workplaces contribute to trafficking. But dancers also made clear in their suit against the ban and later, in their January protests, that the ban will harm them and their families.

“Prior to my work as an erotic dancer,” plaintiff Jane Doe 1, age 20, declared in a court filing, “I helped care for my disabled mother.” She said in order to care for her mother, she worked multiple jobs, sometimes up to 120 hours each week. As a dancer, she said, she could set her own schedule, and earned enough to meet her obligations and save for retirement. If the age ban survives the legal challenge, Jane Doe 1 said, she would be forced to move out of state.

Jane Doe 2, age 18, from Baton Rouge, told the court that she has been on her own since both her parents died of cancer. Benefits she received after their deaths, she explained, ended when she graduated high school. Dancing is what allowed her to pay her college tuition.

Jane Doe 3, age 19, from New Orleans, has a 1-year-old daughter. After the ban went into effect, she said, “I was forced to stop working as an erotic dancer.” She said that the shot girl job — selling shots of liquor to club customers — she took in its place halved her income.

What the ban targets isn’t trafficking, the dancers argue, but rather their independence as working women. “I believe that Act №395 makes adults aged 18, 19, and 20 more susceptible to harm,” Jane Doe 2 said, because “it eliminates a legal job.”

The dancers sued ATC as Jane Does in order to protect themselves from being outed in the broader community — a move the defendant, ATC Commissioner Juanita Marine-Lombard, attempted to block. “These plaintiffs are not minors,” she declared in an opposing motion, “nor are they the victims of sexual assault or abuse, nor are they incompetent persons requiring extraordinary protection. Rather, they are women over the age of majority who have voluntarily engaged in the employment of erotic dancing in clubs, and who have voluntarily filed this lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of a law.”

Yet the basis for the law is that adult women ages 18, 19, and 20 lack the maturity to make the decision to work as dancers. In their own motion, the dancers replied, “Defendant’s Opposition is all the more curious in light of — and tellingly inconsistent with — the State’s purported concern for ‘young women’ in the erotic dance industry.” Further, they stated, “Defendant has apparently seized upon an opportunity to further chill the exercise of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights” — by making an attempt to halt the case unless the dancers provided their names.

A decision on the ban is not expected for some months, but during Wednesday’s arguments, two of the judges appeared to side with some of the dancers’ complaints. The state claimed, for instance, that the ban is clear about what conduct is prohibited. As proof, the state’s attorney, Scott Bergthold, ran through a rapid-fire list of what items women working in clubs are required to wear so as not to run afoul of the law. But Judge Edith Brown Clement pointed out that the ban was far from clear. “You’re not defining ‘cover’!” she pressed. “Covered totally? Cover a little bit? A little pastie cover? Or a bikini top cover?”

Bergthold, who represented the state in oral arguments on February 7, has deep roots in the Christian right, and has made a career of defending laws meant to shutter adult entertainment businesses. He is a graduate of the law school at Regent University, which described its alumnus as having “a God-inspired passion for the rule of law that has equipped him to be a Christian leader who is changing the world.”

Bergthold now works for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, defending the state’s age ban on dancers. Back in 2016, Landry assembled his own task force of state agents in New Orleans, claiming that under Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans had become “more dangerous than Chicago.” Landry’s agents continued to make arrests even after a judge said Landry lacked such authority in New Orleans. The task force was eventually disbanded in June 2017.

Bergthold was also hired last October by Landrieu to advise the city on a study of Bourbon Street strip clubs. The Chattanooga-based lawyer represents city governments from California to South Dakota to Florida, seeking to eliminate strip clubs and other adult businesses. A Knoxville City Council member once described Bergthold as “just a franchisee [who] goes around from city to city and sells these laws, and municipalities pass them, and then we hire him to represent the city at $200 per hour.” Bergthold currently holds a $15,000 contract with the city of New Orleans.

On the same day Bergthold defended the age ban in federal court, the New Orleans City Planning Commission proposed a “soft cap” on strip clubs. Bergthold was contracted to advise the city on adult zoning ordinances, as well as the city’s alcohol code. Such code enforcement is how the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control targeted Bourbon Street clubs in January’s raids, assessing a total of $28,600 in fines— a sum dancers from Bourbon Alliance of Responsible Entertainers (BARE) calculated that a single dancer working the Mardi Gras season could easily earn. Meanwhile, the raids and ensuing club closures took money out of dancers’ own pockets. “That’s food from our families’ mouths, our debts and bills, our dreams, that’s healthcare costs, that’s our freedom pulled out from under us,” BARE posted on Instagram, captioning a protest sign on Bourbon Street addressed to the outgoing mayor: “Mitch — if all you needed was $28K we would have helped!”

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