The ACLU of Alaska’s Prison Project is dedicated to ensuring that our state’s prisons, jails, and other places of detention comply with the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions, domestic law, and international human rights principles, and to ending the policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world. We promote a fair and effective criminal legal system in which incarceration is used only as a last resort, and its purpose is to prepare incarcerated people for release and a productive, law-abiding life at the earliest possible time. Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, we work to ensure that conditions of confinement are consistent with health, safety, and human dignity, and that prisoners retain all rights of free persons that are not inconsistent with incarceration. Achieving these goals will result in a criminal legal system that respects individual rights and increases public safety for everyone, at greatly reduced fiscal cost.
Our goals include:
Substantially reducing the incarcerated population, especially among people of color, people with mental disabilities, and other vulnerable populations. The human and financial costs of mass incarceration are staggering, and the burden falls disproportionately on the poor, the ill, and people of color. However, the current fiscal crisis, overcrowding issues, and growing understanding about the correlation between rehabilitation and improved public safety create the best opportunity to challenge Alaska’s addiction to incarceration.
Increasing public accountability and transparency of jails, prisons, and other places of detention. Because places of detention are inherently closed environments housing the unpopular and the politically powerless, external oversight is critical to guard against mistreatment and abuse. The business of detention, which creates financial incentives for both increased incarceration and harsher conditions of confinement, has made public accountability even more important. The federal Prison Litigation Reform Act and flimsy state public records laws have significantly reduced judicial oversight of prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities, and resulted in serious abuses going unchecked.
Ending cruel, inhuman, and degrading conditions of confinement. Far too many incarcerated people are held in conditions that daily threaten their health, safety, and human dignity. Denial of adequate medical and mental health care, basic sanitation, and protection from physical and sexual assault are all too common. Across the country, tens of thousands of prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement, a disturbing practice used in Alaska all too often. The devastating effects of such treatment, particularly on persons with mental illness, are well known.
Expanding prisoners’ freedom of religion, expression, and association. Prisoners’ rights to read, write, speak, practice their religion, and communicate with the outside world are often curtailed far beyond what is necessary for institutional security. Not only are these activities central to the ability of prisoners to retain their humanity, they also contribute to the flow of information between prisons and the outside world and thus provide a vital form of oversight of these closed institutions.
Expanding access to justice for incarcerated Alaskans. Access to justice is an essential right for all victims of abuse, especially those who have been abused while incarcerated. But all too often, the prison system creates barriers to counsel and legal resources. The Alaska Prison Project works to assist incarcerated people seeking relief from abuse by fighting to limit new policies further restricting prisoners’ access to the courts and counsel, assisting prisoners in understanding the processes by which they must pursue relief for any harms they have suffered, and representing classes of prisoners seeking relief from abuse.