Is the commonwealth doing enough?

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary has been closed since 1971. Pennsylvania’s prison secretary wants to close two more prisons.

(Excerpt from Andy Hoover’s Closing prisons isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a thing.)

Last Friday, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced that the DOC will close two state prisons. He identified five finalists for closure.

Closing prisons is a good thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. Governor Tom Wolf said the closures would save the commonwealth money during a time when strains on the state budget are significant. Wetzel said transferring the inmates from closed prisons would be manageable.

But what happens when the department puts the same amount of people into a smaller space? A prison is like a small town of a few thousand people. Any time the population increases significantly in a short amount of time, it has the potential to strain resources and services.

We and our allies have raised concerns about the impact on the living conditions of inmates. John Hargreaves of the Pennsylvania Prison Society told PennLive, “When they run out of space, the dayrooms and the gyms are filled up with beds,” he said. “Those are the places the inmates go to get out and let out steam.” Since 2009, the population of Pennsylvania’s state prisons has decreased by 7.6 percent, from a peak of 52,000 to its present population of 48,000. The decrease amounts to roughly the population of two prisons..

Which sounds good. But is the commonwealth really doing enough to lower prison populations?

Other states have been more serious about ending mass incarceration than Pennsylvania has. Mississippi decreased its population 17 percent in two years by reforming its parole system. In Pennsylvania, the legislature and then-Governor Tom Corbett repealed our early release program in 2012.

Sometime this month, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project initiated by the commonwealth’s three branches of government to analyze data on the criminal justice system and to offer recommendations for a more efficient system, will release its final report. At a meeting last month, researchers for the project stated that, if every recommendation is implemented, our state prison population will drop one percent by 2022. That hardly qualifies as bold thinking.

Closing prisons is not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. In our work on mass incarceration, the closing of prisons has never been an end unto itself. It’s a result of the goal we seek, and the goal we seek is a common-sense approach to sentencing and parole policy. If that’s why two state prisons are closing, that’s great. If the DOC does not carefully monitor conditions for the same amount of people in fewer spaces, then they can expect to hear from us and our allies again.

Read the full article here.

IN OTHER NEWS

(Criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Terrell Thomas lost his brother to gun violence. Photo from PublicSource.

  • From Public Source: “The ‘new Pittsburgh’ takes root on the Hilltop. But gun violence remains.”

“Everybody wants to hide behind this mask that we’re doing the best we can,” said Carrington, founder of Voices Against Violence and a resident of Beltzhoover. “You’re full of shit. We’re not doing anything.”

“The accused guards coerced the incarcerated women into the sex acts by giving them extra privileges or threatening to take away privileges or throw them in the restricted housing unit, the suit says. When they were free, the guards manipulated them into having sex by threatening to have their probation revoked, the suit says. Two of the women say they tried to report the abuse to other guards and prison officials. Rather than help them, the guards harassed and berated them and actively helped the abusive guards conceal the assaults, the suit says.”

Read the second amended complaint of the lawsuit here.

  • From The Inquirer: “Shooting of deliveryman results in largest police settlement in city history”

“Hanvey and Farrell told investigators they approached Holland because they saw him walking past a Chinese restaurant on 51st Street and asked a witness on the street where the gunshots she’d heard had come from. They said the woman had pointed toward Holland and said the shots came from where he was walking. But the woman later told police investigators she had only pointed toward the Chinese restaurant, and didn’t mention a man at all.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

Pennsylvania Commission Releases Informative Study of School Discipline

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has a problem.

According to a recently released report initiated by the state House, “The Commonwealth’s rates of expulsion and out-of-school suspension are higher than the national average. Further, studies have shown that excessively punitive discipline for misbehavior can result in long-term consequences for the children involved, especially the youngest ones… Policies relating to expulsion and out-of-school suspension are those in need of the most scrutiny.”

On October 28, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission, the research service for the state legislature, released Discipline Policies in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools. The study, a year in the making, was developed at the request of the PA House (House Resolution 540).

The Commission was tasked with doing a comprehensive study of school discipline policies, state laws and regulations and memoranda of understanding between law enforcement and school districts. A focus was to be on the effects of discipline on students with disabilities and those under 12 years of age. Finally, it was asked to make recommendations for policy and legislative reform.

Overall, the report is thoughtful and informed. It nicely complements the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s statewide report, Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Schools.

The report states that PA ranks 20th and 13th in the nation in the percentage of students that are respectively suspended and expelled.

While not a full blueprint for reform, the report offers many important policy recommendations. In my view, the most important ones are these:

  • Minimize the use of exclusionary discipline and law enforcement intervention and move toward a system of evidence- or research-based alternatives.
  • Lower Pennsylvania’s expulsion and out-of-school suspension rates and clarify that expulsion and out-of-school suspension are reserved for only the most serious of offenses.
  • Restrict out-of-school suspensions or expulsions of children under the age of 10 to those circumstances when the discipline is based on conduct that is of a violent or sexual nature that endangers others, and provide services to return the child to the classroom as soon as possible.
  • Change the language of the MOU school districts are required to have with law enforcement to eliminate mention of offenses where notification is discretionary. I’ve long argued that that the current language encourages districts to report incidents they are not legally required to report. The Commission uses a different argument to reach the same conclusion.
  • Use pull-out discipline programs (known as “alternative education for disruptive youth”) sparingly and only for the most disruptive students. Remove from the definition of disruptive “disregard for school authority, including persistent violation of school policy,” as too vague and subjective.
  • Change Act 26 (PA’s zero tolerance law) so that it is much narrower, modeling the federal Gun-Free Schools Act.
  • Adjust the funding formula for state school safety grants, so that a smaller percentage goes to funding School Resource Officers vs. other programs, including those that reduce the use of exclusionary discipline.

The report falls short, though, in how it tackles the epidemic of student arrests and racial disproportionality in discipline. The report fails to mention that PA ranked first in the nation in the rates of student arrest — the ultimate form of exclusion — during the same period in which it ranked well above average in other forms of exclusionary discipline. Also, while it acknowledges racial disproportionality in discipline rates and arrests, it does little to address its possible causes and remedies.

A final irony in the report is that it defines zero tolerance so narrowly that it struggles to explain why suspension and expulsion rates are unacceptably high. The report is correct in identifying as a problem the fact that some districts have added non-firearms infractions to the list of zero tolerance offenses for which there is mandatory exclusion. But this is only one piece of the explanation for the high rates of exclusionary discipline.

“Zero tolerance” has come to refer to the phenomenon of using exclusionary discipline for alleged infractions that aren’t at the level of serious safety concerns involving weapons or significant injury. This expanded meaning is widely accepted, including by groups like The Council of State Governments. With the adoption of zero tolerance approaches came a dramatic rise in the use of out-of-school suspensions for dress code violations, lateness, and a whole host of infractions not involving weapons and not resulting in significant injury.

The lesson is this: If you don’t correctly identify the policies that contribute to these rates, you cannot make the reforms that would be needed to bring them down. This larger “culture of zero tolerance” accounts for much of the racial disparity and for the overall high suspension rates in many districts. Perhaps it is time we broaden the definition of “zero tolerance.”

On a constructive note, the Commission recommends that the Pennsylvania Department of Education increases its monitoring of discipline data and, where problems are identified, be empowered to require districts in question to establish Disciplinary Policy Review Committees. These committees would have 50% their membership be “parents and advocates who are representative of the population subject to disciplinary exclusions and law enforcement referrals.”

The Commission is to be commended for producing an informative report and accompanying draft legislation. Hopefully, lawmakers and school decision makers will engage the serious issues it raises.

Get the full report and executive summary

Originally posted at EndZeroTolerance.org

Abu-Jamal Hep C treatment victory will benefit 7,000 PA state prison inmates

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcher/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

A federal judge has ordered Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections to provide Mumia Abu-Jamal with hepatitis C treatment. Photo via The Inquirer.

In a victory for some 7,000 Pennsylvania state prison inmates, a federal judge this week ordered that Mumia Abu-Jamal — the activist and radio journalist serving a life sentence at a state prison in Frackville — should be treated for his hepatitis C infection.

Hepatitis C is pervasive in prisons; in Pennsylvania, about 14 percent of the state’s prisoner population is infected with it. But the only cures are produced by Gilead Sciences Inc., AbbVie Inc., and Merck & Co., which charge as much as $94,500 for complete treatment. In a remarkable opinion by Middle District Judge Robert D. Mariani, the judge was unmoved by the cost, which could rise to as much as $600 million if every one of Pennsylvania’s infected state prisoners receives treatment. “The only conceivable injury [the Pa. Department of Corrections] will suffer is monetary,” the judge wrote.

“As a result of the grant of this injunction,” he continued, “Defendants will be required to treat Plaintiff with expensive medication. While the Court is sensitive to the realities of budgetary constraints and the difficult decisions prison officials must make, the economics of providing this medication cannot outweigh the Eighth Amendment’s constitutional guarantee of adequate medical care.”

Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsburgh — which also collaborated with ACLU-PA on its recent lawsuit against Allegheny County Jail for its treatment of pregnant women — told The Inquirer that judge Mariani’s ruling was the first time “a federal court has ordered prison officials to provide an incarcerated patient with the new [hepatitis C] medications that came on the market in 2013.”

Grote and co-counsel Robert Boyle have no expectations that the case is over.

“We expect an appeal,” Grote wrote on Facebook following the opinion’s release, “but for now this is a major victory.”

IN OTHER NEWS

(The Pennsylvania criminal justice news that could use a second look.)

Bias is inevitable in criminal risk scores. ProPublica found that Bernard Parker, pictured left, was determined to be high risk; Dylan Fugett, on the right, was low risk.
  • From The Morning Call: “Glitch puts felony charge on Fountain Hill Man’s record”

“Ernesto Galarza went to court twice and won. He stood trial on a drug conspiracy charge and a Lehigh County jury found him not guilty. The New Jersey native sued the officials who improperly held him as an illegal immigrant after his arrest and changed the way local law enforcement agencies work with federal immigration authorities. But more than eight years after he was arrested at an Allentown construction site where police suspected his boss was selling drugs, the experience is still dragging him down.” Read more about Galarza’s 2010 ACLU case here.

  • From NBC News: “To End Decades on Death Row, [A Pennsylvania] Inmate Makes an Agonizing Choice”

“‘James Dennis entered a no-contest plea, not a guilty plea, because he maintains the same position that he has maintained for 25 years: that he is innocent of this crime,’ one of his lawyers, Karl Schwartz, told the judge. ‘He and his family have made this incredibly difficult decision based on his and their strong desire to have him home and free, [in] lieu of potentially years of continuing litigation.’ The no-contest plea is not uncommon in claims of wrongful conviction. It allows prosecutors to keep a conviction without a new trial. The defendant, meanwhile, acknowledges there may be enough evidence for another guilty verdict but can still claim innocence.”

  • From ProPublica: “Bias in Criminal Risk Scores Is Mathematically Inevitable, Researchers Say”

“Defendants inaccurately classed as ‘high risk’’ and deemed more likely to be arrested in the future may be treated more harshly than is just or necessary, said Alexandra Chouldechova, Assistant Professor of Statistics & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, who also studied ProPublica’s COMPAS findings. Chouldechova said focusing on outcomes might be a better definition of fairness. To create equal outcomes, she said, ‘You would have to treat people differently.’ Chouldechova’s paper, ‘Fair prediction with disparate impact: A study of bias in recidivism prediction instruments,’ was posted online in October. Chouldechova is continuing to research ways to improve the likelihood of equal outcomes.”

  • From The Wall Street Journal: “Why Some Problem Cops Don’t Lose Their Badges: [An] examination shows how states allow some police officers to remain on the force despite misconduct”

“Pennsylvania has reported no officer decertifications since 2012 and just 31 in the past 12 years, according to data the state provided to the Journal. Cpl. Adam Reed, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania agency in charge of decertification, said the state’s law is ‘very specific’ as to when an officer can be decertified and the agency ‘does not act as an “internal affairs.”’

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

New Website Explores the School-to-Prison Pipeline and How to End It

By Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

endzerotolerance.org is a new website from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

Every day, we hear from advocates, reporters, educators, and students asking questions about how to find the best resources on some aspect of school discipline and policing. Whether from an advocate preparing testimony for a school board meeting or a reporter digging into a story when an incident occurs, folks want to know how to get accurate and up-to-date information and analysis.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is launching a comprehensive national website on the school-to-prison pipeline, which can be found at both www.s2pp.org and www.endzerotolerance.org.

In crafting the site, we reviewed countless requests for information and documents that have come in, especially since the publication of our report on school discipline and policing in Pennsylvania, Beyond Zero Tolerance.

This site is the place to go to get up-to-date resources and commentary on how to keep young people in school and out of the justice system. It is loaded with presentations and sample materials, and to links to videos, podcasts, policy statements, research reports, and media stories. In a few cases, we have taken official data and produced simplified spreadsheets illustrating a trend.

While reforms have been implemented in a growing number of communities, the culture spawned by “zero tolerance” remains very much alive. Today, “zero tolerance” refers to the array of policies and practices that mandate or facilitate the removal of students from school under a broad range of circumstances, not principally (or just) in response to weapons violations. Therefore, our site is named “End Zero Tolerance.”

Additional features include:

  • Q and A on school discipline and policing
  • Using Data — a guide to how to obtain and use data, plus links to summaries of recent trends
  • Policing in Schools — news and analysis plus information about students arrests and examples of policy reforms
  • Special sections for educators and for advocates on how to implement reforms
  • What’s New –a blog about recent developments and new resources

Whether you want to research the issues, or to learn about successful campaigns and local work to improve school communities, this site is a great place to start.

A Pittsburgh-area school is bringing more guns — and more police — into the classroom

By Matt Stroud, Criminal Justice Researcer/Writer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Gateway School District plans to arm its 13-member security team. Photo from Steven Lane of The Associated Press.

After the December 2012 mass murder of 20 six- and seven year-old children, and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Massachusetts, school boards across the country began taking the advice of people like Wayne LaPierre and Asa Hutchinson, who called for an armed guard in every American school. Pennsylvania was no different. Of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, WPXI reported in 2014 that the number of districts with armed guards had risen from 118 to 141 between 2012 and 2014.

But while the number of armed Pennsylvania districts was on the rise, those districts typically armed singular administrators, or small numbers of school resource officers — cops, often with arrest powers, on contract with local law enforcement. This week, Gateway School District, in Pittsburgh’s east suburbs, got court approval for something different: it’s own 13-member, armed police force.

“We believe it’s our duty to do everything within our power to adequately protect the students, the teachers and the staff of the Gateway School District,” said Gateway school board member Chad Stubenbort in an interview with WPXI this week.

As ACLU-PA spelled out in its report, “Beyond Zero Tolerance: Discipline and Policing in Pennsylvania Public Schools,” bringing a law enforcement mentality into schools is a dubious practice — one that has proven to sacrifice fairness, due process, and preventative problem solving in an academic environment. Inserting firearms into the mix only exacerbates the problems with this mentality.

Despite such arguments — and others, which you can delve into on ACLU-PA’s “Police In Schools” landing page — Gateway decided to go forward with its plan. And Allegheny County Common Pleas Court President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning approved its petition to do so.

“It seems to me the only proper thing for the court to do here is to sign the order and let you proceed,” Judge Manning said during a hearing on the matter this week. “Obviously, having no protection for children in schools is definitely not better.”

That’s one way to think about it. There are others.

In written testimony submitted to the Pennsylvania House Select Committee on School Safety, and later reproduced in “Beyond Zero Tolerance,” Dr. Wayde Killmeyer, superintendent of Clairton City School District, explained: “[O]ur students come to us hungry, tired, from homes that are chaotic and where education is not a high priority,” he wrote. “Dealing with these human needs has to be a higher priority than putting an armed guard in our halls.”

He continued: “Although safety has to be one of our top priorities, a show of force is not necessarily the best way of dealing with it in our community.”

IN OTHER NEWS…

Cecilia Coleman and her son, Joseph Hall. Hall was sentenced to prison in 2008 for a crime he says he did not commit. Photo from Sarah Huny Young at Pittsburgh City Paper.
  • From The Morning Call: “After 18 months in jail, mentally ill man finally gets court-ordered treatment”

“Norristown is one of two state hospitals with secure facilities in which incompetent defendants can get the psychiatric help they need to regain their grip on reality, a requirement for their cases to proceed. But Norristown and Torrance State Hospital in the west both face bottlenecks, as demand far outpaces the number of beds they have, and the state has been unwilling to add to that inventory.”

  • From Pittsburgh City Paper: “City Paper reviews the decade-old case of a convicted murderer maintaining his innocence: ‘Things don’t add up in this case.’”

“In the two years that followed, Strothers’ story would change drastically several times, even during testimony he gave under oath; ultimately, during the 2008 criminal trial, he said that Joseph Hall hadn’t been in his car at all that day, that no one had fired guns from his car, and that police had coerced those earlier statements to the contrary. But it was that first statement recorded by detectives on Dec. 20, 2006 (along with a second recording made two weeks later), that would form the bulk of the case against Joseph Hall.”

THE APPEAL — The Appeal is a weekly newsletter helping to keep you informed about criminal justice news in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond. If you’d like to receive this weekly newsletter, you can subscribe here.

JOIN— The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s mailing list to stay up to date with our work and events happening in your area.

DONATE — The ACLU is comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU Foundation is the arm of the ACLU that conducts our litigation and education efforts. Gifts to the ACLU Foundation are tax-deductible to the donor to the extent permissible by law. Learn more about supporting the work of the ACLU of Pennsylvania here.

An Open Letter to the Pennsylvania Trans Community from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

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It’s a scary time for many communities. It is an especially harrowing time for those who are disproportionately affected by bigotry, structural and institutional racism, and other types of discrimination. We are in awe of those of you who are sharing your stories during Transgender Awareness Week and coming together in your communities for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I know personally what it means to have to fight for recognition and respect. I know what it feels like to run up against bias, discrimination and institutional barriers as so many of you do. I also know that I have benefited from cisgender privilege, given the issues that the LGBT movement historically has prioritized. The LGBT movement – and, honestly, my own organization – has not always centered the experiences of trans people and the issues facing your communities. We must do better.

In the wake of a devastating election for trans rights and in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, I want to make clear that the ACLU of Pennsylvania stands in support of Pennsylvania’s trans communities. We commit to lifting up your voices and experiences and priorities for change. We will fight for you and with you in the months and years to come.

The indomitable spirit and resilience of trans communities inspire ACLU-PA to become an ally you can count on in all times, good and bad. We are here for you.

In solidarity,
Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

The Federal Government Steps Up to Protect Survivors of Domestic Abuse From Eviction

By Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project

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Tonya Lee* and her two children had been living in their Maryland apartment complex for five years when her boyfriend became enraged during an argument and stabbed her and her older son. After the police arrested him, her landlord sent her a notice: They were evicting her because of the violence. Her lease included a standard provision authorizing eviction of tenants when there is criminal activity in their homes.

Domestic violence survivors shouldn’t face eviction just because the crime takes place in their home. The ACLU has been advocating for 15 years to establish survivors’ rights to stay in their homes after reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Those rights are now a reality for millions of people across the country.

Today I was part of a forum with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at which he announced three housing reforms that will help protect victims like Tonya from losing their homes. Speaking at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference in Chandler, Arizona, Castro announced new regulations from HUD that guarantee survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking protection from eviction from federally funded housing. The regulations, which carry out housing rights created by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), apply to privately owned affordable housing developed with tax credits, public housing, and Section 8 housing. The regulations also state that housing providers must develop policies that offer emergency transfer options for survivors who need to move to another location for safety reasons.

Survivors also often confront local nuisance, or crime-free, ordinances. These ordinances exist around the country and penalize tenants for calling 911 for criminal activity at their home, even when they are the victims. For example, Nancy Markham was nearly kicked out of her Surprise, Arizona, home after calling the police for protection from domestic violence. There was a city ordinance that treated 911 calls as “nuisances” that could lead to eviction.

After advocacy by the ACLU and our partners, HUD issued new guidance explaining that local nuisance ordinances can violate the Fair Housing Act because they so often penalize domestic violence victims who call 911. The guidance calls on cities to get rid of such ordinances to promote fair housing for domestic violence and other crime victims.

HUD also finalized regulations that for the first time explain how the Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment in housing. Such protections are vital to prevent the experiences of women like Yolanda Boswell, whose real estate manager repeatedly offered to reduce her rent in exchange for sex. When she refused, he raised her rent and threatened to evict her. We later learned that he similarly harassed several other women. Just as employers can be held accountable for harassment in the workplace, the regulations spell out how property owners and landlords are responsible when they fail to address harassment committed by their agents.

The ACLU represented Tonya, Nancy, and Yolanda as they successfully fought housing discrimination. But millions of people have faced the loss of their housing because they are victims of domestic and sexual violence. They may feel trapped and endure further violence to avoid homelessness.

PEOPLE SHOULD BE SAFE IN THEIR OWN HOMES

KEEP THEM SAFEThese latest housing reforms bring us one step closer to a world where everyone’s home is a sanctuary. Survivors of violence cannot truly be free without being able to obtain and keep safe housing. And the right to fair housing must not only include having a roof over one’s head, but also living free from violence and abuse.

*Tonya Lee is a pseudonym.

This blog is cross-posted on the ACLU’s blog Speak Freely.

Anti-Sanctuary Policies: When State Law Interferes with Public Safety and Your Civil Liberties

By Amanda Cappelletti, Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Immigrants' rights - ICE officer badge

Immigrants’ rights – ICE officer badge

Currently, the Pennsylvania Senate is considering a bill to punish municipalities in the Commonwealth that don’t go along with the unconstitutional actions of federal immigration authorities. To achieve this, House Bill 1885 would hold a so-called “sanctuary municipality” open to civil lawsuits for the actions of individual residents. It also withholds all state money from these cities and municipalities, such as funding for drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence centers, and other essential services that municipalities provide.

Let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a “sanctuary city.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has jurisdiction everywhere in the United States. It is their job to enforce federal immigration law. Local governments have enough to worry about without the added burden of doing the feds’ job for them.

While there are many problems with this bill, one of the most glaring is that it demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge about what sanctuary policies are and why we need them. Being in the country without immigration status is a civil offense investigated by ICE. If ICE believes local law enforcement has an undocumented citizen in custody, they issue a detainer request. This asks local law enforcement to hold that person for 48 hours past their initial release date and time.

Sanctuary policies support public safety and policing goals. Witnesses and victims of crime are more likely to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement authorities when they do not have the threat of deportation looming over them. Simply put, sanctuary policies are a way of building trust between law enforcement agents and the communities they serve. When that trust is established, police are better able to pursue all criminals, making the immediate and surrounding communities safer.

Perhaps not as glaring, but certainly more pressing is the fact that HB 1885 blatantly ignores the constitutional consequences of complying with ICE detainers. Detainers are issued by ICE agents, without any authorization or oversight by a judge or other neutral decision makers. They are not supported by probable cause or any actual evidence at all. Without the constitutionally guaranteed safeguard of a warrant, detainers can and do lead to the illegal detention of individuals who have not violated any immigration laws and are not deportable. According to its own records, ICE has erroneously issued more than 800 detainers for U.S. citizens since 2008.

ICE detainers ask local law enforcement agents to blatantly violate civil liberties and act unconstitutionally by holding individuals without probable cause. As a result, numerous civil lawsuits claiming unreasonable search and seizure have been filed against municipalities and cities. Ultimately, federal courts have ruled that ICE detainers violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. One of the leading cases in this matter took place in Pennsylvania. Since Galarza, thirty-three counties have taken steps to ensure its citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, and have policies to NOT honor ICE detainer requests.

HB 1885 is so poorly written that it even includes a fictional legal standard. The bill requires law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of someone they’ve arrested if they have “reasonable cause” that the person is in the country without authorization. “Reasonable cause” is not a legal standard. Despite three committee votes and one vote on the floor of the state House, no one in the General Assembly has bothered to fix this obvious flaw.

And that provision- carried out in a worst case scenario- could encourage police departments to engage in racial profiling and arrest people for petty offenses (like so-called disorderly conduct) for the sole purpose of checking their immigration status.

HB 1885 will fracture the already fragile trust between law enforcement and communities. It takes away a city or municipality’s much needed state funding, while also leaving it wide open for civil lawsuits from victims of unforeseen crime. If the municipality or city complies with HB 1885, it leaves itself open to violating the U.S. Constitution and the civil lawsuits which stem from that. No matter what way you look at it, HB 1885 hurts the citizens of our Commonwealth.


Amanda Cappelletti is the 2016–17 Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. She is also a fourth-year law student and a candidate for a master’s in public health at Temple University.

Meet Matthew Armstead — 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.

1. How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

I heard about the scholarship initially from Internet searches for LGBTQ-specific scholarships. When I was contemplating applying for the Frankel-Adair, I saw a printed poster for the scholarship at someone’s home during an organizing meeting. That’s when I knew I definitely should apply.

2. What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

My connection with the ACLU was very limited before applying for the scholarship. When I worked at the LGBT Center at Princeton University almost every year I would organize a program with a speaker from the ACLU. Since the ACLU was so pivotal in the fights for marriage equality and trans rights in New Jersey, the ACLU staff was able of offer a long-term perspective on current issues. Also, Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s national Executive Director, is a Princeton alum, so he came back to speak for a couple of programs and really helped me to understand the scope of the ACLU’s work.

3. What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My second semester of college, I was asked to become the co-president of the queer student group. This was a daunting honor: I was new to school, barely knew the community, and had come out to my family less than a year earlier. Yet I took a risk, and said yes. People helped me along the way, and I learned so much about being myself as leader and building a community.

A theme that now echoes throughout my life is that community will catch me when I take a risk to be more in alignment with my calling. When I took this step to pursue a Master’s degree in Ensemble Devised Performance at the University of the Arts, this theme again rang true, and the Frankel-Adair scholarship roots my education in the LGBTQ community.

ACLU-PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford and 2016/17 Frankel-Adair Scholar Matthew Armstead.

4. What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBTQ community at this time?

A critical issue facing the LGBTQ community in the United States is how to keep pursuing change after marriage-equality funding no longer supports as many organizations. This reality has pushed organizations to get more creative, while providing visibility for many of the concerns within the community from immigration to heath care.

Globally we are seeing that trans rights are increasingly in the forefront. I appreciate how this re-centers gender in the community narrative. Much of the violence against LGBTQ people comes when our behavior moves outside gendered expectations. And this issue of gender-policing affects trans and cis-gender people. Organizing that pushes for our unique genders to be recognized will benefit us all as it would mean an end police harassment, enactment of pay and hiring equity, and the implementation of fair housing policies.

5. Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBTQ community?

Working with LGBTQ people has been a regular part of my career, and I expect that to continue. The slogan “We are everywhere” still rings true, and I am excited as more LGBTQ people bring our identities and issues explicitly into movements for change.

6. What other social issues motivate you?

I care passionately about people who are pursuing social change across the world. On my mind at the moment are environmental activists in the Philippines who are facing increased repression, Colombian activists with disabilities who just broke ground at the United Nations, and folks in the Movement for Black Lives who successfully unseated the Florida prosecutor who convicted Marissa Alexander and failed to convict George Zimmerman. My work training change-makers through Training for Change allows me to stay involved in this range of movements.

7. What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

I hope to share the gratitude I feel with ACLU members at events throughout the year. The scholarship has the LGBTQ community in the front of my mind, so I’ll be looking for ways to use theater and my facilitation skills to support the LGBTQ community in the region.

Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship and find out how you can apply!

Life After Becoming a Frankel-Adair Scholar

By D’Angelo Cameron, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

D'Angelo Cameron

D’Angelo Cameron

On June 15th, 2015, I received the wonderful news that I was chosen to be one of two recipients of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The scholarship, awarded to LGBTQ youth who are pursuing post-secondary education in the greater Philadelphia area, is highly competitive, and the financial assistance provided by the award allowed me to pay for my last semester without worry. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, being awarded this scholarship would be the start of my most active year as a young leader living in Philadelphia, and eventually New York City.

I first learned about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the HRC’s LGBTQ School Scholarship Database. This was not my first time hearing about the ACLU, and specifically the Pennsylvania affiliate. I was familiar with the ACLU of Pennsylvania being present at Philadelphia’s LGBTQ centered events, like Pride and Outfest. It was during these moments I would take stacks of the ACLU’s Know Your Rights wallet cards for LGBTQ youth and distribute them to my peers who were interested in knowing their rights as students.

Shortly after receiving the award, I became vice president of Philadelphia Black Pride, one of the few organizations that create space and opportunity for social and economic equity for the city’s Black LGBTQ community. In this role, I organized one of the most successful convenings of healthcare providers in the city of Philadelphia to discuss access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, a once-a-day pill that has been proven to be extremely effective in preventing HIV infection. Organizing this summit came from my dedication to addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect young Black LGBTQ young people.

My work for social change outside of the classroom did not stop there. While in the first few weeks of my final semester of senior year, I received another opportunity to serve on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative or YBGLI, a national group of young Black Gay, Bi-sexual, and Same Gender Loving (SGL) men who organize at the regional and federal level around issues that impact their peers such as HIV infection rates, HIV criminalization, homelessness, police violence, and others.

As a recipient of the Frankel-Adair scholarship I became more connected to the ACLU and therefore was alerted to opportunities that existed in the organization to become more involved. My invitation to the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s annual Bill Of Rights dinner was one such amazing opportunity that allowed me to connect with other young professionals in the region, as well as some nationally recognized personalities like New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow. Another was to be a Communications Assistant at the ACLU Foundation offices in New York City. Although it required moving from my home city of twenty-two years, I embraced the chance to work at the National office and learn from some of the best lawyers, communications professionals, and advocates for civil liberties.

It has been eight months since I moved to New York to work for the ACLU Foundation. Despite having to leave the board of Philadelphia Black Pride and other projects centered in Philadelphia, I’m quite confident that other young Black LGBTQ leaders will continue to drive the progressive and much needed work in the city. I’m still on the organizing committee of Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, and we are quite busy with planning new projects for 2017. I could not have been more proud of how much I have accomplished and I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Frankel-Adair Scholarship committee at the ACLU of Pennsylvania for helping me achieve my academic and leadership goals.