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April 01, 2013

Washington News Briefs

INMATE CALLING SERVICES: ABA President Laurel G. Bellows submitted comments March 25 urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that telephone service contracts are subject to competition and are used only to serve the prison population. Non-competitive contracts that set rates artificially high in order to provide income to prisons are in violation of the ABA Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Telecommunication Act of 1996, she said. The ABA standards recognize the important link between prisoners’ communication with family and community and their successful re-entry into society. The standards state that prisoners and their families should not be charged arbitrary fees during incarceration, including exorbitant fees for phone use. “These practices are tearing families apart, and significantly conflict with and undermine more fundamental correctional policies aimed at promoting successful reentry and at reducing recidivism,” Bellows wrote. The association also is committed to protecting the interests of immigrant detainees, who continue to struggle with inadequate access to telephones, legal representation and legal materials. The ABA recommends that the FCC cap rates within the inmate calling services (ICS) market, open up the ICS market to outside competition, and bar states from receiving site commissions. For immigration detention, the ABA recommends, among other things, that service providers be required to offer the broadest range of calling options, that certain free calls be available to assist detainees who are representing themselves, and that calls to a legal representative are provided to detainees at no cost.


JUDICIAL DIVERSITY: The ABA expressed support last month for provisions in a bill introduced in the California Assembly that would incorporate disability status into the list of demographic data that is collected from all applicants seeking judicial office. The bill, AB 1005, also would incorporate veteran status in the list of demographic data collected along with information relative to ethnicity, race, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation provided by applicants. “Judicial diversity helps ensure that officials representing the judiciary reflect those whom the system serves, thus helping to promote public confidence in the decisions rendered,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman wrote in a March 27 letter to the California State Assembly Committee on Judiciary. He said that in 1991 the ABA adopted a policy calling for “studies of the existence, if any, of bias in the federal judicial system, including bias based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability.” He also noted that while the ABA strongly opposes all forms of employment discrimination, including specifically discrimination against veterans, the association does not have a policy with regard to veterans’ preference in the appointment of federal judges. The ABA, therefore, is not in a position either to support or oppose the inclusion of data collection for veterans in the California legislation, he said.


SEXUAL ABUSE ON DETENTION FACILITIES:  The ABA believes that standards proposed recently by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to address sexual abuse and assault in immigration detention facilities are promising but need to be further clarified and strengthened in some areas. In comments submitted Feb. 26 to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman noted that persons held in immigration detention facilities filed more than 170 allegations of sexual abuse from 2007 to 2011. The ABA has called for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to transition to a comprehensive civil detention system, and Susman said that Civil Immigration Detention Standards, adopted in August 2012 by the ABA House of Delegates, specifically incorporate the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) as a key protection for detainees. Standards required under PREA were adopted last year by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and intended to apply to all federal confinement facilities, including those operated by departments and agencies other than DOJ. Addressing the standards proposed by DHS, Susman made the following recommendations: DHS should incorporate the new PREA standards into facility contracts within one year of finalizing its proposed standards; standards for DHS holding facilities and transportation of detainees should provide the same level of protection as that provided for detention facilities; DHS should strengthen the auditing mechanisms in its proposal; and regulatory provisions should meet the standards set forth by DOJ. Susman also expressed particular concern that there is a lack of specialized regulations for children in immigration custody.

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