Archive | October, 2009

Denying H1N1 vaccines to prisoners would harm public health

30 Oct

Are pregnant women behind bars less worthy of the H1N1 flu shot than susceptible populations in Wisconsin communities? Recent media stories (such as Green Bay’s NBC 26 story) and a press release from State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon) are suggesting just that.

Statements encouraging state health officials to put the health of not just prisoners, but by extension the prison staff, correctional officers and their families in jeopardy by denying H1N1 vaccine to prisoners including pregnant female inmates garnered a response from the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin today. Chris Ahmuty said that denying or delaying appropriate preventive actions to control the spread of the flu, including vaccination in the close confines of the prison system, is neither rational nor effective.

“Taycheedah’s (Taycheedah Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac, WI) prisoners and guards are in just the kind of setting that needs aggressive preventive measures to avoid widespread infection,” said Ahmuty. “To suggest that prisoners should not receive vaccine because they are less important than the ‘law abiding citizens of our state,’ will only further the spread of H1N1 to everyone.”

The Centers for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Correctional and Detention Facilities on Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Virus (May 24 2009) recognized that:

“Correctional institutions pose special risks and considerations due to the nature of their unique environment. Inmates are in mandatory custody and options are limited for isolation and removal of ill persons from the environment. The workforce must be maintained and options are limited for work alternatives (e.g., work from home, reduced or alternate schedules, etc.). In addition, many inmates and workforce may have medical conditions that increase their risk of influenza-related complications.”

“In overcrowded jails and prisons, such as Taycheedah, the risk of H1N1 contagion spreading among prisoners and correctional officers and then to the officers’ families and communities must be addressed vigorously,” said Ahmuty.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin in a May 1, 2009 media release urged public health officials “to implement a public health policy which is rational, effective and has the least intrusion possible on civil liberties.”

Ahmuty reminded the public, “Prisoners are serving their debt to society, but being subjected to disease and death is not part of a just sentence in any civilized society.”

Read more about the ACLU of Wisconsin’s work to address poor health conditions in Wisconsin prisons.

Call TODAY for voting rights in Wisconsin!

28 Oct

All legislators in the state Assembly (Republicans AND Democrats) need to hear from their constituents by Thursday, October 29th at noon on the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act. Voters who demand that they vote YES for AB 353 could help the bill get a floor vote this session and restore voting rights to over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens.

It’s this simple: It comes down to you making one phone call or sending one email.

and tell them:

“I am your constituent and I support AB353 the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act. I want you to vote YES and restore the vote in Wisconsin!”

Find your Assembly representative at the Who Are My Legislators? website

Some important things to know about the legislation:

Wisconsin law bars individuals with felony convictions from voting while incarcerated and while on probation, parole or extended supervision. The Wisconsin State Legislature is currently considering legislation, known as the Wisconsin Democracy Restoration Act, that would restore the right to vote to individuals upon release from incarceration. This law would enfranchise the over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens who live in the community, work and pay taxes but are unable to participate in the political process.

Disfranchisement is unfair and un-American. Over 42,000 Wisconsin citizens living, working, raising families and paying taxes in Wisconsin are barred from voting due to a past felony conviction.

Disfranchisement perpetuates Jim Crow in Wisconsin. Racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system mean that 1 in 9 African Americans in Wisconsin cannot vote compared to 1 in 50 of all Wisconsin citizens.

Voting may make us safer. Studies show that ex-offenders who do not vote re-offend at a rate of 27%, ex-offenders who vote re-offend at a rate of 12%.

Wisconsin voters support enfranchisement. A May 2009 poll showed that 57% of Wisconsinites support automatic, post-sentence enfranchisement.

We need to simplify the voting process and save taxpayer dollars. Enfranchising people upon release from incarceration streamlines the restoration process, conserves government resources and saves taxpayer dollars.

Wisconsin has more restrictive felony disfranchisement laws than 20 other states, including neighboring Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Wanna do more?
Call your State Senator as well and forward this to 5 friends!

UW Madison Students Learn About Their Rights and the Consequences of Breaking Party Laws

22 Oct

One hundred and ten people attended last night’s Know Your Rights workshop on the UW-Madison campus Mosse Humanities Building, Room 3650. The workshop was timely: next weekend’s Halloween party on State St. called Freak Fest has a long history of student arrests and law enforcement presence.

The workshop was led by ACLU of Wisconsin statewide board President and criminal defense attorney Erik Guenther of the Hurley, Burish, and Stanton Law Firm.

“I conduct ‘Know Your Rights Workshops’ regularly on college campuses around the state,” said Guenther. “It is important to me as an attorney to share my legal knowledge with college students who may not know what their constitutional rights are when they find themselves in precarious situations with police officers.”

Student leaders including Steve Horn and Jessica Johnson worked hard to publicize the event and involve other student groups as co-sponsors. Co-sponsoring UW student organizations included College Democrats, College Republicans, Young Americans for Liberty, Students for Russ Feingold, Pre-Law Society, Students for Equal Access to Law School, and Wisconsin Union Directorate Society and Politics Committee.

Members of the ACLU Student Alliance on the UW Madison campus handed out “bust” cards to attendees of Freakfest in 2008. The information on what to do if stopped by police was well-received by the holiday revelers. Down from previous years, mostly due to major changes in the organization and sponsorship of the event, last year totaled 77 arrests. Student volunteers from the ACLUSA-UW will be out distributing bust cards this year as well.

Last night’s Know Your Rights workshop also enjoyed news coverage with photos in today’s Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal.

To contact Attorney Erik Guenther, call (608) 257-0945 or email For more information on Know Your Rights workshops or other workshops offered by the ACLU of Wisconsin on individual rights and civil liberties, contact Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh at (608) 469-5540.

Erik’s next Know Your Rights workshop will be on the campus of the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay on November 24.

Milwaukee ACLU Celebrates Banned Books

20 Oct

The scoop on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s October 14th Banned Books event in Milwaukee – written by our office manager and resident literature and poetry enthusiast, Angie Trudell Vasquez:

In 2007, the ACLU of Wisconsin organized a Banned Book Event in Madison but not in Milwaukee. The event in Madison was well-attended and we really wanted to do one here. This year I joined the Woodland Pattern Book Center Board of Directors and during one of my early meetings, I suggested we do a joint collaboration between the bookstore and the ACLU of Wisconsin. The culmination of brainstorming meetings and research resulted in one of the highlights of my tenure at my job with the ACLU of Wisconsin…

But “let me begin at the beginning” to quote Rudolfo A. Anaya’s “Bless me, Ultima,” #78 of the American Library Association’s 100 most frequently challenged books between 1990 to 1999.

I am a poet, a social poet. I found Woodland Pattern Book Center when I first moved to Milwaukee from Seattle in 2005 and I participated in their annual Poetry Marathon in the midnight hour. I knew Woodland Pattern would be a perfect place for a live reading and working with staffers Chuck Stebelton and Anne Kingsbury was easy. I also serve on the Riverwest Coop and Café finance committee and was able to secure a donation of the most heavenly pastries this side of the Rocky Mountains for our event. While my job at the ACLU of Wisconsin staffer usually involves financials and organizing, working on the details of a Banned Books Week event could combine my love of literature, my community involvement and our work to fight censorship.

With food, libations and location secured, now we had to come up with some readers who would bring the banned books to life. We agreed to approach a previous poet laureate Peggy Hong, local Alderman Nik Kovac, artist and renaissance woman Kiki Anderson, and the ACLU Student Alliance at UW-Milwaukee President Angela Lang. Woodland Pattern Executive Director Anne Kingsbury was to be a reader as well as myself. Our MC for the evening would be the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Emilio De Torre reading his original poem on banned books – check out the pictures on the Ode to a Banned Book blog post.

Now to the books! It wasn’t hard for anyone to decide what to read as the best books have been banned or challenged at one time or another. Peggy read from the “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” by Gertrude Stein.

Nik read from James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

And Kiki is shown below sharing the pictures from the “Night Kitchen” children’s book.

Angela chose to read from 1984, particularly in light of current controversies with government blanket surveillance since 9/11.

Mark Peterson, UW-Washington County Professor, blogger of The Motley Cow, among many other of his current endeavors, came and opened the event with his own true life experience with censorship (pictured below in Beatnik style to honor poets like Allen Ginsberg).

He delighted us with his anecdotes, grounded our event in the present, and reminded all 45 of us of that book burnings aren’t as far fetched as we may think they are in the 21st century.

I would advise readers to check out the American Library Association’s Banned Book page and see if one of their favorites is on the list and start their own Banned Book Club readings around the state or join us next year.

– Angie Trudell Vasquez

Ode to a Banned Book

20 Oct

At the Wednesday, October 14 Banned Books event at Woodland Pattern Book Center, ACLU of Wisconsin Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre donned a costume in the spirit of Geoffrey Chaucer and welcomed the audience for an evening of live reading of banned books. His opening poem on the theme of censorship set the tone for the evening of humor and a celebration of literature…

“On behalf of Woodland Pattern Books and the ACLU of Wisconsin, welcome to our Banned Book Event. We are most pleased you soudry folk are here in support of intellectual freedom, to raise awareness of censorship — and to promote the free exchange of ideas.”

“turn over the leaf and choose another tale”
Ladies and Gentlemen, scholars, students and rogues,
I pray thy mercy for my New York brogue,
For although the guise of Geoffrey Chaucer I wear,
It is not MY dulcet tones that you’ve come to hear,
Nor my pinched verse, kitchen prose or gutter rhyme,
Rather, the immortal men and women who’ve taunted time,
With works of art, beauty and thought,
That even now influence what we’ve wrought,
Their printed words filling schools, libraries and nooks,
Brave drafters and authors of the printed word —- Books.

Sadly, some would have us burn our literary friends at the stake,
And force us to read only their unique take,
Denying young folk access to vital information,
Whilst wielding the torch of intellectual cremation.

And although some may balk and blow their fuses,
To see books writ to other Gods, reason, or Nine Muses,
Let us not to the marriage of true minds impede,
Our Bodies Ourselves, or Voltaire’s Candide.

Where’s Waldo, Scary Stories, Lord of the Rings?
Is NOW the time to purge pagan, agnostic and atheist things?
Strike from these lists Morrison, Chbosky, and Hemmingway,
You CANNOT censor a theme ’cause it’s black, brown or gay!

Schindler’s List, Beloved, & The Great Gatsby.
Lolita, Ulysses and Tango Makes Three,
Baby Bebop, Atlas Shrugged, Go Tell it on the Mountain!
Native Son, Winnie the Pooh, even the Maltese Falcon…

So I put it to all of you my dear friends,
To boldly our 1st Amendment rights defend,
We cannot let others rob parents of the right to decide
With loutish attempts at self-righteous libricide.

Over time and in other places,
McCarthy, Genghis Khan, the Spanish Inquisition,
Have sought to suppress thoughts,
And hold civil liberties in submission.

But if you’re inspired by the words that you hear,
And censorship makes YOU tremble with rage and with fear,
Then gift envelopes can be found in the rear,
5 dollars for students, otherwise 20 per year.

You can follow up on Emilio’s invitation to membership by joining the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Senate Judiciary Extends Patriot Act… But Thanks To US Sen. Feingold for Some Privacy-Protecting Amendments

12 Oct

National ACLU Says: Bill Does Not Go Far Enough To Protect Americans’ Privacy

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the USA PATRIOT Act Extension Act of 2009 last week, a bill which falls far short of restoring the necessary civil liberties protections lacking in the original Patriot Act. The bill, passed by the committee after two sessions of debate, makes only minor changes to the disastrous Patriot Act and was further watered down by amendments adopted during markup. The American Civil Liberties Union had endorsed the JUSTICE Act, an alternative bill that would heavily reform not only the Patriot Act but other overly broad surveillance laws.

Amendments that were offered but failed by voice vote included an amendment by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to curb the abuse of the overly broad National Security Letter (NSL) statute and another offered by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) to allow the “lone wolf” provision to expire (the never-used provision that targets individuals who are not connected to terrorist groups). An amendment also failed that would make it more difficult for recipients to challenge the gag order that comes with receiving an NSL.

However, there were two amendments included in the final bill – both offered by Senator Feingold – that are victories for privacy: The Department of Justice would be ordered to discard any illegally obtained information received in response to an NSL and the government must notify suspects of “sneak and peek” searches within seven days instead of the thirty days currently outlined in the statute. “Sneak and peek” searches allow the government to search a home without notifying the resident immediately.

“We are disappointed that further changes were not made to ensure Americans’ civil liberties would be adequately protected by this Patriot Act legislation,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This truly was a missed opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to right the wrongs of the Patriot Act and stand up for Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. The meager improvements made during this markup will certainly be overshadowed by allowing so many horrible amendments to be added to an already weak bill. Congress cannot continue to make this mistake with the Patriot Act again and again. We urge the Senate to adopt amendments on the floor that will bring this bill in line with the Constitution.”

To learn more about the ACLU’s work on the Patriot Act, go to:

DNA Collection Expansion Too Costly, Too Invasive, and Too Distracting

9 Oct

On October 9, 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin urged state lawmakers to oppose legislation that would expand profiles in the state DNA data bank to include individuals merely arrested, not convicted, on a felony charge. State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and State Representative Ann Hraychuck (D-Balsam Lake) are co-sponsors of Senate Bill 336, which has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“DNA technology has great potential for addressing crime,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty, “but we must use it and any developing technology wisely. When police are looking for a needle in a haystack, we shouldn’t be adding more hay to the stack. But that’s exactly what SB336 does by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from individuals who have not been convicted of a violent crime.”

While it is clear that the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratories’ DNA data bank system needs better management, a dramatic expansion of DNA collection without adequate checks and balances and funding at a time when the State and its counties have serious funding problems is like throwing water on a drowning swimmer.

This proposal allows the state crime laboratories to maintain the DNA profiles of persons who are never charged for as long as a year. During that year the DNA profile is likely to be shared with the federal DNA data bank (CODIS) making it virtually impossible to remove it from state, federal and even international DNA data banks. DNA collection is an invasive search that jeopardizes the constitutional rights of Americans, if it is not done judiciously.

Expanding DNA collection to arrestees has undermined the use of DNA to solve crimes across the nation. In March, the Inspector General at the United State Department of Justice released an audit that found that state laws expanding DNA collection have led to significant delays in DNA analysis. Audits in Illinois and Michigan have similarly found massive backlogs due to increased DNA collection.

And in Milwaukee, recent media reports reveal that the Sheriff David Clarke’s own department failed to collect DNA samples from over 350 convicted felons this year at the County Correctional Facility – South.

Finally, expanding DNA collection will perpetuate, if not increase, the racial disparities that are acknowledged to exist in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. When a disproportionate number of minorities are arrested, they will create unwarranted racial disparities in the DNA data bank, making them permanent suspects who need to be investigated, while white perpetrators may not even be in the data bank.

The ACLU of Wisconsin urges legislators to re-direct their efforts to improve the state’s DNA data bank system by mandating regular audits, improving the expungement process, and concentrating on eliminating existing backlogs. Legislators should not adopt a more is always better approach when it undermines constitutional rights, without improving pubic safety in a fiscally responsible way.

To read more about this issue, see the article quoting the ACLU in the Leader-Telegram, the Wisconsin State Journal, and a critical opinion piece from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer who makes the case that our criminal justice system cannot handle the DNA collection now, let alone collecting from the thousands of people who are arrested each year. There were also ACLU quotes in the Oshkosh Northwestern and an editorial from that paper that questions the reactionary bill. An editorial was also printed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Madison ACLU Celebrates Banned Books Week With Panel on Current Issues in Censorship

2 Oct

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation wishes to extend a special thank you to the speakers and supporters who participated in the Madison area Banned Books Week panel. Moderated by Wisconsin Public Radio host Jim Fleming, the panel had a lively discussion on current issues in censorship from the world wide web to the local library.
Our guest speakers:

Jim Fleming, the panel moderator, is a host for Wisconsin Public Radio. He majored in English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has had a long career in public radio including work as a host of classical music programs and the award-winning To The Best of Our Knowledge.

Bob Bocher is a Technology Consultant in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. He works primarily with the state’s public libraries and with schools on such programs as BadgerNet, the state’s telecommunications network. Bob is a Fellow of the American Library Association’s Technology Office and developed the ALA’s Internet Access Principles and its position on Net Neutrality. Mr. Bocher has a special interest in privacy issues related to technology co-authored the book “Privacy in the 21st Century: Issues for Public, School, and Academic Libraries.

Erlene Bishop Killeen works part-time as the District Media Coordinator for the Fox Prairie Elementary, Stoughton Area School District. With 35 years of experience, her credits include: being named library media professional by WEMA and awardee of a Kohl Fellowship in 1998, a reviewer of professional and children’s literature and a member of the advisory board for Teacher-Librarian, membership on the committee that wrote the National Professional Teacher Certification Library Media Standards as well as the 2003 Caldecott Committee. She currently chairs the ALA Publishing Committee and is a member of the Stoughton Public Library Board. Erlene is the mother of two grown children who started watching The Simpsons at age 3!

Pamela Westby is the library director for the Middleton Public Library. Pamela has over 20 years of experience as a librarian in Sparta and Middleton, Wisconsin as well as in her earlier career in Minnesota where she experienced book challenges from patrons. She also teaches a course on public library administration for continuing education.>

Nationally, Banned Books Week is an awareness campaign sponsored by the American Library Association which celebrates the freedom to read and the right to open, accessible libraries. Banned Books Week was officially recognized from September 26 through October 3, 2009. The ACLU of Wisconsin also organized a reading of banned books at Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee.

The ACLU works nationally to fight censorship and protect the freedom of expression, even when free speech is unpopular. This year, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation announced that it will be representing a supper club owner in Crivitz, WI who is in a dispute with police who confiscated the flag the man was flying upside-down as a form of protest. The ACLU of Wisconsin was also involved in supporting the librarians at the public library in West Bend, WI after books with gay and lesbian characters were challenged by local residents.

Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has joined a coalition of authors, publishers and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation to urge a federal judge to reject a proposed settlement in a lawsuit over Google Book Search. The ACLU is concerned that the settlement will leave open the possibility that the browsing and readership history of digitized books on Google Book Search will not have privacy protections.

Why the Milwaukee Mayor should not take over MPS

1 Oct

There is currently a controversy brewing in Milwaukee where it has been proposed that there should be a mayoral takeover of the city’s public schools. Milwaukee students need and deserve safety and equality in their schools. But changing the governance of Milwaukee Public Schools will not remedy Wisconsin’s failure to provide an adequate education to far too many of Milwaukee’s children.

A mayoral takeover will not narrow the racial achievement gap, which should deeply trouble all Wisconsinites. Schemes such as mayoral control and school vouchers that focus on control rather than education in the classroom are bound to fail our children.

Rather than spending time and effort to push through a controversial takeover program that will not provide resources for programs that work, the governor, mayor and state legislators need to ensure that all Milwaukee children have the opportunity to obtain a meaningful, adequate education.

Those genuinely concerned about student performance need to evaluate what programs and services – such as smaller class sizes – help students succeed. They must look at researched-based findings on what programs and services best educate students with disabilities, English language learners, and low income students. In light of the racial achievement gaps in our community, they must look at whether specific programs are needed to support children of color. Then they must determine what these programs cost, and how those programs will be fairly and adequately funded. That is the kind of adequate education that all Milwaukee students deserve – but are too often denied.

Moreover, efforts to improve the education of Milwaukee children must address the needs of all students who attend taxpayer-supported schools, not just those who attend schools operated by MPS. Approximately 1/5 of Milwaukee students attend private voucher schools at taxpayers’ expense – and most of those schools perform no better than MPS, and in some cases fall short of MPS performance. Yet neither the takeover proposal nor any other plan that has been offered seek to improve education for those 20,000 Milwaukee children.

Nor does the takeover plan deal with the negative impacts of voucher turnover on MPS schools. As a recent audit shows, each year far more students leave voucher schools forMPS than transfer from MPS to voucher schools. Some voucher schools close during or after the school year, for reasons ranging from poor physical conditions to financial mismanagement. Voucher schools can and do expel students who present behavioral and other challenges. And research has also shown that voucher schools educate a far smaller percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners than MPS – requiring MPS to divert a far greater percentage of its resources to educate these children.

The poor outcomes of voucher schools are a clear indication that quick fixes will not meet the educational needs of Milwaukee children. Vouchers were sold as a free market, competitive model that would succeed without regulation, oversight or public disclosure – but overall, the system has failed and should be phased out, starting with those voucher schools that are underperforming MPS.

Nor should there be a headlong rush for other quick fixes. Neighborhood schools, for example, were sold – and funded – as a way to provide a better education to Milwaukee children, and they too have failed. There is no evidence that yet another quick fix – a mayoral takeover of the public schools – will have any more success in meeting students’ needs.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the primary constitutional responsibility for the education of Milwaukee’s children rests with the State of Wisconsin. The state needs to put adequate resources into the public school system to provide the educational services and supports those children need – including adequate supports for children living in poverty, children with disabilities, English language learners, and other special needs children. It needs to ensure that the per-pupil funding for Milwaukee Public Schools students is at least comparable to that of suburban districts. Those are the reforms that will help Milwaukee students succeed.