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Solitary confinementJust in from the ACLU of NC:

“A coalition of human rights groups yesterday sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. The letter comes weeks after President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement across the country and criticized the practice in a major speech on criminal justice reform.

The 15-page letter – signed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and North Carolina Stop Torture Now – chronicles the recent deaths of several inmates held in solitary confinement in North Carolina, as well as the mistreatment and horrific conditions suffered by countless more. One of those prisoners, Michael Anthony Kerr, a 53-year-old former Army sergeant diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, died of dehydration in March 2014 after spending 35 days in solitary confinement. In the letter, the groups document North Carolina’s failure to provide adequate resources for prison mental health services and explain how inmates with mental illness are disciplined for manifestations of their illness and often released directly to the community after months or years in isolation.

‘Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,’ the letter reads. ‘However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform. Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.’

The letter is available at https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/files/letters/SolitarylettertoUSDOJ.pdf

Background: On any given day, as much as 14 percent of North Carolina’s 37,500 prison inmates are locked away in solitary confinement—often for such minor offenses as using profanity. There, they are isolated for 23 to 24 hours a day, without sunlight, fresh air, or contact with human beings. More than one in five of those prisoners placed in isolation require some type of treatment for mental health issues.”

Commentary

Dan Forest[This post has been updated — the original version had an incorrect link]. Remember that kid on the grade school playground who hated losing so much that he’d grab the ball and go home when the game stopped going his way? It’s seems a safe bet that North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest was such a child.

The man who is also pretty clearly North Carolina’s most reactionary statewide elected official in memory dispensed another ultraconservative pearl of wisdom recently when he told a radio host in Asheville that North Carolina will probably have to change the basics of state marriage laws now that same sex couples can partake.

After referring the “so-called right to get married” of same sex couples and explaining how liberal judges were misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and acting to “legislate from the bench,” Forest, who is not a lawyer, agreed with radio host Peter Kaliner that North Carolina would probably have to follow Alabama’s lead and change state marriage laws. Recently, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would change how the state deals with marriage so that rather than having state officials issue licenses, the state would simply register marriages after they’re witnessed by a private party.

When Kaliner asked Forest what he thought about such an approach, Forest said it was probably “a next step in North Carolina” if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage. (Click here to listen to the entire depressing interview — the relevant portion is at around the 5:20 mark).

As to what all the implications of such a radical change would mean for people who no longer received a marriage license — either with respect to children, insurance, recognition in other states, etc… — is anybody’s guess, but it doesn’t seem to bother Forest, who would rather do away with state sanctioned marriages completely than let people he doesn’t approve of enjoy their benefits.

Commentary

Gay marriage 2After it gave the bill a perfunctory review and then ignored it, there was hope that the North Carolina House had decided, smartly, to deep-six the discriminatory Senate proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to opt out of marrying same sex couples. Now, sadly, the measure is back and scheduled to be heard in committee today.

Fortunately, the chances of this discriminatory proposal actually ever going into effect remain highly questionable. As reporter Sharon McCloskey explains over on the main Policy Watch site this morning, the bill is a successful lawsuit waiting to happen:

“If the bill passes in the House and becomes law, it would be the first of its kind in the country, according to Katharine Franke, a professor at Columbia University School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Law.

(A similar bill in Texas recently failed after corporations there voiced their opposition.)

And in the eyes of legal experts, it would be unquestionably unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer explains in an excellent editorial this morning why it should never get that far: Read More

Commentary
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Image: www.thinkprogress.org

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Image: www.thinkprogress.org

The Charlotte Observer was actually quite moderate and restrained in its editorial over the weekend criticizing the latest dying gasp of the nation’s pro-discrimination movement. The editorial — “Indiana shows what not do” — highlighted the so-called “religious freedom” law enacted in Indiana. The law — which was designed by conservatives opposed to LGBT equality — has already set off a firestorm amongst more-forward looking corporate types who are rethinking their involvement with the Hoosier state. Here’s the Observer:

“Given the permissive definition of “religion” in the bills, though, the allowed discrimination would hardly stop with the LGBT community. Even if such cases are only episodic, even one is too many and the state’s image takes a hit.

[Indiana Governor Mike] Pence defended the Indiana law by saying he doesn’t think it legalizes discrimination, and N.C. legislators will say it is simply about freedom of religion. But in practice the bills undeniably open the door to discrimination against almost anyone….

Does North Carolina really want to go down this road? Do we want to sanction discrimination by letting anyone deny service to whomever they please? Do we want to jeopardize conventions, job growth and the ability to recruit?

Arizona was going to last year, but under pressure from the NFL and others, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. If it reaches his desk, Gov. Pat McCrory should do the same here.”

And here’s another reason to be against the offensive, copycat legislation filed in the North Carolina Senate and House: It’s morally wrong, offensive and un-American. As Think Progress reported yesterday, the discrimination has already started in Indiana. And one doesn’t have to be a MENSA member to imagine the myriad forms of discrimination that some troubled souls in our state would readily engage in if given the green light by state government.

After all, it was the same talk about “religious liberty” that was frequently used as an excuse by those who refused to serve people of color and interracial couples back in the last century. Anyone who thinks that ugly beast wouldn’t reemerge is kidding themselves.

The bottom line: Let’s hope state political and business leaders nip this nonsense in the bud ASAP and that North Carolinians can avoid the ignominy of seeing their governor go on national TV to defend discrimination and hate.

Commentary

If crazy ol’ Keith Olbermann was still hosting is MSNBC news and commentary show these days, you can bet that former Arkansas Governor-turned-semi-permanent-Presidential-candidate Mike Huckabee would be a strong contender for the today’s “Worst Person in the World” award.

As Associated Press reported yesterday via WRAL.com:

“Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday said being gay is akin to choosing to drink alcohol or use profanity — lifestyle choices he says are appealing to others but not to him.

The former Baptist pastor, who is weighing a second run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, also claimed that forcing people of faith to accept gay marriage as policy is on par with telling Jews that they must serve ‘bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.’ That dish would run afoul of kosher rules in the same way Huckabee sees asking Christians to accept same-sex marriages.”

Sadly, this kind of hateful and ignorant talk appears to be exactly what some on the far right are looking for. Witness the latest glowing Huckabee reviews from the “nonpartisan” Pope-Civitas Institute, which brought Huckabee to speak at a church in Charlotte last week (with a fee for admission, with those who paid more getting better seats) and then posted a pair of glowing reviews of the man and his likely candidacy (here and here) on its blog.

The bottom line: We’ve come a long way fast in recent years when it comes to overcoming fear, ignorance and discrimination in this country, but if Mike Huckabee and his ilk were to have their way, that progress would come to a screeching halt.