The American Civil Liberties Union group brings awareness to injustices in the United States prison systems.
The Temple American Civil Liberties Union recently held the Prisoner’s Right and Capital Punishment seminar to discuss the current injustices within United States’ prison systems and to increase student awareness of prisoner rights and capital punishment issues.
“Change isn’t going to be easy, but it has to happen,” former Philadelphia mayor John Street said as he pointed to the crowd. “You have the power.”
Street was one of three panelists in attendance at the event. Other panelists, included Associate Professor and Graduate Program Chair of the criminal justice department Kathleen Auerhahn and the Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project Marissa Bluestine, who shared their perspectives on the subject.
“[The prison system is] a breathing ground for infectious disease,” Auerhahn said. “In fact, 90 percent of deaths in prisons are due to illness.”
Auerhahn said the problem with health care in prison is that its existence is minimal due to high costs. These costs are a responsibility of the state, because, under the Eighth Amendment, prisoners are guaranteed the right to health care.
Auerhahn explained many health care staff in Pennsylvania’s prison systems are undertrained, and doctor visits are often limited. She added in female facilities, prisoners frequently only see a doctor once a month.
“Our goal with every issue we address is to facilitate discussion and awareness that will promote change,” said Brian Hart, a senior public relations major and events manager of Temple ACLU.
Hart said Temple ACLU wants to educate its community about ineffective institutions.
“Prisoner rights is an issue that often gets swept under the rug of American politics,” Hart said.
Bluestine is trying to get innocent prisoners out of these situations through her work with the PIP, a public policy organization working to get wrongfully convicted felons back into society.
Bluestine said even the most straight-forward police tactics, such as identification lineups, are the most defective because many times the victims’ memory is easily tainted, which often leads to wrongful convictions.
“[Victims] feel pressured to make a choice,” Bluestine said. “It’s like a multiple choice, and they pick the best option.”
She said feels this is one of the many things that needs to be changed in the criminal justice system.
Street also stressed the importance of criminal justice system reform. He said not only does putting people behind bars cost the government large sums of money, but it also breaks up families, especially in Philadelphia.
“As a former politician, we carry the favor of the voters,” Street said, adding that polls are misleading and can lead to misguided policies.
Kate Chisolm, a freshman psychology major, sat in the front row during discussion and said she left feeling more passionate about the issues.
“Prisoners are people,” Chisolm said. “We forget that.”
Chisolm said she hopes students will get more involved in learning about these issues even though they may not directly affect them.
“Obviously if you’re attending Temple you come from a family who can afford an education for you,” Chisolm said. “You didn’t have to drop out of high school. Students should use this advantage to help everyone else.”
“We must rely on our generation to change our prison systems and our overall attitudes toward criminal justice in America,” Hart said.
Stephanie Klock can be reached at email@example.com.