ACLU News

How Mastercard’s New Policy Violates Sex Workers’ Rights

Mastercard’s new policy regulating adult content sellers goes into effect today. This is bad news for many sex workers, whose safety and livelihoods depend on access to financial services and online platforms. The policy makes it harder for sex workers to do business online and makes sex workers more vulnerable, especially those who are trans women of color.

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Here’s what to know about financial discrimination against sex workers, how we’re fighting back, and what Mastercard must do now – and in the longrun – to protect sex workers’ rights.

Sex workers already face many forms of financial and tech-based discrimination.

Many banks and companies single out sex workers by forcing them to pay higher fees and interest rates because they consider them “high-risk.” Public platforms like PayPal and Venmo, which should offer their services to all users without discrimination, continue to boot sex workers and other users off their platforms with little due process. Bans on certain online content can also get adult websites shut-down and cost sex workers their livelihoods.

These practices amount to financial discrimination, which stigmatizes sex work and endangers the safety of sex workers by pushing the industry deeper into the shadows.

What does Mastercard’s adult content policy do?

Mastercard developed a new policy for adult content websites using its credit card or payment options, imposing requirements such as pre-approval of all content before publication, forbidding certain search terms, and keeping records of age and identity verification for all performers. The stated intent of the policy is to prevent child sexual abuse material and other non-consensual content. But in practice, these requirements are difficult – if not impossible – to comply with.

To take one example, a site like OnlyFans has one million content creators. If each of them uploaded one video in a given day, under Mastercard’s policy, OnlyFans would have to review each video before it’s published to determine whether it complies. Pre-publication review at that scale is almost impossible, and would likely be rife with errors considering the speed at which online platforms operate. This policy will make it much harder for platforms to host adult content, which will destabilize the websites that sex workers use to make a living. Additionally, this policy is not targeted to address Mastercard’s stated concerns. The policy applies only to a small fraction of web sites – those that host adult content – but all available evidence indicates these problems proliferate across all kinds of websites.

Financial discrimination and sex work decriminalization is a civil liberties issue.

Everyone deserves access to financial services and everyone should be able to make a living and support themselves and their families. Financial discrimination and other laws and policies that criminalize or stigmatize sex work disproportionately harm the safety and wellbeing of Black trans women, contribute to mass incarceration and racist policing, chill our right to free speech and invade our privacy.

If Mastercard is a true supporter of LGBTQ rights, as it claims on its Pride page, it should immediately reverse this discriminatory policy.

Sex work is work.

Sex workers’ livelihoods shouldn’t depend on the whims of politicians and corporations. Using financial products and services like Mastercard and PayPal, and access to websites that use these payment processors, can make or break a sex worker’s ability to work and survive in our increasingly virtual society. Economic freedom, healthcare, and other basic rights are inaccessible when politicians and corporations don’t treat sex work like they would any other job.

Criminalizing and marginalizing sex work does not make sex workers safer.

Laws that criminalize sex work make sex workers more vulnerable to abuse by clients, law enforcement, and others who target and harass sex workers or those perceived as sex workers, such as many trans women of color. Abusers know that sex workers often will not report out of fear of arrest. Similarly, not allowing sex workers full access to web platforms and financial services makes it harder for sex workers to survive.

Sex workers became even more vulnerable to abuse from clients after the passage of SESTA/FOSTA in 2018. The law had the effect of eliminating many online platforms for sex workers, including client screening services like Redbook, which allowed sex workers to share information about abusive and dangerous customers and build communities to protect themselves. The law also pushed more sex workers offline and into the streets, where they have to work in isolated areas to avoid arrest, and deal with clients without background checks.

Sex worker reform advocates are making progress.

In June, the ACLU joined 22 other civil rights groups in demanding a stop to financial platforms’ practices that harm vulnerable communities by shutting people out without due process. After facing months of pressure from sex workers’ rights activists, the online platform OnlyFans suspended a planned policy to ban pornography, which would have gone into effect on October 1. These efforts prove that activism is working.

Financial services companies must ensure that sex workers have access to services.

Mastercard must end their policy unfairly targeting the adult content industry and ensure equitable access to financial services. In addition to reversing discriminatory policies, Mastercard must sit down with stakeholders to develop solutions that create stability and reduce harm for sex workers. We must discourage companies from passing similar policies or otherwise denying services to sex workers.

To join the fight, tweet @Mastercard to end this policy and protect sex workers’ rights.

Are you a sex worker/adult content professional who has been affected by financial discrimination?

Let us know. Please email me at lzannell@aclu.org.

What you can do:Congress: Pass the Equality ActSend your message

Justice is on the Ballot: Make an Informed Decision for New Orleans Sheriff

Orleans Parish is the most populous in all of Louisiana, and is home to the eighth largest correctional facility in the nation. There is a heavily contested plan to build a new 89-bed jail facility on Perdido Street to treat people with mental health problems. Studies have found that incarceration can worsen mental illness, and that investing in treating people in their communities can be an effective alternative.

The proposed new jail would cost taxpayers at least $51 million to build. An alternative to the new jail is a plan proposed by the City Council to improve the current jail to meet the needs of people with mental health conditions, which would cost taxpayers significantly less – $9 million.

In addition, under the policy of the current sheriff, people in custody do not get free phone calls. Families spend millions of dollars on phone calls to and from incarcerated people in Louisiana. Charging fees for all phone calls makes it difficult to maintain family and community bonds and burdens families that do not have the financial means to afford these calls.

The ACLU does not endorse or oppose individual candidates, but we urge you to make an informed decision in this critical election.

The ACLU is a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse or oppose candidates. This campaign informs Louisianans on candidates’ positions before they cast their ballot.

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The People of South Carolina Deserve Fair Maps — And a Fair Process to Get There

As redistricting ramps up nationwide following the U.S. census, the state of South Carolina has not been forthcoming about its schedule for drawing new electoral lines. In fact, even though this process only happens once a decade and determines the political power of millions, the legislature just adjourned for the fall, delaying the process by months as the 2022 election cycle fast approaches. And we don’t know when they are coming back. That’s why the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the state establish a concrete, transparent redistricting schedule. South Carolinians deserve to know when their electoral maps will be drawn — and that they will be drawn fairly.

Redistricting is not easy. To achieve equal population among districts while respecting existing communities and complying with relevant laws, the Supreme Court has emphasized that redistricting requires a meticulous, “intensely local” analysis. This analysis requires local input. Yet the legislature has held minimal hearings, many only in person despite the delta variant of COVID-19, and many at times that do not work for working people.

The analysis also takes time. Yet, on Sept. 22, the state House announced it would adjourn for the fall without proposing new maps. On Sept. 24, the state Senate followed suit, noting there was no point in coming to work if proposed bills, including redistricting bills, were just going to “languish” until the House returned. Neither the legislature nor the governor has committed to convening a special session to fulfill their once-in-a-decade, time-consuming, and time-sensitive obligation. Although the legislature has claimed that delays are attributable to COVID-19 pushing the release of federal census data to the states, that’s just more reason not to adjourn.

The legislature’s abrupt decision to delay the redistricting process presents an immediate problem. Right now, the state House, state Senate, and U.S. congressional districts in South Carolina are severely out of proportion. That’s because they were last drawn with population data from 2010, after the last census. But South Carolina’s population has shifted significantly since then, such that some districts now have far too many residents and others too few. For example, South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District is now almost 12 percent underpopulated, while the First Congressional District is almost 12 percent overpopulated. This means that, at this very moment, the people of the First District are having their voices diluted.

Candidates for political office at all levels are also harmed. They and their supporters do not know where their voters will be and therefore cannot begin mobilizing them. This is particularly true for independent candidates and their supporters, who need to take the additional step of collecting thousands of signatures ahead of the March 30 deadline just to get on the ballot. Until the legislature reconvenes and passes new, legally compliant maps — and the governor signs them into law — the current, unfair maps will stay intact.

Map-making also takes time because, especially in South Carolina, maps are virtually always challenged in court to ensure compliance with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. South Carolina’s maps have been litigated every decade since the Voting Rights Act was passed — in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Many of those times, a court had to throw out the state’s proposed maps because they violated the law. Most of these cycles, it took about four to six months for the court to hear and resolve the case. One cycle, it took years. In other words, even if the legislature came back today, they’d be cutting pretty close for comfort.

In fact, if legally acceptable maps are not passed in time, a court may have to order the illegal ones to stay in place simply to avoid voter confusion prior to the filing deadlines, primaries, and general election. That perverse result would be directly attributable to the legislature’s unacceptable delay. That’s why we need the court to step in now.

South Carolina’s legislature must make the redistricting process more transparent. It must also provide adequate time for local input on, and inevitable litigation concerning, their proposed new district lines. The public must be fully engaged to ensure that all communities are fairly represented by the advocates of their choice. Too much is at stake. Redistricting affects representation, and representation affects everything else, from our schools to our health care to our criminal justice system. South Carolinians demand maps that are fair and representative, and for that they need a transparent, trustworthy process to get them there.

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What to Know About the Abortion Case Before the Supreme Court Today

Across the country, politicians are using every trick in the book in their attempts to ban abortion and force people to stay pregnant against their will — and they’re trying to recruit the Supreme Court to help them. Today the Supreme Court will review a case — brought by EMW Women’s Surgical Center, which is represented by the ACLU — about one of those attempts: Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s last-minute effort to intervene in a case challenging a Kentucky abortion ban already declared unconstitutional by two courts.

The specific question before the court is a narrow, procedural one, but if the court rules for Cameron, it will open the door for him to put this unconstitutional ban into effect. As the court prepares to hear our case, here’s what to know.

This isn’t just about Kentucky.

The Kentucky law at issue in the Supreme Court case cannot be viewed in isolation. This year, politicians passed a record number of laws restricting and banning abortion — more than 100 this year alone.

The stakes are high going into this Supreme Court term.

In September, five justices turned their backs on the Constitution by allowing Texas’ radical new abortion ban, S.B. 8, to go into effect. The court effectively stripped Texans of their constitutional right to abortion in the dead of night. With a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade set to be heard this term by the court, the reproductive freedom of people across the country is on the line.

State legislatures across the country have been undermining Roe since 1973.

Since Roe was decided in 1973, state legislatures have been chipping away at abortion access, passing more than 1,300 restrictions that aim to force people to remain pregnant. Though many have been blocked by courts, too many have gone into effect and created unnecessary barriers to abortion, including laws that prevent people from using their insurance to pay for an abortion, that force people to make unnecessary trips to the clinic, and that force clinics to shut down. All of these laws push abortion further and further out of reach and as a result even today the right to have an abortion is a right in name only for too many people.

Before Cameron’s attempt to intervene, multiple lower courts had already ruled Kentucky’s ban was unconstitutional.

After we challenged the ban on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center in 2018, the attorney general decided not to defend the law and got out of the case. The case went forward against other officials from the state, and after the trial, the court ruled in our favor and declared the law unconstitutional. And when that decision was appealed, the Sixth Circuit affirmed that was correct and that the law violated Kentuckians’ constitutional rights. It was only at the eleventh hour, after the appeals court issued its decision, that the attorney general came back and asked for another bite at the apple. But the court ruled that he was too late.

People in Kentucky already face a slew of barriers to abortion care. The last thing they need is another ban.

The law in question in this case bans a specific abortion procedure that has been standard medical practice for decades. If the abortion ban goes into effect, it would essentially ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Kentucky. Other restrictions in the state include:

  • Requiring patients to have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion;
  • Forcing patients under 18 to get permission from a parent or judge in order to have an abortion;
  • Requiring doctors to provide an ultrasound, narrate fetal development, and make the heart tones audible regardless of whether the patient wants to hear it;
  • Prohibiting private insurance from covering abortion in most circumstances, and completely for public employees; and
  • Prohibiting the use of telemedicine to prescribe medication abortion pills, even during a pandemic.

Due to laws like these, abortion access in Kentucky has been decimated — only two providers remain, essentially forcing pregnancy on many individuals who can’t otherwise get care. And only one provider, EMW Women’s Surgical Center (the plaintiff in the case), provides abortion beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy. Kentucky politicians have done everything they can to push the procedure out of reach in the commonwealth, including passing a six-week ban that was ultimately blocked in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of EMW. This case is yet another effort to push an extreme agenda.

These laws disproportionately harm people of color and low-income communities.

Because of systemic racism and structural inequality in our country’s healthcare system, abortion restrictions fall hardest on people of color, low-income people, youth, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people in rural areas, and other marginalized communities. Preventing people from obtaining the abortion care they need and forcing them to carry pregnancies against their wishes poses an increased risk to their very lives, especially for Black women, due to the disproportionate impacts of the maternal mortality crisis.

It’s not enough to defeat the bans. We must ensure that people can actually get the care they need.

Too many people live in places where Roe has been rendered meaningless by anti-abortion restrictions designed to harass, guilt, and shame patients out of seeking abortion care, or block the care entirely. Many of these restrictions don’t ban abortion outright but chip away at access by forcing patients to delay care, shutting down clinics, and making abortion unaffordable for low-income communities.

Congress could prevent this. Before it now is a bill that would protect the constitutional abortion rights of all people, no matter where they live. The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) would provide a nationwide safeguard against abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions that push abortion care out of reach. The House has already passed the WHPA, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. Send a message to your Senator today.

What you can do:Defend Abortion Access for AllSend your message

What the Supreme Court Could Do About Mass Incarceration in the Current Term

As the Supreme Court kicks off another term this week, we should make one thing abundantly clear: Nine lawyers in black robes will not end mass incarceration and systemic racism in America. Not this term, not any. That doesn’t, however, mean the criminal law cases being argued and decided between now and June are inconsequential. The Justices could, if they choose, place meaningful limits on the power of local officials — police, prosecutors, judges — and give sharper teeth to key constitutional protections. This is why the ACLU tracks these cases closely and participates in many. They matter.

That said, we should be clear-eyed about what the justices can do, what they can’t do, and how you can fill in the gaps. With that in mind, here are three cases worth your attention:

Thompson v. Clark (argument Oct. 12, 2021)

In 2014, NYPD officers wrongfully barged into Larry Thompson’s Brooklyn home and pinned him to the ground after he demanded to see a warrant that they did not produce. To deflect blame, the officers falsely accused him of resisting arrest. When the charges were finally dropped, Thompson sued the police, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. But New York federal judges tossed the case. They ruled that Thompson had to show “affirmative indications of innocence” before he could sue.

This makes no sense. People accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and may not have the time or resources to prove their own innocence before charges are dropped. Instead, the dropping of charges itself should be enough to indicate that the criminal proceeding has ended favorably for the accused, and a civil rights case can begin.

  • What the justices could do: Support both the presumption of innocence and law enforcement accountability by rejecting the “actual indication of innocence” standard.
  • What they can’t do: End law enforcement abuses and cover-ups, so that the next Larry Thompson is never assaulted at all, much less falsely accused of assault himself.
  • What you can do to fill the gap: Vote for prosecutors, sheriffs, judges, and mayors who commit to changing police abuses; lobby for legislation that eliminates the myriad procedural bars to civil rights suits that erect an almost impenetrable protective shell around law enforcement.
Frasier v. Evans (argument not yet granted)

Speaking of procedural bars to police accountability, there is of course qualified immunity, which lets police and other public officials off the hook for constitutional violations unless the law is already “clearly established.” In practice, this is a virtually impossible standard to meet. Qualified immunity and its fatal flaws have gained national recognition in the wake of racial justice uprisings since the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but we’re still awaiting its elimination.

In this case, Levi Frasier recorded Denver police officers punching a man in the head. The police officers then seized Frasier’s tablet, trying to erase the video. Frasier rightly sued under the First Amendment, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (wrongly, in our opinion) granted the officers qualified immunity — even though they had been trained that the public was allowed to record them.

  • What the justices could do: Affirm the clearly established right to record the police doing their jobs and eliminate qualified immunity altogether. Because qualified immunity is a judge-made doctrine in the first place, the Justices could simply eliminate qualified immunity. This would be a game-changer.
  • What they can’t do: Stop police from punching people in the face.
  • What you can do fill in the gap: While we continue to press the court to fix qualified immunity itself, you can lobby your federal and state lawmakers to get rid of it via statute. Colorado is a good example. Since this case was filed, Colorado has taken steps to eliminate qualified immunity for state civil rights actions. On the ground advocacy can create the momentum necessary to push state and local actors to fill in the gaps that SCOTUS refuses to address.
Hemphill v. State of New York (argument Oct. 5, 2021)

Here, prosecutors in the Bronx charged a man named Nicholas Morris with murder after a person was shot during a large fight on the street. Morris’ case ended in a mistrial. The prosecutors, undeterred, then charged Darrell Hemphill for the same murder, arguing he was the real gunman during the fight. Unsurprisingly, Hemphill implicated Morris. Prosecutors then introduced statements from Morris that contradicted Hemphill’s story, but without producing Morris himself to testify in court. The judge allowed Morris’s hearsay statement into evidence, claiming that, without it, Hemphill’s defense would “mislead” the jury. Hemphill — now serving 25 years for the murder — argues that the Constitution guaranteed his right to cross-examine Morris directly in court.

Hemphill is right.

  • What the justices could do: Affirm that the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause is iron-clad, and judges cannot simply waive it by asserting that the defense is somehow misleading. It’s the jury’s job to decide the truth, not the judge’s.
  • What they can’t do: Meaningfully cut back on prosecutors’ and judges’ discretion to circumvent trial rights, including trials themselves.
  • What you can do to fill in the gap: Once again, vote for prosecutors and judges who take their constitutional obligations seriously. And in the meantime, support our litigation and legislative efforts to cut back on pretrial detention, eliminate coercive plea bargaining, and take other steps that level the playing field between people accused of crimes and those accusing them.

There are certainly other significant criminal law cases this term, including Shinn v. Ramirez, about a federal court’s power to collect evidence during habeas corpus petitions, and Wooden v. United States, about what prior acts can trigger overly harsh federal sentences for gun possession. There are also cases adjacent to criminal justice in the immigration and national security context, plus cases that have yet to be granted.

More important than the outcome of any one case, however, we should learn to analyze the Supreme Court in light of what it can and can’t do for real people caught in the broken gears of our justice system — and then get to work making up the difference.

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10 Emerging Artists Share What Systemic Equality Means to Them

We worked with 10 visual artists to create images of what achieving Systemic Equality could look like — a vision of a more inclusive and equitable future for America. A future that roots out injustice, challenges our racist institutions, and ensures that every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism. We asked them to be bold in envisioning this reimagining of systems: from bridging the racial wealth gap, to reconciling our past, to ensuring our future expands access for all and empowers all communities. Their work is inspired by these results. Accompanying each piece is a personal statement from the artist about the world they envision on issues such as student debt, fair housing, voting rights, and more.

Greg Dubois

“A large step towards systemic equality is ensuring that high speed internet access is expanded out to the millions of people of color who don’t have access to it. My graphic is an idealistic portrayal of an America in which that basic necessity is provided to all — giving everyone real access to education, health care, financial growth, governmental support systems, and overall connections that can uplift and empower those who’ve been held back from years of systemic inequality.”

Greg is an award winning Haitian-Canadian visual designer, who started his design journey over 10 years ago. His passion for visual storytelling drives him to constantly create art and designs that weave together colors, textures, patterns, and typography to craft his vision. Greg hopes that his work, if nothing else, captivates, inspires, and provides insight to who he is and what he believes in.

Sophia Zarders

“The intersections of race, history, and ancestry have frequently been at the core of my work. The generational tradition of storytelling, looking through old photos and mapping the family tree have been powerful tools in discovering and understanding my ancestry and America’s history. ‘Demand Reparations’ is a continuation of these themes by conveying a shared history of Black and Indigenous communities. Though none of the figures depicted are based on anyone in particular, I wanted to create a specific yet familiar familial lineage that viewers could identify with in some aspect. The message is clear: this country was built on the thankless hard work and immense suffering of our ancestors. We demand reparations.”

Sophia Zarders (she/they) is an illustrator, comic artist, and independent zine publisher from Long Beach, California. Their work has been published by HarperCollins, The Nation, PRISM, Fiyah Literary Magazine and Razorcake Magazine. They’ve been commissioned by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, SaveArtSpace, Forward Together, and the Arts Council of Long Beach. In 2018, they exhibited their first solo show at Somos Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Sophia is currently pursuing their MFA in Visual Art from Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Jade Orlando

“I imagine inequality and racism as weeds with roots burrowing deep into our country’s foundation. This piece highlights a future where we dig out and destroy the roots of injustice, allowing a more beautiful country to bloom for every American.”

Jade Orlando is a Black biracial illustrator working in Atlanta, Georgia. Her illustrations are featured in books such as Generation Brave, Hey You! and the Activists Assemble series. In addition to book illustration, her art can be found on products ranging from greeting cards to calendars. Jade lives with her husband, four cats, and a Greyhound named Petra. When she’s not illustrating, you can usually find her curled up with her pets and a really good book.

Mia Saine

“Equity can be configured when accessibility is finally given. People have the human right to obtain and experience the freedom they have been promised.

Accessibility dismantles the pillars that barricade our communities from experiencing progression and healing. Beyond the endless cycle of disconnection, people can finally see their lives at true value and being to see communities flourish. This change would offer us the opportunity to build various aspirations and resources to secure a sturdier foundation for everyone.”

Memphis-native illustrator and designer Mia Saine is a non-binary Black creative seeking to share a more positive, inclusive narrative. Saine’s colorful, minimal digital illustrations strive to normalize and amplify minorities’ voices and experiences. Saine triumphs the constant cycle of injustice, tropes, and stereotypes by showcasing minorities, especially Black individuals, embracing their self-empowerment and happiness.

Kahlief Steele

“Do my loved ones truly see me? Do they hear me? Do they feel me? Caught in the crossfire between my white family and friends and my Blackness, I often feel lost in the void.

This work is a natural way for me to communicate these sentiments. Harsh lines and contrast show the differences we have, but the shared range of values recognize that reconciliation is still within reach. The only colors in the piece, green and red, hearken back to our roots in the Pan-African flag. Texture bursts throughout, indicating the gritty nature of the work we’ve done and have yet to do.

Taking broken fragments and piecing them together to make something captivating, I show that the sometimes confused and complicated feelings we have are valid and worthy of being heard.”

Graduating in 2015 from Missouri Southern State University with a BFA in graphic design, Kahlief Steele finds ways to use his design skills to solve problems for a variety of clients, including large businesses, nonprofits, friends, and family. Having been raised by a white family, he has a deep longing for knowledge about his heritage. As such, every February, he amasses a trove of information related to Black History and publishes art to educate those who are unfamiliar. In the summer following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, he hosted a Q+A session to foster conversation with those who were unsure of the next steps to take. He continues to create work that inspires others to greater understanding and to take action.

Nadia Fisher

“I created this piece to emphasize the importance of protecting voting rights for everyone. I wanted to illustrate something to show that in order to fight democracy and equity, we have to protect voting rights. The stars in the background represent the states, as they are the ones that are currently trying to pass laws, at an alarming rate, to suppress voting rights, and the flag represents the rights that we are trying to protect and expand.”

Nadia Fisher is a children’s book and freelance illustrator based out of Washington, D.C. striving to normalize inclusion in children’s books and the illustration world. A lot of her art focuses on social justice, and Nadia hopes to encourage people to find their voice and show up for others.

Daniella Uche-Oji

“I created a design about the Tulsa Race Massacre. There was a thriving Black community in the U.S.! There was a successful Black community in the U.S. but, of course because, ‘Black people aren’t supposed to own anything’ they didn’t let it survive. This is another incident I feel should have been taught in schools abroad, especially African countries, but unfortunately wasn’t for whatever reason — I personally never learned about it until I moved here. Despite all that has happened to all Black people around the world, be it slavery or colonization, there has always been a dire need to take things away from us. Things that we have ‘owned;’ natural resources on our land, and this same mindset caused the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma to be raided and destroyed for NO REASON AT ALL.”

Daniella Uche-Oji is a designer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. She was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Her obsession for storytelling and technology drove her to becoming a designer. She is skilled at graphic and motion designs that tell stories she didn’t get to hear earlier in her life. Her designs are largely inspired by culture, music, fashion, and technology.

Alexa Lima

“What would our society look like for Black and Indigenous people of color if systemic racism no longer thrived? Drawing from a video recording of Nina Simone back in 1968 being asked ‘what is freedom to you?’ the artist was inspired to convey her response through the medium of digital collage. Simone states that freedom to her meant ‘absolutely no fear!’ With this piece, the artist explores what true freedom would look like for her people when absolutely nothing is hindering us, including fear, and we are able to live our truly authentic lives.”

Alexa Lima is an interdisciplinary artist who resides in Marietta, Georgia with her husband, two step-kids, a dog named Zelda, and a cat named Benny. Creating movement through the lens of minimalism is the constant idea that she aims to convey through her work, and centers her design ethos around illuminating that which has been cast aside throughout time. Currently, she is running Ulterior Studio, self-publishing short-run zines, and trying not to consume all the pastries, all the time.

Justine Swindell

“This illustration depicts the collaboration it takes across policymakers, institutions, and individuals to close the racial wealth gap. There are many symbolic references including a nod to the many pins and bumper stickers that surface during social movements. The image is layered on a flat black and white divide with all-American denim on both sides. On the denim jacket there are several pins and patches highlighting a few solutions. Lastly, the closure of the jacket represents possibility for a better future, a real and tangible shift to equal opportunity for all.”

Justine Swindell is a multidisciplinary artist based in Washington D.C. In her neo-pop style she tells visual stories of city life, cultural identity, and social change.

Nicole Abrokwa

“This piece represents the fear and overwhelming feeling of having student debt. It’s like being lost at sea, helpless with nothing supporting you but your cap. A life preserver enters the scene literally saving you, because at this point student loans are loans paid off for life.”

Nicole Abrokwa is a multidisciplinary artist. Her work pulls from her life experiences, whether that be her Ghanaian heritage, her childhood memories, or everyday life. Her work puts focus on human emotions and capturing moments of closeness. Over the years, Nicole has worked on honing her skills in various mediums ranging from digital animations to traditional paintings. When not creating, you can find her unsuccessfully attempting to grow tomatoes and starting another book only for it to be left unfinished.

What you can do:Take the pledge: Systemic Equality AgendaSign up

People Who Would Benefit from A Pathway to Citizenship Send Message to Congress

For the first time in a decade, Congress has a real opportunity to deliver a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. For too long, immigrants who’ve called America home for most of their lives have still been forced to live in fear of deportation and the possibility they could be torn apart from their families and communities.

Congress proposed legislative solutions this year among growing momentum and pressure from constituents. More than 70% of people support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. But the Senate parliamentarian has ruled against two proposals to put immigrants–including people who came to the country as kids, people with a form of protection called Temporary Protected Status, farm workers and essential workers–on a pathway to citizenship. We are angry, but not defeated.

We recently joined Human Rights Watch and more than 50 other civil rights and human rights organizations to call on the White House and Congressional leadership to find an alternate route to deliver on the long-held promise to enact a path to citizenship and lasting protections for undocumented immigrants. Congress must do its job and get the job done this year. If Congress fails, millions of people will be denied the chance to live free from the threat of deportation, again.

We talked with directly-impacted people about the urgency of this moment.

Paola Garcia

Paola Garcia came to the United States from León, Guanajuato, Mexico when she was 2-years-old with both of her parents. Ever since then, they’ve been involved in an ongoing struggle to become citizens. Paola’s dad endured a fight for his own citizenship that lasted more than a decade and went all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court. He eventually won his legal battle, but by that time, Paola had aged out of being given priority status to become a citizen. She is currently protected from deportation by the DACA program, which continues to undergo legal challenge and was never intended as a permanent solution.

“The Biden administration said they would do their best to make some type of immigration reform in the first 100 days,” Paola said. “Those 100 days are up and I’m still waiting unfortunately. The only thing that could grant me access as a legal citizen here would be if there was some type of legislation.”

Paola is urging Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship so she can continue being an advocate in her community without fear of deportation.

“If I could say something to Congress, I would ask them ‘What inspired you from the very beginning to become a representative for people?’ When you think about that answer, most of the reasons they would give are the same reasons that immigrants come to West Virginia, the same reasons that immigrants come to the United States. We want to contribute. We make America richer – not just financially – culturally, physically, mentally, spiritually, all of that. We need all of that, especially right now. America is in a big world of hurt. We need people to take up responsibility. We need people to become community leaders. The majority of us just want to better ourselves, the country, and our communities just like anyone who is in Congress.”

Irma Flores

Irma Flores came to the United States 20 years ago following an earthquake in El Salvador.

“I made the decision to come to this country to try to find better opportunities and better education for my son and my daughter,” Irma said.

Irma was granted Temporary Protected Status. She had trouble navigating the school system for her young kids and decided to start educating other immigrant families to help them navigate the schools too.

“My commitment with the immigrant community has been supporting them, bringing services, and letting them know we have rights because that is something we didn’t know when we came to this country,” Irma said.

Irma now has five grandchildren and is fighting for a pathway to citizenship because it will provide stability for her family and allow them to travel to see family members in El Salvador. Her family was hit by tragedy when her father died last year.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to go and say goodbye to him because we can’t. I don’t want that to happen if something happens to my mom. A path to citizenship will help people like us, human beings who have family in other countries and we are not able to visit. We need to have that connection to see our families. I have seen a lot of families in the same situation,” Irma said.

Irma is urging Congress to act upon its promises and deliver for families like hers.

“After the many promises they have given to us, it’s just time,” Irma said.

Omar Salinas-Chacón

Omar Salinas-Chacón came to the United States after his family became targets of gang violence back home in El Salvador. Omar is a DACA recipient and says the instability of the temporary program impacts every aspect of his life.

“I have to renew my DACA every year and a half and that’s really as far as I can plan out my life. I would like for that to change,” Omar said.

Omar is active in his community as the Kentucky State Manager of the Save the Children Action Network and a board member for the ACLU of Kentucky. He is asking Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship and to consider the desperation so many immigrant families face.

“I want Congress to think: What would it take for them to pack up their entire family and go to a country where they don’t even know the language? Imagine how desperate you are to do that? We don’t choose to leave our homes. All I’m asking is that I become part of this home I’ve called home for over 20 years now,” Omar said.

What you can do:Tell Congress: Pathway to Citizenship for Immigrants NowSend your message

Texas’ Radical Abortion Ban Could Lead to Copycat Bills. Here’s What to Know.

*This information was last updated on October 7, 2021, after a federal court blocked SB 8. If you have questions about or need an abortion in Texas, visit needabortion.org.

Texas’ new abortion ban, SB 8, is designed to ban abortion for most people in Texas and encourage anybody, anywhere, to sue a person who performed or helped someone get an abortion in violation of the ban. While SB 8 is uniquely egregious, it’s a stark example of what’s at stake in the nationwide fight for reproductive freedom. Its impact could spread to millions more nationwide if other states follow suit with copycat bills.

Here’s what to know about SB 8.*

Read more on Texas abortion laws

Is SB 8 in effect?

No, SB 8 was blocked by a federal court on October 6, 2021 after it wreaked havoc in the state for over a month.

Is abortion legal in Texas under SB 8?

Texans still have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, though it’s a right in name only when SB 8 is in effect. Texas politicians are trying to use SB 8 to run roughshod over the constitutional right to abortion by blocking patients from getting the care they need if they are beyond six weeks of pregnancy.

How far into pregnancy are abortions prohibited under SB 8?

Under SB 8, the state of Texas bans abortions if any fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which is after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks in another state or country?

No. First, remember that SB 8 does not allow lawsuits against the person who receives an abortion. Second, SB 8 does not apply to abortions provided outside of Texas, so helping someone leave the state for care after six weeks would not be illegal. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not try to bring a lawsuit against people who refer or provide assistance to patients seeking abortion care outside of Texas.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to donate to a Texas abortion fund if it helps someone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy?

Abortions performed under six weeks are not prohibited and SB 8 does not apply to abortions obtained out of state, so funding those abortions is not a violation of SB 8. Moreover, donating money is a protected First Amendment activity. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not bring a lawsuit against those who donate to an abortion fund, though the risk of liability is very low. If you wish to donate to organizations fighting forced pregnancy in Texas, you can find a list here.

Where in Texas can you get an abortion?

The following cities have one or more abortion providers: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, Waco, and San Antonio. For a full list of abortion providers in Texas, go to: www.needabortion.org.

Can patients under 18 get an abortion in Texas?

Yes. However, if you are under 18, Texas law generally requires you to get the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you are legally emancipated, you do not need the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you don’t have consent from a parent or legal guardian or can’t ask, you can find more options below.

What if a patient under 18 doesn’t have consent for an abortion from a parent or legal guardian?

A person under 18 can get an abortion without the consent of their parent or legal guardian by filing an application for a judicial bypass. Judicial bypass is a way to get a judge’s permission for you to have an abortion without your parent or guardian’s consent. The process is entirely confidential. If the judge decides that you are mature enough to decide for yourself or that telling your parents would not be in your best interest or could lead to abuse, they will give you a court order that you can take to your doctor. If you think you might need a judicial bypass, there are lawyers who can help. Jane’s Due Process assists minors with the judicial bypass process, including by providing legal representation. You can reach them by phone at 1-866-999-5263 or online at: janesdueprocess.org. Because SB 8 limits the time in which you can get an abortion so severely, you should contact them as soon as possible if you want to get an abortion.

Is abortion safe?

Yes, abortion is an extremely safe and common procedure. At current rates, about one in four Americans who can become pregnant have had an abortion by the age of 45. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and about 14 times safer than childbirth.

Is it true that Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S.?

Yes. Texas’ abortion laws were some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country even before SB 8 was passed. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose some of Texas’ abortion laws because excessive restrictions on abortion care jeopardize patients’ health. As a result of these laws, there are not enough abortion clinics to adequately serve people in the nation’s second-most-populous state. About 900,000 people who are able to become pregnant in Texas live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic.

What about the Supreme Court?

On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court turned its back on Texans and allowed SB 8 to go into effect, eliminating access to approximately 85 to 90 percent of abortions in the state.

The fight against SB 8 continues. On Sept. 23 we asked the Supreme Court to hear the case without waiting for further ruling from the Fifth Circuit. In addition to this lawsuit, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas to block SB 8 in early September.

As litigation proceeds, Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would provide a nationwide safeguard against abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions that push abortion care out of reach. It would protect the constitutional rights of all people, no matter where they live. The WHPA has already passed in the House, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. Send a message to your senator: Defend abortion access for all.

For more information on abortion restrictions in Texas, read the ACLU of Texas’ full guide.

What you can do:Defend Abortion Access for AllSend your message

Texas’ Radical Abortion Ban Could Lead to Copycat Bills. Here’s What to Know.

*This information was last updated on October 7, 2021, after a federal court blocked SB 8. If you have questions about or need an abortion in Texas, visit needabortion.org.

Texas’ new abortion ban, SB 8, is designed to ban abortion for most people in Texas and encourage anybody, anywhere, to sue a person who performed or helped someone get an abortion in violation of the ban. While SB 8 is uniquely egregious, it’s a stark example of what’s at stake in the nationwide fight for reproductive freedom. Its impact could spread to millions more nationwide if other states follow suit with copycat bills.

Here’s what to know about SB 8.*

Read more on Texas abortion laws

Is SB 8 in effect?

No, SB 8 was blocked by a federal court on October 6, 2021 after it wreaked havoc in the state for over a month.

Is abortion legal in Texas under SB 8?

Texans still have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, though it’s a right in name only when SB 8 is in effect. Texas politicians are trying to use SB 8 to run roughshod over the constitutional right to abortion by blocking patients from getting the care they need if they are beyond six weeks of pregnancy.

How far into pregnancy are abortions prohibited under SB 8?

Under SB 8, the state of Texas bans abortions if any fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which is after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks in another state or country?

No. First, remember that SB 8 does not allow lawsuits against the person who receives an abortion. Second, SB 8 does not apply to abortions provided outside of Texas, so helping someone leave the state for care after six weeks would not be illegal. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not try to bring a lawsuit against people who refer or provide assistance to patients seeking abortion care outside of Texas.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to donate to a Texas abortion fund if it helps someone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy?

Abortions performed under six weeks are not prohibited and SB 8 does not apply to abortions obtained out of state, so funding those abortions is not a violation of SB 8. Moreover, donating money is a protected First Amendment activity. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not bring a lawsuit against those who donate to an abortion fund, though the risk of liability is very low. If you wish to donate to organizations fighting forced pregnancy in Texas, you can find a list here.

Where in Texas can you get an abortion?

The following cities have one or more abortion providers: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, Waco, and San Antonio. For a full list of abortion providers in Texas, go to: www.needabortion.org.

Can patients under 18 get an abortion in Texas?

Yes. However, if you are under 18, Texas law generally requires you to get the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you are legally emancipated, you do not need the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you don’t have consent from a parent or legal guardian or can’t ask, you can find more options below.

What if a patient under 18 doesn’t have consent for an abortion from a parent or legal guardian?

A person under 18 can get an abortion without the consent of their parent or legal guardian by filing an application for a judicial bypass. Judicial bypass is a way to get a judge’s permission for you to have an abortion without your parent or guardian’s consent. The process is entirely confidential. If the judge decides that you are mature enough to decide for yourself or that telling your parents would not be in your best interest or could lead to abuse, they will give you a court order that you can take to your doctor. If you think you might need a judicial bypass, there are lawyers who can help. Jane’s Due Process assists minors with the judicial bypass process, including by providing legal representation. You can reach them by phone at 1-866-999-5263 or online at: janesdueprocess.org. Because SB 8 limits the time in which you can get an abortion so severely, you should contact them as soon as possible if you want to get an abortion.

Is abortion safe?

Yes, abortion is an extremely safe and common procedure. At current rates, about one in four Americans who can become pregnant have had an abortion by the age of 45. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and about 14 times safer than childbirth.

Is it true that Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S.?

Yes. Texas’ abortion laws were some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country even before SB 8 was passed. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose some of Texas’ abortion laws because excessive restrictions on abortion care jeopardize patients’ health. As a result of these laws, there are not enough abortion clinics to adequately serve people in the nation’s second-most-populous state. About 900,000 people who are able to become pregnant in Texas live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic.

What about the Supreme Court?

On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court turned its back on Texans and allowed SB 8 to go into effect, eliminating access to approximately 85 to 90 percent of abortions in the state.

The fight against SB 8 continues. On Sept. 23 we asked the Supreme Court to hear the case without waiting for further ruling from the Fifth Circuit. In addition to this lawsuit, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas to block SB 8 in early September.

As litigation proceeds, Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would provide a nationwide safeguard against abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions that push abortion care out of reach. It would protect the constitutional rights of all people, no matter where they live. The WHPA has already passed in the House, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. Send a message to your senator: Defend abortion access for all.

For more information on abortion restrictions in Texas, read the ACLU of Texas’ full guide.

What you can do:Defend Abortion Access for AllSend your message

Here’s What to Know Texas’ Radical New Abortion Ban

Texas’ new abortion ban, SB 8, has banned abortion for most people in Texas and allows anybody, anywhere, to sue a person who performed or helped someone get an abortion in violation of the ban. While SB 8 is uniquely egregious, it’s a stark example of what’s at stake in the nationwide fight for reproductive freedom. Its impact could spread to millions more nationwide if other states follow suit with copycat bills.

Here’s what to know about SB 8.*

*This information was last updated on October 6, 2021. If you have questions about or need an abortion in Texas, visit needabortion.org.

Read more on Texas abortion laws

Is abortion legal in Texas?

Texans still have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, though for many it’s now a right in name only. With SB 8 in effect, Texas is running roughshod over the constitutional right to abortion by blocking patients from getting the care they need if they are beyond six weeks of pregnancy.

How far into pregnancy are abortions prohibited under SB 8?

Under SB 8, the state of Texas bans abortions if any fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which is after approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to get an abortion after six weeks in another state or country?

No. First, remember that SB 8 does not allow lawsuits against the person who receives an abortion. Second, SB 8 does not apply to abortions provided outside of Texas, so helping someone leave the state for care after six weeks would not be illegal. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not try to bring a lawsuit against people who refer or provide assistance to patients seeking abortion care outside of Texas.

Under SB 8, is it illegal to donate to a Texas abortion fund if it helps someone get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy?

Abortions performed under six weeks are not prohibited and SB 8 does not apply to abortions obtained out of state, so funding those abortions is not a violation of SB 8. Moreover, donating money is a protected First Amendment activity. However, it is not possible to guarantee that people attempting to enforce SB 8 will not bring a lawsuit against those who donate to an abortion fund, though the risk of liability is very low. If you wish to donate to organizations fighting forced pregnancy in Texas, you can find a list here.

Where in Texas can you get an abortion?

The following cities have one or more abortion providers: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, Waco, and San Antonio. For a full list of abortion providers in Texas, go to: www.needabortion.org.

Can patients under 18 get an abortion in Texas?

Yes. However, if you are under 18, Texas law generally requires you to get the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you are legally emancipated, you do not need the consent of a parent or legal guardian. If you don’t have consent from a parent or legal guardian or can’t ask, you can find more options below.

What if a patient under 18 doesn’t have consent for an abortion from a parent or legal guardian?

A person under 18 can get an abortion without the consent of their parent or legal guardian by filing an application for a judicial bypass. Judicial bypass is a way to get a judge’s permission for you to have an abortion without your parent or guardian’s consent. The process is entirely confidential. If the judge decides that you are mature enough to decide for yourself or that telling your parents would not be in your best interest or could lead to abuse, they will give you a court order that you can take to your doctor. If you think you might need a judicial bypass, there are lawyers who can help. Jane’s Due Process assists minors with the judicial bypass process, including by providing legal representation. You can reach them by phone at 1-866-999-5263 or online at: janesdueprocess.org. Because SB 8 limits the time in which you can get an abortion so severely, you should contact them as soon as possible if you want to get an abortion.

Is abortion safe?

Yes, abortion is an extremely safe and common procedure. At current rates, about one in four Americans who can become pregnant have had an abortion by the age of 45. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and about 14 times safer than childbirth.

Is it true that Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S.?

Yes. Texas’ abortion laws were some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country even before SB 8 was passed. Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association oppose some of Texas’ abortion laws because excessive restrictions on abortion care jeopardize patients’ health. As a result of these laws, there are not enough abortion clinics to adequately serve people in the nation’s second-most-populous state. About 900,000 people who are able to become pregnant in Texas live more than 150 miles from an abortion clinic.

What about the Supreme Court?

On Sept. 1, the Supreme Court turned its back on Texans and allowed SB 8 to go into effect, eliminating access to approximately 85 to 90 percent of abortions in the state.

The fight against SB 8 continues. On Sept. 23 we asked the Supreme Court to hear the case without waiting for further ruling from the Fifth Circuit. In addition to this lawsuit, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas to block SB 8 in early September.

As litigation proceeds, Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would provide a nationwide safeguard against abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions that push abortion care out of reach. It would protect the constitutional rights of all people, no matter where they live. The WHPA has already passed in the House, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. Send a message to your senator: Defend abortion access for all.

For more information on abortion restrictions in Texas, read the ACLU of Texas’ full guide.

What you can do:Defend Abortion Access for AllSend your message

More of the Same: Private Prison Corporations and Immigration Detention Under the Biden Administration

Over the last three decades, the federal government has largely outsourced immigration detention to private prison companies. Today, private prison corporations like the GEO Group, CoreCivic, LaSalle Corrections, and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) own or operate facilities that hold the overwhelming majority of detained people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

During the Trump administration, ICE expanded the immigration detention system by over 50 percent, signing contracts to open over 40 new detention facilities. This expansion overwhelmingly benefitted private prison companies, which housed 91 percent of all people held in detention centers that opened during those years. In a review of these new contracts, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that ICE failed to adhere to its own process for signing these agreements, concluding that ICE did not have documentation to justify the need for the space. The GAO also found that ICE disregarded the input of staff who advised against the use of several new facilities because of safety issues, understaffing, and poor conditions. In some instances, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had cancelled its contracts to house prisoners at the same facilities due to abuse and poor conditions.

Today, the Biden administration has the opportunity to reverse these trends. But closer examination shows that little has changed. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order directing the Department of Justice to phase out its contracts with private prison companies. The executive order instructed DOJ not to renew contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, including for Bureau of Prison (BOP) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) sites. But the executive order did not apply to ICE detention facilities.

Today, the Biden administration is filling private prison beds emptied out by its own executive order with detained immigrants.

Four Out of Five People in ICE Detention Remain Held in Privately-Run Facilities

Under the Trump administration, 81 percent of people detained each day in January 2020 were held in facilities owned or operated by private prison corporations.

This number remains virtually unchanged under the Biden administration. As of September 2021, 79 percent of people detained each day in ICE custody are detained in private detention facilities.

https://infogram.com/1pjz6nen2wpdrls6lvv0wpjynmimz6p5k7j?live

Private Prison Corporations Continue to Profit from ICE Detention Contracts

In the past several years, contracts for ICE detention made up approximately 25 percent of total revenue for both CoreCivic and the GEO Group. These corporations earned approximately the same amount of revenue from ICE detention contracts as they earned from Department of Justice (Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service) contracts combined.

https://infogram.com/1p93jd7mv226jzi715l22m93dru3wq921j2?live

Even in spite of significant population reductions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revenues from ICE contracts remained relatively constant for these private prison companies. In 2019, 29 percent of CoreCivic’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts, at a total of $574 million. In 2020, 28 percent of CoreCivic’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts, at a total of $533 million. Twenty-eight percent of GEO’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts in both 2019 and 2020, at a total of $708 million in 2019 and $662 million in 2020.

The Biden Administration is Helping Private Prison Companies Fill Jail Cells Emptied by its Own Executive Order with Immigrant Detainees

As criminal justice reforms have reduced the number of incarcerated people held nationwide, private prison corporations have found themselves with empty beds to fill. Under the Trump administration, private prison corporations found a new source of income: detained immigrants. For example, after Louisiana enacted sentencing reform measures in 2019, the state’s incarceration dropped by almost 9,000 people in less than two years. Faced with the prospect of empty cells, private prison companies in Louisiana secured new contracts to detain over 6,000 more immigrants under the Trump administration. Private prison corporations in Texas also benefited from the boom. In many instances, these ICE detention contracts guaranteed minimum provisions that the GAO has concluded lacked “a strategic approach,” paying private prison corporations millions of dollars a month on unused detention beds. Today, ICE detains 42 percent of all immigrant detainees in Texas and Louisiana alone. At least 11 of these facilities have shifted operations entirely to detaining immigrants.

Even detention facilities that had lost their contracts with the federal government due to poor conditions won new ICE detention contracts—even over the objections of local ICE officials. In 2019, the Bureau of Prisons discontinued its use of the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Mississippi after understaffing, lack of medical care, and poor conditions led to deadly riots. Local ICE officers objected to the use of the Adams County facility as an immigration detention facility, but were overridden by ICE headquarters. Soon after, CoreCivic announced that it won a new contract to hold ICE detainees, noting that “more favorable contract terms . . . mitigated the impact of lower occupancy at this facility.”

In January 2021, GEO announced that the Bureau of Prisons had declined to renew its contract for the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, which was expected to generate $42 million in annualized revenue. GEO then informed its investors that it expected to market the facility “to other federal and state agencies.”

In September 2021, the GEO Group announced that it would reopen the facility as an ICE detention facility. Another federal contract with the Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas, run by CoreCivic, is set to expire in December, and may also be in line to become another ICE detention facility. CoreCivic is actively attempting to replace its U.S. Marshals Service contract with an ICE detention contract at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, Tennessee.

This must change. The Biden administration must truly reverse course on immigration detention. It must begin by dramatically reducing detention rates, and investing in proven alternatives to detention, instead of wasting billions of dollars to support the coffers of private prison companies.

What you can do:Shut Down the ICE Detention MachineSend your message

More of the Same: Private Prison Corporations and Immigration Detention Under the Biden Administration

Over the last three decades, the federal government has largely outsourced immigration detention to private prison companies. Today, private prison corporations like the GEO Group, CoreCivic, LaSalle Corrections, and the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) own or operate facilities that hold the overwhelming majority of detained people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

During the Trump administration, ICE expanded the immigration detention system by over 50 percent, signing contracts to open over 40 new detention facilities. This expansion overwhelmingly benefitted private prison companies, which housed 91 percent of all people held in detention centers that opened during those years. In a review of these new contracts, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that ICE failed to adhere to its own process for signing these agreements, concluding that ICE did not have documentation to justify the need for the space. The GAO also found that ICE disregarded the input of staff who advised against the use of several new facilities because of safety issues, understaffing, and poor conditions. In some instances, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had cancelled its contracts to house prisoners at the same facilities due to abuse and poor conditions.

Today, the Biden administration has the opportunity to reverse these trends. But closer examination shows that little has changed. In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order directing the Department of Justice to phase out its contracts with private prison companies. The executive order instructed DOJ not to renew contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, including for Bureau of Prison (BOP) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) sites. But the executive order did not apply to ICE detention facilities.

Today, the Biden administration is filling private prison beds emptied out by its own executive order with detained immigrants.

Four Out of Five People in ICE Detention Remain Held in Privately-Run Facilities

Under the Trump administration, 81 percent of people detained each day in January 2020 were held in facilities owned or operated by private prison corporations.

This number remains virtually unchanged under the Biden administration. As of September 2021, 79 percent of people detained each day in ICE custody are detained in private detention facilities.

https://infogram.com/1pjz6nen2wpdrls6lvv0wpjynmimz6p5k7j?live

Private Prison Corporations Continue to Profit from ICE Detention Contracts

In the past several years, contracts for ICE detention made up approximately 25 percent of total revenue for both CoreCivic and the GEO Group. These corporations earned approximately the same amount of revenue from ICE detention contracts as they earned from Department of Justice (Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service) contracts combined.

https://infogram.com/1p93jd7mv226jzi715l22m93dru3wq921j2?live

Even in spite of significant population reductions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, revenues from ICE contracts remained relatively constant for these private prison companies. In 2019, 29 percent of CoreCivic’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts, at a total of $574 million. In 2020, 28 percent of CoreCivic’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts, at a total of $533 million. Twenty-eight percent of GEO’s revenue came from ICE detention contracts in both 2019 and 2020, at a total of $708 million in 2019 and $662 million in 2020.

The Biden Administration is Helping Private Prison Companies Fill Jail Cells Emptied by its Own Executive Order with Immigrant Detainees

As criminal justice reforms have reduced the number of incarcerated people held nationwide, private prison corporations have found themselves with empty beds to fill. Under the Trump administration, private prison corporations found a new source of income: detained immigrants. For example, after Louisiana enacted sentencing reform measures in 2019, the state’s incarceration dropped by almost 9,000 people in less than two years. Faced with the prospect of empty cells, private prison companies in Louisiana secured new contracts to detain over 6,000 more immigrants under the Trump administration. Private prison corporations in Texas also benefited from the boom. In many instances, these ICE detention contracts guaranteed minimum provisions that the GAO has concluded lacked “a strategic approach,” paying private prison corporations millions of dollars a month on unused detention beds. Today, ICE detains 42 percent of all immigrant detainees in Texas and Louisiana alone. At least 11 of these facilities have shifted operations entirely to detaining immigrants.

Even detention facilities that had lost their contracts with the federal government due to poor conditions won new ICE detention contracts—even over the objections of local ICE officials. In 2019, the Bureau of Prisons discontinued its use of the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Mississippi after understaffing, lack of medical care, and poor conditions led to deadly riots. Local ICE officers objected to the use of the Adams County facility as an immigration detention facility, but were overridden by ICE headquarters. Soon after, CoreCivic announced that it won a new contract to hold ICE detainees, noting that “more favorable contract terms . . . mitigated the impact of lower occupancy at this facility.”

In January 2021, GEO announced that the Bureau of Prisons had declined to renew its contract for the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, which was expected to generate $42 million in annualized revenue. GEO then informed its investors that it expected to market the facility “to other federal and state agencies.”

In September 2021, the GEO Group announced that it would reopen the facility as an ICE detention facility. Another federal contract with the Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas, run by CoreCivic, is set to expire in December, and may also be in line to become another ICE detention facility. CoreCivic is actively attempting to replace its U.S. Marshals Service contract with an ICE detention contract at the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, Tennessee.

This must change. The Biden administration must truly reverse course on immigration detention. It must begin by dramatically reducing detention rates, and investing in proven alternatives to detention, instead of wasting billions of dollars to support the coffers of private prison companies.

What you can do:Shut Down the ICE Detention MachineSend your message

Conceal and Carry Restrictions Can Help Protect Freedom of Expression

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in an important legal challenge to New York’s concealed carry law. The law requires people registering for concealed carry gun licenses to demonstrate “proper cause” in order to do so, and in particular to demonstrate a specific need for self-defense if they seek to carry a gun for that purpose.

The question in the case is whether the Second Amendment permits New York to restrict the carriage of firearms in this manner. The meaning, intent and reach of the Second Amendment remain a matter of deep controversy, but the Supreme Court has made clear that Second Amendment rights are not absolute. Regulations on carrying guns in public, both open and concealed, have been common measures throughout American history as a means of maintaining peace and safety in public places. On September 21, the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-court brief in the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, arguing that New Yorks’ limits on carrying guns in public spaces are constitutional. In particular, we argued that states have an important, and historically grounded, interest in restricting the carrying of guns in order to make public spaces safe for democratic participation, including First Amendment activity such as assembly, association, and speech.

What important First Amendment interests are at stake when it comes to carrying guns in public? We sat down with David Cole, ACLU national legal director and Perry Grossman, senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, to address some key questions.

How and why are concealed carry restrictions a First Amendment issue?

States have many justifications for regulating the public carrying of weapons, concealed or otherwise, but one especially important justification is that such restrictions can facilitate civic engagement by promoting safety in public spaces and reducing the chances that any disagreements do not lead to lethal violence.

Democratic self-governance depends on the free-flowing, sometimes heated exchange of ideas, including views that may be shocking, upsetting, or infuriating. Streets, sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces are essential spaces for airing views that may be controversial or unpopular. When people don’t know who may be carrying a concealed weapon, but know that state law allows most, if not all, people to do so, they may rightly fear voicing opinions or assembling with groups that may be controversial or unpopular. One cannot know whether or when an armed person will turn to violence in response to a remark that offends them. Regulating concealed weapons in public promotes robust public debate and even harsh criticism by reducing the likelihood that heated arguments will escalate to intimidation and violence.

What is your response to concerns that criminal laws restricting the possession and carrying of guns continue to be disproportionately applied against Black people?

Black and Brown communities are undeniably disproportionately targeted, policed, and harmed by our criminal legal system, and there is no reason to believe gun law enforcement is any exception. We condemn such discrimination. Discriminatory law enforcement, of gun laws or any other laws, violates the Equal Protection Clause, and warrants serious attention from courts, the police, and our political leaders. But the question presented here is whether the Second Amendment prohibits the states from imposing any restrictions on carrying guns in public, regardless of their motivation or enforcement. Research shows that Black communities are disproportionately harmed by gun violence and that restrictions on gun possession can reduce that harm. Where criminal laws governing firearm possession are either motivated by discrimination or enforced in discriminatory ways, those laws should be challenged under the Equal Protection Clause and other anti-discrimination laws. At the same time, states should not be prohibited from enacting gun restrictions that can reduce injuries and deaths.

Have the ACLU and NYCLU historically advocated proactively on Second Amendment issues? If not, why now?

Until recently, Second Amendment jurisprudence was fairly well-settled and stable. Given the amendment’s reference to “a well regulated Militia” and “the security of a free State,” the courts for nearly 100 years took the position that the Second Amendment protected only a collective right, not an individual right. That longstanding view was upended in 2008 when the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to possess common firearms in the home for self-defense. Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court ruled that the Second Amendment also limited the ability of state and local governments to restrict possession of common firearms in the home. So Second Amendment jurisprudence at the Supreme Court is still in its infancy. This is only the third gun rights case the court will decide since the early 20th century.

We filed a brief with the Supreme Court because in our view, this Second Amendment case has important free speech and First Amendment implications.

Is there a meaningful difference between concealed carry and open carry in terms of their effect on public life?

Whether carried openly or concealed, weapons in public places present safety risks that can inhibit the full exercise of First Amendment rights. Where states have adopted more permissive public carry laws, there have been recent examples of guns interfering with free speech, free assembly, and even the democratic process itself. Open carry can disrupt the public square through the intimidating display of lethal weapons. For example, in 2020, armed protesters forced the suspension of the activities of democratically-elected state legislatures in Michigan and Oregon.

Permissive concealed carry laws can have similarly pernicious consequences. People carrying concealed weapons have used their guns to threaten, injure, or kill people or disrupt speakers and protests espousing views with which they disagreed. Permissive concealed carry can deter people from speaking freely, protesting, or otherwise engaging in civic life by undermining confidence in the safety of spaces where public exchange takes place. Concealed carry restrictions will reduce the fear of intimidation and violence that can deter people from participating in civic life in public places.

What research supports the link between the proliferation of guns and a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment speech and assembly rights?

An analysis of more than 30,000 public demonstrations in the United States between January 2020 and June 2021 found that protests in which people are carrying arms are more than six times as likely to escalate into violence or destruction as unarmed demonstrations. ​​The relatively greater eruption of violence or destruction at armed protests is consistent with social science research on the “weapons effect,” showing that the presence of weapons is likely to make both the carrier and non-carrier more aggressive. Research aggregated by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center shows that the presence of guns can escalate arguments into incidents of intimidation and violence and the utility of guns as instruments of self-defense may be limited. Research further shows that “most Americans are not impervious to the psychological effects of guns in their community, and that by a margin of more than three to one, more guns make others in the community feel less safe rather than more safe,” with women and members of minority groups substantially more likely to report feeling less safe than men and whites.

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My School is Shaming Girls’ Bodies

Last May, I was counting down the final days of my freshman year at Bartram Trail High School and anxiously waiting to pick up my first high school yearbook. When the yearbooks finally came, I rushed down the hallways to the cafeteria to grab my copy and immediately did what every kid does: I flipped through the pages until I found my photo. But when I found it, my stomach dropped. The school had inserted a black rectangular bar across my chest — censoring my body in my high school yearbook without my knowledge or consent.

The fact that an adult teacher had looked at my photo and decided to censor my chest made me feel exposed and embarrassed. The school had censored the photos of at least 80 other students — all girls — to cover up their chests. Meanwhile, the photos of boys were completely untouched — including a photo of the boys’ swimming team, where they were wearing only swim briefs. I realized then that the school’s issue wasn’t with how students were dressed. The school’s issue was with girls’ bodies.

I felt angry and shamed by the school, but not surprised. My high school — and the entire St. Johns County School District, where my high school is located — has enforced its dress code unfairly against girls for as long as I’ve been a student. Until recently, the school district’s dress code set out different rules for boys and girls, including that girls’ tops must cover the shoulder and be “modest and not revealing or distracting” and that girls’ bottoms may not be less than four inches above the knee — something I received a dress code warning for. On top of these gendered rules, the school district has targeted its enforcement against girls, with about 83 percent of dress code violations issued against female students.

Just a few months earlier, my high school conducted dress code sweeps and pulled dozens of girls out of class because their clothes were “out of code.” One teacher even forced a girl to unzip her sweatshirt in front of other students and staff, even though she said would rather not because she was only wearing a sports bra underneath. The school has also conducted dress-code checks when students enter the building, where girls have been disproportionately scrutinized.

As a girl, I feel like the school cared more about what I was wearing than about my education or comfort. I became so anxious about being dress coded that I often second-guessed myself or found myself changing my outfit multiple times before school. Other girls I know have worn long shirts and pants — including in the heat — to prevent scrutiny, and the repeated dress coding caused one girl to have a panic attack in the bathroom. After speaking with fellow classmates, it is clear that these harmful effects can be even worse for transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming students by reinforcing sex stereotypes, as well as for girls of color.

To fight back against the school’s sexist dress code, I created an online petition to call on the school district to stop sexualizing girls’ bodies and to change its policies. I spoke out with my classmates and parents at school board meetings to share our experiences with the dress code. And in July, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Florida sent a letter explaining that gendered dress codes violate our civil rights and asking the St. Johns County school district to end its discriminatory dress code enforcement against girls. Thanks to all of these efforts, the St. Johns County School Board voted to remove the gendered language from its dress code in time for the new school year.

While I’m glad that the school district took this step, it is not enough to change the language of the dress code. The school district must also change its actions.

In addition to passing the gender-neutral dress code, the school district must create policies to prevent future discriminatory enforcement of its dress code against girls — including by ending the humiliating practice of dress code sweeps and scrutinizing students’ bodies and clothing. The school district should also take steps to hear the concerns and feedback of students and parents about the dress code’s enforcement. It is the school district’s responsibility to ensure a safe and equal learning environment in our schools.

When the school board recently met to discuss the dress code, one of the School Board members said: “You understand that there’s a big difference between an elementary school student’s physical anatomy than there is a high school student … A first-grade student has the same physical size as a first-grade student, if I’m making any sense there.” These comments shocked me at the time, and the more I think about them, the more I realize that the school district oversexualizes and views girls’ bodies as a problem.

It’s time to understand that shaming girls is harmful and discriminatory and makes it unnecessarily stressful for us to get an education. Girls shouldn’t be made to feel that there is something wrong with having a body.

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Fill out our intake form if you have experienced discrimination due to dress and grooming policies based on gender stereotypes.

https://action.aclu.org/webform/dress-and-grooming-policies-based-gender-stereotypes

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The PUMP Act Would Protect Nursing Workers Like Me

When started my career as a flight attendant, I never imagined that I wouldn’t be able to continue breastfeeding after I went back to work. I thought that, like most workplaces, my airline would be required by federal law to provide workers a clean, private place and breaks to pump at work. (That’s thanks to a provision known as the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.)

But it turns out my employer isn’t. That’s because flight attendants are among the approximately 9 million women who are excluded from the law’s protection — along with other transportation workers, teachers, agricultural workers, nurses, and many others. A bill before Congress right now — the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act — would fix that. Congress should act now to pass it.

I first realized the pickle I was in when I became pregnant with my first child and found out that my employer, Frontier Airlines, didn’t provide any accommodations for nursing moms. I’d watched other flight attendant moms trying to make it work pumping on the job — and I saw how stressful it was for them. They were too fearful of losing their paychecks to ask the airline to accommodate them. When some of my coworkers did ask for breaks and a place to pump, Frontier actually prohibited them from pumping at work, and even forced them off the job without a paycheck.

That was when I started to feel like Frontier was making me choose between my career and breastfeeding my baby. I believe breast milk is optimal for babies, and I wanted to give him those health benefits. At the same time, I didn’t feel great about pumping in an unsanitary airplane lavatory, and having to scramble to find time to pump between flights, especially given my unpredictable schedule. I was worried I’d lose my job if I had to pump on duty and got reported. Even though I desperately wanted to keep nursing my baby, I just couldn’t see how I could make it work. It was a wrenching decision, but I decided I had no choice but to give up breastfeeding in order to go back to work and support my family.

No woman should have to make that kind of decision. But because of the gap in coverage under the current law, too many of us still do.

The ACLU is representing me in a lawsuit arguing that Frontier’s treatment of pregnant and breastfeeding pilots and flight attendants is discriminatory. But if the airline had not been exempt from the duty under the existing federal Break Time Law to provide breaks and a clean place to pump, we probably would have never had to take Frontier to court over that in the first place.

The PUMP Act would give workers like me the protection we need: a clear requirement that all employers must provide workers who are nursing with the basic accommodations they need. Solutions exist in all industries — including airlines — that would allow employees to pump safely. And the bill would strengthen the law in other ways, extending protections from one year to two years, clarifying that it covers situations like adoption or stillbirth, and ensuring that when employers are not in compliance, there is a meaningful way to enforce it.

The bill has bipartisan support in Congress. Let’s make sure it becomes law so that all workers — no matter what industry they work in — have the choice to continue breastfeeding and the ability to get back to work.

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Our Leaders Have the Power to Decarcerate and Save Lives, But Where is the Will? | American Civil Liberties Union

Research shows that reductions in the United States incarceration rate would have prevented millions of COVID-19 cases and tens of thousands of deaths, both inside jails and prisons and in their surrounding communities. For those of us working with incarcerated people during the pandemic, this confirms what we already know: decarceration will save lives and is a vital part of pandemic response. So why, with the Delta variant tearing through the country and a new, vaccine resistant variant discovered, are we not seeing more releases?

In part, this is due to a failure in leadership. Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants explained the dilemma in his comments on a lawsuit to increase releases from the state’s detention facilities: “We’ve got the governor saying, ‘Not my problem, I shouldn’t be ordered to do something.’ We’ve got the Department of Correction saying, ‘We manage the prisons, the only thing we’re involved with is medical parole,’ and now we’ve got the parole board saying that it’s not their problem. So who’s supposed to do it?” Justice Gants asked.

COVID releases that did occur prove that a range of government actors have the power to release people when they deem it appropriate. This is not a question of authority; it is a question of will.

Governors have the power to commute sentences, as they did everywhere from Washington state to North Carolina. State legislatures can pass bills to release people early, as New Jersey’s did. Corrections departments can expedite releases or release people early, as many states, including Wisconsin and Iowa’s, did. State courts can identify people for early release or appoint special masters to do this as they did in Maryland and Hawaii, or expand those eligible for release hearings as in Massachusetts. Federal courts can act similarly, as when a federal judge ordered federal immigration authorities to immediately release people from Pennsylvania prisons. Criminal judicial systems, superior courts, and district attorneys can adopt policies that fix the presumptive bail amount for certain charged offenses at $0, so that people are not locked in jails due to their poverty and inability to raise enough money to buy their freedom pending trial.

With thousands dead from COVID-19 in U.S. jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers, the failure of officials with the authority to release people to do so is inexcusable. The evidence shows that when jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers reduced the number of people locked up, public safety did not suffer, and that releases save lives.

While ensuring vaccine access is vital, it is not a substitute for decarceration. Breakthrough infections remain a danger even for those who are vaccinated, and vaccinated people are still able to spread the disease to others, including those who are unable to be vaccinated. During a July COVID-19 outbreak in a highly-vaccinated Texas federal prison, for example, 70 percent of vaccinated people were infected, along with 93 percent of unvaccinated people in the prison.

Carceral settings, communal living spaces that often have tight quarters and poor ventilation, are an ideal environment for spreading the highly infectious Delta variant, and the discovery of the vaccine-resistant Mu variant further proves the danger of relying on vaccines alone. The World Health Organization has emphasized the “need to do everything possible to stop the spread of the virus in order to prevent mutations that may reduce the efficacy of existing vaccines.”

As the U.S. battles the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to learn from the mistakes of the first waves, including the failure to release large numbers of people from the prisons, jails, and detention centers that became hotbeds for the virus. Judges, elected officials, and correctional officers have a choice to make as they respond to this wave. They can choose to value public health and the safety of incarcerated people over the will to punish no matter the cost.

What you can do:4,000 People Could Be Sent Back to Prison. Contact Biden Now.Send your message

Family Surveillance by Algorithm: The Rapidly Spreading Tools Few Have Heard Of

Last month, police took American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado’s days-old newborn Ast away because she had not reported her daughter’s birth to authorities, while she was still fighting to regain custody of her son from the state. In February 2021, Syesha had taken her 13-month-old son Amen’Ra to a hospital because he had difficulty transitioning from breast milk to formula and was refusing to eat. What should have been an ordinary medical visit for a new mom prompted a state-contracted child abuse pediatrician with a known history of wrongfully reporting medical conditions as child abuse to call child welfare. Authorities took custody of Amen’Ra on the grounds that Syesha had neglected him. Syesha has been reunited with Ast after substantial media attention and public outrage, but continues to fight for the return of Amen’Ra.

Meanwhile, it took over a year and a half for Erin Yellow Robe, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, to be reunited with her children. Based on an unsubstantiated rumor that Erin was misusing prescription pills, authorities took custody of her children and placed them with white foster parents — despite the federal Indian Child Welfare Act’s requirements and the willingness of relatives and tribal members to care for the children.

For white families, these scenarios typically do not lead to child welfare involvement. For Black and Indigenous families, they often lead to years — potentially a lifetime — of ensnarement in the child welfare system or, as some are now more appropriately calling it, the family regulation system.

Child Welfare as Disparate Policing

Our country’s latest reckoning with structural racism has involved critical reflection on the role of the criminal justice system, education policy, and housing practices in perpetuating racial inequity. The family regulation system needs to be added to this list, along with the algorithms working behind the scenes. That’s why the ACLU has conducted a nationwide survey to learn more about these tools.

Women and children who are Indigenous, Black, or experiencing poverty are disproportionately placed under child welfare’s scrutiny. Once there, Indigenous and Black families fare worse than their white counterparts at nearly every critical step. These disparities are partly the legacy of past social practices and government policies that sought to tear apart Indigenous and Black families. But the disparities are also the result of the continued policing of women in recent years through child welfare practices, public benefits laws, the failed war on drugs, and other criminal justice policies that punish women who fail to conform to particular conceptions of “fit mothers.”

Turning to Predictive Analytics for Solutions

Many child welfare agencies have begun turning to risk assessment tools for reasons ranging from wanting the ability to predict which children are at higher risk for maltreatment to improving agency operations. Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has been using the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST) since 2016. The AFST generates a risk score for complaints received through the county’s child maltreatment hotline by looking at whether certain characteristics of the agency’s past cases are also present in the complaint allegations. Key among these characteristics are family member demographics and prior involvement with the county’s child welfare, jail, juvenile probation, and behavioral health systems. Intake staff then use this risk score as an aide in deciding whether or not to follow up on a complaint with a home study or a formal investigation, or to dismiss it outright.

Like their criminal justice analogues, however, child welfare risk assessment tools do not predict the future. For instance, a recidivism risk assessment tool measures the odds that a person will be arrested in the future, not the odds that they will actually commit a crime. Just as being under arrest doesn’t necessarily mean you did something illegal, a child’s removal from the home, often the target of a prediction model, doesn’t necessarily mean a child was in fact maltreated.

We examined how many jurisdictions across the 50 states, D.C., and U.S. territories are using one category of predictive analytics tools: models that systematically use data collected by jurisdictions’ public agencies to attempt to predict the likelihood that a child in a given situation or location will be maltreated. Here’s what we found:

  • Local or state child welfare agencies in at least 26 states plus D.C. have considered using such predictive tools. Of these, jurisdictions in at least 11 states are currently using them.
  • Large jurisdictions like New York City, Oregon, and Allegheny County have been using predictive analytics for several years now.
  • Some tools currently in use, such as the AFST, are used when deciding whether to refer a complaint for further agency action, while others are used to flag open cases for closer review because the tool deems them to be higher-risk scenarios.
The Flaws of Predictive Analytics

Despite the growing popularity of these tools, few families or advocates have heard about them, much less provided meaningful input into their development and use. Yet countless policy choices and value judgments are made in the course of creating and using the tool, any or all of which can impact whether the tool promotes “fairness” or reduces racial disproportionality in agency action.

Moreover, like the tools we have seen in the criminal legal system, any tool built from a jurisdiction’s historical data runs the risk of continuing and increasing existing bias. Historically over-regulated and over-separated communities may get caught in a feedback loop that quickly magnifies the biases in these systems. Who decides what “high risk” means? When a caseworker sees a “high” risk score for a Black person, do they respond in the same way as they would for a white person?

Ultimately, we must ask whether these tools are the best way to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, when such funds are urgently needed to help families avoid the crises that lead to abuse and neglect allegations.

What the ACLU is Doing

It’s critical that we interrogate these tools before they become entrenched, as they have in the criminal justice system. Information about the data used to create a predictive algorithm, the policy choices embedded in the tool, and the tool’s impact both system-wide and in individual cases are some of the things that should be disclosed to the public before a tool is adopted and throughout its use. In addition to such transparency, jurisdictions need to make available opportunities to question and contest a tool’s implementation or application in a specific instance if our policymakers and elected officials are to be held accountable for the rules and penalties enforced through such tools.

In this vein, the ACLU has requested data from Allegheny County and other jurisdictions to independently evaluate the design and impact of their predictive analytics tools and any measures they may be taking to address fairness, due process, and civil liberty concerns.

It’s time that all of us ask our local policymakers to end the unnecessary and harmful policing of families through the family regulation system.

Read the full white paper:

https://www.aclu.org/fact-sheet/family-surveillance-algorithm

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