ACLU Files Legal Challenge to Solitary Confinement of Sex Offenders Awaiting Civil Commitment Trials in Iowa

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
November 29, 2001 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Iowa
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


DES MOINES–The Iowa Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit on behalf of former convicts who have served their time and are now being held in solitary confinement pending trial on whether they should be indefinitely committed as “sexually violent predators.”

Some of the men have been held in solitary lockdown for nearly two years, and at least two detainees who sat in solitary confinement eventually were released after they prevailed at their commitment trial.

“This lawsuit is about what our government can do to people who have completed their sentences, are not guilty of any new crimes, and who are nonetheless placed in solitary confinement without a trial,” said Ben Stone, Executive Director of the ICLU.

“If we as a society say that it is okay to put people in solitary confinement without a trial because we despise them, then we really have to ask ourselves who else will be deemed undeserving of humane treatment,” Stone added. “A society is judged by how it treats those it most dislikes.”

The main problem, the lawsuit contends, is a lack of follow-through on the part of the state in implementing its sexual offender commitment program as originally envisioned. According to the lawsuit, filed in Johnson County Iowa District Court, the legislature expected commitment proceedings to be completed prior to the release of inmates from prison and that no money has ever been appropriated to take care of those who have already completed their sentences. State officials routinely wait until inmates’ release date before initiating proceedings, according to the ACLU lawsuit.

In addition to solitary confinement, the lawsuit cites problems such as lack of exercise, loss of shower privileges, inadequate medical care, denial of rehabilitative opportunities, and denial of ordinary prison privileges as part of a challenge to how the detainees are being held.

No state official has been given legal responsibility to detain the men, so by default they remain in the unfunded custody of the Department of Corrections. As a result of the harsh conditions, detainees are under great pressure to consent to commitment as their only expedient means of escape.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks an improvement in the conditions under which the detainees are being held and the early completion of the commitment proceedings. Former prisoners would not have to be detained for lengthy periods waiting for their commitment trials to be held.

Responding to the contention that the detainees’ lawyers are the ones who slow down the proceedings, ICLU Legal Director Randall C. Wilson noted that the defense counsel are not even appointed until the day that candidates for commitment are to be released from prison.

“There is no way to avoid needless detention under such circumstances,” Wilson said. “Any reasonable statutory scheme has to allow defense counsel time to prepare, but the way it is handled in practice, the clients have to pay for every day of their defense with another useless day in solitary confinement.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are Wilson and Cedar Rapids Attorney Jon Kinnamon. An advance copy of the lawsuit has been provided to the Iowa Attorney General’s office. Service of the lawsuit on the Defendants, all state officials, is still pending.

A request for class action certification has been filed, but no hearings are presently scheduled. The ICLU expects that litigation will be protracted unless the legislature decides to appropriate money for the care and custody of former offenders that it wants to detain.

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release