This past week was a great example of how our work in Maine can impact broader reform efforts across the country.
Our advocacy around solitary reform helped spur significant reductions in the rates of solitary confinement at the Maine State Prison. Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte even testified at an April hearing in Illinois about the potential closing of the controversial Tamms Correctional Center, which holds prisoners in long-term solitary confinement, often for a decade or more.
Last Friday, Tamms officially closed!
From Amy Fettig on the ACLU Blog of Rights:
Illinois’ decision to close Tamms did not happen in isolation; there is a larger criminal justice dialogue taking place across the country about the need for reform. Spurred by growing budget deficits, costly litigation arising from unconstitutional treatment, and the public’s objection to inhumane conditions, several states are changing their prison systems to limit the use of long-term solitary confinement. Some selected highlights:
- The Maine Department of Corrections cut its “supermax” population by over fifty percent and provided prisoners expanded access to programming and social stimulation.
- Over the last few years, Mississippi reduced the “supermax” population of one institution from 1000 to 150 and eventually closed the entire unit.
- In the last year, Colorado reduced the number of prisoners in solitary confinement by 36.9% and recently announced the closure of a 316-bed “supermax” facility, which is projected to save the state $4.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012-13 and $13.6 million in Fiscal Year 2013-14.
Yesterday, on the ACLU Blog of Rights, Kade Crockford highlights a recent report called “How Are Innovations in Technology Transforming Policing" and the shocking estimate that 85% of law enforcmenet agencies plan to acquire Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR's) over the next five years.
ALPRs are cameras mounted on stationary objects (telephone poles, the underside of bridges, etc.) or on patrol cars. The cameras snap a photograph of every license plate that passes them by – capturing information on up to thousands of cars per minute. The devices convert each license plate number into machine-readable text and check them against agency-selected databases or manually-entered license plate numbers, providing an alert to a patrol officer whenever a match or “hit” appears.
When the ALPR system captures an image of a car, it also meta-tags each file with the GPS location and the time and date showing where and when the photograph was snapped. And often, the photograph—not just the plate number—is also stored. The system gathers this information on every car it comes in contact with, not simply those to which some flag or “hit” was attached.
As license plate location data accumulates, the system ceases to be simply a mechanism enabling efficient police work and becomes a warrantless tracking tool, enabling retroactive surveillance of millions of people.
In Maine, we were ahead of the curve in recognizing the privacy implications of ALPR's and, along with New Hampshire, are the only states with laws limiting their use. No doubt, like solitary confinement, our work around this issue will help guide other ACLU affiliates advocating for statutes regulating ALPR's.