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SG-W:/ Please call Gov. Engler immediately.

Dear Friends of the Environment,

My name is David Rosenberg and this issue is an emergency for the lives of a 
marginalized group of people, Michigan prisoners.  If Governor Engler signs 
bills 4475 and 4476, than for example, women prisoners can get abused by male 
prison guards without any redress to the state courts.  But your help can 
make a difference.

I got this email that I have cut and paste from a highly respected activist 
and lawyer, Bill Dobbs, regarding Michigan prisons.

>From Bill:

To my Michigan friends and others ...

I do this only very rarely so please bear with 
me.  And please post and forward this widely.

Two very ugly bills have been passed by both 
houses of the Michigan legislature.
Below is a note from my friend Molly Reno and a 
just-published New York Times editorial that 
explains the situation.

The only thing missing is Michigan Governor John 
Engler's signature.
Engler has only until December 26th  -- just a 
few days from now  -- to sign these bills or they 
will die...

If you are able, please CALL  Engler's office and 
make plain that he should NOT sign this 

Phone number for the Michigan Governor John 
Engler - (517) 373-3400.

Message - tell him to please NOT sign HB 4475 and 
4476 - signing the bills would severely 
compromise constitutional rights.

Thank you,

Bill Dobbs

Tuesday --  December  21, 1999

I wondered if you would use your email list to 
rally people to call  Michigan's governor, John 
Engler, about some regressive legislation 
awaiting his signature  which -- if signed -- 
would take away access to state courts for 
Michigan prisoners  whose civil rights have been 

There is an editorial in today's New York Times 
on the legislation.  The legislation literally 
mentions a class action case brought by women 
prisoners who have been sexually assaulted by 
guards which I have worked on for 4 years.  The 
legislation is intended to apply retroactively 
and wipe out this lawsuit.  Isn't that 
unconstitutional?  Yes, but first we would have 
to find a court willing to recognize prisoners as 

Anyway, Engler has until the 26th of this month 
to sign the bills or they will die.  Given 
Engler's national political aspirations,    a 
telephone campaign asking him to not sign HB 4475 
and 4476 can make the difference.

Thanks,  Molly Reno


New York Times
December 21, 1999

Attacking Prisoners' Rights

The push in Congress and in many states to limit
the ability of prisoners to seek redress for
civil rights violations has intensified in recent 
years. But no effort has been as sweeping as
legislation approved recently by the Michigan
legislature that removes all prisoners in state
and county jails from the protection of the
state's civil rights law and the state
disabilities law. Incredibly, the legislation now 
awaiting Gov. John Engler's signature would apply 
retroactively to eliminate a pending class-action 
lawsuit brought under the Civil Rights Act by
women prisoners who have been sexually abused by
prison guards.

The Michigan prison system has been the subject
of extensive press coverage and outside scrutiny
for allegations of sexual assaults against women
inmates. A 1994-95 United States Justice
Department investigation found patterns of sexual 
harassment, including rapes and assaults and
widespread fear of retaliation for reporting
abuse. A federal lawsuit brought by women inmates 
in 1996 remains unresolved.

A separate class-action case, representing more
than 1,000 female inmates, was filed in state
court in 1996. The new legislation would
eliminate the statutory grounds for this case.
But the legislation's impact goes far beyond
stopping this particular lawsuit. It strips all
prisoners of anti-discrimination rights under
state law. Thus even prisoners who face racial
discrimination at the hands of guards and wardens 
would have no meaningful recourse against the
state in state courts.

Supporters say that this legislation will save
taxpayers money. They focus on frivolous
litigation, but the legislation would also block
meritorious civil rights claims. They also argue
that prisoners can seek relief in federal court
under federal civil rights laws. But in recent
years, Congress has made it very difficult for
prisoners to bring suits in federal court. Even
when they do, prisoners cannot, for example, get
monetary damages in federal court unless they
suffer physical injury. Common forms of abuse,
such as sexual groping or aggressive harassment
by a guard, would not necessarily result in
bodily injury.

The existence of potential federal remedies does
not justify erasing state law protections. State
officials usually chafe at federal intrusion into 
state institutions. The new Michigan legislation
would invite that intrusion by forcing inmates to 
go to federal judges for relief. This egregious
legislation attacks the basic rights of prisoners 
as persons under the law, and removes a powerful
legal deterrent against prison abuse.

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