Prisoners' Rights

The population in American prisons and jails has tripled in the past 15 years. It now tops two million. It arose from decades of policies that toughened sentencing laws and emphasized an American war on drugs.

This has left our facilities overcrowded, the medical systems overwhelmed and the work, education, and treatment programs inadequate. The consequence is idleness and stress that leads to greater levels of violence. We are working to change these conditions through successful litigation on behalf of prisoners.


ACLU Sues Oregon Department of Corrections Over Denial of Medical Care to Transgender Prisoner

Lawsuit highlights relentless suffering of transgender prisoner and demands medically-necessary care for all transgender prisoners 


October 17, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon (ACLU of Oregon) filed a lawsuit today in federal court against the officials at the Oregon Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender prisoner who is being denied essential medical care. The suit, on behalf of Michelle Wright, a transgender woman who is currently housed at Two Rivers Correctional Facility, argues that it is cruel and unusual to deny medically-necessary care to prisoners. 

“The Oregon Department of Corrections is denying our client lifesaving care,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. 

Wright, age 25, felt a deep disconnect between the gender she was assigned at birth and her female gender since childhood. Although she identified as transgender, she was unable to begin hormone therapy prior to her incarceration. According to the complaint, Wright has been denied medical care despite submitting nearly 100 requests. Facing repeated denials of care, she has attempted suicide multiple times and, on three occasions, attempted to castrate herself. 

“At this point, I’m afraid I will lose her forever,” said an emotional Victoria Wright, mother of the plaintiff. “She should be held accountable for her mistakes, but I’m worried she is being damaged in prison in a way that might not be fixable.”


Shepherd v. Oregon Youth Authority

Imprisoned Seventh Day Adventist Allowed to Attend Service

July 13, 2009 - Levi Shepherd is a Seventh Day Adventist inmate of MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, which is administered by the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA).  As a Seventh Day Adventist, Mr. Shepherd wants to attend religious services on Saturdays, his Sabbath.OYA does not provide Seventh Day Adventist clergy or services.



EQUAL PROTECTION: Private Prisons (HB 3682) (2011)

Near the end of the session, HB 3682 was introduced (on behalf of the Judiciary Committee so we do not know who proposed it). It would have authorized the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to send inmates to out-of-state private prisons.


PRISONER RIGHTS: Limiting Access to Courts (SB 77) (2011)

SB 77 was introduced on behalf of the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC). In its original form, SB 77 replicated the exhaustion requirements in the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Under these requirements an inmate can only bring a claim for mistreatment within a facility after he or she has exhausted the administrative grievance process.



Stop the cruel and unusual punishment of transgender prisoners in Oregon

Michelle Wright from Two Rivers Correctional Facility

Transgender prisoners in Oregon are being denied life-saving medical care.

   sign our petition button

We recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michelle Wright, a transgender prisoner whose requests for care have repeatedly been denied by prison officials. Despite being diagnosed with gender dysphoria by prison medical staff, which causes severe anxiety, depression, and suicidality, Michelle’s pleas for humane treatment have been ignored.

Michelle isn’t alone in her struggle. We have heard from over a dozen other transgender prisoners who are facing similar treatment.

Please join us in calling on the Oregon Department of Corrections to end their cruel policies and practices that deny life-saving care to transgender prisoners by signing our petition. To deny essential medical care is considered cruel and unusual punishment and is prohibited under the Eight Amendment of the Constitution.