Thursday, August 02, 2012

 

Federal judge orders Hawaii to allow prisoners to marry their fiancés—as the state wastes more taxpayer money in defending an avoidable lawsuit


by Larry Geller

The ACLU of Hawaii won a victory in federal court today (Wednesday, 8/2/2012) when Judge Susan Oki Mollway granted a motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering that the State of Hawaii stop interfering with the Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry.

The Plaintiffs are two women who, although they submitted multiple applications over several years, were prevented by the Department of Public Safety from being able to wed their fiancés, both of whom are incarcerated at the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Arizona.

Once again, the state has wasted taxpayer money by running up court and legal fees for a case that should never have come before a judge.

According to the ACLU, the practice of denying prisoners the right to marry was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley in 1987. ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck explained:

Particularly where prisoners wish to marry individuals outside of prison, the Court explained, the State has virtually no interest whatsoever: “where the inmate wishes to marry a civilian, the decision to marry (apart from the logistics of the wedding ceremony) is a completely private one.” The State repeatedly ignored this constitutional directive from the Supreme Court and routinely told couples that they could not marry.

While this preliminary injunction applies only to the two plaintiffs named in the case, the ACLU has said that anyone else in the same circumstances may contact them.

The Department of Public Safety was well aware that it was breaking the law. From Hawaii plays Pope, decides prisoners may not marry… (5/15/2012):

As the ACLU explained, DPS agreed to stop the denials in June of 2011 and issued a written policy on marriage applications, but despite the policy, it continues to deny marriage applications by sending prisoners the form letter. The policy was implemented as a result of ACLU intervention the prior year when the same prison officials denied an applicant the right to marry with the same form letter. The lawsuit today resulted because, despite the new policy, DPS has continued to deny marriage applications on multiple occasions.

The DPS form letter expressed a moral (not legal) reason for the denial:

“[a]s a Ward of the State incarcerated in a correctional facility, you are incapable of providing the necessary emotional, financial and physical support that every marriage needs in order to succeed.”

The Attorney General is the state’s attorney. One wonders why the AG did not advise DPS, or was not effective in changing their behavior. Of course, there are no consequences for state officials who run up unnecessary legal expenses—the Legislature will apportion funding for legal costs including any settlement. In other words, you and I, taxpayers, will foot the bill once again for a case that should never have reached the court.

Update: See also Fiancees of Inmates Can Finally March to Altar (Courthouse News Service, 8/6/2012)



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