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Judge: CA Prison System Can’t Evade Accountability; Illegal Discrimination Lawsuit Moves Forward

November 21, 2023 News

Media Contact: media@advancingjustice-alc.org

Judge: CA Prison System Can’t Evade Accountability; Illegal Discrimination Lawsuit Moves Forward

OAKLAND, Calif. – Immigrant Californians and civil rights groups across the state applauded a California Superior Court judge’s decision on November 16 ensuring incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people will have their day in court to end the state prison system’s racist tactics against anyone the agency assumes was born outside the U.S.

In April, the Asian Law Caucus, the ACLU of Northern California, and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, Root & Rebound, and two individuals who have been subjected to CDCR’s unconscionable attacks on Californians’ basic civil rights.

On October 11, dozens of Californians, including many immigrants and refugees, packed the courtroom in Oakland. The crowd emphasized that CDCR can no longer act with impunity - and elected officials must take responsibility as more and more people learn what happens behind the agency’s closed doors. While CDCR sought to dismiss the case, the motion was unequivocally rejected by the Superior Court judge late last week.

“Earlier this year, previously unseen emails exposed how our largest public agency is betraying our values to systematically and illegally discriminate against immigrants, refugees, and anyone who prison officials assume was born outside the United States,” said Anouthinh “Choy” Pangthong, who is one of the plaintiffs and works at Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities (EMAC) in Stockton. “CDCR’s actions are increasingly out of step in California, home to more immigrants than any other state. Despite CDCR’s attempts to bury their practices away from public view, this case is moving forward.”

“Throughout my incarceration, CDCR informed me that I had an active ICE hold. Knowing that caused me so much fear and anxiety throughout the years, believing I would never be able to return home to my family,” said Ny Nourn, co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee. “On what was supposed to be my first day of freedom after being granted parole, CDCR automatically transferred me to ICE, where I would spend the next six months fighting to reunite with my loved ones. CDCR continues to work with ICE to discriminate against foreign-born people like me instead of helping to keep our communities safe and families together.”

In 2023, supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly voted to pass the HOME Act (AB 1306) by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo. The bill would have ensured that immigrant Californians who serve their time in state prison and earn release under existing criminal justice reforms come home instead of being automatically and cruelly transferred to ICE. The governor’s veto came despite overwhelming votes in the legislature, support from over 100 faith, labor, and community organizations, and no organizational opposition. In a statement denouncing the veto, the ICE Out of CA coalition said, “The Governor may claim that he supports rehabilitation and second chances. Yet he cannot praise rehabilitation in one breath, but condone the racist targeting of immigrants for detention and deportation in the next.”

“Governor Newsom has a growing stain on his legacy as CDCR’s longstanding practices are brought into the sunlight,” said Carl Takei, who leads the Asian Law Caucus’ Criminal Justice Reform Program. “The HOME Act (AB 1306) was an important step towards aligning CDCR’s practices with existing criminal justice reforms, but the governor chose to put politics before his constituents this session. As our lawsuit proceeds, Governor Newsom’s responsibility to take action will be increasingly unavoidable. We’ll never stop fighting for equal treatment for all who call California home.”

Read the lawsuit filed in April 2023 by plaintiffs Roth Chan, Anouthinh “Choy” Pangthong, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and Root & Rebound. They are represented by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asians Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, and Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.