HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii is unconstitutionally preventing women from marrying their incarcerated fiances, four women claim in a federal complaint through the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lenora Santos, Junell Faith Aliviado, Jamiquia Glass and Margaret Amina say the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS) and its mainland coordinators have banned them from marrying current inmates at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.
When DPS Mainland Branch Coordinator Shari Kimoto first denied Glass and her fiance’s marriage application, “her rationale was that the prisoner and plaintiff Glass were unable to marry based on the prisoner’s status as a prisoner – a rationale that was ruled unconstitutional 25 years ago,” according to the complaint.
The DPS allegedly adopted a new policy on prisoner marriages in June 2011, restricting proposed marriages when they present a threat to the prison or the public. But the women claim the department has failed to adhere to it.
Glass says her application was denied at least three times despite appeal, and Aliviado says her application met the same fate at least twice.
Santos says she has bone cancer that keeps her from traveling, so she videoconferences with her fiance at the Saguaro facility from her home in Honolulu. DPS allegedly denied this couple’s marriage application at least four times.
The rationale this time said: “A domestic union at this juncture of your incarceration does not appear to be conducive nor beneficial towards your adjustment.”
Santos said she has been made to “feel like a criminal, even though she had not done anything wrong.”
Aliviado says DPS denied her application on the basis of her fiance’s conviction for sexually assaulting his own biological minor child.
But Aliviado notes that her youngest is 16 years old, and her fiance will be incarcerated for another 10 years.
“In other words, by the time her fiancé is released, plaintiff Aliviado will not have any minor children in her care or custody,” the complaint states. “Consequently, the purported rationale for denying the marriage application is baseless.
“Even if plaintiff Aliviado did have minor children in her custody, however, defendants lack the authority to interfere with plaintiff Aliviado’s and her fiancé’s fundamental right to marry on that basis.”
Glass says she just turned 35 this week, and that she spent 2 1/2 years in prison in the late 1990s for three felony convictions when she was 20. She “has turned her life around,” the complaint states.
Her fiance is also a felon and incarcerated at Saguaro, where she visits him and talks to him on the phone, without presenting any type of “security threat,” according to the complaint.
But Glass says she got a chilly response from Jeanette Baltero, the contract monitor at Saguaro, when she asked about her denied application.
“Defendant Baltero told plaintiff Glass something to the effect of ‘marriage is a privilege, not a right’; that plaintiff Glass’ fiancé did not have any rights because he was incarcerated; and that two felons are prohibited from getting married,” according to the complaint.
“Baltero further stated that plaintiff Glass was a security risk,” it adds.
Amina believes her long-distance relationship with her incarcerated fiance has kept him out of trouble at the Saguaro facility. Although their marriage application was also denied, Amina’s appeal was “reconsidered” and “conditionally granted,” unlike the other plaintiffs’ applications, and Amina and her fiance were married in Arizona in March 2011, according to the complaint
“Marriage is a unique status,” states the complaint. “Nothing else conveys to the world, in so universal a way, that a couple is legally, emotionally, financially and, (for many) spiritually tied to one another. Additionally, for many individuals, being married provides financial benefits (for example, tax benefits and survivorship benefits) unavailable through other means.” (Parentheses in original.)
The women seek an injunction and a ruling that the denials of their marriage applications violate the 14th Amendment.
In addition to Kimoto and Baltero, the women also named DPS Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata as a defendant.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, as part of a Justice Reinvestment Initiative, is aiming to cut costs and bring back, to the islands, some of the 1,800 prisoners that Hawaii houses in mainland facilities.
Courthouse News has reported on numerous complaints out of the Arizona facilities involving its prisoners. Corrections Corporation of America, the private contractor that runs those facilities, is one of the most sued prison contractors in the U.S.
In a statement accompanying the filing, the Hawaii branch of the ACLU noted that Supreme Court precedent backs their case.
“The practice of denying prisoners the right to marry was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley (1987),” the letter states. “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.'”
ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck added in the statement that “the Constitution prohibits Government officials from imposing their morals and judgment on others.”
“DPS’s practices are not only illegal – they hinders [sic] prisoners from developing committed relationships that can help their rehabilitation and improve their chances of being productive when they complete their sentences and re-enter society,” Gluck added.
Gluck told Courthouse News that the ACLU office did not file for a temporary restraining order, but does want a preliminary injunction.
He reiterated that the ACLU first contacted the DPS in December 2010, before the department adopted its 2011 policy on prisoner marriages.
“In our view, the case law on this issue is very straightforward,” Gluck said in a phone interview. “We were surprised as well, and disappointed, given that we had reached out the Department of Public Safety a year and a half ago to try to resolve these issues. And problems are still occurring.”