San Francisco – July 17, 2014 – A lawsuit was filed yesterday in federal court in the Eastern District of California challenging California’s blanket exclusion of male prisoners from the Alternative Custody Program (“ACP”).

The ACP, as described by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), is “a community-based program aimed at reuniting low-level offenders with their families and providing inmates with rehabilitative services within the community.” Prisoners who have a current conviction for a serious or violent felony, or a current or prior sex offense conviction, are ineligible for the program.

William Sassman, a male prisoner with two children and an ailing mother with Stage IV colon cancer whom he wishes to care for, filed the suit, including a request for a preliminary injunction, because he was rejected by CDCR from participating in the program for no other reason than that he is a man. Sassman, who is scheduled to complete his sentence in October 2016 unless he is admitted to the ACP, is currently incarcerated at the Valley View Conservation Camp in Elk Creek, California.

“It’s unacceptable for the State of California to discriminate against an entire group of citizens solely because they are fathers rather than mothers, sons rather than daughters,” said Gay Grunfeld of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, lead counsel for the plaintiff. “Denying men the opportunity to reunite with their families entrenches harmful gender stereotypes suggesting that only women can be caregivers, and harms children by preventing them from re-establishing and furthering their relationships with their fathers. It also contributes to California’s longstanding overcrowding crisis.”

As originally enacted by the Legislature in 2010, the ACP could have been open to at least some men, although men would still have been required to be “primary caregivers of dependent children … immediately prior to incarceration” while women applicants faced no such restriction. Nonetheless, when CDCR began offering the ACP in 2011, it limited access to female inmates and excluded all men. The Governor subsequently signed a statutory amendment writing this discrimination into law.

Since ACP’s implementation in September of 2011, the number of participants is unknown, although CDCR has estimated that it had admitted 290 women as of September 4, 2013.

A requirement that the State expand the ACP was included in the February 10, 2014 order by the three judge federal court as part of the overall effort to reduce the prison population in California to court-ordered levels by 2016. If the program were opened to men, the impact on overcrowding would obviously be much more significant.

“Parenting is a fundamental human right, and all men and women deserve the same opportunities to care for and connect with their families,” said Jesse Stout of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, co-counsel for plaintiff Sassman.

The case is Sassman v. Brown, Case No. 2:14-cv-01679 (U.S. District Court, E.D. Cal.).  Links to court documents below:

Sassman Complaint

Sassman Memo of Points and Authorities ISO Pltfs Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Contact:

Gay Grunfeld, Rosen Bien Grunfeld and Galvan, (415) 433-6830, ggrunfeld@rbgg.com

Jesse Stout, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, (415) 633-6280, jesse@prisonerswithchildren.org

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 Rosen Bien Galvan &Grunfeld LLP has a unique practice blending public interest and private sector litigation. The firm represents individuals and companies in complex trial and appellate litigation in state & federal courts. More information at www.rbgg.com 

 Legal Services for Prisoners with Children organizes communities impacted by the criminal justice system and advocates to release incarcerated people, to restore human and civil rights and to reunify families and communities. We build public awareness of structural racism in policing, the courts and prison system and we advance racial and gender justice in all our work. Visit www.prisonerswithchildren.org for more information.