Stacey Litner has been fighting for the rights of prisoners at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for more than a decade. Her expertise and tenacity are invaluable to the incarcerated men and women with whom she works. Stacey has advocated for health care and other prisoner needs for hundreds of men and women, led the effort to ensure that all DC prisoners’ who are eligible for parole have counsel at their hearings, and trained hundreds of pro bono volunteers and law students.
How did you first get involved with prisoner rights advocacy?
During my senior year of college, I interned with the ACLU Southern California Jails Project where I witnessed the horror of the US prison system. Prior to this experience, I knew little about the US prison system beyond the fact that we over-criminalize society and that US prisons are inhumane spaces. I gave little thought to who we are removing from society and why. This experience opened my eyes to how the US prison system is a political tool used to continue the oppression of people of color and poor communities.
What is something that most people don’t understand about parole?
DC has zero control over its criminal justice system including parole. The federal government controls who can come home from prison and who should go back to prison for violating conditions of release. A federal agency can decide to send you back to prison for virtually any reason (or no reason at all), including not finding a job or not reporting your address. DC residents under supervision are sent back to prison every day for breaking a rule that is legal for everyone else.
During your tenure at the Committee you have had the opportunity to interact with thousands of prisoners. Can you tell us a little about the issues they bring to you and what you’ve come to know about what happens behind prison walls?
DC prisoners are imprisoned in over 100 federal facilities throughout the country. DC has no control over where its citizens are held or what conditions they are held in. As the main legal contact for DC prisoners in federal facilities, the scope of requests we receive is very broad, ranging from help obtaining a divorce to help receiving lifesaving surgery. The most common issues brought to our attention are the complete lack of mental health treatment, poor medical care, and assaults.
What I’ve come to know about prisons is that they are inhumane spaces for those confined to them and those working behind their walls. The prison system appears to be doing a great job of achieving its intended mission—removing a segment of the population as a means of control, destroying families, and oppressing communities.
What’s something you do when you’re not in the office?
Outside of work, I spend my time volunteering with Knowledge Commons DC (http://knowledgecommonsdc.org/) a free school in DC that believes everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. Come take or teach a class with us!