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Defending Human Rights
In a trend that began in the mid-1990s, policymakers cut funding for legal services organizations that typically represent the poor. As a result, groups and individuals defending the rights of prisoners, capital case defendants, migrant workers, and immigrants faced operating restrictions and overwhelming caseloads that combined to inhibit their ability to take on new cases or adequately represent current clients. The poorest and most desperate victims of alleged abuse or mistreatment were left with nowhere to turn to obtain legal counsel.

Besides often lacking affordable counsel, individuals who challenged serious human rights abuses by state officials risked retaliation. Some of the women prisoners who reported that they had been sexually abused by prison guards in Michigan were then retaliated against for cooperating with investigators. The women were verbally abused, intimidated, lost privileges to receive visitors, and lost “good time” they had earned toward early release. Human Rights Watch, which had published a report about the retaliatory actions against the women, was subpoenaed by Michigan officials who requested all records relating to Michigan prisoners, including names of confidential sources; the subpoena was later withdrawn.

In October 1998, Amnesty International launched a campaign about human rights violations in the United States. Among the issues highlighted in the campaign were prison conditions, police abuse, the death penalty, and treatment of asylum seekers.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States, 7/98
Locked Away: Immigration Detainees in Jails in the United States, 9/98
Nowhere to Hide: Retaliation against Women in Michigan State Prisons, 9/98
Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the U.S., 10/98



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