English-only rule scrapped at Utah prisons

Jul 10, 2013, 9:41 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah prisoners will be allowed to talk with visitors in Spanish or any other language they want now that a long-standing English-only rule has been scrapped.

By Aug. 1, signs in the Utah state prison saying, “All visits will be conducted in English,” will be taken down in a policy change ordered by Utah’s new prison boss, Rollin Cook.

That will put an end to the nation’s only written rule from a state prison system forbidding foreign languages during visits, said Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender in the city and county of San Francisco and one of three authors of a Yale University law school study that reviewed prison rules across the United States.

“I was shocked,” Boudin said of when he learned of the rule. “This is a country that prides itself on its diversity: racially, ethnically, linguistically. Utah, while not the epicenter of immigration in this country, has many language groups.”

The rule for visitations was initially put in place as a safety measure so corrections officers could understand what was being said by inmates and visitors, said Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke.

The new policy, first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, takes effect Aug. 1.

It was triggered by a meeting Cook, who took over in April, had with representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union, which for years has been complaining about a free speech violation of the policy.

Cook came away convinced it was time to ditch the old rule, but first wanted to meet with the prison staff and make sure they could still maintain safety while also allowing more languages to be spoken. They told him they could do it, and Cook signed off on the new rule.

He said the change gives Utah prisons a better balance between security and the rights of prisoners and their families. Cook notes that it also recognizes the vital importance of visits in a prisoner’s path to being good citizens upon their release.

“That’s their connection to the community and to their family and friends,” Cook said. “It’s going to make the visitation a lot better for people that don’t speak English as their first language.”

Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said prison officers will still have the authority to cut off conversations and ask visitors to either speak English or leave if they think they are hatching nefarious plans that put officers in danger. Cook said he has zero concerns about the new policy compromising security.

John Mejia, legal director for the Utah chapter of the ACLU, said he was thrilled by the policy change. The chapter has received a steady stream of complaints about a policy many considered discriminatory.

“It stopped their friends, mothers, friends, cousins from being able to talk with them in their own language,” Mejia said.

Previous Utah prison bosses were reluctant to jettison the firmly established rule, citing safety concerns, Mejia said. But Cook, who worked closely with the ACLU in his previous job as Salt Lake County jail commander, turned out to be a receptive audience.

“It’s very heartening that the prison administration was willing to listen to our concerns,” Mejia said.

Corrections officials don’t know how many of the 7,000 prisoners speak foreign languages, but an ethnicity breakdown shows that nearly two-thirds of prisoners are white and one-fifth are Hispanic.

Mejia said in addition to Spanish, some prisoners and their families speak Pacific-Islander languages and Native American languages.

“It recognizes that prisoners have free-speech rights despite being in prison,” said Mejia, adding that the policy will enable prisoners to maintain closer ties to family and friends.

___

Follow Brady McCombs at
https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, Sept. 17, ...
Associated Press

R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in sex trafficking case

Disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison for using his fame to sexually abuse young fans.
16 hours ago
FILE - The Flint water plant tower is seen, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Flint, Mich. A Michigan Supr...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Years later, Flint water court fight drags on

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan authorities have long promised to hold key officials criminally responsible for lead contamination and health problems arising from a disastrous water switch in Flint in 2014. There’s not much to show more than eight years later. The latest: an extraordinary rebuke Tuesday from the state Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed indictments […]
16 hours ago
FILE-- Gas is advertised for more than $6 per gallon at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif., Friday...
Associated Press

California lawmakers to vote on $307.9 billion spending plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Wednesday will vote on a plan to spend $308 billion in taxpayer money over the next year as the coffers of the world’s fifth largest economy continue to swell during the pandemic. The centerpiece of the operating budget crafted by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders is […]
16 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the Sou...
Associated Press

Most say nation on wrong track, including Dems: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — An overwhelming and growing majority of Americans say the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction, including nearly 8 in 10 Democrats, according to a new poll that finds deep pessimism about the economy plaguing President Joe Biden. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults say the country is on the wrong track, and […]
16 hours ago
Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, arrives at the federal courthouse with his wife Sv...
Associated Press

Giuliani’s former Ukraine fixer gets 20 months in prison

NEW YORK (AP) — Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a figure in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment investigation, was sentenced Wednesday to a year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes. Parnas, 50, had sought leniency on the grounds that he’d cooperated with the Congressional probe of […]
16 hours ago
Follow @KTAR923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
English-only rule scrapped at Utah prisons