Friday, June 4, 2010

No Home in Prison

The Iowa Supreme Court today held that a prison is not considered to be an inmate's "dwelling" place for purposes of Iowa discrimination laws. However, the inmate might be considered an "employee" of the prison and have rights that emanate from that status. 

The inmate filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging discrimination in housing and employment. She had been working as a receiving and discharge clerk ("the most respected and highest paid position in the prison") when she allegedly was subjected to punishment for resisting an officer's advances.

The court found that housing discrimination law did not apply:

Although an inmate may consider her cell, and the prison as a whole, her indefinite residence and expect to remain in the prison for an extended length of time, we do not believe those considerations are determinative of whether a prison is a dwelling for purpose of the Act...Our determination of this issue is strongly influenced by the fact that [the inmate] has no choice in her placement...and freedom of choice is crucial for purposes of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.

A single justice dissented from the majority's conclusion that an inmate may have claims based on employee status. (Mike Frisch)

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