Listen: ACLU Idaho Leader Talks About Triumphs, Failures And Moving On

Apr 23, 2014

Monica Hopkins
Credit courtesy ACLU of Idaho

For six years Monica Hopkins has been one of Idaho’s top civil rights campaigners as head of the ACLU of Idaho. Now Hopkins is leaving the state to take charge of the American Civil Liberties Union branch in Washington D.C.  

Hopkins says the ACLU of Idaho has accomplished a lot in these last six years. Among those successes, she lists lawsuits seeking better conditions for inmates in Canyon County as well as lawsuits against prison operator Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

CCA is a private company which, for years, has run one of Idaho’s largest prisons. Investigations showed CCA had created an unsafe situation for prisoners with high levels of violence. A later investigation showed CCA was falsifying records. Hopkins notes, with a hint of triumph in her voice, CCA is now leaving Idaho.   

But that’s just the beginning of her list.

“We have done a lot of work with first amendment issues that deal with our state’s Capitol in the occupy case,” Hopkins says. “But also at the municipal level here in Boise, to secure First Amendment rights for people who are homeless or on the edge of poverty.”

Hopkins also counts work with the Add The Words movement among the ACLU of Idaho’s successes. The organization worked with several Idaho cities to pass local ordinances to protect  gay and transgender people from housing and employment discrimination.

But Hopkins says that’s also one of the big things she’s leaving undone. Her organization and others have been unable to convince state lawmakers to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to Idaho’s human rights law and make those discrimination protections statewide.  

But what really haunts her, she says is the high number of people in prison in Idaho. The state has one of the highest rates of incarceration despite having one of the lowest crime rates.

“Someone wrote to our office and suggested the state should make a bumper sticker, ‘Idaho, come on vacation, leave on probation,’” Hopkins says. “We’re destroying people’s lives. I really don’t want Idaho to have a legacy of, this is where you come to be criminalized, to be persecuted if you are poor or have a substance abuse problem or a mental health problem.” 

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