Pick 6 (3/27/15)

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Hi friends. It’s Friday. And Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) Haunted by the Past: A Criminal Record Shouldn’t Ruin a Career (The Atlantic)

“Too many applicants, particularly people of color, are being denied jobs based on background checks that are irrelevant or even inaccurate,” argue Sarah Crowley and Alex Bender of the Berkeley, California-based East Bay Community Law Center. “Does it even make sense for employers to give criminal background checks such a central role in the hiring process? Even if private and fingerprint-based background checks are presumed to be 100 percent accurate [which they aren’t even close to being], employers should still think hard about what conclusions to draw from an applicant’s criminal history. The reason is straightforward: Background checks are both over-inclusive and under-inclusive in flagging applicants as a hiring risk . . . In the words of civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” In the rush to screen out a few dangerous individuals, companies might be unfairly slamming the door on millions of hardworking people who are qualified and deserve access to job opportunities.”

2.) Too Old to Commit Crime (The Marshall Project)

According to criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon, “Lots of people, as they age, they are no longer a risk. We are keeping people in prison who are physically unable to represent a threat to anybody.” In fact, as Dana Goldstein of The Marshall Project writes, “Homicide and drug-arrest rates peak at age 19, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, while arrest rates for forcible rape peak at 18. Some crimes, such as vandalism, crest even earlier, at age 16, while arrest rates for forgery, fraud and embezzlement peak in the early 20s. For most of the crimes the F.B.I. tracks, more than half of all offenders will be arrested by the time they are 30 . . . Neuroscience suggests that the parts of the brain that govern risk and reward are not fully developed until age 25, after which lawbreaking drops off.” These sorts of statistics have led Mark Mauer of The Sentencing Project and many other sentencing reform advocates to a simple, unescapable conclusion–“a sentence that outlasts an offender’s desire or ability to break the law is a drain on taxpayers, with little upside in protecting public safety or improving an inmate’s chances for success after release.”

3.) Flint city councilman convicted of 1991 homicide says murderer registry would be ‘discrimination’ (MLive)

As Michigan legislators weigh whether or not to create a “murderer registry” (similar to sex offender registries), Flint City councilperson Wantwaz Davis argues that a murderer registry would serve as a form of discrimination against people who have already paid the price for their crimes. Davis knows firsthand about the societal stigma that being an ex-offender has. Davis served 19 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in 1991. He was paroled in 2010 and he was elected to Flint’s city council in 2013 (he fully disclosed his conviction to voters). A murderer registry would allow anyone to search for the current address of any person convicted of a homicide in Michigan, while also allowing anyone to search for ex-offenders by geographic area. Davis argues that a murderer registry is counterproductive, as it will stigmatize ex-offenders, leaving them with “something that hangs over [their] heads,” preventing them form having a “second chance” opportunity to assimilate and become productive, “law-abiding citizens.”

4.) Mississippi Goddam: Lynching of Otis Byrd Adds To State’s 21st Century List (Voice of Detroit)

Last week, 54 year old African American Otis Byrd was found hanging from a tree, dead, with a white sheet tied around his neck. The FBI and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are currently investigating whether Byrd’s death was a homicide or a suicide. Byrd is the fourth African American man found dead, hanging from a tree in Mississippi since 2000. The U.S. Department of Justice ruled the three previous cases to be suicides. But as Diane Bukowski of The Voice of Detroit, an independent newspaper, notes, “The likelihood of Black men committing suicide in the U.S. is extremely low. From 1999 through 2013, 70 percent of suicides were committed by white males, with only 5 percent by Black males, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control.” The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative recently reported that from 1877-1950, 576 African Americans were lynched in Mississippi. Byrd was found hanging 500 feet from his house in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Port Gibson is 90% black and has a high poverty rate. According to a 2002 piece by the New York Times, Port Gibson also has “an entrenched population of whites, many of whom are related and have some historical connection to cotton.” While it is currently unknown whether Byrd was lynched or committed suicide, it is important to note that America (especially in places like Mississippi) has a long, complicated history full of violent lynchings and racially-motivated terrorism. For this reason, it is important to take note whenever an African American man is found hanging from a tree. You can read more about Byrd’s death here. And here is a December 2014 story about a 17 year old African American boy who was found dead, hanging from a tree in North Carolina, possibly due to his relationship with an older white woman.

5.) Cory Booker and Newt Gingrich Want to Redefine What Is Considered a “Violent” Crime (Slate)

On Thursday, Cory Booker (D-NJ) and New Gingrich spoke at a Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform (co-sponsored by the ACLU and Koch Industries). Their point was simple: “Unless policymakers who have championed leniency toward nonviolent offenders start thinking about violent offenders as well, the country will not be able to achieve any significant reduction in the prison population.” Which leads us to our last Pick this week . . .

6.) What would you decide in these cases if you were on Alabama’s parole board? (al.com)

Our last news item this week, isn’t actually a news item. It’s an interactive quiz that allows you to read about ten recent cases that have come before the Alabama Parole Board. Given the facts of each of these cases, which of these ten people would you parole? Take the quiz to see if your decision aligns with that of the Alabama Parole Board. When deciding who to parole, don’t forget to take into consideration this week’s second pick, Too Old to Commit Crime, and our fifth pick, Cory Booker and Newt Gingrich Want to Redefine What Is Considered a “Violent” Crime.

Video of the Week) A Conversation with President Obama and The Wire Creator David Simon (The White House)

President Barack Obama and David Simon, the creator of HBO’s The Wire, recently sat down to talk honestly about the challenges law enforcement face and the consequences communities bear from the war on drugs. Check out this 12 minute video of their conversation.

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