Solitary Confinement: “It’s As If We Want Them to Fail”

Written by Sean Larner Evan Ebel was worried about leaving prison — and reasonably so. His last couple years were spent by himself in a cinderblock cell the size of two queen mattresses. Before his release Ebel wondered, in a … Continue reading

Pick 6 (5/1/15)

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Hello friends. Happy May Day (a.k.a. International Workers’ Day). We’re back with our weekly feature–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.) Freddie Gray death ruled homicide; officers charged (CNN)

“Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told reporters Friday that her office’s investigation, coupled with a medical examiner’s determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide, led her to determine there is probable cause to file criminal charges. Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray.”

1a.) Rioting rocks Baltimore: Hogan declares emergency, activates Guard (Washington Post)

“Violence swept through pockets of a low-income section of West Baltimore on Monday afternoon as scores of rioters heaved bottles and rocks at riot-gear-clad police, set police cars on fire, and looted a pharmacy, a mall and other businesses. At least 15 officers were injured. Images of the violence were broadcast nationwide just hours after Freddie Gray was eulogized at his funeral, and Gray’s family and clergy members called for calm. Gray died of an injury he suffered while in police custody. The rioting did not appear to stem from any organized protests over Gray’s death.”

2.) Baltimore Been Burning (Ebony)

“Referring to protestors as “thugs” who are “destroying the city in a senseless way” speaks to the inability of so many of us to really do the emotional and intellectual labor of getting past the good/bad binary, and recognizing how hurt and righteously indignant our people really are. If the sight of a burning drugstore can do so much to change the perception of people who claimed to be “down for the cause” beforehand, then one can be pretty sure you haven’t done that work. If your assumption is that anyone who riots or destroys property is a “thug” and on the same plane as a violent police officer who’d beat someone ultimately to death for no other reason but “he ran from me,” then you’re still missing a few things here…If the events of the last 400 years have not left you with, at the absolute least, a sense of “it’s not right, but I understand” as it relates to the utter despair that leads one to go into the streets with destruction on their mind, then you may want to reconsider the levels to which you actually understand what is taking place in Baltimore and beyond…This is not a case for riots, but acknowledgment that they aren’t the work of thugs and ne’er-do-wells, but an SOS call. The question is, are we willing to listen? We should, because our people have finally changed their mind.”

3.) Since 2011, Baltimore has lost or settled more than 100 cases related to police brutality (Vox)

“Since 2011, Baltimore has lost or settled more than 100 cases relate to police brutality…Baltimore has paid out more than $5.7 million in jury awards and settlements, and and spent $5.8 million more on outside law firms.” (Related: Undue Force)

4.) Activist: Baltimore shows poverty costs (Charlotte Observer)

“Attorney Bryan Stevenson brought his campaign against racial injustice to Charlotte on Wednesday night, saying the eruption of violence in Baltimore this week should be understood as a “health crisis” involving poor inner-city black youths who have grown up surrounded by violence, deprived of opportunity and menaced by police.They’re left, he said, with symptoms of hyper-vigilance and hopelessness that suggest post-traumatic stress disorder. “If you’re a young kid growing up in West Baltimore, you are going to be threatened and harassed by police throughout your life,” he said. “We’re so focused on a burning store or a burning car that we’re not looking at the lives that have been burning in pain and anguish for years.”

5.) Nonviolence as Compliance (The Atlantic)

In a thought-provoking piece, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”

6.) Toward a ‘New Broken Windows Theory’ (The Nation)

“Whenever there is an uprising in an American city, as we’ve seen in Baltimore over the past few days in response to the police-involved death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, there always emerges a chorus of elected officials, pundits, and other public figures that forcefully condemn “violent protests.” They offer their unconditional support for “legitimate” or “peaceful” protests, but describe those who break windows and set fires as thugs, criminals, or animals. And eventually someone invokes the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement, reminding us that nonviolence brought down Jim Crow segregation and won voting rights. There’s something that needs to be cleared up: the civil-rights movement was not successful because the quiet dignity of nonviolent protests appealed to the morality of the white public. Nonviolent direct action, a staple employed by many organizations during the civil-rights movement, was and is a much more sophisticated tactic. Organizers found success when nonviolent protests were able to provoke white violence, either by ordinary citizens or police, and images of that brutality were transmitted across the country and the rest of the world. The pictures of bloodied bodies standing in nonviolent defiance of the law horrified people at home and proved embarrassing for the country in a global context. So anyone who calls for protestors to remain “peaceful,” like the civil-rights activists of old, must answer this question: What actions should be taken when America refuses to be ashamed? Images of black death are proliferating beyond our capacity to tell each story, yet there remains no tipping point in sight—no moment when white people in America will say, “Enough.” And no amount of international outrage diminishes the US’s reputation to the point of challenging its status as a hegemonic superpower.”

+1) Today Alabama officially observes Confederate Memorial Day: Shame on us (al.com)

“[Monday April 27th was] Confederate Memorial Day across Alabama and Mississippi…Georgia observed the holiday Sunday. It’s an officially recognized holiday in all three states and throughout much of the old confederacy. And shame on us that it is. Some 150 years after the South’s bloody effort to break apart the union in order to maintain an economic system dependent on slavery was defeated, why are we still officially honoring those who engaged in treason against our nation? Please spare us the “they-didn’t-fight-to-defend-slavery” bull. History teaches us that the South was fully aware of why it fought and why so many of its white sons joined to defend a way of life no matter if they had slaves or not, no matter how poor they may have been. Most white southern men who fought knew one thing about their region: no matter their status, they knew they were better than any black. And that would remain the case in the new Confederate States of America. Alabama and Georgia today – and other southern states at other dates – will spend millions of dollars paying state employees who will have
the day off. It’s offensive.”

Video of the week) Gangs call for calm in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun)

“Amid mounting unrest in Baltimore, an unexpected alliance—members of the Bloods and Crips—emerged yesterday to call for protection of local residents. At an event in a local church shown in a Baltimore Sun video, a man named Charles, who said he was a member of the Crips, wrapped his arm around a self-described Bloods member named Jamal to call for an end to riots over the death of Freddie Gray. “We not here for nobody to get hurt,” Charles told the Sun reporter. “We don’t want nobody to get hurt. All that about the police getting hurt by certain gangs, that’s false. We not here for that. We here to protect our community, and that’s it. We don’t want no trouble. We’re doing this because we don’t want trouble.”

Audio of the week) Crime Pays (This American Life)

“Reporter Joe Richman visits a program in Richmond, CA that is trying a controversial method of reducing gun violence in their city: paying criminals to not commit crimes. Sounds crazy, but the even crazier part is…it works. To figure out how, Joe speaks to guys participating in the program, and to Sam Vaugn, a man whose job it is to monitor the criminals’ progress and keep them on track.”

Report of the week) Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out On Criminal Justice (Brennan Center for Justice)

“Mass incarceration. In recent years it’s become clear that the size of America’s prison population is unsustainable – and isn’t needed to protect public safety. In this remarkable bipartisan collaboration, the country’s most prominent public figures and experts join together to propose ideas for change. In these original essays, many authors speak out for the first time on the issue…From using federal funding to bolster police best practices to allowing for the release of low-level offenders while they wait for trial, from eliminating prison for low-level drug crimes to increasing drug and mental health treatment, the ideas in this book pave a way forward. Solutions promises to further the intellectual and political momentum to reform our justice system…In a remarkable cross-ideological effort, this book includes essays by public figures and experts who will play a leading role in the nation’s debate over the coming year. The book contains original essays by Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Cathy L. Lanier, Martin O’Malley, Janet Napolitano, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Bryan Stevenson, Scott Walker, and Jim Webb, among others.”

Image of the week) 

Jim Bourg/Reuters

Quote of the week) “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”- W.E.B. Du Bois

#BlackLivesMatter

Pick 6 (4/24/15)

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Hello friends. We’re back again with our weekly feature–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.) ‘Release cards’ turn inmates and families into profit streams (Al Jazeera America)

“Correctional facilities across the country are increasingly sending former inmates home with their funds returned on pre-paid debit cards, known in the industry as release cards. In addition to adoption by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 17 state prison agencies reported using them…Prison reform advocates like Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative say that their use is even more widespread among the nation’s nearly 3,300 jails. With almost 12 million people admitted to county and city jails each year, these local facilities provide a steady source of cardholders subject to high fees…Unlike consumer debit cards, prison-issued cards are completely unregulated when it comes to the fees that can be charged. The result is high transaction and maintenance fees that bear little relation to the actual costs of the services provided…A review of bids and contracts in several states and counties found ATM withdrawal fees of nearly $3 per transaction. A simple balance inquiry typically incurs a charge of $1.50. Account maintenance fees, deducted even if no transactions are made, can be as much as $2.50 per week. Cardholders who opt to transfer their balances to a bank account can be charged closing fees of $30. These cards are designed to generate income for the private vendors that furnish them…The cost of issuing and managing the cards is paid for solely by the exorbitant fees former inmates must pay, fees that quickly deplete their already meager balances…The vendors aren’t the only ones making a profit from these fees. It’s common practice for these companies to send a cut of the collected fees directly to the prison agencies and jails. These “commissions,” essentially legalized kickbacks, make money transfers and other fee-generating services a reliable profit engine for the corrections agencies themselves.”

2.) 40,000 Maryland Ex-Cons May Soon Get Their Voting Rights Back (Mother Jones)

“A national, bipartisan effort to roll back restrictions on felon voting rights could soon take a big step forward in Maryland. Earlier this month, the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would restore the right to vote to felons immediately after release from prison. Currently, Maryland is one of 20 states that bars felons from voting until they have completed prison time, parole, and probation. The bill currently sits on the desk of Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who has backed criminal justice reform. If enacted, the law would make it easier for 40,000 Maryland residents with past convictions to exercise their voting rights.”

3.) American Outcasts: US Prisons and Modern Day Banishment (The Intercept)

“In ancient times, communities would often rid themselves of convicted criminals and other undesirables through the practice of banishment: casting unwanted people out into the wilderness. The Romans often employed banishment as an alternative to capital punishment, and indeed, considered it a fate nearly as terrible as death. Later, the British Empire liberally employed the punishment of banishment and transportation to colonies such as Australia, while the Soviet Union became known for its use of internal banishment to Siberia. The terms exile, outlaw and outcast all owe their origin to this once widespread practice. As the world grew smaller, banishment, as a practical matter, virtually ceased to exist. Though it still remains on the books in a few Southern states, it is generally thought of as an archaic form of punishment, and one that cannot function effectively in the modern world. Yet the impetus behind banishment — to permanently remove individuals from society, and subject them to a kind of “social death” — flourishes today in the American criminal justice system, where prisons and jails are the settings for a new kind of internal exile…According to the Sentencing Project, nearly 50,000 Americans are currently serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), a punishment that has been called “the other death sentence,” and which, like capital punishment, is unknown in Europe. In excess of 100,000 more are serving life sentences…It is here, and not just in the popular areas of low level drug offenses or other easy reforms, that we must look for true change in our criminal justice system.”

4.) Public defenders: The fast food workers of justice? (The Southern Illinoisan)

“Although applauding the skill and dedication of public defenders, Larry Lauterjung was ready to do about anything else after serving as an assistant public defender for nearly 10 years…He describes being a public defender as a cross between an air-traffic controller and working at a fast-food restaurant. There are a lot of moving parts that have to be dealt with quickly and with people’s lives hanging in the balance. “Other public defenders that I have known, I have seen the toll that the stress takes on them. I have seen some who lasted to the point that they retired and they are some of the strongest people I have ever known in my life,” [Lauterjung says].”

5.) New York City Just Outlawed Running Credit Checks on Job Applicants (Truthout)

 New York’s City Council just voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the common practice of letting employers prejudge people based on their credit history—passing an unprecedented ban against employers use of workers’ credit background data…The rationale behind the ban is simple: it’s unfair and useless to use a person’s credit history, which is often inaccurate or misleading, when assessing their job qualifications…[A] negative credit record is associated with many of the disadvantages of being poor, jobless, not white, or in poor health—and not with how trustworthy you are or how well you write computer code or repair a car. But since employers can generally pull up credit data…this information can easily be misinterpreted or manipulated. By providing convenient proxies for race and class, data can become a tool to simultaneously affirm and perpetuate negative stereotypes of workers based on arbitrary factors…”It’s a huge civil rights issue along racial lines, but it’s also a huge privacy issue,” [Sarah Ludwig of the New Economic Project] says. “Because if you are applying for a job, why should your prospective employer know that you lost your house…or that you broke up with your spouse and that created financial distress.” Of the new ban, Ludwig states,  “It’s a strong law…and it’s going to cover most New Yorkers [and] most jobs by far and away. It’s a real civil rights victory.”

6.) Justice Department opens probe into death of Freddie Gray (Baltimore Sun)

“The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore, Md., regarding the death of Freddie Gray,” spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement. “Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred.” (Related: The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray)

+1) Confederate History Month: An embarrassing Abomination (Huffington Post)

“Seven state governments have designated April as Confederate History Month. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia all participate in this misguided paean to a troubling past…Southerners today seem incapable of understanding that the South started and then lost a war that nearly destroyed the United States. The South lost decisively. The rebel cause was unjust, immoral and treasonous. The economic justification was unseemly; the actions were treasonous. There is no part of the Confederate cause of which to be proud. There is no moral high ground here…Now is a good time to close this chapter of hypocrisy and inconsistency. A southern loyalist cannot be a patriot; the two ideals are mutually incompatible. You cannot simultaneously love the United States and love the idea of dissolving the bond between states that constitute the country.”

Report of the week) Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California (Drug Policy Alliance)

“Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California is a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in California that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law. Civil asset forfeiture law allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property – even from citizens never charged with or convicted of a crime.

Graphic of the week) FBI admits flaws in hair analysis over decades (Washington Post)

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence. The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

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(courtesy of the Washington Post)

Extra graphic of the week) 1.5 Million Black Men Are Missing (New York Times)

“In New York, almost 120,000 black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are missing from everyday life. In Chicago, 45,000 are, and more than 30,000 are missing in Philadelphia. Across the South — from North Charleston, S.C., through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi and up into Ferguson, Mo. — hundreds of thousands more are missing. They are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to anUpshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men…African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.”

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(courtesy of the New York Times)

Pick 6 (4/17/15)

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Hi friends. Again it is Friday, so again it is 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 any and all thoughts or feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) John Legend Launches Campaign to End Mass Incarceration (AP)

From the AP: “John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration. The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday…”We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration…I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.”

2.) Are you running for President? Please answer these questions about the criminal justice system. (Washington Post)

Thus far, Hilary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Marco Rubio (R), and Rand Paul (R) have announced their candidacies for President of the United States. Radley Balko, author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” has strung together a “quick and dirty list of [criminal justice related] questions” that he’d like to see 2016 Presidential candidates answer.

3.) Federal Prosecutor Tries a Radical Tactic in the Drug War: Not Throwing People in Prison (Huffington Post)

“[South Carolina’s top] U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration…If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country…Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.”

4.) Driver’s License Suspension Create Cycle of Debt (New York Times)

“The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the three jobs before that. In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license. Mr. Seay’s inability to pay those costs has trapped him in a cycle that thousands of other low-income Tennesseans are struggling to escape. Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay. As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. In Tennessee, almost 90,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended since its law was enacted in 2011…Many defendants are forced to choose between paying court debt or essentials like utility bills and child support. Mr. Seay said his tax refund this year went toward child support debt accumulated during his time in prison and periods of unemployment. For even low-level offenders, debt can make a valid license unattainable…In Tennessee, judges have the discretion to waive court fees and fines for indigent defendants, but they do not have to, and some routinely refuse. Judges also have wide discretion over how much time to allow defendants to pay traffic tickets before suspending a license.”

5.) The Legal Right to Videotape Police Isn’t Actually All that Clear (City Lab)

From The Atlantic’s City Lab: “Last Saturday, a Dominican immigrant named Feidin Santana used his phone to record video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. Slager has been charged with murder. Santana, who is being celebrated as a hero, has since said that he was terrified and thought about erasing the video. He had reason to be afraid. What if police had assaulted or arrested Santana, or destroyed his phone?…[T]he truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly ruled that no right had been “clearly established.” Until a right to record police is in fact clearly established, some officers will continue to act against bystanders who record them with impunity.” (Related: California Senate seeks to clarify right to video police conduct)

6.) D.C. Council rejects Corizon Health contract after lobbying battle (Washington Post)

Last month, R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor blogged about the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare. Dominik specifically mentioned Corizon Health’s failings in Alabama and in Alameda County, California. Our last Pick this week is an update on Corizon Health and the movement to improve healthcare for incarcerated people. From the Washington Post: “The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial health-care contract proposed for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents. The council’s 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million proposal by Corizon Health marked a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who had supported the contract….Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. David Grosso (I) said that if getting the best possible care for the city’s inmates is the objective, then “contracting with a for-profit, scandal-prone company is not the way for us to get there.” 

Report of the week) Stop and Frisk in Chicago (ACLU of Illinois)

From the executive summary of our report of the week: “Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk: Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop. Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts. Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice. In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops…This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.”

Extra of the week) Letter from Birmingham Jail (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

52 years ago this week (4/16/1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.The letter defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King declares that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws, and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. King famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Related: What if MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Had Been a Facebook Post?)

Take a few moments this weekend to read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Or if your prefer, here is audio of King reading the letter. Enjoy. #BlackLivesMatter

5 Criminal Justice and Reentry Documentaries You MUST See

This week, Root & Rebound’s Spring Law Clerk Chandra Peterson reviews five must-watch criminal justice/reentry related documentaries. Be Informed and Take Action! What’s better than snuggling up on your couch with some popcorn and a great criminal justice documentary? Probably … Continue reading

Pick 6 (3/20/2015)

Views from 6

Hello friends. We’re back with our weekly feature–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.

As you may have noticed, our Pick 6 now has a new logo!!! The new Pick 6 logo features a hand picking a fruit off a tree, while another fruit is inscribed with a “6.” This new logo is ripe with symbolism (pun intended): the tree represents knowledge; the fruit represents a sweet reward; and the upward-reaching hand represents all of us who continue to simultaneously reach for both greater knowledge and justice. Here’s to hoping that we can continually educate ourselves about and work to eradicate the problems within our criminal justice system, so that we may be rewarded with justice for all…

Our new logo was created by Amira Taylor, a very creative and talented Mass Communications major at Old Dominion University [she’s also R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor’s little sister]. You can follow Amira on Twitter @ataylor28

As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) US lawmakers introduce bill to restore voting rights to ex-convicts (Al Jazeera America)

On Wednesday, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Representative (John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a new bill in both houses of Congress. If enacted, the bill, The Democracy Restoration Act, will restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions. Deborah J. Vagins of the ACLU stated, “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disenfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process.” As we told you last week, largely because of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, 1 in 13 African Americans in the country are barred from voting. Of the 5.85 million Americans barred from voting, only 25% are currently in prison. 35 states currently have laws that bar people from voting if they are on parole. 31 states have laws that disenfranchise people on felony probation. In 11 states, a felony conviction results in life-time disenfranchisement. As a federal law, the Democracy Restoration Act, if enacted, will preempt state disenfranchisement laws, ending felony disenfranchisement as we know it. Here’s more information on felony disenfranchisement.

2.) Racial tensions flare at U-Va. after arrest of black student (Washington Post)

Racial tensions flared and over 1000 students marched in protest at the University of Virginia, after white Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officers violently arrested a black UVA student outside of a popular pub early Thursday morning. 20 year old Martese Johnson–an honors student and elected member of UVA’s prestigious Honor Committee–was battered, bloodied, and arrested by ABC officers after Johnson was denied admission into a local pub for allegedly showing a fake ID. UVA president Teresa A. Sullivan told the Washington Post that, “Getting arrested shouldn’t involve getting stitches.” Cellphone videos of the incident show Johnson laying facedown on the ground with a stream of blood running down his face as numerous officers aggressively place his hands in cuffs. Johnson is heard repeatedly crying out, “How could this happen?” Johnson required ten stitches for his injuries. The UVA protests mark the latest protests in the growing #BlackLivesMatter movement. For more on this story, you can go here or here.

3.) I Was Alabama’s Top Judge. I’m Ashamed by What I Had to Do to Get There: How Money is ruining America’s courts (Politico Magazine)

In a piece for Politico Magazine, Sue Bell Cobb, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court speaks out against judicial elections. Cobb writes, “In Alabama, you don’t get to mete out justice without spending millions of dollars. I had my money; my opponent had his . . . The amounts are utterly obscene. In Alabama, would-be judges are allowed to ask for money directly. We can make calls not just to the usual friends and family but to lawyers who have appeared before us, lawyers who are likely to appear before us, officials with companies who may very well have interests before the court. And I did. Where do you draw the line? . . . When a judge asks a lawyer who appears in his or her court for a campaign check, it’s about as close as you can get to legalized extortion.”

4.) Missouri executes Cecil Clayton, state’s oldest death-row inmate (The Guardian)

On Tuesday, Missouri executed mentally impaired Cecil Clayton, who due to a 1972 work accident, was missing 20% of the frontal lobe of his brain. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that, under the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, it is unconstitutional to put to death an intellectually disabled person. Medical experts found that Clayton was intellectually disabled with an IQ of 71. Despite this, the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear his case.

5.) Did the US Prison Boom Lead to the Crime Drop? New Study Says No. (The Intercept)

In Louisiana, 1 in 75 adults is incarcerated. This is twice the national average. This statistic has lead to Louisiana’s reputation as “the world’s prison capital.” A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice shows that Louisiana’s high incarceration rate results from harsh sentencing, brutal mandatory minimums, and a large percentage of inmates servicing sentences of life without parole. But as Lauren-Brooke Eisen of the Brennan Center notes, mass incarceration in Louisiana (and elsewhere) can be counterproductive. Eisen states, “There is no evidence that locking more people up makes America safer.”

6.) The Untold Narrative of Black Men in the United States (Center for American Progress)

A new study by the Center for American Progress finds that, “While the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow continue to plague black men and the black community as a whole, there has been great improvement in terms of education, employment, and income, among other areas.”

The report concludes that of fathers who live with their children, black fathers are more likely to be intimately involved in their children’s lives. Black men are more likely to bathe, dress, diaper, and assist their children in the bathroom than fathers in all other demographic groups. The study also shows that black fathers living with their children are more likely to help them with homework on a daily basis than fathers of other demographic groups. As this study demonstrates, it is time for negative stereotypes of black males as absent fathers to end.

Report of the week: Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition (Center for Community Alternatives)

The Center for Community Alternatives and Education From The Inside Out Coalition recently published a new case study that, “makes clear how the criminal history box on college applications and the supplemental requirements and procedures that follow create barriers to higher education for otherwise qualified applicants.” While the report focuses on the State University of New York system, the report has national implications, as the procedures and requirements of the SUNY system are reflective of procedures followed by colleges and universities nationwide.

Update: UN panel to consider US ‘failure’ to clear up racial murders of the civil rights era (The Guardian)

Last month, we told you about a report by the Equal Justice Initiative that argued that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. On Thursday (3/19), the United Nations human rights council held a special meeting where the United States Department of Justice was accused of failing to account for hundreds of African Americans who disappeared or were lynched in the deep south during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Ed Pilkington writes that, “The UN spotlight falls at a time of rising concern about the unresolved nature of America’s sordid history of race killings. It follows the recent publication of a study by the Equal Justice Initiative that identified almost 4,000 lynchings in the country between 1877 and 1950 – vastly more than previously reported.”

Update: Audit: SDPD flaws led to misconduct (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Last month we told you about a report by San Diego County’s District Attorney’s Office that analyzed and detailed police officer-involved shootings in San Diego County from 1993-2012. On Tuesday, the Police Executive Research Forum (overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice) released the findings of a year-long review of the San Diego Police Department. The auditors offered 40 policy-based recommendations to correct the systematic flaws within SDPD. This independent audit found “serious gaps in supervision and discipline that allowed officer sexual misconduct and other offenses to go undetected for months and even years.”

Pick 6 (3/13/15)

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Hello friends. It’s Friday the 13th…so you know what that means…it’s 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 always welcome thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) In response to Ferguson probe, Cleaver to introduce bill to curb policing for revenue (Washington Post)

Last week we told you about the recently released U.S. Department of Justice report into the policing and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. DOJ investigators determined that “in nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system,” African Americans are disparately impacted. On Wednesday, 3/11/15, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned, seven months after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown. Early Thursday morning, two St. Louis area police officers were shot in Ferguson by an unknown gunman, as protesters peacefully gathered outside police headquarters. Peaceful protests continued in Ferguson on Thursday night and a candlelight vigil was held for the two officers, who have been released from the hospital.

Amidst the continued tension in Ferguson, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) announced his plans to propose a bill called The Fair Justice Act. While the bill will likely face steep opposition from House Republicans, if enacted, The Fair Justice Act would make it a federal civil rights violation punishable by up to five years in prison for a police officer, chief, or department to enforce criminal or traffic laws for the purpose of raising revenue. Clever and Representative Lacy Clay (D-MO) also announced that they are offering a cash reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of “those responsible” for Thursday’s shooting.

2.) 3 Unarmed Black Men Killed By Police Officers In 4 Days (Think Progress)

As peaceful protests continue in Ferguson, Missouri, 3 unarmed African American men have been killed by police officers in a 4 day span. Unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant was shot and killed in Aurora, Colorado last Friday. In Madison, Wisconsin, unarmed Tony Robinson was also shot and killed by a police officer last Friday. And on Monday, outside Atlanta, Georgia, unarmed Anthony Hill was shot and killed by a police officer. As Carimah Townes of Think Progress notes, “research suggests that bias may inform officers’ split-second decisions to use lethal force. Furthermore, officers associate black faces with criminal behavior and are more likely to view African Americans as threatening.”

3.) UN expert slams US as only nation to imprison kids for life without parole (Al Jazeera America)

As Natasja Sheriff reports, the United States was singled out Monday by a United Nations expert on torture for being the only country in the world that continues to sentence children to life in prison without parole. The usage of life sentences without parole on children is banned by several international laws, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Child. The U.S. and South Sudan are the only two U.N. countries that have signed, but not ratified, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Child. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

4.) Fix felon voting law, Washington County attorney says (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

In Minnesota, state law currently forbids convicted felons from voting while on probation, parole, or any other form of community supervision. This will all change if a recently proposed bill passes. The bill, which has bipartisan support, would grant voting rights to convicted felons who are on probation, parole, or community supervision. If enacted, the bill will restore the right to vote in the 47,000 Minnesotans under probation or parole. 18 states currently allow people on probation or parole to vote. Here’s more information on felony disenfranchisement, which has resulted in 1 of every 13 African Americans, nationwide, being unable to vote.

5.) Barred from Church (The Marshall Project)

Last month, Graham County, North Carolina sheriff announced that registered sex offenders could not attend church services in his county. Graham County consists of 9000 people and has 20 registered sex offenders. As noted by Maurice Chammah of The Marshall Project, this “policy taps into a much larger issue faced by states, counties, and churches throughout the country as they implement often sweeping and strict laws meant to prevent sex crimes: Can sex offenders attend church? And is denying them the ability to do so a violation of their rights?” North Carolina’s ACLU is currently reviewing Graham County’s policy.

6.) Why Was An FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force Tracking A Black Lives Matter Protest? (The Intercept)

The Intercept recently obtained an email confirming that members of an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force tracked the time and location of a Black Lives Matter protest last December at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. According to the FBI’s website, the FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce operates in 104 cities nationwide and serves as “our nation’s front line to terrorism.” A spokesperson for the FBI told The Intercept that the FBI has no interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the FBI spokesperson’s denial, this news sounds eerily similar to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s efforts to track the personal lives of  Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and other prominent members of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

#blacklivesmatter

(+1) Jennifer Lobato’s Jail Death: Sheriff Admits She Didn’t Need To Die (Westword)

Last week, R&R’s blog featured a story about the dangers (and horrors) of the for-profit prison healthcare industry. In this week’s final Pick, we bring you the story of Jennifer Lobato, a 38-year-old mother of seven who recently died in a Jefferson County, Colorado Jail. Lobato was booked into the Jefferson County jail on March 1. At the time of her booking, Lobato was going through heroin withdrawals. Lobato denied using drugs during her intake screening and the jail’s medical team did not realize that Lobato was going through withdrawals. The next morning, as her withdrawals worsened, Lobato informed a jail deputy that she was going through heroin withdrawals. The deputy informed the medical staff. But the medical staff did nothing. As Lobato’s condition grew worse and worse, fellow inmates informed the deputies that Lobato was vomiting “virtually nonstop.” Still, Lobato received no medical attention and she died in her cell that night. In a local t.v. interview following Lobato’s death, Jefferson County Sheriff, Jeff Shrader, responded, “No, no,” when asked whether Lobato needed to die in jail. Shrader also replied, “That is correct,” when asked whether it was true that Lobato was left in her cell for 10 hours despite numerous inmate complaints about her condition. Last December, a jury awarded  former Jefferson County inmate, Ken McGill, $11 million in a lawsuit stemming from the substandard provision of care after McGill suffered a stroke. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. provides healthcare in Jefferson County.

Thanks for reading!

The R&R Team

Pick 6 (2/27/15)

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Hello friends. 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.) The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ (The Guardian)

In an exclusive, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian describes the horrific treatment of detainees at a secretive, off-the-books interrogation”black site” known as Homan Square. Homan Square is a “nondescript warehouse,” but it isn’t located at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib . . . it’s located on the west side of Chicago and is operated by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Among the alleged atrocities committed by CPD are: keeping arrestees out of official booking databases, shackling and beating arrestees for extended periods of time, denying attorneys access to the “secure facility,” and holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

2.) Free state ID cards proposed for newly released prisoners (Seattle Times)

Not having proper identification can be a major hurdle for newly released prisoners. Identification is required to get housing, to get a job, to cash a check, and even to get a library card. In Washington, getting a new driver’s license or state identification card usually costs between $45-$54 (not to mention, the time and cost of transportation required to get to a Department of Licensing office). Unfortunately, many Washington prisoners are only released with as little as $40. But a new bill, proposed by state legislator, Cyrus Habib, would issue free temporary identification to all reentering individuals as they are released from jail or prison.

3.) Want to visit an inmate? Increasingly, you’ll have to log on (San Fransisco Chronicle)

Hamed Aleaziz reports that several California counties, notably; Napa, Solano, and San Mateo are moving away from allowing prisoners to have in-person visits, and are instead replacing them with Skype-like digital video-chats. Supporters argue that using video-chat technology saves money and strengthens security. Supporters are quick to note that families can now video-chat with their incarcerated loved ones from home, without having to make a trip to jail. But as Bernadette Rabuy of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative notes, “Inmates and their families find video visits to be more impersonal.They talk about being able to hold their hand on the piece of glass and the other incarcerated person holding their hand up. Moments like that feel impossible with video visits.” A 2011 Minnesota Department of Corrections study concluded in-person prison visits “establish a continuum of social support,” and that visited inmates were 13% less likely to be convicted of a new felony after release. According to Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at UC Irvine, “The data is pretty good. The more in-person visits prisoners have, the better off they are likely to be when they get out.” Also problematic is the fact that the video-chats are expensive. The companies providing video-chat technologies for prisons and jails charge families up to $20 for as little as 20 minutes of talk time. These companies then split profits with the county (Napa receives 20% of fees obtained from video chats to its inmates).

4.) Santa Clara County increases oversight of cases of youths being charged as adults (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

California prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to charge juvenile suspects as juveniles or as adults. A 2013 internal review by Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. In response to this finding, Santa Clara’s DA has teamed up with Santa Clara’s Public Defender’s office and several Bay Area youth advocacy groups to examine these cases more stringently. Specifically, the DA has asked youth advocates who favor rehabilitation over prison to review and critique the DA’s decision to charge juveniles as adults. The committee of advocates is currently reviewing every 2014 Santa Clara case where a juvenile was charged as an adult.

5.) Eric Holder’s parting shot: It’s too hard to bring civil rights cases (Politico)

Last Saturday (2/21) marked the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. In a recent exit interview, Politico asked outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C. Holder’s answer–“The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”Holder also stated that before leaves office, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes (see # 6, below). “I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something I am going to be talking about before I leave office.” Holder’s remarks come days after the Department of Justice announced that it has closed its investigation in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin. DOJ will not be filing federal hate-crime charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.

6.) Why Is It So Hard to Prove a Civil Rights Crime? (The New Republic)

Cristian Farias discusses the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not file federal hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman and the limits of federal hate crimes laws. Farias writes, “Willfulness, in civil rights cases or otherwise, is by far the most difficult thing to prove in criminal law. And absent a damning confession from Zimmerman or a mountain of circumstantial evidence showing that he harbors resentment toward black teenagers, making that showing is hardso hard, DOJ determined, it couldn’t risk pressing charges and losing later.”

Bonus: Tomorrow, 2/28, marks the end of Black History Month. If you have some spare time this weekend, cozy up with your loved ones and take 2 hours to watch “Freedom Riders,” the beautifully directed, 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson Jr. “Freedom Riders” is the powerful, harrowing, and inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Jim Crow South. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo by riding interstate buses and trains in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced illegal segregation in seating. They called national attention to the blatant disregard for federal laws and the local mob violence used to enforce segregation in the South. You can watch Freedom Riders for free online courtesy of PBS. Here’s a link to the film.

Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students

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This blog was written by R&R’s Spring Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor. He will be writing more articles about issues of criminal justice over the next few months. In May 2015, Dominik will be leaving us to begin a two-year Fellowship with the incredible Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.

In Texas, teachers are permitted to carry guns in the classroom. This has been the case since 2012, when, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, Texas passed a law allowing for school employees to carry firearms on campus.[1] But the recently proposed Texas H.B. 868, entitled the Teacher’s Protection Act,[2] would go one step further and allow Texas teachers to use deadly force to kill a “threating” student.[3] H.B. 868, proposed by Rep Dan Flynn (R), would provide educators with civil immunity and “a defense to prosecution” should they use force or deadly force to protect themselves, students of their school, or even school property.[4] If enacted, H.B. 868, could lead to a variety of frightening consequences (i.e. sending the message that school property is more valuable than the lives of the school’s students). Given the biases and prejudices of the world we live in, the existence of “zero tolerance” policies in many schools across the country, combined with the chances of human error, this bill could prove deadly for students, especially students of color.

What are the different factors that could come together to prove deadly here?

(1) The school to prison-pipeline.

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to policies and practices that push schoolchildren—especially poor students of color—out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice system.[5] Underfunded and underperforming schools who face budget cuts,[6] the pressure of standardized testing,[7] and public concern following several highly-publicized school shootings,[8] have resorted to “zero-tolerance polices” that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of the circumstances. A 2014 study from the Department of Education observed that black students are expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white students.[9] Black students account for 46% of students suspended more than one time.[10] While black students only represent 16% of students enrolled in American public schools, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement, and 31% of students subjected to school-related arrests.[11] According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the ACLU, “Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and drop-outs. All of these factors increase the likelihood of court involvement.”[12]

(2) Zero Tolerance Policies

Students of color are disproportionately impacted by zero-tolerance policies, policies that dictate that schools expel any student who is perceived to cause trouble. The result of these policies is that these “troubled students”—disproportionately students of color (more on that below)—are sent straight into the criminal justice system—so that they are no longer a burden to the school. This happens every day in our country, even though many intermediary and more holistic steps could be taken to help these students.[13]

(3) Implicit Bias

“Implicit bias” is defined as the mental process that causes us to have negative feelings and attitudes about people based off characteristic like, race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.[14] As noted by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, “In the general population, implicit racial bias often supports the stereotypical caricature of Black youth—especially males—as irresponsible, dishonest, and dangerous. In an ideal world, teachers and school administrators would be immune to these unconscious negative attitudes and predispositions about race. But, of course, they are not.”[15]

(4) H.B. 868.

Back to H.B. 868. When you take this bill, allowing for the use of deadly force and leaving much to a teacher’s discretion, and combine it with zero tolerance policies and implicit bias, it is clear that it puts students of color at risk of punishment by physical violence or death. Instead of school-to-prison pipeline, you might see one that is school-to-grave.

To demonstrate the devastating, and potentially deadly, consequences that H.B. 868 would have if enacted, let’s consider the recent vandalism of a Texas high school. On the evening of September 6, 2014, Lake Travis High, in Lake Travis, Texas was vandalized.[16] According to the local news, offensive words and pictures were spray-painted on the school’s entrance and windows were broken.[17] At the time of the vandalism, the Lake Travis High administration believed the culprits to be “two young men and a young woman.”[18]

Now, if H.B. 868 was the law on September 6, 2014, then one of Travis High’s teachers would legally be allowed to use reasonable force to defend the school from vandalism.

Picture this: a teacher is working late grading tests, when he looks out the window of his classroom. The teacher witnesses three teenagers (likely high school students) standing outside a school window. One of the teens throws something through the window and shatters it. If H.B. 868, were the law, it would allow that teacher to approach the teens and use reasonable force to protect the school’s property (i.e. to prevent the teens from breaking a school window).

Now picture this: the teacher decides to go outside to approach the teens. As the teacher gets closer, he notices that the teens are each carrying long, dark objects in their hands. The teacher is carrying a concealed firearm, as he is allowed to do under Texas law. But the teacher still feels threatened because he is outnumbered and the kids are holding dark objects.

As the teacher approaches, one of the teens holds up the dark object. The teacher then reaches for his firearm and fatally shoots the teen. As the shot teen lays on the ground, the other two teens run away. The teacher approaches the first kid, who is now lying on the ground, shot and dying. It is then that the teacher realizes that the dark object that the kid was holding was a can of spray paint. Would H.B. 868 grant the teacher a valid legal defense to shooting and killing a kid who was armed with a can of spray paint? The answer certainly appears to be “yes.”

What’s most ironic (or maybe not ironic at all), is that support for zero-tolerance policies largely stems from the passage of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a piece of federal legislation that mandated that schools expel any students found with firearms, or lose federal funding.[19] The Gun Free Schools Act was designed to decrease violence in schools. But through the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies and the silent yet damning effects of unrecognized implicit bias,[20] and now H.B. 868, Texas schoolchildren—particularly students of color—still face the spectre of gun violence. Only now it’s teachers carrying the guns. And those teachers may soon have a statutory legal defense and civil immunity from punishment or liability for killing a student.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-texas-schools-allow-armed-employees1408986620 (paywall)

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/01/texas-teachers-could-be-allowed-to-gun-down-students-to-protect-school-property/

[3] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BEJae18IIr8J:ftp://ftp.legis.state.tx.us/bills/84R/billtext/html/house_bills/HB00800_HB00899/HB00868I.htm&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1

[4] http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BEJae18IIr8J:ftp://ftp.legis.state.tx.us/bills/84R/billtext/html/house_bills/HB00800_HB00899/HB00868I.htm&hl=en&gl=us&strip=1

[5] https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/what-school-prison-pipeline

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/26/texas-budget_n_3340949.html

[7] http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/02/texas-cant-change-the-nature-of-math-fox-guest-destroys-gov-abbott-for-rejecting-common-core/

[8] http://abc13.com/archive/8498652/

[9] http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

[10] http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

[11] http://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

[12] https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/what-school-prison-pipeline citing http://www.otlcampaign.org/sites/default/files/resources/american-academy-pediatrics-suspensions-policy-statement.pdf

[13] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[14] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[15] http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/racial-disproportionality-in-school-discipline-implicit-bias-is-heavily-implicated/

[16] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[17] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[18] http://kxan.com/2014/09/08/vandals-strike-lake-travis-high-school-again/

[19] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/education/school-spirit-or-gang-signs-zero-tolerance-comes-under-fire-n41431

[20] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice

Victory! Alameda Superior Court Judge Orders Restoration of Voting Rights for Tens of Thousands Disenfranchised Californians.

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Michael Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Michael Scott et al. v. Debra Bowen. Photo from the ACLU website. 

This week we blogged about an important case challenging the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters in California. Today we have some exciting news regarding the case – an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen illegally stripped people on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and Mandatory Supervision under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act of their voting rights two years ago, saying they are in fact eligible to vote.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”

”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”

We at Root & Rebound applaud all the individuals and organizations that brought this lawsuit: the League of Women Voters of California, All of Us or None, The ACLU of California and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. This is an amazing victory for returning citizens in the state. It is also an encouraging sign for all of us who work to protect the rights of people in reentry – as a state and a nation, we are moving in the right direction – away from legal barriers and exclusion – to upholding the worth, dignity and contributions of all of our citizens.

See here and here for more details on the case.

Happy Friday!

– The R & R Team