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 (4/17/15)

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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

Pick 6 (4/10/15)

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. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!

1.) South Carolina Officer is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott (New York Times)

“A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away. The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man [Walter Scott] had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening…[T]he video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by the Scott family’s lawyer, presents a different account [than Officer Slager’s]. The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run. Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots. The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”

2.) Felons barred from constructing Apple’s campus (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Apple is known for being secretive and picky about who works on its popular devices, but now, union officials say, that thinking also applies to the construction workers pouring the concrete for the tech giant’s new offices. Several construction workers who were hired to build the exterior of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino were ordered to leave the site in January due to prior felony convictions, several union officials and workers told The Chronicle. The ban is unusual for construction work, a field in which employers typically do not perform criminal background checks…For work on the Apple site, anyone with a felony conviction or facing felony charges “does not meet owner standards,” according to documents from construction companies acquired by The Chronicle…Banning felons could bring about legal ramifications for Apple, said Lisa Klerman, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “If they are just disqualifying people with felony convictions with no connection to the job, they could be challenged legally,” Klerman said. People who have served prison or jail time, or have a felony conviction on their record, are 20 percent less likely to find work, compared with people in the same demographic who don’t have criminal records…There are at least 12 million people in the United States in this category…“When people get an opportunity to get a job and make a living, their likelihood of returning to crime goes down dramatically,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist with the [Center for Economic and Policy Research]. “There is a strong association with people not finding a job and people ending up back behind bars.”

3.) Sprinklers Out, Still Homeless (Truthout)

“In my own town of Berkeley, just across the bay from San Francisco, the city council, rallied by our Downtown Business Association, is working to pass a set of ordinances that would prohibit sleeping on public sidewalks, asking for spare change, using blankets and setting down belongings in our downtown area. In a city with significantly more homeless people than shelter beds available, this amounts to criminalizing behaviors that people engage in to survive…As more and more wealthy tech workers move to San Francisco, people are being forced from their communities, from their cities, to places they can afford. For those who can no longer afford rent, this means moving into a car or onto the street. For those on the streets, gentrification means intensified policing and a rising threat of incarceration. UC Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Center recently reported a dramatic increase in “anti­-vagrancy” laws that further criminalize the already marginalized homeless population, pushing people into jails, out of sight and out of mind. San Francisco is currently pushing to build a new jail in the city – I guess to provide housing for people displaced by these measures.” (related: Five Reasons Why San Francisco Needs to Use Public Lands for Public Benefit, Not Luxury Housing)

4.) Judge: Parts of state’s sex offender law unconstitutional (Detroit Free Press)

“Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry law is so vague that parts of it are unconstitutional, including the requirement that offenders stay at least 1,000 feet from schools, a federal judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland, in a 72 page ruling, struck down several reporting requirements of the 1994 law, which has been amended several times by state lawmakers to make requirements stricter. And he struck down several other requirements, including a mandate that offenders report in person new e-mail and instant messaging addresses and notify authorities of all telephone numbers “routinely used by the individual.” The vagueness of the law “leaves law enforcement without adequate guidance to enforce the law and leaves registrants of ordinary intelligence unable to determine when the reporting requirements are triggered,” Cleland wrote in his ruling.”

5.) Unfair gang laws in California discriminate (The Muslim Observer)

San Jose native and Public Defender Sajid A Khan writes, “In 1988, the state of California passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (STEP) Act in order to “seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs.” In enacting the STEP Act, the legislature declared that California was in “a state of crisis” caused by “violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods” and sought to impose increased penalties on suspected street gang activity. In doing so, our lawmakers sanctioned stereotyping. In my practice handling gang cases, it has become abundantly clear that If someone looks a certain way, has certain tattoos, was raised in a certain neighborhood, and hangs out with certain people, law enforcement and school administrators will brand them as gang members…Yet, because of these factors that are usually beyond their control, my clients are labeled and demonized as gang members from a young age, a tag that they rarely can ever shake or remove. This stereotyping preys primarily upon impoverished minority males, namely young blacks and Latinos. In San Jose, my hometown, police commonly create field identification (FI) cards and place Latino youth in gang databases merely because of where they live, who their family members are, what colors they might been seen wearing, because they have a childhood nickname or because they are seen congregating on a street corner with friends. Once an individual is placed in a gang database or has a set of FI cards, there’s no way out. His friends are also likely to find themselves in the database because of their association with a “known” gang member.  A house of gang cards with a foundation built upon baseless stereotyping. Surely, there are some crimes that are gang motivated and should be prosecuted accordingly.  However, for every one of those, there are countless other prosecutions that are not based on actual gang related evidence and instead grounded in assumptions and prejudice.  Black and Latino young men are not all gang members, nor is every crime they commit gang related.”

6.) Exonerees are failed twice by the justice system (Los Angeles Times)

In an opinion piece for the LA Times, Scott Martelle writes, “Anthony Ray Hinton, a 58-year-old former warehouse worker, walked out of an Alabama prison late last week nearly 30 years after being sentenced to death for two murders he didn’t commit…”They took something from him that they don’t have the power to give back, but I think that they ought to, one, to initiate anything they can do to pay for some of the outrageous injustice this case creates. But I think if there’s really going to be any kind of meaningful response to this, not only should he be compensated, but people should be held accountable. People should apologize. People should do some soul-searching. We should create some procedures that mandate that when there is evidence that suggests the person is wrongly convicted, that that evidence has to be reviewed,” [stated Hinton’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative]…Only five states provide exonerees with mental health services or medical treatment — and, after years of substandard care, many former inmates have health problems. Only four offer job-placement assistance. So first the lives are ruined, and then once the error is corrected, the wrongfully convicted generally are just pushed back out into society, without a way to make a living, and without support from other than family or nonprofits. The injustice committed in our names is compounded, and often without proper compensation by the parties – police, prosecutors and witnesses – who stole years from the lives of the innocent, and left them, in many cases, ill-equipped to deal with a much faster paced society than the one from which they were plucked 10, 30, 30 or more years ago. In the end, we, as a society, fail.” (related: Talking to the man who just got exonerated after 30 years on death row)

Report of the week: The Process and Treatment of Mentally Ill Persons In the Criminal Justice System (The Urban Institute)

“Mentally ill offenders possess a unique set of circumstances and needs. However, all too often, they cycle through the criminal justice system without appropriate care to address their mental health. Their recurring involvement in the criminal justice system is a pressing concern. This report provides a national landscape on the processing and treatment of mentally ill individuals in the criminal justice system. It also highlights challenges involved in the reintegration of mentally ill offenders into society, the diversity of policies and protocols in state statutes to address such challenges, and promising criminal justice interventions for mentally ill offenders.”

Audio of the week: Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)

Tuesday April 7th would have been legendary singer Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday. Take a few minutes out of your weekend to listen to “Strange Fruit,” Holiday’s most famous song. Holiday first sang and performed “Strange Fruit” in 1939. “Strange Fruit” originated as a poem written by American writer, teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allan, as a protest against lynchings. In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, inspired by Lawrence Beitler’s photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. In Yahoo News Reverend Shawn Amos writes, “Holiday should live forever as a reminder of what is best about America, and the magical music it has given the world. It is the music of freedom and defiance. It is the music of comfort and change. It is the music of revolution and the soundtrack of protest.” Read more here.

Info-graphic of the week: Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area)

“In California, a driver who commits offenses as minor as driving without a seatbelt or littering faces a $490 fine, according to a new report…Worse, if the driver, who may not be able to afford to pay such a fine, does not pay it off quickly enough or fails to appear in court, the consequence is a suspended license – a consequence that prevents them from driving to work to earn the money they need to pay off their fine. The result is a Catch-22, where the only way to raise the money to gain back their license to drive is to drive without a license and risk even more fines for doing so.” Read the full report here. And check out the accompanying infographic here.

Pick 6 (4/3/15)

Views from 6

Hi 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.) Sixteen states have more people in prison cells than college dorms (The Grio)

David A. Love of The Grio writes, “As was reported in MetricMaps, there are 16 states where there are more bodies filling up the prisons than there are students living in college dormitories.  What is truly fascinating, maybe even disturbing, is that nearly all of these 16 states are located in the South, the bottom portion of the country…Let than sink in for a minute.  More people behind bars than in the dorms. What could it be about the South that would explain this?  Could it be a tradition of slavery, racial violence and Jim Crow segregation, a legacy of criminalizing and dehumanizing people and of just not treating folks very well?…It is no accident that the states which imprison the most – including the Deep South — are among the poorest and find themselves at the bottom of the barrel in terms of life expectancy, health standards and education. After all, Dixie has a great deal of experience with depriving people of educational opportunity when it forbade blacks to read and write, in favor of imprisoning them against their will on slave plantations. In addition, the Slave Codes created a police state that criminalized black people and singled them out for punishment. And the era of Jim Crow segregation only continued the racial oppression and the forced labor and imprisonment, even up until the present day.”

Corrections vs. College

2.) Woman who killed man she said abused her can’t escape felony past (Washington Post)

Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post reports, “Shari L. Thomas went to prison more than 25 years ago for killing the man who she said had abused her as a child. She used her time there to remake herself, becoming the first woman in Virginia to obtain a college degree behind bars. She earned a master’s degree in biotechnology after her release. She has kept her record clean since, managing research laboratories for major hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. In the past few years, perhaps because of the nation’s abiding fear of crime, its litigiousness, or the Internet’s ease at churning up background information that may not have surfaced before, Thomas has been rejected or terminated from several high-paying jobs. She had been making $150,000 six years ago. Now she is on food stamps…She could lose her Cecil County, Md., home. “I came home and got my
master’s degree,” said Thomas, 50. “I’d been working 18 years with no problem. When is enough enough?… And yet even now, her criminal record has the power to reach through time, upending her life…“I just feel like the punishment never ends,” 

3.) California’s Death Row has just about run out of room (KCRW-Los Angeles)

Darrell Satzman reports, “More than 750 inmates in California have been condemned to death. But no one in this state has been executed in nearly a decade – and with new inmates arriving every month, Death Row has just about run out of space. Gov. Jerry Brown is asking the Legislature for more than $3 million to open 100 new cells for condemned men at San Quentin Prison. The request is included in Brown’s $113 billion budget proposal…There are currently 731 men and 20 women on Death Row in California. Almost all of the men are at San Quentin, while the women are housed at a prison in Chowchilla.”

4.) Poverty Shrinks Brains from Birth (Scientific American)

According to new studies conducted by a team led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, California, The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests—and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain. Researchers have long suspected that children’s behavior and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors…Still, the researchers are hopeful that the impacts could be reversible through interventions such as providing better child care and nutrition. Research in humans and in other animals suggests that is the case: a study in Mexico, for instance, showed that supplementing poor families’ income improved their children’s cognitive and language skills within 18 months. “It’s important for the message not to be that if you’re poor your brain is smaller and will be smaller forever,” Sowell says.”

5.) The rise of the working poor and the non-working rich (Baltimore Sun)

In an opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, Robert Reich writes, “Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy…In reality, a large and growing share of the nation’s poor work full time — sometimes 60 or more hours a week — yet still don’t earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. It’s also commonly believed, especially among Republicans, that the rich deserve their wealth because they work harder than others. In reality, a large and growing portion of the super-rich have never broken a sweat. Their wealth has been handed to them. The rise of these two groups — the working poor and non-working rich — is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded. Six of today’s 10 wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. The Walmart heirs alone have more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined…Americans who became enormously wealthy over the last three decades are now busily transferring that wealth to their children and grandchildren. The nation is on the cusp of the largest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history. A study by the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy projects a total of $59 trillion passed down to heirs between 2007 and 2061. As the French economist Thomas Piketty reminds us, this is the kind of dynastic wealth that’s kept Europe’s aristocracy going for centuries. It’s about to become the major source of income for a new American aristocracy…That widening inequality — combined with the increasing numbers of people who work full time but are still impoverished and of others who have never worked and are fabulously wealthy — is undermining the moral foundations of American capitalism.”

6.) The poor are treated like criminals everywhere, even at the grocery store (Washington Post)

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Jeanine Grant Lister writes, “Anger toward those living below the poverty line seems to only be increasing. Maine and Missouri have proposed bills limiting residents’ food choices if they use SNAP. Missouri House Bill 813 would bar the state’s 930,000 food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy cookies, chips, soda, energy drinks, steak and seafood. (The legislature also implemented mandatory drug testing for TANF applicants in 2011.) If the bill becomes law, a Missourian can’t buy a can of tuna with an EBT card. Tortilla chips to go with salsa? Nope. Flank steak — tough, stringy and the only cut of beef I can afford — is off limits, too. Who are these people, and what makes them think that what we eat is their business? And given that the average food stamp allotment in my state in 2013 came out to just $1.41 per person per meal, I wonder if they understand that recipients couldn’t buy lobster if they wanted to. In America today, being poor is tantamount to a criminal offense, one that costs you a number of rights and untold dignities, including, apparently, the ability to determine what foods you can put on the dinner table. It’s as if middle-class and wealthy Americans think poor people live under the poverty line by choice, as if a sensible person would choose to subsist on so little. We’re barely getting by. Don’t tell us what to buy at the grocery store.”

+1) Does barbaric Georgia prison cell photo depict an American Abu Ghraib? (Christian Science Monitor)

Patrik Jonsson reports, “A shocking prison photo of inmates taken at a Georgia correctional facility could intensify a halting effort in the United States to alleviate poor prison conditions that can lead to unchecked barbarism likened to an American Abu Ghraib. The picture from Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Ga., shows three young and shirtless African-American male prisoners. One of them is pointing at the camera as though holding a gun, another is holding a makeshift leash, and the third, an 18-year-old, is on his knees, his left eye closed from a beating, and the leash lashed around his neck…“I think this picture can go a long way toward galvanizing a discussion about what prisons are for – particularly, does anybody believe that these men are deterred by prison?” says Jonathan Simon, a University of California, Berkeley law professor and author of “Mass Incarceration on Trial.” “You have to ask yourself: If the basic story that we tell ourselves is that it’s all about laws and sending people to prison because they violated laws and harmed other people, how can we possibly justify sending them to a place where that is happening to them?” Professor Simon says.”

+2) Obama Commutes 22 Drug Sentences, Instantly Doubling The Number of Commutations He’s Issued (Huffington Post)

“President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals on Tuesday, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued in the six-plus years he’s been in office. The men and women granted the reprieves had been imprisoned under an “outdated sentencing regime,” the administration concluded. Eight of the 22 inmates had been sentenced to life imprisonment and would have died behind bars. “Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement shared in advance with The Huffington Post. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years — in some cases more than a decade — longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.” The president sent a letter to each of the commutation recipients encouraging them to take advantage of their post-prison opportunity. An administration official said that this was the first time Obama has sent such letters during his presidency.”

Infographic of the WeekEconomic Benefits of Closing Academic Achievement Gaps (Center for American Progress)

From the Center for American Progress come this compelling infographic that, “demonstrate[s] the benefits of closing the achievement gap.  Despite the fact that 50.3 percent of students in public K-12 classrooms across America are children of color, black and Hispanic children are still far more likely than non-Hispanic white children to grow up in poverty. And on average, children of color score lower on math and science tests than their non-Hispanic white peers. These two trends are not coincidence; families’ financial security affects children’s ability to reach their academic potential. These children are the future of our workforce, and we need to ensure that they are equipped with the skills our future economy needs.”

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.

Pick 6 (3/20/2015)

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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.”

Employment Law, Title VII, and Advocating for People with Criminal Records

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of which Title VII is a subchapter. People watching include then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, & Speaker of the House John McCormack. Television cameras are broadcasting the ceremony. Source: LBJ Presidential Library.

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of which Title VII is a subchapter. People watching include then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, & Speaker of the House John McCormack. Television cameras are broadcasting the ceremony. Source: LBJ Presidential Library

Earlier this month, Maurice Emsellem, Policy Co-Director for the National Employment Law Project (NELP), sat down with Root & Rebound at his downtown Oakland office to talk about the employment issues that arise for people coming out of prison and jail.

At NELP, Maurice specializes in employment law as it affects people with criminal records. Maurice has worked on collaborations with organizers and advocates that have successfully modernized state unemployment insurance programs, created employment protections for workfare workers, and reduced unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records in state laws and in city hiring practices. He has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures, promoting innovative policy reforms.

We were lucky to sit down with Maurice and learn about some key areas in employment law that affect people with criminal records. In this blog post, we wanted to share information with you about how one major federal civil rights law—Title VII—can be used to help people with criminal records who are discriminated against in the employment sphere because of their record.

TITLE VII

  1. First, some basic info: Title VII is a federal civil rights law that says it is illegal for employers with 15 or more employees (20 employees for age-discrimination cases) to discriminate against any individual in recruiting, hiring and promotion decisions, transfers, work assignments, performance measurements, the work environment, job training, discipline and firing, wages and benefits, or any other condition or privilege of employment.
  2. Second important thing to know: Title VII only protects people from discrimination that is based on their membership in what the Supreme Court has defined as a “protected class.” Race, ethnicity, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), and disability are all protected classes under Title VII. Thus, an employer cannot discriminate on these specific bases; but Title VII does not cover groups outside of legally recognized protected classes.
  3. Third, Title VII not only prohibits intentional discrimination against protected classes, but also prohibits employers from having job practices and policies that cause a disparate impact on the basis of membership in a protected class, such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This law is helpful for advocates because, in many cases, it is very hard to prove that an employer intentionally discriminated against a person because of his/ her membership in a protected class; on the other hand, it is easier (though not easy!) to show that, despite an employer’s intention, the workplace policy has a “disparate impact”—that is, it disproportionately harms—a protected class. If a plaintiff shows that a practice has a disparate impact on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or other protected classes, the employer must then show that the job practice is job-related for the position in question and consistent with the needs of the business for the practice to be deemed lawful by a court.

Administrative Guidance on Title VII

  1. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VIIThe U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing Title VII and federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. The EEOC issues compliance guidelines to help employers, courts, and advocates understand and implement Title VII. Importantly for whistleblowers, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate—to discriminate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  2. The EEOC has issued enforcement guidance stating that an “employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history in making employment decisions may, in some instances, violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” You can find the EEOC guidance rules online here: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm.
  3. In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) has also issued Directives related to state and federal employment discrimination laws, including Directives issued to employers who receive federal financial assistance to help them comply with Title VII and their nondiscrimination obligations when serving individuals with criminal records. You can find the EDD’s Directives online here: http://www.edd.ca.gov/jobs_and_training/pubs/wsd12-9.pdf.

So why is Title VII relevant to our work and important for people with criminal records?

Here’s why: In a society that has a racially discriminatory criminal justice system, an overwhelming number of formerly incarcerated people are African American, Latino, and other people of color. So  Title VII’s protections for people on the basis of race, color, and national origin also protect people of color coming out of prison and jail and reentering the job market. Title VII is rich with potential for protecting people with criminal records as they attempt to get work, maintain a stable job, or report discrimination on the basis of their membership in a protected class.

The EEOC has encouraged employers to develop individualized assessments of people with arrest or conviction records in the hiring process, so that they do not violate Title VII. The EEOC guidelines state that, to abide by Title VII, an employer must, at the very least, consider the following four factors in the hiring process: (1) the nature of the applicant’s crime, (2) the time elapsed since the crime, (3) the nature of the job, as well as (4) rehabilitative factors that show a person is ready for work.

Employment laws can and should be leveraged to make reentry as successful as possible, and to fight discrimination against people who have served their time and want to be productive members of our workforce. We hope to see the protections of Title VII enforced and expanded on behalf of people exiting prison and jail—people who are attempting to provide for themselves and their families and enjoy the dignity of a stable job free of discrimination.

Thank you, Maurice, for your expertise and time!

Onward!

–The R & R Team

Reentry Resource: ABA National Inventory on Collateral Consequences of Conviction

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We wanted to write a quick post about the most incredible and helpful resource we have found thus far: the ABA National Inventory on Collateral Consequences of Conviction. In a meeting yesterday with McGregor Smyth, an amazing attorney and advocate who founded the Civil Legal Services division at Bronx Defenders, and is now the Executive Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, McGregor told us about the ABA’s online database of the collateral consequences of specific convictions– both state and federal. We were so excited to explore the tool this morning that we had to share it on the blog!

As a refresher, What are collateral consequences of a criminal conviction?

From the ABA: “Collateral consequences are the penalties, disabilities, or disadvantages imposed upon a person as a result of a criminal conviction, either automatically by operation of law or by authorized action of an administrative agency or court on a case by case basis. Collateral consequences are distinguished from the direct consequences imposed as part of the court’s judgment at sentencing, which include terms of imprisonment or community supervision, or fines. Put another way, collateral consequences are opportunities and benefits that are no longer fully available to a person, or legal restrictions a person may operate under, because of their criminal conviction. The most familiar examples of collateral consequences are being unable to vote or obtain certain licenses or possess a firearm because of a felony conviction. But, as this Inventory reveals, there are many other kinds of collateral consequences affecting many areas of life, that take many different forms, and that are triggered by many forms of unlawful conduct.”

Why use the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences?

For all of us, practitioners, formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families, and citizens of the world, it can be very confusing and difficult to figure out the collateral consequences of state and federal crimes. It feels like we are banging our heads against a wall trying to help our clients, ourselves, and our loved ones. This database changes all that.

Through this resource, people can look up the state and federal collateral consequences of any conviction. Most states have been covered by the database; a few are still not included. California is! The site is very user-friendly. There are three ways to search the database: “Search by Keyword,” “Search by Consequence Category,” and “Search by Triggering Offense Category.” Each of these search features can be used individually or in combination. The searches themselves limit results from the database in different ways.

The ABA says: “To some users, this resource represents a way to locate particular collateral consequences that may be of interest, or to determine the range of consequences that may apply as a result of a particular kind of conviction. To others, this resource provides a broad overview of all the collateral consequences contained in a particular jurisdiction’s laws and regulations. Still others may wish to compare the laws and rules in different states, or do a national search for consequences affecting particular benefits or opportunities.”

The ABA has a great User Guide and FAQ page that can help you to understand how to navigate the site, but if you explore it for a bit, you will find its very intuitive, with a wonderful map where you can look up different state and federal consequences.

We hope you spend some time exploring this incredible resource. We are grateful to the ABA and its funders for developing this tool for all of us. We at Root & Rebound and our clients will be hugely benefited by this database.

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

– The R & R Team