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

Weekly Pick 6 (2/13/15)

pick 6

Hello friends. We’re back with the second edition of our new 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.) History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names (New York Times)

In this article, Campell Robertson discusses some findings from a newly published report by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative entitled: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. EJI’s report documents lynching in twelve Southern states from the time of Reconstruction to the end of World War II. The report makes the case that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.

2.) Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System (Hands Up United)

Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute has said, “The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used.” In this commentary, Michelle Alexander, famed author of, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that one way to end mass incarceration is by “crashing the system.” Alexander writes, “If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation….Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed…or amend the Constitution…Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash.”

3.) High School Police Ask Judge to Let Them Pepper-Spray and Arrest Unruly Students (Mother Jones)

Since 2006, there have been at least 110 instances where school police officers (called School Resource Officers or SROs) have pepper-sprayed school students in Birmingham, Alabama. A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center has brought up the issue of whether such practices are constitutional. Of the policy allowing officers to pepper-spray students, Ebony Howard of the SPLC says, “We want it to be declared unconstitutional because it allows officers to spray people, specifically students, without considering a wide variety of factors—such as whether they are in a school environment, the fact that they are in a closed environment, and the fact that these things that they are accusing kids of doing and acting on are actually just student misconduct issues.” Allie Gross of Mother Jones describes the pepper-spraying of Birmingham students as well as the rise of police presence in schools since the mid-1990s.

Related: be sure to check out R&R’s previous blog entry, “Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students,” for another example of how, since the 1990s, public school systems have become increasingly militant.

4.) Alameda County: $8.3 million jail death settlement mandates jail health care reforms (Contra Costa Times)

Malaika Fraley of the Contra Costa Times reports that a record-breaking settlement has been reached in the case of an Oakland, California man, Martin Harrison, who died after being beaten to death and tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies. Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors and its jail medical services provider, Corizon Health, have agreed to pay $8.3 to the family of Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison died in August of 2010 while incarcerated at Santa Rita, just two days after he was beaten and tased by 10 deputies.

5.) Missouri cities, including Ferguson, sued over ‘grotesque’ jail conditions (Los Angeles Times)

Matt Pierce of the LA Times writes about two recently-filed lawsuits against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri. Pierce writes that the lawsuits accuse the cities of “maintaining ‘grotesque’ jail conditions for motorists locked up because they couldn’t pay fines for minor legal infractions . . . crowded cells are smeared with mucus, blood and fecal matter and inmates are denied basic hygiene supplies and medical care.” Ferguson is the city where unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot in August 2014.

6.) Gov. Pat McCrory says brothers’ pardon still being reviewed (News and Observer)

Our sixth pick this week is actually an update of a story we told you about last week. Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were recently exonerated or murder after serving three decades in a North Carolina prison following a wrongful conviction. The two brothers were exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. But following their exoneration, McCollum and Brown are left without any ability to collect compensation for the time they spend incarcerated absent a pardon from the state’s governor. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office is currently “conducting a formal an thorough process that will lead to a recommendation” of whether or not McCollum and Brown should receive a pardon. If the men receive a pardon, they will be eligible to receive $50,000 for every year they spent incarcerated (up to a max of $750,000). McCollum and Brown spent their entire adult lives in prison and have IQ scores in the 50s and 60s. The two men struggle with reading and writing. We will keep you updated on this story.

— The R&R Team

Michelle Alexander & Modern “Legalized Discrimination”

This past week has been full of inspiration at Root & Rebound. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, came to San Francisco to speak about her research and describe the movement she imagines for achieving racial justice and ending mass incarceration in America. Her lecture raised money for the California Institute of Integral Studies’ (CIIS) brand new Arc of Justice scholarships, ten scholarships that will be awarded to formerly incarcerated men and women to complete their Bachelor of Arts degrees at CIIS.

Michelle Alexander - San Francisco CIIS Lecture - October 17, 2013

As an audience member and staff person at R & R, one of the most poignant pieces to Prof. Alexander’s lecture was how she broke down into layperson’s terms what she calls “legalized discrimination” against people exiting prison & jail and reentering society. What she means is that, while we no longer have laws on the books that are racist on their face, we have a legal system that disproportionately locks up people of color, and laws that, even after people have served time in prison and jail, exclude them from participating in society.

Prof. Alexander pointed to very specific ways in which our society “legally discriminates” against formerly incarcerated people: voting laws that make it impossible to vote if you have a criminal records,  employment barriers and occupational license bans against people with criminal records that force them out of the legal job market, the denial of public benefits and food stamps under some federal and state laws, and private and public housing discrimination. Prof. Alexander also described the destructive impact that mass incarceration of African American men has on their families and partners, because families, not just individuals who are formerly incarcerated, feel the stresses of this “legalized discrimination.” In all of these areas—voting, family life, jobs, public benefits, and housing—the law has been built up against people coming out of prison and coming back to the community. In the first video below, Prof. Alexander says:

“Now I find that many people have a general sense of, you know, understanding when someone is released from prison, life is hard. But I find that most people don’t fully appreciate that today, in the era of mass incarceration, once you’ve been branded a criminal or felon, you’re ushered into a parallel social universe in which the basic civil and human rights that apply to others no longer apply to you.”

Prof. Alexander then asks the audience: “What do we expect people released from prison to do? What is the system seem designed to do? Seems designed in my view to send folks right back to prison, which is what in fact happens the vast majority of the time. About 70% of people nationwide that are released from prison return within a few years. And the majority of those who return in some states do so in a matter of months because the challenges associated with mere survival are so immense.”

Watch more by clicking the link below.

In the second video clip, Prof. Alexander returns to big picture concerns—how to build a movement to end our current system of mass incarceration based largely upon race, the reality of prison expansion and its economic impact, and what we must do to change these systems going forward. She also discusses the importance of California’s prison system as a model for the rest of the country.

Prof. Alexander says: “History has shown that what happens in California often sweeps the nation. So what type of reform happens here has implications for the nation as a whole and for the future of race in America.”

She asks the audience: “What attitudes and belief systems must we change—personally, individually—must we change if we are going to respond with more care, compassion, and concern to those who have been locked up and locked out in the era of mass incarceration. It’s easy to point the fingers at politicians, but what about our own attitudes about crime and criminals. Whose stories are we willing to listen to? Whose stories do we believe or disbelieve? Who do we consider the others and who do we embrace as one of us? Who do we really care about? These are the questions we must ask if we are going to get to work building a movement.”

Watch more by clicking the link below.

We hope to be a part of the solution—that our small nonprofit will be part of a larger movement in California and around the country to respond with compassion, care, and empathy to those who have been locked up and locked out of society.

If you want to read more about these issues, we recommend picking up a copy of The New Jim Crow—a must-read for everyone living in the United States or anyone abroad who wants to understand the crisis of prisons, racial segregation, and criminal justice in America.

Feeling inspired!

–The R & R Team

To learn more about Michelle Alexander’s professional background and the funding for her book The New Jim Crow, please visit the California Institute of Integral Studies’ event website by clicking here.