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January 16, 2012

NPR's Fresh Air celebrates MLK Day by discussing The New Jim Crow

I typically try to celebrate MLK day on this blog with a post providing a reminder of how race (especially as it intersects with socio-economic status) still has a profound impact on the realities of modern American criminal justice systems.  Today, however, I see that NPR's Fresh Air has done this work today through a lengthy interview with my OSU colleague Michelle Alexander discussing her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.   Here is how this web link to the interview sets up the piece:

Under Jim Crow laws, black Americans were relegated to a subordinate status for decades. Things like literacy tests for voters and laws designed to prevent blacks from serving on juries were commonplace in nearly a dozen Southern states.

In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes that many of the gains of the civil rights movement have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.

"People are swept into the criminal justice system — particularly in poor communities of color — at very early ages ... typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes," she tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "[The young black males are] shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they're released, they're relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and public benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you've been branded a felon."

On Monday's Fresh Air, Alexander details how President Reagan's war on drugs led to a mass incarceration of black males and the difficulties these felons face after serving their prison sentences. She also details her own experiences working as the director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Links to some prior MLK Day posts and other related posts on these issues: 

January 16, 2012 in Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

"Miss Wisconsin makes father's prison time a Miss America platform"

Miss am and dadThe title of this post is the headline of this CBS News report, which confirms yet again why I tell my students that every story that makes news has some kind of sentencing angle.   Here are excerpts from the piece explaining how sentencing now connects to our nation's biggest beauty pageant:

Making her father's prison sentence her platform for the Miss America pageant was a family decision, 23-year-old Laura Kaeppeler has said.

The Wisconsin beauty queen, who won the 2012 Miss America pageant, said she wanted children of incarcerated adults to feel less alone, to have mentoring and to pursue as much of a relationship with their parents as possible.  "There are many of you out there and I was one of them but it doesn't have to define you," Kaeppeler told The Associated Press after winning the crown and $50,000 scholarship on Saturday night.  More than 2 million U.S. children have a parent in jail, she estimated.

The brunette opera singer, who won the talent preliminaries, was 18 and just graduating from high school when her father started an 18-month sentence in federal prison for mail fraud.

Her father, Jeff Kaeppeler, said when his daughter approached the family about making the personal topic her chosen platform, they supported it even though they knew it would be discussed publicly.  "It taught us that God can turn anything into good if you let him," he said.  "Laura is totally on board with that idea.  She let that drive her and inspire her this past year to get ready for this."

This additional article about the new Miss America includes (along with lots of pictures) some notable quotes about her plans to make work on these issues part of her future career:

As the new Miss America, Miss Kaeppeler will spend the next year touring the country speaking to different groups and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network.  She said she planned to use the scholarship money to pursue a law degree and become a family attorney who specialises in helping children of incarcerated adults.

"I really feel like I've been called to work in this," she said.  "Whether I became Miss America or not, this is something that I would pursue in my career no matter what."

January 16, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 15, 2012

Ohio to appeal lower federal court execution stay to Supreme Court

As reported in this new AP article, "Ohio's governor and attorney general said Sunday the state is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling that Ohio's protocol for carrying out the death penalty is constitutional." Here is more:

Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a statement that the state wants the high court to reverse a federal appeals court decision to delay the Wednesday execution of Charles Lorraine.

Lorraine was condemned to death in the 1986 slaying of an elderly Trumbull County couple. But the federal appeals court said Friday his execution should be delayed to review changes Ohio has made in carrying out the death penalty.

Lorraine argued that Ohio broke its promise to adhere strictly to its execution procedures. But the state said that deviations from the procedures during the last execution were minor and that an inmate's rights would not be violated by changes, such as which official announces the start and finish times of an injection....

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling supported an earlier decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost, who criticized the state for deviating from policy when an inmate was executed in November.

After the appeals court ruling, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins sent a letter urging the two state officials to appeal.  Watkins argued the federal courts have wrongly interfered with Ohio executions.

Some related posts concerning Ohio's recent lethal injection litigation: 

January 15, 2012 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

New talk in California of cutting prison spending by more than $1,100,000,000

As reported in this front-page piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Gov. Jerry Brown plans $1 billion in prison cuts," there is serious talk of some serious budget cuts to the most expensive state prison system in the nation. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to cut state prison spending next fiscal year for the first time in nearly a decade, a departure from the goals of recent administrations, which consistently increased corrections spending and pushed for prison expansion.

Brown's budget would save California $1.1 billion on housing inmates and hundreds of millions more by allowing the state to halt some prison construction - savings largely due to his administration's recent overhaul of the state's criminal justice system.

General fund spending on prisons nearly doubled under Brown's Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, from $5.2 billion in 2004 to $9.5 billion in 2011, when Brown, a Democrat, took office. The increase in spending was largely caused by an exploding inmate population and a court order to improve medical care in prisons.

The general fund is backed by statewide taxes and pays for most of the government's basic programs, including schools, police, welfare services and other programs. A cut in prison spending makes more dollars available for other programs....

Under Brown's spending proposal, released Jan. 5, general fund spending on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would decline from this year's budget of $9.8 billion to $8.7 billion, largely because the state prison population has fallen nearly 1,000 a week since Oct. 1, when the state shifted responsibility for lower level offenders to county law enforcement, a policy known as realignment.

"I don't think there's any question we've turned a corner here ... just by the fact that we are significantly reducing the prison population," said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, a nonprofit that conducts policy analysis on criminal justice issues....

Just one year ago, California was grappling with a court order to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates and was moving forward with 13 construction projects to expand prison capacity. Now, the prison population is at 130,000, a decrease of 11,000 in six months. State officials met the first benchmark set by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce the prison population and say they are on track to meet the next one as well, as thousands of offenders that would have flowed into the overcrowded system are staying in county jails instead and being supervised by local probation officials rather than state parole officers.

In addition to halting construction projects, Brown next year wants to begin phasing out the state's Division of Juvenile Justice and place the state's most violent youth offenders in county facilities. And after years of cuts to rehabilitation programs in prisons, Brown wants lawmakers to restore about $100 million in funding for drug treatment, education and other services....

Republican critics of the governor's realignment plan continue to warn that the change will have dire public safety consequences, while county law enforcement officers are still worried about whether realignment funding -- $400 million this year and nearly $860 million next year -- will be consistent or adequate to meet their expanded responsibilities.

County officials and juvenile justice experts are glad that the governor has proposed putting off severe budget cuts to the juvenile justice system this fiscal year, but they worry about the ability of counties to handle the population in the future.

Advocates who oppose prison spending are heartened by Brown's decision to scrap several construction projects, but say the governor isn't going far enough.  Under Brown's proposal, the state would stop the conversion of two former juvenile facilities into adult prisons, which together would have cost nearly $500 million to build.  Officials expect to save about $250 million a year in debt service on bonds by canceling those projects.

As I have suggested before, anyone and everyone who is interested in the relationships between sentencing and corrections policies and crimes rates ought to be keeping a very close watch (and trying to assemble lots of data) in California over the next decade.  

January 15, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack