January 31, 2012
Race and Justice News
Featured: Spiral of punishment and harassment
Collateral Consequences: Intergenerational transfer of inequality
Policing: Connecticut police officers face charges
Policy: Bill to address disparity in Vermont’s criminal justice system
Upcoming: Lynching and contemporary capital litigation
Spiral of punishment and harassment
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that the punitiveness manifest in the war on drugs and the get tough on crime movement has infiltrated school culture. She contends that children of color are being treated as criminals by schools rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential who need guidance.
Consistent with Alexander’s assertions, the Washington Post reports that African American students in the DC area are suspended and expelled at two to five times the rate of white children. As is the case in many other places, the most common causes of student suspensions are discretionary infractions such as disrespect, defiance, and insubordination.
A recent landmark study in Texas found that suspension increased the likelihood of youth repeating a grade, dropping out of school, and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system the following year.
In Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, a new book reviewed in the current issue of Race and Justice, Victor Rios describes the experiences of black and Latino youth over a three year period. He identifies “a spiral of punishment and incarceration as the boys were harassed, profiled, watched, and disciplined even before they had committed any crimes, eventually leading many of them to fulfill the destiny expected of them.”
Intergenerational transfer of inequality
Approximately half of the men in state prisons and nearly two-thirds in federal prisons are fathers of minor children. Consistent with the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color, black children are 6.7 times more likely than white children to have parents in prison and Hispanic children are 2.4 times more likely.
According to researcher Irv Garfinkel, imprisonment diminishes the earnings of fathers, compromises their health, reduces familial resources, and contributes to family breakup. Formerly incarcerated fathers have lower earnings, are less likely to work, and are more likely to experience homelessness. Their children are more likely to face material hardships and residential moves, have contact with the foster care system, show aggressive behavior, and are less likely to live with both biological parents. Garfinkel concludes that, ultimately, parental incarceration “adds to the deficits of poor children, thus ensuring that the effects of imprisonment on inequality are transferred intergenerationally.”
Connecticut police officers face charges
According to The New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department recently charged members of the East Haven, Connecticut Police Department with conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force and obstruction of justice. The indictment “portrayed a harrowing picture of arbitrary justice for Hispanic residents.” The charges followed a Justice Department report that found that members of the East Haven police had engaged in widespread “biased policing, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and the use of excessive force.” The investigation comes in the wake of another Justice Department report describing constitutional violations against Latinos in Maricopa County, AZ. According to the ACLU, “the repeated appearance of this particular kind of discrimination in so many parts of the country…raises questions of whether we are dealing with isolated, events or facing examples of rapidly spreading problems that threaten to engulf our entire nation.”
Bill to address disparity in Vermont’s criminal justice system
Vermont legislators recently introduced H-535 which, if passed, would require a study of whether various components of the Vermont criminal justice system treat individuals disparately on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The proposed legislation would also require all law enforcement agencies in Vermont to adopt a bias--free policy by January, 2013.
Lynching and contemporary capital litigation
In March, the University of Texas School of Law will host a symposium on the historical link between lynching and the death penalty, their similarities and differences, and the enduring role of lynching and race discrimination in contemporary capital litigation. Panel discussions will address the extent to which contemporary capital punishment is influenced by the practice of American lynching as well as the continuing role of race discrimination on contemporary capital litigation.