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April 17, 2014 (SparkAction.org)
A Look at the Latest Data on Race and Juvenile Justice

Josh Rovner, state advocacy associate for The Sentencing Program, wrote in a blog about “the remarkable drop in juvenile arrest rates since the mid-1990s has done little to mitigate the gap between how frequently black and white teenagers encounter the juvenile justice system. These racial disparities threaten the credibility of a justice system that purports to treat everyone equitably.

“Across the country, juvenile justice systems are marked by disparate racial outcomes at every stage of the process, starting with more frequent arrests for youth of color and ending with more frequent secure placement.

“The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 requires that data be collected at multiple points of contact: arrest, referral to court, diversion, secure detention, petition (i.e., charges filed), delinquent findings (i.e., guilt), probation, confinement in secure correctional facilities, and/or transfer to criminal/adult jurisdiction.

“Jurisdictions are also required to report the race of juveniles handled at each of these stages. As a result of this requirement—known as the Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) protection of the JJDPA—states have collected racial data on young people’s encounters with the justice system.

“National data is now available from the Department of Justice, and the W. Haywood Burns Institute has organized the publicly available state-by-state data and county-by-county data.”


April 15, 2014 (MagicValley.com)
Prison Reform and Bridging the Partisan Gap

Jon Alexander writes that the United States “is really good at a few things. First and foremost might just be our ability to lock people up. And with the states annually spending north of $50 billion throwing people behind bars, it’s the American prison epidemic that might bridge the liberal-conservative gap that’s leaving most of American policymaking in the lurch.

“The United states constitutes just 5 percent of the planet’s human population. But American jails and prisons hold 25 percent of all the inmates on Earth, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s right, one-quarter of all the world’s prisoners are locked up in the U.S. About one in every 33 American adults is in jail or prison, a number that’s more than doubled since 1990.

“The reasons are packed full of racial and economic baggage. Recent decades saw policy that sent offenders with a little crack-cocaine in his pocket to prison for years. Someone with the more expensive cocaine might get a slap on the wrist. Crack spent decades as the scorn of poor, often black neighborhoods. Middle-class and wealthy whites do coke. Drug policy is especially relevant here. More people are behind bars because of drugs than murder, rape or any other violent offense.

“In Idaho, the incarceration rate of blacks in 2007 was four-times higher than whites, according to a report from The Sentencing Project. The incarceration rate for Hispanics is double that of whites in Idaho. And that’s in one of the statistically safest states in the nation.


April 14, 2014 (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Lawmakers should lift Missouri's lifetime ban on food stamps for ex-offenders

An editorial calls Missouri’s continuation of the lifetime ban on food stamps for people with records of drug felonies “a meat-ax approach to a problem that would be better solved with a scalpel.

“A provision that authorizes the ban was part of the federal welfare reform law approved in 1996. In the frenzy at the time over winning the misbegotten “war on drugs,” the idea got only two minutes of debate after it was introduced on the U.S. Senate floor. One minute for Republicans and one for Democrats. It then was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.

“Because there was so little debate, the motivation behind the idea is unclear. It surely didn’t receive much thought. But coming down heavy on drug-sellers and users was seen as a Good Thing. As if someone preparing to commit a drug crime was going to stop and think, ‘Wait ... if I commit this crime, and get caught, I might lose eligibility for food stamps.’

“Federal and state felony drug ex-offenders were the only group barred from food assistance by the reform laws. There was and is no ban for child molesters, murderers, rapists or other felons who have served their time. Worth noting is that women are disproportionately affected by the ban since they are about twice as likely as men to receive food stamps.


April 14, 2014 (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Felons' rights all over the map

“Felon voting” sounds ominous but in Minnesota, it poses a potent political and civil rights question: When should felons who are trying to rebuild their lives regain their right to vote?

People convicted of a felony lose that right as part of their punishment. The Minnesota Constitution denies the right to “a person convicted of treason or felony, unless restored to civil rights.” In Minnesota, such rights cannot be restored until the person has first completed all the terms of the sentence, including incarceration, probation and parole and supervised release.

The issue, which a conservative group once cited on a freeway billboard as the reason Minnesota was “#1 in voter fraud” (an unproven claim), was back at the Legislature this year. It was predictably volatile. The two sides could not agree on a compromise, so current law remains unchanged.

An advocates’ group known as Restore the Vote-Minnesota sought to restore voting rights when a felon leaves prison or jail, even if he or she is still under supervision. They argued that this will eliminate inadvertent illegal votes by released felons who don’t understand the law, help with felons’ transition to life in their communities and reverse a growing disenfranchisement of black males, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

Defenders of the current system, including Minnesota Majority, the organization whose political committee put up the “#1” billboard two years ago, says felons are “outlaws” who should not have a hand in creating laws “that the law-abiding live under.” Such voters would, they contend, have an interest in electing lenient judges and prosecutors. 


April 11, 2014 (Connectionnewspapers.com)
Considering the Effects of Mass Incarceration

There is a racial disparity in the number of people incarcerated in the United States. Nearly one in ten black men in their thirties is in jail. This number has increased due to the war on drugs, which has also seen a racial disparity in the numbers of those convicted.

“Black men have the highest likelihood of incarceration-one in three are likely to serve a prison sentence at some point in their lives,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a research analyst for The Sentencing Project. “For drug convictions, the racial disparities are even higher, and this is even though there is research showing that people of different ethnic backgrounds use drugs at the same rate.” Ghandnoosh joined other leaders in the community at a discussion on this topic at “The Effects of Mass Incarceration: A Public Forum on Criminal Justice Sentencing Reform” hosted by Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke.

Penalties for crack, the crystallized form of the cocaine, which comes in powder form, are harsh compared to those for cocaine. Although the drugs are pharmaceutically the same, a person possessing 28 grams of crack faces a mandatory five year sentence, while 500 grams of cocaine are required for this mandatory sentence.