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June 30, 2010

Race & Justice News

Feature Stories: Hispanics May be Fleeing Before Implementation of Arizona’s Immigrations Law; Study Shows Racial Minorities Still Blocked from Juries
Spotlight on Research: Reducing Racial Disparity in Juvenile Justice
Featured Book: "I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup" by David Chura

Hispanics May be Fleeing Before Implementation of Arizona’s Immigrations Law
The recently enacted immigration legislation in Arizona may be causing many Hispanics to flee the state before the law goes into effect on July 29, 2010, according to a report in USA Today.  The new law requires law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people who are stopped, detained or arrested and for whom there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the county illegally. One indicator to date is that some schools are experiencing unusual drops in enrollment. One elementary school district with a 75% Hispanic population reports a 10-fold increase in the number of students pulled out of the school over the same period last year. District Superintendent Jeffrey Smith says, “They’re leaving to another state where they feel more welcome,” after being told by some parents that they are leaving because of the new law.  

In 2007 nearly 100,000 persons left Arizona after the state passed a law that enhanced penalties on businesses that hired people in the country illegally. David Castillo, co-founder of the Latin Association of Arizona, noted that businesses that primarily serve the Hispanic community have fallen on hard times since the law’s passage because many families are opting to hold on to their cash as they anticipate leaving the state. Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Republican Governor Jan Brewer, has heard similar claims of families relocating as a result of the law. “If that means that fewer people are breaking the law, that is absolutely an accomplishment,” he said. The Justice Department has decided to file a lawsuit aimed at striking down the new law. Read additional coverage in The New York Times.

Reducing Racial Disparity in Juvenile Justice
Michael Belton, Deputy Director of the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, acknowledges that the current juvenile justice system treats youth of color more severely than their white counterparts. He states, “We have two justice systems, one for whites and one for kids of color. The one for kids of color is more intrusive, harsher, and longer. The one for whites is more supportive.” Recently he testified before Congress on the inequities in the juvenile justice system and the overrepresentation of minority youth at every stage of the juvenile justice system process. Nearly 100 percent of cases transferred to adult court are youth of color, and Belton asserts that such disproportionate minority contact has devastating impacts on children and communities.  

Belton also believes that there is too much hysteria surrounding gangs.  He points out a recent incident in a residential program where female residents were not allowed to wear cornrows because the staff assumed it was gang related. He goes on to state that “Regular youth behavior and African -American culture is viewed by corrections and systems people as being criminal.”

Belton remains optimistic that Congress will vote on the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) this fall and approve it with stronger language aimed at reducing racial disparities. Click here to read more coverage.

Study Shows Racial Minorities Still Blocked from Juries

A new report, "Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy" by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) of Alabama has found disturbing evidence of discriminatory practices in the jury selection process. After examining jury selection process in eight Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee), EJI researchers discovered that many counties excluded almost 80% of African Americans eligible for jury service.  In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for example, a state that requires only 10 of 12 jurors to convict in many cases, the high rate of exclusion means that “there is not effective black representation on the jury because only the votes of white jurors are necessary to convict.”    

Despite the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, which prohibited prosecutors from using discriminatory peremptory strikes based solely on race, the report contends that, appellate courts have failed to consistently enforce anti-discriminatory laws. To rebut inferences of racial discrimination, prosecutors have used “race-neutral” explanations. These have included reasons as fragile as a potential juror misspelling Wal-mart or not reading a particular newspaper article, living in a predominately black neighborhood or having a white spouse, being affiliated with historically black colleges or not having ever attended college, and receiving food stamps or having the same or similar last name as the defendants. The researchers find that “Even where courts have found that prosecutors have illegally excluded people of color from jury service, there have been no adverse consequences for state officials.” Such practices have compromised the credibility and integrity of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, research has shown that compared to more diverse juries, all-white juries are more likely to make errors and take fewer perspectives into consideration.  

As a result of their assessment, EJI recommends changes in policy and practice to confront the continuing problem of racial biased in jury selection. These include the following:
•    Applying the ruling of Batson v. Kentucky retroactively to death row prisoners
•    Subjecting prosecutors who engage in racially biased jury selection to actions by the Justice Department as well as fines and penalties
•    Providing remedies for citizens who are illegally excluded from juries on the basis of race
•    Striving for more racial diversity within the judiciary, district attorney’s office and law enforcement.

Click here to view video coverage.

“I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup" by David Chura

As many media outlets portrayed teens as dangerous “superpredators” in the 1990’s, the juvenile justice system became more punitive and policy makers passed laws that made it easier to prosecute youth as adults. As a result, the juvenile detention rate has increased by 35% and transfers to adult court by 208% since then. Within the juvenile justice system, there has often been a failure to provide an environment that is conducive to rehabilitation and reform.  
David Chura, author of “I Don’t Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine,” had the opportunity to interact with many who were treated as adults by both the juvenile and criminal justice systems and he takes us inside their grimy and deprived world of neglect and abuse. He taught high school in a New York penitentiary for 10 years and introduces us to his incarcerated students, correctional officers, wardens, and doctors.  While doing so, he demonstrates how everyone involved in the juvenile justice system constantly faces a series of never-ending disappointments.  

Chura gives us a glimpse into the world of young people, mostly youth of color, and illustrates that despite Wade having a mother with AIDS, Khalil having no family to speak of, or Anna being a tough drug dealer, the kids behind the labels were vibrant and full of humor and passion.  He also introduces us to the “no-non-sense” Officer O’Shay who covertly shows the youth sensitivity despite his outward display of callousness, and Ms. Wharton, a spunky hall monitor who didn’t get along with anyone except the animals she volunteered to care for at a local shelter. Through his writing, Chura demonstrates that the keepers and the kept have more in common than they realize.  He imparts his greatest lesson to his readers, “…I learned during my ten years in county lockup, a lesson as deep and livid as the wounds many of my students carried away with them, as enduring of the stresses of CO’s (correctional officers’) shoulders, that we are all children of disappointment.”

Click here for more information about the book.

Issue Area(s): Incarceration, Racial Disparity, Juvenile Justice