February 24, 2014 (Al Jazeera)
Restore voting rights
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been taking stands for justice lately, for which he is to be applauded. On Feb. 11, in a speech at Georgetown University, he issued a plea for states to lift bans on voting by ex-offenders, also called returning citizens. On the heels of his earlier suggestion that prosecutors and legislators re-examine mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders and disparities in crack cocaine sentences, this latest call suggests a new pattern of priorities coming out of the office of the attorney general. The New York Times predicted Holder’s suggestions would “elevate issues of criminal justice and race in the president’s second term and create a lasting civil rights legacy.”
Laws that deny ex-offenders the vote have a long and dark history. Although offenders were prevented from voting in most states from the very beginning of the republic, after the Civil War, these laws were greatly expanded in the South — and virtually all those offenders in those states were black.
First, massive numbers of African-Americans were arrested for little or no reason and sent to work, creating an almost limitless supply of effectively free labor. Under newly enhanced (and in some cases newly created) laws, these ex-offenders were then forever after denied the right to vote. This process also planted in the American psyche a viciously tenacious stereotype of African-American criminality. Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, compares these laws and today’s mass incarceration of inmates of color to historical injustices.
February 24, 2014 (allvoices)
In the United States, almost every state bans felons from voting in all elections. This ban varies from state to state, with some easing the restrictions after a waiting period while others shut out former inmates for life.
According to a report from The Sentencing Project, 5.3 million Americans (1 in 40 adults) were unable to vote due to a felony conviction in the 2008 elections. This included 1.4 million African-American men, more than 676,000 women, and 2.1 million ex-offenders who have completed their sentences.
States like Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa have a permanent ban imposed, exempt only for prisoners who were granted clemency by the governor. Others restore voting rights when inmates finish serving their time. Some states put ex-felons through a complicated process or wait period before they become eligible to vote.
But there is increasing noise by advocates who say barring former prisoners from voting is discriminatory, even unconstitutional. Attorney General Eric Holder has joined in that fight and spoke out on states restoring those rights earlier this month.
February 21, 2014 (The New York Times)
Life Circumstances Level the Sentencing Field
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, writes in the Room for Debate discussion, Sentencing and the ‘Affluenza’ Factor that “We all stand to gain by having judges consider life circumstances in sentencing, but right now this is a privilege largely for the wealthy.
“The doctor convicted of Medicaid fraud will come to court with a high-priced attorney by his side, but also a sentencing consultant who can describe to the judge a history of mental health distress, and a plan to have the doctor provide free medical care in a disadvantaged community to make restitution for his crime.
February 21, 2014 (Sun Dial)
Hip Hop Think Tank event to bring attention to deportation and incarceration
More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. each year, and nearly 2 million immigrants have been incarcerated since the beginning of the Obama administration in 2008, according to The Sentencing Project and Pew Research Center.
These facts and more will be discussed in depth at the “Bridging the Gaps: Hip-Hop in the Age of Mass Incarceration and Deportation” conference this Thursday and Friday.
California State University’s own Hip-Hop Think Tank, a student organization partnered with the Pan African studies department, will be hosting the conference in an effort to draw parallels between incarceration and deportation.
“At present, the United States has the largest prison population in the world…(and) deportations have intensified over the last decade,” said Anthony Ratcliff, Pan African studies professor and Hip-Hop Think Tank faculty advisor. “In fact, since 2008, after President Obama’s election, two million undocumented immigrants have been deported.
February 21, 2014 (WDAZ TV)
Drug zones stiffen penalties for offenders
State laws that stiffen penalties for making or selling drugs near children vary across the nation.
Some states include universities in those “drug-free zones.” Others include public parks, public housing, school buses and YMCAs. The size of those zones range from 300 feet to half a mile.
In North Dakota, manufacturing a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school, child care center, preschool facility or higher education institution is an aggravating factor that can elevate the charges someone faces. It’s that law that four women are accused of breaking when they were arrested Tuesday, after allegedly making methamphetamine near Schroeder Middle School.
Kathy Joan Kielty, Audrey Marie Morris, Ashley Marie Brown, and Tina Mae Metcalf are all charged with manufacturing meth within 1,000 feet of a school, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“The premise behind drug-free zone laws was that drug trafficking near schools posed a danger to children,” states a policy brief from The Sentencing Project. “In order to protect children from drug activity, lawmakers established protected zones around the places where children were most likely to be present, including schools and public parks.”