Disenfranchised by Voter ID in NC
Voting Rights and Section 5
For more information please contact Shoshannah Sayers at (919) 323-3380 x 154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Bryant is a summer intern at SCSJ, focusing on community organizing for our Criminal Justice Reform program. Aaron wrote the following reflections of his first experience facilitating a Clean Slate Clinic with SCSJ.
A few staffers and I walked into the Holton Career Center early Saturday July 12 to begin to set up for the day. There were around 20 or so soon-to-be clients that were waiting outside of the building before the event officially began. The people who came out early signaled that the services we offer are needed in our community. More importantly, what was evident is that participants are not a passive group; the people are ready to take action to change the way they are viewed by their government, their communities and each other.
The Clean Slate Clinic was a multi-pronged approach aimed at helping justice involved people exercise agency. The registration process for the clinic helps SCSJ determine who is eligible for our free legal services. After going through the clean slate registration process, clients went into the auditorium for a speech on the injustices of the criminal justice system.
Clients were shown two documentaries, the first called The House I Live In, detailing the state sponsored criminality and injustices involved in the War on Drugs. The House We Live In dealt with socially constructed views on race. Information was also handed out to clients both inside and outside the auditorium about work that SCSJ has done with Ban the Box initiatives, empirical evidence of racial profiling by the Durham Police Department and steps the city has taken in hiring people with a criminal record since Durham adopted Ban the Box in 2011. SCSJ also provided people with opportunities to share their experiences of involvement with the criminal justice system.
Participants at the clinic were given information about local organizations that offer free help in critical life areas such as education and job training, medical access and rent assistance. Members of the F.A.D.E. coalition were present and helped distribute information about their organizations work at changing local enforcement of drug related offences. SCSJ also partnered with SpiritHouse and Nicole Campbell of the Durham NAACP to register voters. The justice involved community is one of the hardest constituents to register to vote. This is because of the prevalence of misinformation this community has about their rights to vote. We used this voter registration opportunity to let people know that once they complete their sentence, including parole or probation, they are eligible to vote.
The Clinic’s main goal was to change the ways in which justice involved people participate in advocacy and politics. SpiritHouse helped facilitate a legislative exercise where clients introduced new laws that would help the justice involved earn a true clean slate. In meeting with attorneys and law clerks, clients were given a one on one meeting to let them know both the possibilities and limitations of what our organization can do to help clean their records.
To see people throughout the day register for the clinic, dozens register to vote and many more take part in brainstorming a legislative solution to their problems showed me that those directly affected by injustice are those that have a solution for injustice.
During the clinic we set up a Storytelling Project where people could choose to share their personal story of involvement with the criminal justice system. Here’s what people had to say about how they became justice involved and how it has changed their lives forever.
Post by SCSJ Troan Intern Aaron Bryant
America has 5% of the world’s total population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. 65 million people have a criminal record in the United States. Having a criminal conviction can trigger over 900 civil barriers including barriers to employment, housing and education.
At our July 12th Clean Slate Clinic we set up a camera and asked formerly incarcerated people to share their stories. This is what they told us.
Without legal representation, all of the people in this video will be haunted by their charges for the rest of their lives. And a criminal record doesn’t just hurt a person’s access to employment and housing – in many cases people even lose their driver’s licenses as a result of a conviction. When people no longer have access to housing, jobs, or even transportation it is difficult to see how they can put food on the table for themselves and their families. Charity is helpful, but it only goes so far. What really helps is access to free Clean Slate services from organizations like SCSJ. Donate today to provide a second chance for a person with a criminal record.
Every day SCSJ receives requests for Clean Slate assistance from people throughout North Carolina. At the present, we have over 600 individuals hoping to receve Clean Slate services from us. Every client is provided free legal servives, but those servies are not free for SCSJ to provide. In addition to staff time there are fees for client background checks, court filings, and travel. An SCSJ attorney must travel to the county where a person was charged to file for relief, and again to appear before a judge to formally request that relief. All told, each client’s case costs SCSJ an average of $500. Your financial support provides second chances. Please consider a monthly donation to support SCSJ’s Clean Slate Work. Give a second chance today. Because people change. And everyone deserves a second chance.
Video by SCSJ Troan Intern Evey Wilson.
Since early 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in conjunction with our partners in the FADE coalition, has been sounding the alarm with city leaders about racially disparate policing practices in our hometown of Durham, NC. SCSJ attorneys, analysts, and organizers have played a significant role in supporting members of directly affected communities in their efforts to hold the Durham Police Department accountable for its unlawful racial profiling and drug enforcement practices. As part of this effort, we created this new video to showcase the real stories of Durham residents who have experienced racial profiling and been subjected to abusive search practices.
Working in conjunction with political scientists at UNC-Chapel Hill, SCSJ policy analyst Chris Ketchie and attorneys Ian Mance and Daryl Atkinson conducted an in depth statistical analysis of hundreds of thousands of traffic stops and thousands of drug arrests in Durham. The analysis lent powerful empirical support to long-standing community complaints about racialized policing. Among their many findings: Despite accounting for just 17.4% of the city population, black males make up more than 65% of the searched population. A black motorist is more than 100% more likely to be asked for consent to search, even though they are no more likely to be found with contraband than a similarly situated white motorist. Moreover, a black driver in Durham is 179% more likely to be ordered out of a vehicle and searched than a white driver, even after one accounts for age, gender, time of day, and the reason for the stop.
In October 2013, concerned with the numbers and stories being brought to his attention, Durham Mayor Bill Bell asked the city’s Human Relations Commission to investigate allegations that Durham PD had engaged in discriminatory policing. After an unprecedented seven months of hearings, which included rival presentations from SCSJ attorneys Daryl Atkinson and Ian Mance opposite the Durham Police Executive Command Staff, the 14-member commission, persuaded by the statistical evidence and testimony of those directly affected, issued its final report confirming “the existence of racial profiling” in the practices of the department.
As part of its report, the commission published a series of 34 policy recommendations designed to stop racial profiling in Durham and to mitigate the racial disparities evident at every juncture of the city’s criminal justice system. Among the recommendations were five policy changes which had originally been proposed by the FADE coalition, calling for (1) the mandatory use of written consent-to-search forms for all consent-based searches; (2) the designation of marijuana enforcement as the city’s lowest law enforcement priority (LLEP)*; (3) the mandatory periodic review of individual officer stop and search data; (4) the integration of racial equity training into the department’s official training protocol; and (5) a total reform of the structure and mandate of the Durham Civilian Police Review Board.
These recommendations, which enjoy broad based community support, are now on the desk of Durham’s City Manager, Thomas Bonfield, who will inform City Council in August whether he is inclined to move forward with their implementation and how. Mr. Bonfield has spent the month of July meeting with concerned community groups, including SCSJ and FADE, and investigating the practices of other municipal police departments in North Carolina as they pertain to profiling, drug policy, and related issues.
As part of SCSJ’s presentation to the City Manager and his staff last week, and in keeping with SCSJ’s organizational strategy of empowering directly affected people and keeping their voices at the forefront of our efforts, our delegation presented Mr. Bonfield with this 38-minute documentary. The film, produced by SCSJ Troan Intern Evey Wilson and attorney Ian Mance, features stories Durham residents who have been stopped and subjected to invasive searches and uses of force for highly questionable reasons. It is our organization’s hope that city leaders will keep these individuals and their stories in mind as they move forward in their evaluation of the policies and practices of our city police department.
*Note: The HRC did not explicitly endorse marijuana deprioritization; however, it did call for the city to study the issue and to consult with the City of Seattle, which deprioritized (and later legalized) possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Post by SCSJ Attorney Ian A. Mance, Soros Justice Fellow
The two largest private prison providers in the U.S. each rake in tens of millions of dollars every year. How do they make their money, and what agreements are in place to protect their profits?
When a prison company approaches a state or city to either build or take over a facility, they’re often guaranteed certain occupancy rates. In other words, law enforcement is expected to provide prisoners (arrest and convict people of crimes) to avoid getting hit with fines, so the incentive to keep people in jail rather than out of jail is pretty clear.
65% – Private prison contracts that include occupancy rate guarantees (1)
80%-100% - Range of guaranteed occupancy rates; 90% is the most frequent (1)
$2 million - Amount Colorado taxpayers have been forced to pay in so-called “low-crime” taxes because crime has dropped by about one-third in the past 10 years (1)
It’s little wonder that states and cities have allowed private prisons to move in. The biggest prison companies in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, have spent millions lobbying and donating to political campaigns. (2)
$17.4 million in lobbying from 2002-2012
$1.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012
$2.5 million in lobbying from 2004-2012
$2.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012
Which candidates have been the biggest beneficiaries of lobbying by private prison companies?
Top candidate recipients, 2013-14 (3)
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) $7,000
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) $5,000
Steve Fincher (R-TN) $3,500
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) $2,500
Rob Portman (R-OH) $2,500
Henry Cuellar (D-TX) $10,000
Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) $5,000
Joe Garcia (D-FL) $4,000
Mark Begich (D-AK) $3,000
Pete Gallego (D-TX) $2,500
Our country was founded on principles of equal opportunity, basic human rights and justice. As a nation, we have overcome social problems using both individual advancement and collective achievement. We did not hesitate to help returning veterans with the GI Bill. We did not waste time helping people in need when we launched the War on Poverty. We must have the same sense of urgency with helping people in need of a second chance because of contact with the criminal justice system. The city of Durham prides itself as being a great city of opportunity, advancement, and community. However, the neglect of marginalized citizens caught in the perpetual lock of the criminal justice system is rarely mentioned.
Currently, the United States contains 5 percent of the world’s population while holding 25 percent of the worlds incarcerated individuals. Many of these individuals permanently lose their rights during and after their incarceration. These include access to government assistance for education, healthcare, job training, and even the most fundamental right of citizenship, the right to vote. What happens when citizens in a community lose their rights? For that community, it could mean the lifetime loss of potentially productive members. For those citizens, it could mean a lack of ability to acquire employment, a home, or a voice in their democratic society.
The Criminal Justice Initiative of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice works to promote the full inclusion of people with criminal records into society through its Clean Slate Program. The program helps people with criminal records have a true second chance for opportunity by removing the legal barriers triggered by their contact with the criminal justice system. Participants are screened for eligibility for expungement, certificates of relief, as well as legal representation with occupational licensing boards. The ultimate goal of the program is to put vulnerable and marginalized people back in control of their lives.
A Clean Slate clinic is being held this Saturday, July 12th, at the Holton Career Center from 10am-4pm. For more information regarding the Clean Slate program in particular and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in general, please visit http://www.southerncoalition.org/ Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, donate if possible and help us bring true justice to people previously involved in the criminal justice system.
Post by SCSJ Intern Aaron Bryant
With SCSJ attorneys in federal court hearings this week fighting against North Carolina’s voter suppression laws and the second Clean Slate Clinic in Durham quickly approaching, the disenfranchisement of the justice-involved population is a central topic for SCSJ this week.
According to The Sentencing Project, there are 5.85 million voters nationwide that are currently banned from the polls. North Carolina is one of nineteen states that does not allow voting restoration until an individual with a felony conviction has completed not only their prison sentence but also parole and probation. On the spectrum of disenfranchisement laws, North Carolina is one step below the most extreme policies of never restoring voting rights to previously convicted citizens or having a two-to-five year post-sentence waiting period. At the other end of the spectrum, there are only two states – Vermont and Maine – that never restrict an individual’s right to vote even while incarcerated.
This discussion of voting restoration is important as it pertains to formerly incarcerated people because loss of voting rights qualifies as a collateral consequence of incarceration. Collateral consequences prevent previously convicted people from optimally contributing to and coalescing with society.
Our process of voting restoration—how we determine who has the right to vote, how difficult we make the process of restoration, how we inform citizens about their rights, etc.—reflects the extent to which we value the voices, citizenship, and humanity of previously convicted individuals.
The Southern Coalition of Social Justice believes that once a sentence is served—be it incarceration, probation, parole, etc.— an individual’s full rights must be restored immediately and that their criminal record should not be held against them. The work we do through our Clean Slate program and participating in the fight against voter inequality demonstrates our commitment to eliminate policy and practice of disenfranchising this marginalized population. (Click here to learn more about the rights of justice-involved individuals to vote in North Carolina.)
So while our Voting Rights attorneys fight on for the rights of every eligible North Carolinian to vote, our Criminal Justice Reform team is gearing up for a Clean Slate clinic that will help ensure that the list of “every eligible voter” includes our brothers and sisters with involvement in the criminal justice system.
Post by Alexandra McKnight, SCSJ Voting Rights Organizing Intern
Do you have a criminal record? Has your criminal record held you back from getting a job? There will be a Clean Slate Clinic on Saturday, July 12 – stop by to see if you are eligible to clean up your record. Attorneys will be on hand to speak with you directly. Clean Slate services are FREE and the event is open to the public.
There is no age limit, but we do not process juvenile records. There will be free food (for the first 200 registrants) and free parking at the Holton Career Center in Durham. Click here to register for the July 12 Clean Slate Clinic.
Involvement in the criminal justice system has negative side effects beyond a court case and possible conviction. Arrests and convictions trigger an additional set of punishments known as collateral consequences. These consequences operate outside of the criminal justice context even after an individual has served his or her jail or prison sentence, paid fees and fines, and completed parole or probation. Unresolved legal matters impede an individual’s ability to get a driver’s and/or employment license, or access to public benefits. Other barriers include exclusion from housing opportunities, extreme difficulty finding a job, and in some cases lack of access to higher education – all due to a criminal record. To combat this problem, SCSJ’s Clean Slate Program supplements the important services provided by our partner organizations with direct legal services and advocacy in the following areas: expungement and Certificates of Relief (COR), employment or occupational licensing hearings and driver’s license restoration. Learn more in our Clean Slate Clinic Handout.
The focus of Clean Slate clinics is not simply to mitigate the collateral consequences facing justice-involved residents, but to begin to repair the structure of families that have been affected. Being involved in the criminal justice system often leads to joblessness and homelessness, which has an astounding effect on families, particularly in the lives of spouses, parents, and children.
Daryl Atkinson receives White House “Champions of Change” award on June 30, 2014. Read more here.
Michelle Alexander and Daryl Atkinson featured on HuffPostLive discussing barriers to reentry
News Interview on Daryl Atkinson’s White House Champions of Change Award
WNCN Interview with Daryl Atkinson on White House Champions of Change Award
Nine community organizations partnered with the Durham FADE Coalition and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice came together to unite against racial profiling by the Durham Police Department.
White House Recognizes NC Program for Formerly Incarcerated – North Carolina News Service