Daryl Presents at Philanthrophy NY

Daryl Atkinson attends 3 major Criminal Justice Reform Conferences This Week

This week Daryl attended three different criminal justice reform conferences around the country.

On Monday, November 9th he participated in the Criminal Justice and Public Health National Convening hosted at the Ford Foundation in New York. The main focus of the conference was to bring together public health professionals and criminal justice reform advocates, to create a shared vision for public health inclusion in the criminal justice reform movement.

The following day on Tuesday, November 10th Daryl spoke at the Justice Reform: The End of Mass Incarceration Briefing. The event was hosted by Philanthropy New York and included participants from over 20 foundations interested in criminal justice reform. Watch the briefing.

Wrapping up the week, Daryl is presenting at the National Consumer Law Conference along with co presenter Michelle Drake of law firm Nichols Kaster. Their presentation focuses on how the Fair Credit Reporting Act can be used to achieve racial equity. The National Consumer Law Center is hosting the event in San Antonio from Thursday, November 12th through Saturday, November 14th.  Consumer Rights Litigation Conference.






Ian Mance presents at Code for America Summit

At this year’s Code for America Summit in Oakland, CA, SCSJ’s Ian Mance presented on Identifying Racial Bias in Policing Practices. In 1999 North Carolina became the first state to pass legislation allowing the State Bureau of Investigations to collect traffic stop data from state, city and county police departments.

This massive collection of data was requested by Ian as a law student at the University of North Carolina. To his surprise the data came on a CD drive in the form of a huge text file. The data set proved to be an incredible resource and he was soon contacted by other jurisdictions that wanted to take a look at their local traffic stop information. To keep up with the demand Ian knew the data needed to be compiled into a more user friendly and accessible platform. 

He contacted Colin Copeland of Code for Durham to discuss his idea and the Open Data Policing NC website was born. The primary use of the website is to gather and display NC traffic stop data for all 100 counties and each of the law enforcement agencies within those counties. Everyone from the Greensboro Police Department to the campus police at universities.  

The website’s dual purpose makes it a resource for communities and a management tool for police chiefs. The website illustrates specific data sets of Stops, People, and Searches and only the ID numbers of officers. Visitors can easily utilize the website’s search feature to research their local police stop data. Users are provided graphs and correlations of how different races and ethnicities are treated in traffic stops.

Before the Open Data Policing NC website, huge collections of data illustrating high disparities in traffic stops, consent searches, and the reporting of contraband seized in searches were being collected but no one studied it. Now community based groups, criminal defense lawyers, law enforcement agencies have a incredible tool to bring about improvement in police management. Recently Roanoke Rapids, Chapel Hill, and Greenville used data to start police reforms within their local agencies.

Watch the whole presentation here


fed ban the box 2

SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson meets with POTUS on Ban the Box

President Obama Announces Federal Ban the Box.  SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson is in Newark, NJ today for a round table discussion with President Obama, Senator Cory Booker and other members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples’ Movement who have been working for many months to achieve better policies.  While in Newark, the President will highlight the re-entry process of formerly incarcerated individuals who are working to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance. The President will visit a residential facility, Integrity House, and later convene a round table discussion at Rutgers University – Newark, Center for Law & Justice, where he will also deliver a statement.

Today’s White House Press Release details the new actions and facts to promote rehabilitation for the former incarcerated.

Note the Federal Ban the Box will only apply to federal employment and not independent contractors. MSNBC writes about the President’s landmark announcement today.

In October 2014 the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM) went to the Department of Justice and made four demands, changes to the policy around public housing for former prisoners were one of them. Daryl drafted a memorandum on behalf of the FICPM or their request for policy change.  Today’s New York Times highlighted this policy change.


Daryl Award Ceremony Pic - Copy (2)

Daryl Atkinson awarded Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award

On the evening of Tuesday, October 6th, the Institute for Policy Studies awarded Daryl Atkinson and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice the Domestic Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. The award was in recognition of Daryl and the organization’s work with reforming the criminal justice landscape.

Daryl’s work focuses on those who are released from prison and helping them have greater opportunities to find work and rejoin society. One of his current projects to help former inmates find work is the Ban the Box initiative. It seeks to ban the box on job applications that ask about criminal records.

A Washington Post article cited this quote from Daryl’s speech that evening. “There are a lot of diamonds in the rough who, if they had access to opportunity, could be amazing contributors to this country.”

Read more about the award ceremony and other awardees here

Carlos Riley Trial Pic

Carlos Riley Found Not Guilty of Assault

Durham, N.C.  A jury today found Carlos Riley, Jr. not guilty of assault on a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, two counts of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer, assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting serious injury, and robbery with a dangerous weapon.  He was found guilty of common law robbery for taking the officer’s handgun from the scene.  SCSJ’s Ian Mance analyzed the officer’s stop and search history, which demonstrated that the officer had a highly-racialized enforcement history and regularly conducted off-the-books traffic stops. That information was used during Alex Charns’ cross-examination to attack the officer’s credibility.

Umar Muhammad, SCSJ’s Community Organizer, attended court in support of the family and community members as often as possible.  SCSJ’s David Hall made an appearance in the Carlos Riley case to make a motion to have Mr. Riley’s car returned.

Shortly before the verdict was read, the judge allowed Carlos’ younger sister Destini to screen her 15 minute documentary film, “I, Destini” in the courtroom for her brother. The film premiered at Hayti Heritage Center last week and is about the impact of Carlos’ incarceration on her family.  Here is her September 2013 statement to the Durham City Council about the case:


SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson on the PBS NewsHour discussing “Ban the Box”

SCSJ Senior Attorney for Criminal Justice Daryl Atkinson appeared on the PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 and discussed “Ban the Box” hiring reform with NewsHour Senior Correspondent William Brangham and senior executive counsel for the National Federation for American Business Elizabeth Milito.

From its earliest days as a refuge for colonial settlers seeking a fresh start in a new world to its years as the land of opportunity for immigrants dreaming of new beginnings, America’s story has always been one of second chances. A promise to begin anew to make a better life is both inherent to America’s character and deeply embedded in its value system.

However, the nation has not embraced the ideal of second chances for people convicted of crimes.  Over the last 30 years America has experienced an explosion in the number of people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system: nearly 1.6 million people are currently in prison, 4 million are on probation, and 70 million have a criminal record. For many job applicants throughout the country, one question blocks them from gainful employment and economic opportunity: a single question, often posed as a checkbox on the front of most job applications, which asks about an applicant’s criminal history. For many employers, it has become a way to weed out applicants before ever considering qualifications such as education and job history. This practice is widespread, and its negative effects on job applicants and their communities are staggering.

Rather than let this pernicious barrier to opportunity stand, a movement to “Ban the Box”-to remove this checkbox from applications- has risen to disassemble such structural discrimination facing people with criminal records. The “Ban the Box” movement was birthed in the Bay Area by a group of formerly incarcerated people named “All of Us or None”.  To date, 17 states across the country and more than 100 cities and counties have passed laws to remove this barrier, to great advantage. Atkinson described the successful passage of “Ban the Box” legislation in both the County and City of Durham, North Carolina in 2011 and 2012:

“I believe that millions of people who cycle in and out of our criminal justice system can be successful as well if they have the necessary support…We have seen the percentage of people hired who have criminal records go up every year without any increases in workplace theft or crime. None of these folks have been subsequently terminated because they committed a subsequent offense.”

Durham’s success is hardly a flash in the pan; the gains it has reaped since banning the box are consistent with those in recent findings evaluating the larger impact of Ban the Box hiring reform.

Today, Americans are taking increasing notice of the injustices inherent to the country’s system of mass criminalization as well as the collateral consequences that individuals-disproportionately people of color-suffer as a result of their contact with the criminal legal system. More and more, they recognize how discriminatory hiring practices facing formerly incarcerated people betray America’s promise and are thus taking action to ensure that people with convictions have a fair chance to work. In recent months, elected officials and business leaders have joined religious, labor, and civil rights groups in supporting the national civil and human rights coalition comprised of formerly incarcerated people that launched and currently leads the nation-wide “Ban the Box” campaign.

Watch the full segment and view a transcript of the NewsHour segment here:


This post was written by SCSJ Researcher Sarah Moncelle



SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson a finalist for David Carliner Public Interest Award

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Senior Staff Attorney for Criminal Justice Daryl Atkinson was recognized as a finalist for the American Constitution Society’s (ACS) David Carliner Public Interest Award at the 2015 ACS National Convention in Washington D.C. on Thursday, June 11.

The award is given annually to a mid-career public interest lawyer and honors an attorney whose work best exemplifies David Carliner’s legacy of fearless, uncompromising and creative advocacy on behalf of marginalized people. Carliner, who began as an activist organizing against poll taxes, militarism and white supremacy in 1930s and 40s Virginia, became a pioneering immigration attorney who served as the founding chair of the American Civil Liberties Union–National Capital Area and Global Rights.

Atkinson was named a finalist for his advocacy efforts on behalf of formerly incarcerated people.



WASHINGTON - JULY 07: A man holds a sign against racial profiling during a protest with Community and faith leaders from Arizona in front of the White House on July 7, 2010 in Washington, DC. Activists plan a 24-hour vigil outside the White House to protest the imminent new immigration law in Arizona.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Orange County group sends police chiefs, sheriff advice for fighting police bias

This story was written by Tammy Grubb and was first published in The News & Observer on May 26, 2015.

A coalition of attorneys, citizens and community advocates is asking Orange County law enforcement to weed out any racial bias in their departments.

The Orange County Bias-Free Policing Coalition recommended 11 steps, including periodic review of stop, search and arrest data; dashboard and body cameras for officers; mandatory use of written consent-to-search forms; and the treatment of marijuana possession as a low-priority crime.

The coalition has given Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough police, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, until July 3 to respond.

While bias may start with the officer on the street, it’s important to understand that it’s not just a policing issue, said Orange County public defender James Williams Jr., a member of the coalition.

“The whole system needs to be involved in efforts to address (bias),” he said. “If we only look at the police, then I think we will never get this right.”

The coalition’s report noted key findings of a statewide police bias study released in December. The study found the Chapel Hill Police Department made 65,460 stops and 2,427 searches between 2002 and 2013. The Carrboro Police Department made 30,528 stops and 2,010 searches in that time.

Black drivers accounted for 24 percent of Chapel Hill stops and 22 percent of Carrboro stops, the study found, while the black population in each town was roughly 10 percent. Rural Orange County stops involved black drivers 26 percent of the time, it found, while the black population was 12 percent.

Roughly 12 percent of black drivers who were stopped in Carrboro had their cars searched, compared to 5 percent of white drivers, the data show. In Chapel Hill, 6 percent of black drivers stopped had their cars searched, compared to 3 percent of white drivers.

Nearly 9 percent of black drivers stopped in rural Orange County had their cars searched, compared to 5 percent of white drivers. The county’s racial disparity between Hispanic and white drivers whose cars were searched was much larger – 21 percent vs. 5 percent – the coalition reported.

The race-based differences in motorist treatment are not unique to Orange County, coalition members said, pointing to Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other places having a similar discussion.

“Justice must start at home,” said Frank Baumgartner, a UNC political science professor involved in the study. “We are calling on our local community leaders to show leadership by looking seriously into these issues and working with community groups to enact meaningful reforms.”

Spotlight on Durham

The city of Durham considered the UNC findings in depth earlier this year as it reflected on bias in the Durham Police Department. The city had sought reviews before by local boards and the U.S. Justice Department’s Diagnostic Center.

Durham now has more than three dozen changes in place or being considered, such as requiring officers to get written permission before searching a car during a traffic stop. The policy doesn’t affect searches carried out with a warrant or when an officer has probable cause to search.

The department also hired a public affairs manager to reach out to the community and completes periodic reviews of police stop, search and arrest data. Police officials have been holding public forums more recently to talk about plans for equipping officers with body cameras.

More to the story

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood joined an NAACP-sponsored panel discussion of policing bias in January.

Carrboro hasn’t had a racial bias or profiling problem, Horton said. If a complaint were filed, the officer accused of violating department policies would be investigated right away, he said, and, if found responsible, be reprimanded or retrained.

“We’re such a small department that if we had an issue, the supervisor would pick up on it pretty quickly,” he said.

Horton also took issue with using population data to compare stops and searches by race. Local residents are very transient, he said, and a majority of Carrboro stops and searches involve drivers from other counties.

The department is trying to compare the study data to its own records, he said, but lacks the staff and skills to do much of what’s requested. Southern Coalition for Social Justice data experts recently showed Carrboro police staff how to access and analyze traffic stop data, the coalition reported.

Chapel Hill started quarterly reviews of each officer’s traffic stops in 2012 as a way to identify any irregularities or patterns. The information collected is compared to local data about race and other demographics, Chief Chris Blue has said, and sometimes to other officers’ reports.

“Personally, I think it is healthy for organizations to build systems that require periodic reviews of all processes, particularly those involving the potential for bias, whether intentional or not,” Blue is quoted as saying in the UNC School of Government’s Indigent Defense Manual Series.

Blue declined to address the coalition’s requests at this time but has said before he understands the community’s frustration. He also agreed previously that the numbers don’t tell the whole story, noting that police sometimes target an area in response to citizen requests.

“Just saying (bias) doesn’t exist doesn’t make it disappear,” Mayor Mark Kleinschdmit said. Chapel Hill police are open to talking about issues and solutions, he said, because the changes underway and being considered will require the community’s support to be successful.

Blackwood said he would respond to the coalition’s requests by the July deadline. The group is free to make his response public at that time, he said, declining to comment further.

Deputies searched the cars of 23 black drivers and 20 white drivers last year, Blackwood said at the January event. It’s common to stop a driver, regardless of race, because they or their cars haven’t been seen in the area before, he said, but deputies do not profile drivers by race.

“We have black officers who are stopping black drivers, and if you asked them (why) it’s because they had a (motor-vehicle violation),” Blackwood said then. “The implication is that we’re stopping black drivers (deliberately), and I just disagree with that.”

While the number of searches may be low, the coalition said, the number appears different when you consider the county’s racial makeup. It’s not the number of traffic stops, Williams said, but what law enforcement is doing in an effort to find contraband.

“Instead of race being used as a descriptor, it’s being used as a predictor” of criminal activity, he said.

Training, changes happening

All local agencies require officers to receive annual diversity and other training. Some officers also attended a recent regional workshop with Lorie Fridell, of the Fair and Impartial Policing group. The “train the trainer” event taught them how to teach bias-free policing techniques to their peers.

Blackwood has emphasized training and resolving bias concerns since being elected last year, Orange County Commissioners Chairman Earl McKee said. The commissioners work closely with the sheriff but do not have a supervisory role, he said.

“The board is concerned that every person in Orange County … receives fair, responsive and responsible treatment when dealing with law enforcement,” McKee said. “I think we’re striving to get better.”

The sheriff’s office already requires deputies to get written consent for searches when there’s no evidence of a crime, Blackwood said at the forum. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are considering the possibility.

Written consent is a good idea, said Kleinschmidt, who is also an attorney. He noted concern about and changes this year in the federal civil forfeiture program, which let officers seize cash and property from individuals without proving a crime has occurred.

Another growing trend is outfitting officers with cameras.

Most Orange County police and sheriff’s vehicles are equipped with cameras. Hillsborough bought body cameras last year for some of its officers, and Chapel Hill is considering the possibility now.

Carrboro’s latest capital projects budget includes $91,000 to buy 42 cameras, enough for each officer and a few replacements. At least 14 cameras will be purchased during the first round, Horton said, expanding eventually to about 35 patrol cars. He has been meeting with Alderman Damon Seils and the ACLU to work out the details, he said.

Marijuana crimes

The coalition also asked local law enforcement to reduce the emphasis on marijuana crimes.

Roughly 47 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in Chapel Hill are black, the coalition reports, and about 44 percent in Carrboro. The number of black people arrested for marijuana possession in rural Orange County was 27 percent.

That’s a concern, coalition members said, because many involve young people, and in North Carolina, 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. A low-level marijuana arrest can become part of a young person’s permanent record, affecting their ability to attend college or get a job.

Carrboro officers can use discretion when they find a small amount of marijuana, Horton, said, but someone with the drug bagged for sale would be arrested. He suggested groups opposed to marijuana laws contact legislators.

“The law is the law. We are sworn to enforce it,” he said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746


The Orange County Bias Free Policing Coalition is asking local law enforcement agencies to adopt 11 proposed solutions to racial bias and profiling:

▪ Identify and change existing policies that result in racially biased policing

▪ Adopt written policies explicitly prohibiting racial profiling

▪ Periodically review officers’ stop, search and arrest data

▪ Require officers to use written consent-to-search forms

▪ Prohibit vehicle stops and searches based solely on a driver’s “nervousness,” “presence in a high crime neighborhood” or “criminal record”

▪ Require dashboard cameras in police cars and body cameras for officers

▪ Make marijuana a low priority

▪ Mandate quarterly race reports to town or county leaders

▪ Mandate racial equity training for all officers

▪ Adopt measures to increase public confidence in how agencies respond to allegations of police misconduct

▪ Increase civilian involvement in law enforcement decisions


‘Second Chance’ laws sought

— Advocates for people with criminal records are calling for changes to state laws they say make it nearly impossible for former convicts to become productive members of society once they’ve finished their sentences.

In the weeks leading up to crossover, state lawmakers moved a series of bills that would make small changes to expunction laws and facilitate re-entry. But two of the biggest proposals didn’t get hearings at all.

One, House Bill 399, would raise the age for some adult crimes from 16 to 18 years old. It is not subject to crossover because it appropriates money. It has bipartisan support. The other, House Bill 612, known as “Ban the Box,” would have directed state and local governments to stop using a job application question about an applicant’s criminal record as an automatic disqualification for further consideration. It did not have bipartisan support, and it did not survive the crossover deadline.

Still, Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that they intend to continue the fight to help make it easier for people with criminal records to find employment.

“These are people with unfavorable backgrounds who need another chance, who need an opportunity to get back into their communities,” said Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, the sponsor of “Ban the Box.” “We do believe in a second chance because all of us, if truth be told, have had some second chances in life.”

Former prosecutor Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, stressed that he believes in consequences for crimes, adding, “it’s possible to go too far, it’s possible to destroy people’s lives for no good reason.”

“It used to be that the worst part of being convicted of a minor criminal offense was you’d have to spend a few days in jail. Now, that’s dwarfed by the long-term financial consequences that keep people from being able to provide for themselves,” Jackson said. “Look at the economic cage we’ve locked them into. Ask yourself if there isn’t a more reasonable approach.”

In 2011, Durham became the first city in North Carolina to “ban the box” on job applications. Daryl Atkinson, senior attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

In 2011, 2.3 percent of hires in Durham city government were people with past criminal records. In 2012, it was 4.4 percent, rising to 9 percent in 2013 and 15 percent in 2014.

“The sky didn’t open up and rain down plagues,” Atkinson said, adding that the city has seen “no increases in workplace crime, and none of those folks have been terminated because they’ve committed an offense.”

Atkinson stressed that not every job is appropriate for someone with a felony record, but he said in many instances employers are using a criminal record of any kind as a blanket disqualifier for any job.

“They’re not making that individual assessment to see if there’s a direct relationship between the underlying record and the job,” he said, noting that Koch Industries recently banned the box on applications for all its subsidiaries and calling it “the moral thing to do.”

About 1.6 million North Carolinians – roughly one out of six – have criminal records. Across the country, some 700,000 inmates will be released from prisons every year for the next 10 years, a higher number than ever before.

“When we think about the turmoil that’s going on around the country, one of the common denominators is communities feeling shut out of opportunity,” Atkinson said.

Re-entry advocate Dennis Gaddy agreed.

“If you make it hard to do the right thing, you make it easy to do the wrong thing,” Gaddy said.

This story was written by Laura Leslie and was published to WRAL.com’s NCCapitol blog on Tuesday, May 5, 2015