Redistricting

Court Says Packing Black Voters in Districts is Unconstitutional

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 25, 2015

Contact: Anita Earls, Southern Coalition for Social Justice 919-794-4198 (Office)

 

U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN ALABAMA REDISTRICTING CASE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR NORTH CAROLINA’S REDISTRICTING PLANS

In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Justice Breyer, for the majority, wrote “[t]hat Alabama expressly adopted and applied a policy of prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria (save one-person, one-vote) provides evidence that race motivated the drawing of particular lines in multiple districts in the State.”

The Court went on to hold that such race-based redistricting must be subjected to strict scrutiny. The central legal principle in determining if such districts meet constitutional muster is the Court’s conclusion that “Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice.”

Not a single Justice approved, defended, or found justified the Alabama Legislature’s practice of packing black voters to achieve a particular numerical majority in legislative districts.

Plaintiffs in the North Carolina redistricting case have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the redistricting plans drawn in this state, which, they contend, employed two race-based criteria as “safe harbors” – a racial proportionality goal for the number of majority-black districts that must be drawn in each plan and a requirement that each district must have greater than 50% black voting age population. “The decision in the Alabama case makes clear that the Voting Rights Act does not require, and the Constitution does not permit, the use of mechanical racial targets in redistricting, as was done in North Carolina” said Anita Earls, an attorney for some of the Plaintiffs in the North Carolina case.

The North Carolina case is Dickson v. Rucho, No. 14-839. A case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District also pending in the Supreme Court, is Cantor v. Personhuballah, No. 14-518.

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“Ban the Box” campaign gains momentum in Washington

This story was written by Josh Gerstein and appeared on politico.com on March 25, 2015  

Obama urged to ease hiring of ex-prisoners

A group of criminal justice reformers, including some who served prison time, are headed to the White House Wednesday to press President Barack Obama to do more to help those who’ve been convicted of crimes find jobs, housing and other necessities once they get out.

The delegation is urging Obama to issue an executive order that would ban the federal government and government contractors from asking most job applicants about their criminal histories. The idea, labeled “Ban the Box,” has already been enacted in some form in 14 states and more than 100 localities.

“The trip to the White House for me is really meaningful,” said Dorsey Nunn, who now runs the San Francisco-based charity Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and went to prison in 1971 — at the age of 19 — in connection with a liquor store robbery in which the store’s owner was killed.

“I had to sit down and wrap my head around the fact that I had walked through both the gates of San Quentin and the gates of the White House compound,” Nunn said in an interview, referring to a visit he paid to the White House for another event last year.

The “Ban the Box” campaigners are set to meet Wednesday with the White House Director of Urban Affairs Roy Austin, as well as others from the Domestic Policy Council and the National Economic Council, before going to the Labor Department for another meeting.

Former prisoners say the challenges of getting a job and a place to live after doing time are among the leading factors that push former inmates to commit new crimes and society to incur additional costs to lock them up again.

“Look, it’s not rocket science,” said Daryl Atkinson, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “If folks can’t participate in the legal economy, that pushes them back to the illegal economy.”

Atkinson, who’s scheduled to attend the White House session Wednesday, spent 40 months in prison in North Carolina for drug trafficking in the 1990s before attending college and law school. He noted that about one in four American adults have faced charge or conviction in the criminal justice system and can encounter hiring problems as a result.

“This affects between 65 and 71 million Americans. If we want to make sure those folks have the opportunity to contribute to the economy and become taxpayers and productive members of society, this is a necessary policy initiative,” Atkinson said.

The campaigners say they’ve gotten a “very open” reception from other administration officials, such as a “re-entry” council Attorney General Eric Holder set up in 2011 to address problems integrating former prisoners into society.

Removing or delaying questions about criminal records in the federal hiring process raises obvious questions, like what to do about the tens of thousands of jobs that are security-related or require background checks. The Obama administration has pressed in court to preserve the government’s ability to demand such checks even for low-level positions, like store and data-entry clerks.

Atkinson said the fact that people with a criminal history might not be suitable for some government or contractor jobs doesn’t mean all of them should be off limits.“I can imagine in the FBI’s case, its positions, or Homeland Security, they’d be exempted out. That’s reasonable, but that’s the exception rather than the rule as far as the vast number of federal jobs associated with the federal government,” he said.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss the meeting or the administration’s stance on the “Ban the Box” idea, which was fought in California by the district attorneys’ association.

In 2013, the Obama administration warned federal contractors that bans on hiring those with criminal records could run afoul of discrimination laws because of the disproportionate rate at which minorities are incarcerated. However, the memo didn’t explicitly prohibit contractors from taking such issues into account.

As Obama’s presidency winds down, criminal justice reform has emerged as an issue of greater focus for him. It’s also garnering attention from Republican governors and from conservatives like mining barons Charles and David Koch. Former Obama White House aide Van Jones and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are holding a summit meeting in Washington Thursday, aimed at cutting prison populations by 50 percent.

The effort to focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners got a boost this week from two very prominent figures in the judicial system: Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer.

“The corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions, functions, that we have in our entire government,” Kennedy said at a House budget hearing Monday. “Lawyers are fascinated with the guilt/innocence adjudication process. And once the adjudication process is over, we have no interest in corrections….This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working. And it’s not humane.”

“I think it is a big problem for the country,” Breyer added.

In connection with the White House meeting, more than 100 labor, civil liberties and religious groups sent a letter to Obama Wednesday urging him to take executive action to require what the advocates call “fair chance hiring.”

Another campaigner headed to the White House session, Pastor Mike McBride of the faith-based group PICO Network, said he believes the bipartisan drive will make it easier for Obama and his aides to see a move on the ex-prisoner employement issue as a part of his legacy.

“I believe we’re creating a kind of crescendo and climate where the idea we’re verbalizing will be an easy, softball pitch for them,” McBride said. “People shouldn’t be penalized for their whole life for indiscretions they have made.”

 

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Welcoming the ‘most vulnerable’

This editorial appeared in The Herald-Sun on Sunday, March 8, 2015.

More than 2,100 unaccompanied immigrant children have been placed with sponsors – often family members – in North Carolina, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee and Resettlement.

North Carolina is one of the “highest receiving states” for such children, estimated to total more than 57,000 nationwide, Esther Yu-Hsi Lee reported on the left-leaning ThinkProgress website in January.

These children – placed temporarily with sponsors while awaiting decisions by immigration courts – are “the most vulnerable of the voiceless,” George Eppsteiner of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice wrote in an opinion piece in The News and Observer last September. They “often are escaping insurmountable poverty and violence in their home countries.”

We are a compassionate society. We would almost universally, you would think, rally to the cause of supporting and welcoming these children.

Sadly, in many North Carolina communities, just the opposite reaction is being openly voiced by government bodies or is implicit in obstacles and delays that confront those children as they attempt to enroll in school. That reaction ignores state law that says any child – regardless of immigration status – is entitled to public education in their home school district.

Boards of commissioners in Rowan, Brunswick and Surry counties have passed resolutions objecting to such enrollment. The social justice coalition has filed federal civil rights complaints against Buncombe and Union county school districts for denying enrollment to unaccompanied immigrants.

Given those sentiments, it is welcome – and reassuringly unsurprising – that Durham is taking the opposite tack and forthrightly welcoming the estimated 300 such children here. 

The Durham City Council unanimously adopted a resolution urging local government departments to serve those children and thanking the school district for enrolling them. Monday, the school board unanimously and swiftly adopted a similar resolution. 

“We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values,” board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said. 

Eppsteiner was among those who spoke at Monday’s meeting.  The board’s support is important, he said, “because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in … other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

The board heard from Alex Herrera, a Riverside High School junior who migrated from Honduras when he was 7. 

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this year we have tried to tutor them,” he told the board. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need the extra help from you.”

We’re proud to be in a community where that extra help is willingly extended, instead of meanly denied.

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Selma march feels like ‘hope and justice magnified’

Susan Burton of A New Way of Life in Los Angeles and Daryl Atkinson of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice finally got their turn to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge — twice.

Burton’s dispatch:

There are just thousands and thousands and thousands of people, as far as the eye can see, people lined up coming across that bridge.

We marched backward across it the first time, signifying the rights that have been lost, the injustice of the criminal justice system. Voting rights. The fact that I can’t serve on a jury, despite the fact that I’m 20 years from ever having been incarcerated.

When we reached the other side of the bridge, we turned around to march in unity with everyone else. It felt so powerful. I felt like there was a uniting of all the energy, the collective mass of individuals. It felt like we were a body, we were a power, we were a force.

There were people in wheelchairs. There was a guy who was there on the first march, he was walking up on a walker.

I’m on my way to the airport now, and people are still coming across that bridge! Oh, my goodness. It felt like hope magnified. Hope and justice magnified.

–Susan Burton
Selma 2015

This coverage of the 2015 Selma march was written by Susan Burton and first appeared in the L.A. Times on Sunday, March 9, 2015. Photo Credits: L.A. Times

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School board supports migrant children issue

This story was written by Gregory Childress and was originally published in The Herald-Sun on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

DURHAM-The school board has adopted a resolution reaffirming its support of more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

The resolution was on the board’s consent agenda during a rare Monday night school board meeting held to make up for one missed last Thursday due to recent winter storms that dumped several inches of ice, sleet and snow on the Triangle.

Being placed on board’s consent agenda means an item will likely be approved.

“We are so committed to this cause that it’s on our consent agenda,” said school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter. “We didn’t even need to debate it because we know it is one of our values.”

The Durham City Council has also adopted a resolution pledging its support for unaccompanied migrant children.

Although the school board was expected to unanimously approve its resolution — and did, 7-0 — more than a dozen people attended Monday’s meeting to show their support.

One of them, Alex Herrera, a junior at Riverside High School, who migrated to the U.S., from Honduras at age 7, told the board that he knows well the hardships faced by the more than 300 unaccompanied migrant children who now attend Durham Public Schools.

“I still have family over there that tell me about the hardship, the poverty, the crime,” said Herrera, a member of the Latino Parent-Student Council Coalition.

School officials have said many of the children traveled to the U.S., alone and arrived with myriad problems, including gaps in their education, emotional trauma from abuse and other such problems that require extra resources.

Herrera said those problems don’t stop once the children reach the U.S.

“Now, they’re here and they’re struggling,” Herrera said. “They have increased in great numbers and they are visible in Durham Public Schools.”

Herrera said the school district is also struggling under the influx of the new students.

“At Riverside alone about 60 immigrant children are enrolled per semester and this school year we have tried to tutor them,” Herrera said. “The teachers have helped. The students have helped but it is not enough sometimes and we need that extra help from you.”

In October, school officials reported that DPS was serving 282 such children, primarily from the Latin American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The largest concentrations of unaccompanied migrant children were at Riverside High (55) and Jordan High (42). The next largest concentration was at Githens Middle School (35) and Creekside Elementary (28).

George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said Durham is one of the largest jurisdictions in the state that has agreed to receive unaccompanied minors.

“It’s critical for this board to send a message that these children are welcome and will be supported in Durham Public Schools,” Eppsteiner said. “The reason that’s important is because there have been some unwelcome resolutions that have been passed in other local government jurisdictions and other areas that don’t have large populations of these children.”

Eppsteiner said the law, in fact, mandates that such migrant children be supported in the communities they reside.

He cited a more than 30-year-old Supreme Court in which the justices ruled against a Texas school district that tried to deny undocumented youth access to a free public school education.

“The Supreme Court said there is actually more harm in preventing these kids from accessing public education because the schoolhouse plays such a key role in their development,” Eppsteiner said.

Herrera said the decision to adopt the resolution will go far in showing the students that the board considers them important members of the school district.

“We are glad that this is not an issue that is being put to the side,” Herrera said. “Many times that is what happens when it doesn’t apply to our lives or it doesn’t affect us directly. You have taken into the account the importance of it. They are coming to the schools and that’s the first place that’s going to impact them. That’s the first place they learn the language and learn how the school system works.”

And regardless of whether the students remain in the U.S., Herrera said their experience here will follow them for a lifetime.

“That’s what’s going to help them out through life no matter [whether] they stay in this country of if they have to leave,” Herrera said. “Schools are the place where they start and it’s where they get the good or bad influence.”

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Public support increases for immigrant children in North Carolina

In keeping with its commitment to address issues of racial equity in education, SCSJ is continuing to work to help empower the immigrant community in the Triangle to protect the human and educational rights of their children. In active cooperation with immigrant students, teachers, public officials, and community leaders and activists dedicated to advancing the interests of the immigrant community, SCSJ has successfully worked to pass welcoming resolutions for immigrant children in the Triangle. These strongly worded statements of support explicitly recognize that immigrant children are important members of the community, that they should be afforded legal representation at immigration proceedings (children are not guaranteed the right to an attorney in immigration proceedings), and that they have an absolute right to attend public schools.  Since November 2014, a growing number of municipal bodies have passed such resolutions to express their support for equal access to education for all students, regardless of immigration status.

Most recently, the Durham Public School Board of Education passed a resolution on March 2, 2015 to support immigrant children, including those who travel alone to the United States to escape violence and extreme poverty.  In a remarkable act of recognition for the dozens of community members who attended in support of the resolution, each member of the School Board read paragraphs of the resolution aloud. Board Chair Heidi Carter further commented that the Board’s action “is just the right thing to do.”

The sixth such action since November 2014, the Durham Public School Board resolution adds significantly to the growing momentum of support for immigrant children in the Triangle. Similar statements were passed by the Durham City Council (1/5/15), the Orange County Board of Education (1/12/15), the Chapel Hill Town Council (12/3/14), the Orange County Board of Commissioners (12/1/14), and the Carrboro Board of Alderman (11/18/14).

SCSJ hopes to continue to work with communities in North Carolina to pass resolutions that are supportive and empowering of the immigrant community in 2015 and beyond.

Clean Slate Cover

Greensboro workshop focuses on cleaning up criminal records

This story was written by Amanda Lehmert and was originally published in the News & Record on Saturday, February 28, 2015.

GREENSBORO-On a bitter cold Saturday in January, folks crowded the pews at the Beloved Community Center.

There was a pregnant mom who was having trouble finding a landlord who would rent to her.

There was a young man who couldn’t get a student loan. And a certified crane and forklift operator who couldn’t find a job.

They had one thing in common: a criminal history that was making it hard for them to move on with their lives.

In recent years, the General Assembly has passed laws that have given people new ways to clean up their criminal records.

Such organizations as the N.C. Justice Center and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice — which ran the session at Beloved — have held clinics around the state to provide no-cost legal services to help people get their records expunged or pursue other legal remedies.

Just in the last few months, hundreds of Triad residents have taken advantage of the avenues to clear their name.

“They face roadblock after roadblock after roadblock,” said Daryl Atkinson, a senior attorney with the Southern Coalition, a left-leaning nonprofit organization based in Durham.

“If we can offer a legal intervention that can remove some of those barriers so people can get jobs, housing, education, we can get more productive folks in our society,” Atkinson said.

***

Nearly one-third of Americans are arrested by the time they are 23 years old, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics.

They may have the charges against them dropped. They may have to serve time, pay fines or fulfill their probation. But that doesn’t mean their punishment is over.

They must also deal with collateral consequences. Those are the social and legal barriers that prevent a person from living life like someone who has never had contact with the justice system.

The UNC School of Government has cataloged a wide range of North Carolina rules that can hinder a person’s ability to get a job, certain licenses or public benefits — sometimes indefinitely — once convicted of a crime.

Becoming a foster parent. Getting a hunting license. Working for a pest control business. Accessing low-cost child care. Driving for a wrecking company. Getting certified to euthanize animals. Running a beach bingo game.

And those are only the state rules. People with a criminal record also face federal barriers and limits imposed by individuals and companies.

A record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by about 50 percent, according to research published in the American Sociological Review.

Even an arrest for a low-level crime without any conviction hurt a person’s ability to get a callback from an employer, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Purdue University found.

African American candidates with a record are even less likely to get a chance for a job, researchers found.

The stigma continues, sometimes years after someone cleans up his or her act.

“After five to seven years, if someone hasn’t committed another crime in that period of time, they are no more likely to do so than someone who’s never been caught,” said Bill Rowe, the advocacy director for the N.C. Justice Center, a left-leaning research and advocacy nonprofit organization in Raleigh. “You should pay whatever is the right thing to do for the mistake you make. But how long do you keep paying?”

***

The people who packed into the Beloved Community Center in downtown Greensboro last month know this all too well.

Russell Williams, 51, of Greensboro is certified to work forklifts and cranes. He can’t get work.

“I’ve never had a felony in my life, yet my little misdemeanor criminal past keeps me from getting jobs,” Williams said. He said he stole tuna fish and Spam because he was hungry.

Another man has worked at Taco Bell for 12 years, but he can’t get promoted because of his record.

Deidra Bowman, 21, a Randolph County resident, came to January’s session in her K&W Cafeteria uniform, hugely pregnant. She had a string of arrests when she was a teenager.

“I was just young and dumb. I got into a lot of fights,” Bowman said. Those charges were dismissed.

She was about to be a mother of two babies. She has a steady job. But a half-dozen landlords wouldn’t rent to her because of her arrest record.

“I don’t want to live in the ’hood,” she said. “I don’t want to live in the slums.”

Another man is studying nursing, but he can’t finish his clinical work because the hospital affiliated with his school won’t take workers with criminal records.

Rico Gant, 27, a Reidsville resident, is working as a certified nursing assistant and studying at community college. He would like to transfer to UNC-Greensboro, but he was denied financial aid because of his record.

Gant was convicted of a felony more than 10 years ago, when he was a teenager. He hasn’t been in trouble since.

“I didn’t know the impact it would have now,” he said.

***

More than 200 people reached out to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice for help as a result of that January clinic at Beloved. Lawyers working pro bono were able to help some of those people begin the process of clearing their names.

The state law allows people to have their criminal records erased — or expunged — under limited circumstances, such as first-time, dismissed or juvenile charges and nonviolent felony convictions.

Often, a person is only eligible if they have stayed out of trouble for years.

In 2013, the state also added expunction for first-time prostitution charges in cases of human trafficking.

People who have been convicted of no more than two low-level felonies also may seek a certificate of relief, which was adopted by the legislature in 2011. State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro was one of the bill’s sponsors.

If a judge grants the certificate, a person may get some relief from those state-sanctioned collateral consequences, like getting a licence from an occupational board.

“One-third of jobs in North Carolina require some sort of occupation certification or license. The vast majority of those (occupational boards) have traditionally denied individuals based on convictions,” even when the crime has no connection to their ability to do the job, said Daniel Bowes, a lawer with Legal Aid.

The certificate also limits the legal liability of people who then hire or rent a home to someone with a record.

Advocates say those new laws are a good start, but they would like to see them go further.

“People are thinking a little differently now about what we need to do to make sure people do integrate and have a chance to get back on their feet,” Rowe said.

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North Carolina State Court Allows Photo ID Challenge to Proceed to Trial

This afternoon, Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan ruled that a challenge to North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voting will proceed to trial in July 2015.  In ruling on the respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (where no evidence is allowed to be taken into account), Judge Morgan indicated that the case needed to be presented with evidence at trial this summer before ruling on the constitutionality of the law, as to Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims and unconstitutional qualification for voting claim.

“On behalf of our clients, we look forward to trying this case in July and demonstrating the disenfranchising effect of the photo ID requirement,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice Staff Attorney George Eppsteiner.

“We’re going to show how this law has a negative impact on voters of color and voters that do not have the resources to obtain an ID,” said Melvin Montford, Executive Director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute of North Carolina.

“The League of Women Voters is pleased that we will have our day in Court in July,” said Brenda Rogers, Director of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “As in other states, we are confident that the evidence will show how photo ID requirements actually prevent access to voting.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represents plaintiffs including Alberta Currie, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the NC A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and other individual plaintiffs in this litigation.  Pressly Millen of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice also represents Ms. Currie and other individual plaintiffs.

 

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SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson discusses ‘The New Jim Crow’ on HuffPost Live

SCSJ Senior Attorney Daryl Atkinson appeared on HuffPost Live at 6:30 PM EST with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and HufffPost Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim to discuss Michelle Alexander’s critically acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness and the opportunities for criminal justice reform.

Alexander’s book reveals the phenomena of mass incarceration, over-criminalization, and the second class status of people with criminal records—America’s latest symptoms of unresolved structural racism and white supremacy—by exhaustively detailing the policies, practices, and political choices that buttressed our country’s latest system of racial caste. Thoroughly researched and deservedly praised, The New Jim Crow effectively lays bare “how historically both [Americans’] conscious and unconscious biases and anxieties have played out over and over again to birth these vast systems of social control.”*

The New Jim Crow’s thesis and concurrent call for criminal justice reform to redress racial injustice have become increasingly influential and galvanized a national debate about the efficacy of mass incarceration and the failed war on drugs. Moreover, the book has spurred many Americans to take new notice of the injustice of our current criminal justice system and its relationship to our unresolved racial history. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Alexander’s seminal work has birthed a grassroots movement that can support successful interventions and reforms championed by organizations like the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. SCSJ is currently spearheading a multidisciplinary campaign to eliminate racial bias in the criminal justice system, end mass incarceration, and remove unjust barriers faced by persons with criminal records.

You may watch the HuffPost Live program here:

ban the box

Ban the Box to increase tax revenue and reduce crime

‘Ban the Box’ to increase tax revenue and reduce crime

Guest Commentary

ENGAGE: Write a letter to the editor

For 1.6 million North Carolinians, the worst part of job searching is not the interview, but the moment they drop off the application. Nearly every employment application contains a small box on the front page that reads, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” By marking that box, applicants with a criminal record, no matter how old or irrelevant the crime, are effectively checking away their chance at a job. To increase tax revenue and reduce the likelihood that formerly incarcerated people will return to a life of crime, North Carolina needs to ban that box.

Ban the box initiatives follow a simple logic: Study after study show that the most effective way to reduce crime is not to build more prisons or hire more police officers, but to provide more jobs. Formerly incarcerated people who cannot secure jobs are more than twice as likely to return to criminal activity than their employed counterparts. Additionally, more people with jobs means stronger family ties, greater economic security, and increased tax revenue. A Philadelphia study on Ban the Box reported that hiring 100 formerly incarcerated people would add $1.9 million to income tax revenue, $770,000 to sales tax revenue and save $2 million per year in criminal justice costs incurred through recidivism.

“Criminal record history acts as a tremendous barrier to people providing food, shelter and clothing for their families,” says Daryl Atkinson, senior attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a group that spearheaded the Ban the Box movement in North Carolina.

Atkinson is himself a formerly incarcerated person.

“Ban the Box has been proven to help people get back to work and improve public safety because if people are able to take care of themselves, they don’t go back to crime. If we are serious about good allocation of tax dollars, we need to ensure that more people with records can get back to work and be productive members of society.”

Employers have a right to know if the person they are hiring has a criminal history. We wouldn’t want someone convicted of embezzlement to land a job as a comptroller. Ban the box doesn’t mean that employers lose the right to do a background check, it simply moves that step further down the job application process, after the applicant has had the opportunity to present his or her qualifications and skills.

“When you go to prison you are serving your debt to society, but the way the system is set up, that debt continues after you get out,” says Steven Manning, a Durham resident who served three and a half years in prison from 2001-2005 for possession of a firearm by a felon. “When companies deny you a job because of what you did in the past, that creates a revolving door back to prison. I can fill out 20-30 applications and not get a call back because of my record.”

The city and county of Durham, N.C., implemented Ban the Box initiatives in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Since then, the City of Durham has hired 700 times more people with criminal records than previous years. The County of Durham has seen a 300 percent increase. Importantly, not one of these new hires has been terminated due to illegal activity and neither has there been an increase in workplace crime. In fact 96 percent of applicants with criminal records were ultimately hired, even after background checks. This indicates that the majority of criminal history was determined to be irrelevant, either because the crime was unrelated to the job or occurred many years ago and the applicant has demonstrated rehabilitation.

It’s not often that we see an initiative that can reduce crime, strengthen families, and increase revenue, but Ban the Box accomplishes all those objectives and more. It’s about second chances and breaking the cycle of poverty and crime that grips so many generations. When one person secures a stable job, that person’s children are also more likely to finish school and gain secure employment.

With that in mind, the Second Chance Coalition, a statewide alliance of advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, community leaders and interested citizens, have come to advocate for Ban the Box statewide.

“As a person who leads an organization that works with formerly incarcerated persons, I support the Ban the Box Initiative,” says Dennis Gaddy, executive director of Community Success Initiative, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society and a leader of the Second Chance Coalition. “Under the current system, when an individual checks the box, there are so many things we still don’t know. How long has it been since the crime was committed? What has that person accomplished since then? Ban the Box allows people a second chance at work — I’m for Second Chances!!”

To get involved in Ban the Box initiatives this year in North Carolina, visit ncjustice.org/?q=second-chance-alliance/nc-second-chance-alliance.: :

— Tessie Castillo is the communications and advocacy coordinator for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. Learn more at nchrc.org.