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

Let people vote

SCSJ and partners call on North Carolina to comply with NVRA provisions

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice today took action to ensure that the State of North Carolina meets federal law requirements in providing voter registration opportunities to its citizens who receive public assistance.

Since 1993, federal law requires public assistance agencies administering programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to provide individuals who apply, renews, recertify, or change their address, or otherwise interact with the agency the opportunity and means to register to vote. Specifically, public assistance agencies must distribute voter registration forms, help applicants in filling out the voter registration forms, and accept and accept the completed forms and forward them to appropriate election officials. The purpose of the law is to reduce the burden on low-income individuals or individuals experiencing acute financial distress by eliminating the demand for multiple government interactions to register to vote.

At this time, unfortunately, North Carolina’s public assistance agencies are not fulfilling this obligation, and North Carolina is the worse for their failure. North Carolina must make prompt changes to ensure that the law is properly implemented so that all of its citizens, including the more than one million individuals who receive public assistance, are able to register to vote and participate in elections.

 The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is proud to be working with Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyer’s Committee and to be representing Democracy NC, Action NC, and the NC A. Philip Randolph Institute in this matter. We hope to work cooperatively with the NCBOE and DHHS to develop a plan for bringing North Carolina into compliance with the law, without litigation, as has successfully been done with North Carolina previously as well as with other states. But we will do whatever it takes to make sure that every North Carolinian has the opportunity to participate in the political process.

Read the letter SCSJ and partner organizations sent to North Carolina Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach today.


‘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 


SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson discusses “On the Run” on HuffPost Live

Senior Attorney Daryl Atkinson joined host Marc Lamont Hill and University of Wisconsin Sociologist Alice Goffman in a HuffPost Live discussion of Goffman’s book, “On the Run.”

Much of “On the Run” focuses on the book’s main subjects, black men in their 20s living in a Philadelphia neighborhood who find ways to evade, dodge and run from police in order to avoid arrest, prison time for small crimes. Beyond running from the police, the subjects of Hoffman’s book communicate the reality that they aren’t able to rely on law enforcement or the court systems to help them when they need it. Atkinson discussed their perspective, and offered several alternatives to the vicious cycle of criminalizing, incarcerating, and reducing opportunity that disproportionately affects black men in the United States.

“When we talk about our country, our enabling documents talk about the ability to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Overcriminalization really cuts against the fabric of some of the deepest values of our country.”

Atkinson promoted policy-based solutions that exist today:

  • Move a number of low-level moving infractions and livability offenses out of the criminal justice system and into a civil penalty system that will not hold people in financial bondage.
  • Use the criminal justice system only to the measure that is necessary so that people are not incarcerated longer than is necessary. Base judgement of such necessity on evidence from applied and data-driven social science research.
  • Remove the second class status that is attendant to contact with the criminal justice system

Culture-shift solutions are just as needed for comprehensive criminal justice reform: We have to enlarge the “We”

“All of the fights that we’ve been engaged in in this country have really been about more clearly defining who “We the People” are. We need to enlarge that “We” to truly include poor people, black and brown people, and people who are currently living on the margins of society.”

You may view the segment in its entirety below.

Policing and Prisons Threaten Black Men in the U.S.


Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

For Immediate Release                                                                                                    Contact: Beverley Clark, 919-247-4207

Anita Earls, 919-794-4198,



Wake Voters Sue Over New County Commission Districts

Voters in overpopulated districts claim the districts make their votes count for less and that district 4 is a race-based district


RALEIGH, NC (April 9, 2015) – Today the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, and fifteen individual Wake County voters, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the districts adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly to be used for the Wake County Board of County Commissioners beginning in 2016 are unconstitutional under the federal and state constitutions.

The Plaintiffs contend that the districts approved by the General Assembly on April 2, 2015 failed two constitutional tests:

  • One-person, one-vote violation: Election districts must be approximately the same size in population so that every voter’s vote will carry the same weight. Voters who live in over-populated districts have less say in their government than voters in smaller districts.  The lawsuit claims that the wide population disparities among the districts are unconstitutional because they are based on the desire to favor one party over another and the desire to favor rural and suburban voters at the expense of urban voters.  The new law creates deviations of 9.8% and 7.11%, when it is possible to draw such districts with deviations of .02% and .33% respectively.
  • Excessive use of racial criteria: Even though there is a long history African-Americans being elected at-large to the Wake County Board of County Commissioners, the new plan creates a majority-black district, District 4, that is highly irregular in shape and splits ten precincts. The lawsuit claims this district is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

The Districts were drawn and approved by Republican state legislators over the objection of the sitting county commissioners, four of whom are Democrats elected last fall.  “This litigation is about the fundamental American proposition that when voters live and vote in districts, those districts should be relatively compact, and the population divided equally,” said Plaintiff Beverley S. Clark, a resident of the over-populated District 3 in the new plan.  “It is undemocratic for the General Assembly to randomly use its power to make district changes without any compelling reason or any new census data.”  Plaintiffs also cite the failure of the General Assembly to adopt a plan proposed by Representative Gill that had equal sized, regular shaped districts using whole precincts, and that didn’t divide voters by race.  The General Assembly could have adopted a more balance option, or put the districts to a vote of the people.  The failure to pursue these options shows that there were illegitimate and unconstitutional motivations behind the plan.

Dr. Earl Johnson, President of the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, whose members live in the affected districts, stated “The new election plan passed by the General Assembly is likely to result in people having less, not more, connection with their elected representatives.  Right now voters have a voice in electing all seven members who must be accountable to them, under the new plan each voter will have just two commissioners representing them, who can ignore them because the gerrymandered districts give them safe seats. This was a partisan power grab that cannot withstand neutral review.”

The Plaintiffs are represented by Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  View the Complaint here.

# # #



U.S. Supreme Court declines to immediately hear N.C. voting law case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to immediately hear an appeal in a case challenging the state’s 2013 voting law, where the lower appeals court ruled that the state’s attempt to end same day registration and out of precinct voting likely violated the Voting Rights Act.  That denial means that those issues, along with other challenged elements of the 2013 law that make voting harder, will all be considered together in July 2015 when the case goes to trial in federal district court in Winston-Salem, N.C.  Those other elements include the cut to early voting and the photo ID requirement, among others.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice had asked the Supreme Court not to grant certiorari in the case at this stage, and to instead allow the issues to be heard and decided together in district court this summer.

The denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court follows a ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which voted 2-1 in October 2014 to grant a preliminary injunction upholding North Carolina voters’ access to same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting until the case could be heard in district court. In October, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, citing concerns about proximity to the November 2014 general election, and as a result same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were not available to voters during that election. North Carolina’s next elections are scheduled to take place in fall 2015, for municipal offices.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and others have challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.

In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African-Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.

The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

The Marshall Project

Words matter: the importance of humanizing criminal justice vocabulary

Inmate. Prisoner. Other. Discussed.

What to call incarcerated people: Your feedback

We received more than 200 responses to our callout asking the best way to refer to people behind bars. Of the options we offered, 38 percent preferred “incarcerated person,” 23 percent liked “prisoner” and nearly 10 percent supported use of the word inmate. Thirty percent selected “other” (“person in prison,” “man or woman,” “the person’s name.”)

Here is a sample of the responses (some of which have been edited for length or clarity).


I don’t like the term – I was one once – but at least this term is localized to the actual incarceration event and allows someone to move past it once they are released…. – Robert Pelshaw

“Inmate” is concise and accurate without being pejorative…Arguably, “inmate” is more versatile than “prisoner,” because it includes people who are confined to institutions other than prisons, such as psychiatric hospitals, and immigration detention centers. –Lindsay Beyerstein

Nomenclatures are important and exist to clarify the world around us…my preference is to keep the terms simple while simultaneously remembering that there is a human being on the flip side of that word. – Trish Navaratnasingam

Just as you might refer to someone by their occupation, “an attorney, a writer, a teacher”, while a person is in prison, they are “an inmate”….I am a retired state prison warden, and “inmate” is the term staff and inmates used. – Sherry Davison

For me the word inmate is not synonymous with criminality…Inmate suggests people confined within a dwelling, and for me, nothing more than that…For perspective: I worked at Reeves County Detention Center III as a correctional officer from 2006-2008. – Ashley Moya

As a journalist and convicted felon, I think a lot about the power that language has to redeem or condemn. Like a lot of reporters, I try to be thoughtful about the way I describe people, especially when I’m writing about marginalized groups. But on a personal level, I don’t care much about whether someone labels me a felon, ex-con, or formerly incarcerated person — whatever…If someone asks, I get right down to it: “I was convicted of a felony. I sat a year in jail for a burglary.” See? When facts are stated frankly, labels have much less power…I appreciate being thoughtful about the labels we apply. But the question here seems more of a concern for the advocates or social worker — less so for the convicted felon looking forward to having his civil rights restored. – Mario Koran

Incarcerated person

As a formerly incarcerated person, the term inmate feels disparaging. We were often called this by officers with a tone of disgust. I think it’s important to use the term incarcerated person, however clunky, because it is so easy to forget that we are talking about people when we use words like inmate or prisoner. – Jacqueline Conn

I have had both experiences as a criminal defense attorney and an incarcerated woman. Prior to my incarceration, in the role as a defense attorney, I recognized the immediate devaluing of a person as a human being as soon as they encountered any aspect of the criminal justice system…While in prison, part of the dehumanizing programming is the use of the word inmate. You are referred to as inmate 27402-038, for example, and relegated to an underclass referred to as “the inmates”. It stays with you, creating a public and subconscious persona that is far removed from a person’s true identity. Inmate is a term used to reduce human qualities, separate and disparage… – Andrea James

Mass criminalization has pushed us to the point where one out of every three adults in the US have a criminal history record (arrest or conviction for a felony or a misdemeanor). That is an awful lot of people to simply relegate to their criminal justice status. They are first and foremost people. – Alan Rosenthal

As a public defender I know that many of the folks who are incarcerated aren’t guilty, aren’t criminals. I don’t like the label. Because they are more than that, they are people, someone’s people, my people. – Chantá Parker

It would be ridiculous to label each of us based on the worst moments of our lives. It’s equally ridiculous, and cruel, to make people forever bear labels that define them first and foremost as their crime. – Katherine Katcher, Founder & Executive Director, Root & Rebound: Reentry Advocates Berkeley, CA

The criminal justice system is meant to–or purports to–keep our society safe. If that is truly our objective, we should do everything within our power to ensure that it works towards those aims without creating (or perpetuating) a permanent class divide. Inmate, felon, and prisoner are just the latest epithets in a long and ugly history. – Jonathan Stenger

When I worked as summer law clerk at the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on a team prosecuting 7 men ultimately convicted for the mass killing of over 3000 Muslim men and boys, we were asked to research what enabled the generals to get soldiers to carry out a slaughter such as this…Turned out, one of the most important steps was to rename the victims in the months (even years) preceding the mass murder. To get society in the habit of calling the group you’d like destroyed anything other than people is step one. It is a tactic of war and a tactic used to support genocidal acts. That is why, respectfully, I’m casting a strong vote in favor of “incarcerated person” and making an appeal that The Marshall Project and others steer clear of the dangerous words that dehumanize and make people invisible and dispensable. – Gina Clayton

Because I am not a status, I am a person and a human being. The labels are usually being used to my disadvantage and dehumanize me. It makes torturing and killing me much easier to do. Just think the next time you see one of us laying dead in the middle of the street and see how easily our deaths are excused by status, label, and history. I believe the current language makes the practice of racism and supremacy appear to be neutral. – Dorsey Nunn

When describing someone who is currently serving time in prison, we at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights believe that “incarcerated person” is the best term, but only insofar as the discussion is actually related to their incarceration. One of the problems with our criminal justice system is the pervasive belief that people serving time are no longer a part of our communities. Dehumanizing language like “convict,” “inmate,” “felon,” or “prisoner” only serve to reinforce the belief that such a division exists, which can lead to stripping people in prison of their fundamental human rights, like the right to vote, to have healthcare, and to see their families. – Zachary Norris

Formerly incarcerated people taught me about how such language is preferable even to “prisoner,” which is what I’d been taught to use in my prior advocacy work in the 1990s / early 2000s as an alternative to “inmate.”…The state intentionally creates systems to dehumanize the people whom it imprisons as a strategy to make it easier to abuse power and exert control over people. The public is less likely to become outraged about human rights abuses against people in jails, prisons, detention centers, juvenile facilities, etc., if the people they are abusing are not seen as people (or as brothers, sisters, siblings, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins), but rather as inmates, detainees, felons, sex offenders, rapists, addicts, etc. etc. – Andrea Bible

The problem is not just that this language is dehumanizing, as Eddie Ellis and so many others who have been called these words so persuasively insist. It is also that this language is inaccurate because it is incomplete: the elements about a person’s identity that it excludes are entirely relevant to our understanding and decision-making about what to do when that person has broken the law or causes harm…What we need is a criminal justice policy for *people* who commit crime—incarcerated *people*, *people* with felony convictions, *people* on parole, even *people* who have caused great harm and should be held meaningfully accountable. Any truly effective policy solutions will make central the humanity of everyone directly impacted by crime—including those who commit it. It is true, as you put it on your website, that “storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change.” The scale of change that is called for in this arena is significant enough that it not only demands new content, but new words. It is time to start talking about people. When we do, our language will reflect the humanity of those we describe, and we, too, will be humanized in the process. –Danielle Sered, Director, Common Justice, Vera institute of Justice


Convict is too archaic, while “inmate” is a term once used for mental patients in asylums (and is often considered a derogatory term among prisoners). The correct term for people in jail who have not been convicted is “pre-trial detainee.” “Formerly incarcerated person” is just getting too PC and putting form before substance. As a former prisoner myself, I don’t want to be known as a “FIP.” –Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News

Inmate implies mental infirmity such as an inmate in a mental hospital. The person is being held in a prison and is therefore a prisoner regardless of how or why they are there. As a former prisoner myself, sentenced to 25 years for smuggling marijuana, I bridled at being called an inmate. – Richard Stratton

I want to recognize that the organization I work for, Black and Pink, has been conducting a survey of LGBTQ prisoners across the country [that asks this question directly], and of the nearly 1,000 respondents, there is no agreement. We offered the options of inmate, prisoner, incarcerated person, person who is incarcerated, and other. “Other” had the largest percent, with most respondents saying they simply want to be referred to by their name. The issue of language is essential, but it’s important to be clear what purpose the user of the language has. I find the term “inmate” to be intentionally depoliticizing the reality of incarceration. When Black and Pink releases a final report, we will use the term prisoner in our writing, recognizing that there is not a universal agreement amongst our membership about terminology. – Jason Lydon

I’m a law student immersed in criminal defense. I’m also a prior defendant in a federal case with decades of punitive exposure, a veteran with four combat tours, and I have an MFA in Creative Writing, so I know the value of individual words….I propose that it’s best to use words that describe what the vast majority of American inmates really are: Prisoners of War. They’re prisoners of war in a racist and classist War on Drugs. They’re prisoners of war in war against poverty, but instead of trying to raise them up out of poverty, our society just wants to throw them out of sight. – Matthew Hefti

As someone who was a prisoner myself, “Prisoner” is the most accurate term for someone in prison…One anecdote about this: I was once disciplined fairly harshly in a California women’s prison for referring to myself as a prisoner while speaking to an officer. In our conversation, the guard interrupted me and told me I was a female inmate, and not a prisoner. He said that referring to myself as a prisoner was against rules and furthermore subversive to the order of the facility. – Kathleen Culhane


As a probation officer, they are initially defendants and eventually clients…They are receiving a service from me, the same as if they were applying for a loan at a bank. Past action is not always indicative a future action and a label should not precede the person. – Josh Gunselman

Person in prison…I have spent years working for and side-by-side with people who are in prison or who have been released from prison. I have witnessed over and over these individuals – who are my clients, my colleagues, and my friends – physically wince when others refer to them as “prisoner,” “felon,” “offender” or “criminal.” It is a sad commentary on our society that people lose their status as people – as fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, employees, friends, colleagues, etc., – because they have committed a crime and been caught. Yet people who have committed a crime and not been caught – and let’s face it, this is the vast majority of all people – do not similarly lose their humanity. How can this be justified? Indeed, how can it be justified in the face of the reality that people of color tend to be caught more than their white counterparts? – Patricia Warth

Man or woman or person who is incarcerated…Let’s stop using correctional language designed to denigrate and dehumanize. If we want to make sentencing less extreme and conditions of confinement less brutal, we need to keep each of the people suffering the cruelty of system up front. Words are important. – Lois Ahrens

Man, woman or person in prison…I teach at a prison and insist that my students not use the term “offender,” which is what the prison system calls them and they, for too long, have called themselves. I tell them it would be like referring to someone as “liar” because they lied years ago. As for prison officers (and I was one), I find “guard” derogatory, and better describes something you do with inanimate objects. “Correctional officer” conveys a fanciful, and to my mind unseemly, relationship btw keeper and kept. “Prison officer” simply denotes an individual granted official authority within the specific domain of a penal institution. – Kelsey Kauffman

I work with juvenile offenders and I always insist on asking them what they prefer to be called, which is usually their first name. The security staff only ever call the kids by their last name. I’ve always felt that it’s too militaristic and it allows staff to forget that they aren’t dealing with adults. – Nancy Acevedo

Uttering their name without disdain will actually be music to their ears. Their path took a wrong turn. They are there to be corrected. Not punished! I was a cop for twenty years. – Kumar Prem

When you examine the history of this country whenever America wanted to oppress or dominate a particular group of people they first began with the language they used to describe that particular group of people. When America wanted to justify taking indigenous people’s land we described them as “savages”. When America wanted to justify the chattel slavery of African people we called them “jiggabo”, “monkey” or “nigger” terms that debased their humanity. The list goes on and on. Lastly, I respectfully disagree with your argument that pejorative labels like “ex-convict” are accurate descriptors of people who have been to prison. The analysis is similar to one put forth by undocumented advocates when they began the “I” campaign. Labels like “ex-convict” describe conduct that I engaged in which may have violated a law but they do not describe the full breadth of my humanity. So in 1996 I was convicted of drug trafficking. Since that time I have attained my Associates, Bachelors, and Juris Doctor degrees. I’m licensed to practice law in Minnesota and North Carolina. I have been honored at the White House. I’m a Deacon in my church. I’m a husband, a father, and a valued member of my community. It’s unfortunate and a disservice to the full breadth of my humanity to solely defined me by my contact with the criminal legal system. I’m more than the sum total of my contact with the criminal legal system. When the Marshall Project began I got the impression that you all wanted to report on issues related to criminal legal reform in a different way, to hopefully spur change and reform. Changing the language you all use to refer to people entangled in the criminal legal system will make you a leader in the media and further the progression of this movement. Thank you for the opportunity to give my perspective. – Daryl Atkinson

This story was originally filed on April 3, 2015 at http://bit.ly/1BVE8Fz


Man convicted of fatally shooting Michael Jordan’s father seeks new trial

The man convicted of fatally shooting Michael Jordan’s father in eastern North Carolina more than two decades ago hopes to win a new trial with what his attorneys describe as a wealth of new evidence.

The Durham-based lawyers representing Daniel Andre Green, 40, maintain that a range of issues – from allegations of false testimony to police and jury misconduct – marred the 1996 trial that led to a lifetime prison sentence.

Green has maintained throughout the past two decades that he did not shoot James Jordan. His trial attorneys acknowledged that he helped dispose of James Jordan’s body and drove Jordan’s car.

They tried, though, to cast doubt on key testimony from Larry Demery, his co-defendant. Demery agreed to testify as part of a plea deal with prosecutors for a lesser sentence that makes him eligible for parole in 2016.

Prosecutors have said that Jordan was shot and killed inside his Lexus on July 23, 1993, along the edge of U.S. 74 near Lumberton. Family and friends said they thought he had pulled over to take a nap after leaving a wedding.

Scott Holmes, a defense lawyer and director of the N.C. Central University Civil Litigation Law Clinic, and Ian Mance, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, have raised questions in recent years about blood evidence in the case.

In 2010, a former FBI agent released the results of his outside review of thousands of cases handled by the SBI crime lab, showing that Green’s case was initially highlighted as one of some 200 mishandled during a 16-year period. The review found that analysts omitted, overstated or falsely reported information about blood evidence in those cases.

In the 250-page request for appropriate relief filed in Robeson County Superior Court on Wednesday, Green’s attorneys contend that Jennifer Elwell, an analyst whose work was called into question, testified that blood was found on the seat of James Jordan’s car. The trial attorneys never received the results from four follow-up tests that countered those claims.

“The blood evidence was critical to securing Mr. Green’s conviction because it was the only physical evidence supporting Larry Demery’s version of events,” Mance, the attorney, said in a statement.

Judge Gregory Weeks, the trial judge, provided the attorneys with a sworn statement saying that if Elwell had changed her conclusion about the substance found in the Lexus, that “would constitute false and misleading testimony on a material fact.”

The testimony about blood, the defense attorneys contend, was crucial: without blood, prosecutors had no other physical evidence to bolster Demery’s claims.

The request for a new trial also states that Robeson County deputies seized James Jordan’s cellphone, but never questioned a man who was called from that number after Jordan’s death. The man called was the son of then-Sheriff Hubert Stone, a friend of the lead investigator and one of Demery’ co-workers, the defense attorneys contend.

“The discovery of the call from Jordan’s car phone to a convicted drug trafficker with close ties to the sheriff’s department casts a whole new light on this case and undermines confidence in the verdict,” Holmes said in a statement.

Holmes and Mance also questioned the reliability of a witness who claimed Green robbed and shot at him weeks before James Jordan was killed. The man later told investigators that all blacks looked alike to him.

There also were questions about whether a juror watched media coverage of the trial and discussed details outside of the deliberations room.

Efforts were unsuccessful on Wednesday to reach Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who prosecuted the case almost 20 years ago. The prosecutor can respond to the motion and it will be up to a judge to schedule a hearing.

This story was written by Anne Blythe and originally appeared online at www.newsobserver.com on Wednesday, April 1, 2015


New evidence in Daniel Green’s case, SCSJ attorneys are seeking a new trial

Contact: Joyce Fitzpatrick



For Immediate Release

Daniel Green Files Motion for New Trial



April 1, 2015

DURHAM, NC (March 31, 2015) – Daniel Green, one of two men currently imprisoned for the murder of James Jordan in 1993, filed a motion for a new trial Wednesday in Superior Court in Lumberton, North Carolina. Attorneys for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a motion that details a wide range of issues – from false testimony to police corruption to juror misconduct – that contributed to his conviction and warrant a new trial. The issues include:

  • False Testimony: SBI Agent Jennifer Elwell was a key prosecution witness who testified that she found blood in Mr. Jordan’s Lexus. She later admitted that she did not know what the substance was. Following the Green trial, Agent Elwell was found to have lied in other murder cases and was suspended from the SBI.
  • Withholding Information: A 2010 audit of the SBI revealed additional blood testing that was highly favorable to the defense and suggested that the microscopic substance found in the vehicle was not blood. This information was never shared with the defense. Judge Gregory Weeks, who presided over the trial, has stated in a sworn affidavit that the exculpatory blood tests were material evidence and withholding the information was a violation of his order. Shortly after Green’s conviction, the blood evidence was destroyed without proper notice.
  • Police Corruption: Robeson County Sheriff Hubert Stone and other law enforcement officers repeatedly pointed to Mr. Jordan’s cell phone records as the most importance piece of evidence that led police to Green and Larry Demery. One of the first calls made from James Jordan’s cell phone following the murder was to Hubert Deese, a convicted cocaine trafficker. New evidence reveals that Deese is the biological son of Sheriff Stone, was a long-time friend of lead detective Mark Locklear, and was an associate of Larry Demery. The two men worked together less than a mile from where Mr. Jordan’s body was discovered. Despite the call from Jordan’s phone to Deese, police never questioned him during the investigation.
  • Secret Plea Deal: Larry Demery, a co-defendant in the murder of Mr. Jordan, was the prosecution’s star witness against Green. New evidence indicates that District Attorney Johnson Britt made a secret plea arrangement with Demery that allows him to be eligible for parole in 2015. The plea agreement was not disclosed to the defense, in violation of the law.
  • Juror Misconduct: During jury selection, the prosecution failed to read a list of potential witnesses to James Cassidy, who would go on to serve on the jury. Mr. Cassidy had been accused of sexual misconduct by two of Green’s alibi witnesses, allegations that would have prevented him from serving on the jury. Furthermore, Mr. Cassidy has admitted that he watched media coverage of the trial and discussed the case with people outside of the court during the trial, in violation of the court’s instructions.
  • Unreliable Witnesses: One of the prosecution’s main witnesses was Clewis Demory, an elderly man who identified Green as having robbed him and shot him. In a newly discovered interview, Demory is quoted as saying that all black people look alike and he didn’t know who robbed him.

Green is represented by attorneys Ian A. Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Scott Holmes, a Professor at the North Carolina Central School of Law.  Green, 44, admitted that he helped dispose of Mr. Jordan’s body following the murder and has acknowledged that he had possession of property that was stolen from the victim.

“The Judge who sentenced Mr. Green to life in prison has filed an affidavit with today’s motion stating that if Agent Elwell has changed her opinion about the substance found in the Lexus, then her testimony at trial would constitute false and misleading testimony on a material fact,” said Ian A. Mance, one of Green’s attorneys.  “The blood evidence was critical to securing Mr. Green’s conviction, because it was the only physical evidence supporting Larry Demery’s version of events.”

“The discovery of the call from Jordan’s car phone to a convicted drug trafficker with close ties to the Sheriff’s department casts a whole new light on this case and undermines confidence in the verdict,” said attorney Scott Holmes.

Following a response from the State of North Carolina, an evidentiary hearing on the motion will be scheduled.  You may view the motion here.

Exhibit 27 – Ian Mance Affidavit

Exhibit 100 – Judge Gregory Weeks Affidavit


Court Says Packing Black Voters in Districts is Unconstitutional


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



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.