YJP Cover Photo

First in Flight, Last in Youth Justice

by Austin Braxton

North Carolina is the only state that automatically processes every 16 and 17 year-old through its adult criminal justice system without an opportunity for the youth to appeal for a transfer to juvenile court.[1] In fact, juvenile court jurisdiction in 41 states and the District of Columbia extends to most persons under the age of 18.[2] The consequences of this policy outlier are harmful to North Carolina’s youth and place them at a severe disadvantage compared to their peers in other states.

Youth processed through the adult criminal justice system are more likely to be physically or sexually abused and more likely to commit suicide than youth adjudicated through the juvenile justice system.[3] Furthermore, studies have shown that youth are more likely to receive rehabilitation through the juvenile justice system and that recidivism rates are higher for youth transferred to the criminal justice system.[4] In addition, North Carolina youth face the harsh collateral consequences associated with criminal justice involvement at a much younger age, creating obstacles to obtaining gainful employment, financial aid for higher education, and even government housing—all because of adolescent mistakes. In these ways and more, North Carolina disadvantages its youth through its policy that is a departure from the national trend.

The results of North Carolina’s regressive youth justice policy clearly show that change is needed. A very small number of offenders may require the incapacitation that the criminal justice system provides, but there is no need to prosecute all youth as adults by default, especially since North Carolina already employs a robust transfer process to remove youth offenders of certain crimes to the criminal justice system.[5] North Carolina’s juvenile justice jurisdiction would have expanded if House Bill 399, the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act, had been enacted last summer.[6] Instead, North Carolina’s youth languish as the bill lies with the House Committee on the Judiciary II.[7]

A primary concern of North Carolina lawmakers with expanding the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system is funding.[8] Quite simply, North Carolina’s juvenile justice system is already under-resourced, so an expansion of its jurisdiction represents an up-front cost to its taxpayers. Fortunately, morality is not the only incentive for raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. In 2011, the Vera Institute compiled a report that provided a cost-benefit analysis of enacting this change in policy, finding that a net benefit of $52.3 million annually for raising the age.[9]

The caveat to this net benefit is that the offsetting benefits of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction do not directly return to the state. Although taxpayers would experience some savings as a result of shrinking the jurisdiction of the adult criminal justice system, the vast majority of the benefits are experienced by the youth that are spared an adult criminal conviction. These youth can expect to have higher salaries and contribute more to North Carolina’s economy long-term. Unfortunately, the short-term costs of raising the age has hindered legislation thus far. Though lack of funding is a legitimate concern for raising the age, an inspiring case study for the budgetary impact of this policy change can be found in the state of Connecticut.

Connecticut raised the age of juvenile justice jurisdiction gradually to allay a budget crisis and opposition from law enforcement.[10] Prior to 2010, Connecticut’s juvenile justice system was comparable to those in North Carolina and New York, but youth in Connecticut now experience among the highest levels of protection in the country.[11] Connecticut enacted its raise the age legislation anticipating an increase of $84 million in higher operating costs and $81 million in new construction costs,[12] which is roughly comparable to the estimates submitted by the Vera Institute for North Carolina. However, Connecticut never increased its spending on juvenile justice.[13] The large drop in total arrests for youth in this age bracket precipitated this unprecedented outcome and led to only marginal increases in population size in the state’s detention centers.[14] Furthermore, since the change in policy, Connecticut has experienced lower re-arrest rates for 16-year-olds than for youth 15 and younger,[15] demonstrating the effectiveness of keeping youth out of the adult criminal justice system.

North Carolina also has the opportunity to reap the rewards of juvenile justice reform. Like in Connecticut, arrests of youth in the 16 and 17 year-old age bracket have steadily declined since 2005 in North Carolina.[16] Specifically, total arrests in this age group declined by 36% from 2005 to 2014.[17] Therefore, the costs estimated by the Vera Institute report are likely overstated. North Carolina should seize this opportunity to emulate Connecticut’s success with juvenile justice reform and raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to protect their youth. In so doing, this state would follow the lead of 7 other states that have recently raised the age of jurisdiction for their juvenile justice systems: Connecticut,[18] Illinois,[19] Mississippi,[20]Massachusetts,[21] New Hampshire,[22] Utah,[23] and Nebraska.[24]

Currently, the Subcommittee on Juvenile Jurisdiction for the Chief Justice’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice in North Carolina is drafting a report with recommendations for legislation on raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. The subcommittee recommends raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16 and 17 year-olds, with exceptions for youth accused of Class A-E felonies.[25] This recommendation is contingent, however, upon the receipt of funding to implement the change.[26] Stakeholders adamantly maintain that raising the age without full funding would be “detrimental” to North Carolina’s court system.[27] Furthermore, the Subcommittee reemphasized[28] the predicted net benefit of the Vera Institute’s analysis and itemized the spending necessary to expand juvenile court jurisdiction.[29] Hopefully, this work will lead to new legislation that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina, or at least a revitalization of House Bill 399. Although North Carolina stands alone in its outdated youth justice policies, some of its lawmakers continue the fight to keep youth out of the adult criminal justice system.

Austin Braxton is a rising 2L law student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a summer legal intern with the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

**This blog post was originally posted on the Youth Justice Project website on June 9, 2016. The original post can be found here.**

[2] http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/structure_process/qa04101.asp.
[3] http://www.johnlocke.org/acrobat/spotlights/YoungOffenders.pdf.
[4] Id.
[5] http://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/tryingjuvasadult/states/nc.html.
[6] http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H399v1.pdf.
[7]http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2015&BillID=H399.
[8] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Minutes-12.11.2015.pdf, page 6.
[9] http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/CBA-of-Raising-Age-Juvenile-Jurisdiction-NC-final.pdf, page 11.
[10]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[11] Id.
[12] Id. at 15.
[13] http://www.raisetheagect.org/results-cost.html.
[14]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[15] Id. at 17.
[16] http://crimereporting.ncsbi.gov/Reports.aspx.
[17] Id.
[18]http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/jpi_juvenile_justice_reform_in_ct.pdf, page 16.
[19] http://cfyj.org/news/blog/item/raise-the-age-bills-flourish-in-2016.
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/2014-juvenile-justice-state-legislation.aspx.
[23] http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/news/blog/item/2015-state-legislative-sessions-an-update-on-nationwide-juvenile-justice-reforms-to-protect-youth-from-the-adult-criminal-justice-system.
[24] http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/2014-juvenile-justice-state-legislation.aspx.
[25] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/May-2016-Juvenile-Committee-Meeting-POSTING.pdf, page 43.
[26] Id. at 49.
[27] Id.
[28] Id. at 37.
[29] http://nccalj.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/IA1509-21_H399R0.pdf.
second chance

VA NAACP asks VA Supreme Court to uphold return of voting rights to people with prior felony convictions

Richmond, VA. —The Virginia State Conference of the NAACP filed a brief on Monday, June 27, 2016 in the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions.

Gov. McAuliffe’s Order for the Restoration of Rights, issued April 22, 2016, represents a significant step toward ensuring that Virginians with felony convictions are able to not only re-enter and meaningfully participate in society, but also exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Currently, under Virginia law, people with felony convictions are automatically stripped of their political rights, and the governor alone has the power to restore those rights after completion of the individuals’ sentences. The Commonwealth’s extreme felony disenfranchisement provision is well outside the mainstream nationwide, and it exists and has persisted for explicitly racially discriminatory reasons dating to the 19th century.

Exercising his exclusive power under the Virginia Constitution, the governor ordered that a slew of critical civil rights—the rights to vote, hold political office, serve on a jury, and serve as a notary public—be immediately restored to the approximately 206,000 Virginians with previous felony convictions. In issuing his order, the governor noted that “Virginians have increasingly advanced the ideals of equality of all races and peoples, while rejecting the indefinite and unforgiving stigmatization of persons who have committed past criminal acts.”

In support of the Governor’s action, on Monday the Virginia NAACP submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Virginia Supreme Court in Howell v. McAuliffe, explaining why the Governor’s executive order was appropriate given the unbroken thread of racial discrimination woven into the Commonwealth’s constitution. Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell and others have petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to overturn the Governor’s action as an improper exercise of his constitutional power. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on July 19 in Richmond.

Voting restrictions are but one example of the far-reaching negative consequences felony convictions can have on individuals’ lives—consequences that persist long after those individuals’ terms of incarceration and supervised release have concluded. In addition to being denied the right to participate in the political process, Virginians with felony convictions face heightened barriers to obtaining reliable housing, steady employment and other basic necessities, even after completing their sentences. These barriers disproportionately affect minority and low-income Virginians, and contribute to a cycle of recidivism that further stacks the deck against formerly incarcerated people seeking to re-enter and positively contribute to society.

“Felony disenfranchisement laws like the one in Virginia have no place in modern society, and the brief filed today outlines many of the reasons why that is the case,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the Virginia NAACP in this matter and provides legal assistance and re-entry services to communities across the South. “Any action taken to ameliorate the racially discriminatory effects of such laws should be applauded and upheld, not attacked.”

To access the amicus brief, click here.

 

 

 

redistricting

Redistricting of Wake County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education ruled unconstitutional

DURHAM, N.C.— On July 1, 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the General Assembly’s redistricting plans for the Wake County Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners are unconstitutional and elections should not proceed in 2016 using those plans.

The appeals court struck down two North Carolina laws that dramatically restructured the two boards. The Fourth Circuit found that the plans did not follow the “one person, one vote” guarantee in the federal and state constitutions.

Specifically, the appeals court held that the General Assembly had unevenly populated districts, giving more power to voters in districts that were underpopulated, and that they did so for illegitimate reasons—partisan gain. The Fourth Circuit stated that, “We see no reason why the November 2016 elections should proceed under the unconstitutional plans we strike down today.”

Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented plaintiffs in this action, said of the ruling: “This decision is an important recognition that redistricting is not a free-for-all. The Constitution provides safeguards to ensure that partisan gamesmanship does not interfere with the right an equal vote. Every voter’s vote should be weighted equally.”

Now it is up to the General Assembly to redraw the district lines. A session to resolve the matter was intended for the evening of Friday, July 1, but was rescheduled and is pending.

For the full PDF of the 4th Circuit Opinion, click here.

Solve Conference 2016

SOLVE Conference discusses strategy for voter rights

SOLVE (Southern Leadership for Voter Engagement) convened for their 3rd conference on June 17 and 18th in New Orleans. This year’s theme was Strong, Persistent, and Determined Action: SOLVE after Shelby, a reference to the Supreme Court Case, Shelby County v. Holder, which ultimately struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional.

Fred McBride of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice explains the title: “We chose as our theme: Strong, Persistent, and Determined Action, SOLVE After Shelby, because the convening was necessary to bring all of these southern voices together to not simply discuss what we already know, but hear from those impacted, develop a strategy, strengthen our SOLVE voting rights network, and aggressively combat these continuing struggles in exercising the right to vote.”

SOLVE is a multi-generational and multi-racial leadership group for increased civic participation in the South. In order to better collaborate and support one another, a convening was established to achieve the following:

  1. Bring together leaders from across the south to discuss the current landscape for fighting voter suppression efforts Connect with legal support and resources.
  2. Assess state-by-state capacity to address Voting Rights challenges and advocate for policies to enfranchise minority voters.
  3. Discuss opportunities for strategic coordination and develop a framework to implement them.
  4. Determine collective response to improve the Voting Rights Act Fix.

The two day conference started off with a welcome, followed by panels such as “Voting Rights in the South post Shelby”, moderated by Leroy Johnson of Southern Echo with panel members discussing proof of citizenship requirements, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and state-by-state issues, including our very own Anita Earls speaking to the political gerrymandering and voter suppression in North Carolina.

SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls speaking about North Carolina voting landscape

SCSJ Executive Director Anita Earls speaking about North Carolina’s voting landscape

Another panel moderated by SCSJ’s own Fred McBride discussed redistricting and gerrymandering throughout the South, including a panelist speaking to the prison gerrymandering and the “dilution of voting power.”

The first day ended with a practical look at the 2016 election season, the first presidential race in which the Voting Rights Act would not apply. A panel discussed the various manner of election protection and digital tools to counter the effects of the Shelby case.

The next day focused primarily on communications with a panel discussing best methods to discuss voter rights issues with the media. The conference transitioned into innovative approaches to the issues the American South faces such as youth engagement, intergenerational movement, identification alternatives, and automatic voter registration.

After a working lunch with respective states or regions, the conference wrapped up with state reports, best approaches and ways to look forward in a post-Shelby election world.

For more information on the conference and participating organizations, visit http://www.solve.network/

Solve Conference 2016

Solve Conference 2016

image

ACLU and SCSJ Condemn Ruling in North Carolina Voting Lawsuit

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. —The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice condemned today’s federal court ruling upholding provisions of North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The groups are analyzing the court’s decision and considering next steps.

The groups are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit the counting of out-of-precinct ballots. Thousands of North Carolinians, disproportionately African-Americans, have relied on those provisions to cast their votes in past elections.

“The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans. This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of several plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, and several individuals.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered North Carolina to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the 2014 elections as the case made its way through the courts; that ruling was ultimately reversed, however, and the provisions remained in effect.

“Today’s ruling is inconsistent with the Fourth Circuit’s decision in 2014, and we’re confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney Allison Riggs.

At federal trial in July 2015, dozens of witnesses spoke of how the law has severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-income voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African-American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly – 70 percent of those who voted early were African-American.

The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice charge the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

 

Read the ruling here

 

Youth Justice

SCSJ’s Youth Justice Project Welcomes New Co-Directors

Two new staff members join the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) this month. Attorneys Ricky Watson and Peggy Nicholson will serve as Co-Directors of the Youth Justice Project (formerly Youth Justice North Carolina), which merged with SCSJ in early January 2015.

The Youth Justice Project (YJP) works to ensure equity, fairness, and justice for youth in high-quality education, juvenile, and criminal systems. YJP’s work is a natural extension of SCSJ’s ongoing dedication to addressing issues of racial equity in education, eliminating racial bias in the juvenile and criminal systems, ending mass incarceration, and removing unjust barriers faced by persons with criminal records.

“On behalf of the SCSJ staff and board, we are thrilled to welcome Peggy and Ricky,” said Anita Earls, SCSJ’s Executive Director. “This represents a crucial new stage in our work that has been over a year in the making for us, and involved even longer planning and effort from the Youth Justice Project Advisory Council.”

Ricky comes to SCSJ with a long-standing commitment to public service. He has worked in the justice system as an Assistant Public Defender in Guilford County, representing hundreds of adult and juvenile clients in court proceedings. While focusing primarily on juvenile delinquency matters, Ricky developed an understanding of the issues plaguing the juvenile system and the need for structural changes. After a brief hiatus to work for the Federal Government, Ricky is excited and eager to get back to work on issues that matter with SCSJ!

For the past four years, Peggy has worked on education justice issues in her capacity as an attorney with Advocates for Children’s Services of Legal Aid of North Carolina.  As a Legal Aid attorney, Peggy represented hundreds of students and parents experiencing school push-out, conducted dozens of community outreach presentations on school-to-prison pipeline issues, and collaborated with numerous education justice advocates across the state.  She is excited to continue this work in her role as YJP Co-Director with SCSJ.

“We are so fortunate to have found two dedicated and dynamic advocates who care passionately about the need to change our educational and juvenile justice systems,” said Earls.  “We know together their skills and talents will make a lasting positive contribution to the Youth Justice Project mission.”

For more information on the Youth Justice Project, please visit http://youthjusticenc.org/ or contact the Co-Directors at the emails below.

 

Ricky Watson: rickywatsonjr@scsj.org

Peggy Nicholson: peggynicholson@scsj.org

TXNAACP

SCSJ Files Brief in Police Shooting Case

SCSJ Files Amicus Curiae Brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Urging Reversal of District Court Grant of Immunity in Controversial Police Shooting Case

Brief, submitted on behalf of Texas NAACP, argues decision sets a dangerous precedent

February 23, 2016

AUSTIN, TX – This afternoon, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of State of Texas v. Charles Kleinert. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches and its affiliate, the Austin NAACP, concerns the death of an unarmed African-American man, Larry Jackson, Jr., killed in 2013 by a point blank gunshot to the back of the head fired by Austin police officer Charles Kleinert.  Kleinert claimed he killed Jackson by accident after attempting to bludgeon him with a loaded pistol.  By Kleinert’s own account, Jackson posed him no threat and was being pursued for a non-violent crime at the time of his death.

Following a state grand jury indictment for manslaughter, Officer Kleinert’s attorneys invoked a rarely utilized federal removal statute, transferring criminal jurisdiction from the State of Texas to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, whereupon U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel granted Officer Kleinert immunity from criminal prosecution.  Citing Kleinert’s participation in a federal task force, and relying heavily on separation of powers principles that the NAACP contends were inapposite to the case, Judge Yeakel found the officer was entitled to Supremacy Clause immunity.  In what the NAACP contends is a dangerous precedent, the district court held that Texas could not criminally charge an officer acting in a federal capacity for objectively reckless conduct resulting in the death of an arrestee.

In its brief in support of the State of Texas, the NAACP argues that, contrary to the holding of the federal district court, it can never been “necessary” or “proper” to knowingly place the suspect of a nonviolent crime at a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious injury or death.  The organization asserts that the court’s opinion to the contrary amounts to a blueprint for police officers affiliated with federal agencies to evade accountability for conduct that would otherwise be regarded as criminal.  This danger is particularly acute in light of the recent proliferation of joint state-federal task forces and the increasing number of officers who could exploit this loophole by invoking some nexus to federal authority.

Ian Mance, an SCSJ staff attorney who authored the brief, pointed to a series of recent incidents of police-involved shootings captured on camera as evidence that any rule permitting a grant of immunity on the basis of an officer’s self-serving statement will inevitably result in injustice.  “As the videos from the recent cases of Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald make painfully clear, police officers are not above mischaracterizing circumstances giving rise to their decision to employ deadly force.  When the shooting officer is the only surviving witness, courts must carefully scrutinize the factual record and physical evidence before taking the extraordinary step of granting immunity.  That clearly did not happen in this case.  The federal district court’s decision to strip Texas courts of jurisdiction and grant Officer Kleinert immunity for his shooting of Mr. Jackson represents a significant blow to the public trust.  We are hopeful that the Fifth Circuit will reverse the district court’s decision and remand the case back to Texas courts.”

You can read the brief here.