Criminal Justice News

The Criminal Justice Initiaive

Through its Criminal Justice initiative, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) tackles racial discrimination at the legal and policy levels to eliminate obstacles facing those with criminal records as they attempt to re-enter the mainstream of society.

Criminal Justice in the South

Over the last 30 years, the US has experienced an explosion in the number of people who have come in contact with the criminal justice system: about 1.6 million people are currently in prison; 4 million are on probation; and nearly 65 million have a criminal record. In the South, the prison population has grown faster than in any other region. Criminal justice is therefore a critically important issue – particularly so for communities of color.

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Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are formidable—often insurmountable–barriers to successful reentry. They include disenfranchisement; denial of public employment and benefits; loss of professional licenses; and deportation. Southern states have more legal barriers to successful reentry than other regions of the country. (According to a report by the Legal Action Center, which ranked all 50 states from best to worst based on the number of legal obstacles faced by people attempting to renter society, most of the southern states were ranked in the worst category, meaning they had the greatest number of roadblocks to reentry.)

The entrenched criminal justice system is in urgent need of reform. The machinery of mass incarceration must be dismantled by mitigating racial disparities, lowering recidivism rates, advocating for progressive reentry policies, and changing current drug policies. You can watch Daryl Atkinson discuss the phenomenon of mass incarceration on HuffPostLive with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow.

Clean Slate Project

Clean Slate from SCSJ on Vimeo.

In order to assist people with criminal records obtain access to jobs, safe housing, education and other necessities, SCSJ successfully advocated for the “Certificate of Relief” Bill in the North Carolina General Assembly that created a judicial remedy to remove the collateral consequences of a conviction. Today, SCSJ is providing hundreds of people with free legal services aimed at cleaning up their records and receiving Certificates of Relief. Clean Slate Clinics are held regularly to provide education and services to local communities.

Ban the Box

SCSJ helped Durham Southside, a neighborhood ravaged by North Carolina’s deleterious drug policies, initiate a “ban the box” campaign that led to the City as well as the County of Durham removing questions about criminal records from employment applications. That campaign has become a model for reform in communities across the state and is gaining momentum as one jurisdiction after another explores implementation.

Videos and Media

Clean Slate:

  • People Change: People with criminal records share their stories.

Interviews with Daryl Atkinson, SCSJ Senior Staff Attorney:

Racial Profiling:

The SCSJ Approach

Movements like Occupy Wall Street demonstrate that power still lies in the hands of the people. SCSJ takes a “bottom up” rather than “top down” approach. SCSJ seeks to directly empower the individuals and communities that are the most intimately affected by the oppression.

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SCSJ believes in coalition-building; it participates, for example, in the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, a growing statewide coalition of advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, and community leaders dedicated to the successful reintegration of people with criminal records. (SCSJ is one of the founding organizations in the NC Second Chance Alliance.) SCSJ is also active in the New Southern Strategy Coalition, a group of advocates and reformers representing 14 Southern states working to reduce the collateral consequences for those with criminal records.

SCSJ’s Criminal Justice Initiative employs four strategies to achieve systemic change:

1. Community education and organizing: SCSJ organizes and educates directly affected communities on promising strategies aimed at changing the laws, policies, and informal practices that lead to mass incarceration and prevent successful reintegration into society through–

  • Leadership development of directly affected individuals so they can advocate for reform
  • Community presentations to citizens about racial disparities and the impact of collateral consequences
  • Direct input from directly affected individuals

2. Public policy advocacy: SCSJ provides technical assistance on the following advocacy campaigns:

  • Local and statewide “ban the box” campaigns
  • Commission on racial and ethnic disparities
  • Uniform Collateral Consequence of Conviction Act (UCCCA)
  • Drug policy reform

3. Direct legal services: SCSJ provides direct legal services and referrals (in the NC Triangle area) in—

  • Expungement of criminal records and obtaining certificates of relief
  • Driver’s license restoration
  • Securing/restoring occupational licensing

4. Impact litigation: SCSJ is currently seeking seminal test cases in—

  • Racial profiling and discrimination
  • Violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • Criminal record-based employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act