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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.

 

 

 

The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project sheds new light on the U.S. criminal justice system

An important new criminal justice resource has just come online: The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization devoted to criminal justice reform.

The Marshall Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization founded on two simple ideas. In their own words:

1) There is a pressing national need for high-quality journalism about the American criminal justice system. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Spiraling costs, inhumane prison conditions, controversial drug laws, and concerns about systemic racial bias have contributed to a growing bipartisan consensus that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.

The recent disruption in traditional media means that fewer institutions have the resources to take on complex issues such as criminal justice. The Marshall Project stands out against this landscape by investing in journalism on all aspects of our justice system. Our work will be shaped by accuracy, fairness, independence, and impartiality, with an emphasis on stories that have been underreported or misunderstood. We will partner with a broad array of media organizations to magnify our message, and our innovative website will serve as a dynamic hub for the most significant news and comment from the world of criminal justice.

2) With the growing awareness of the system’s failings, now is an opportune moment to amplify the national conversation about criminal justice.

We believe that storytelling can be a powerful agent of social change. Our mission is to raise public awareness around issues of criminal justice and the possibility for reform. But while we are nonpartisan, we are not neutral. Our hope is that by bringing transparency to the systemic problems that plague our courts and prisons, we can help stimulate a national conversation about how best to reform our system of crime and punishment.

After only a week online, the Marshall Project has brought us important journalism on the Death Penalty, ending the School to Prison Pipeline, and other essential criminal justice reform issues. SCSJ strongly supports the Marshall Project and all efforts to bring a racial justice lens to issues surrounding criminal justice and mass incarceration.

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers

Left of Black

Left of Black: Mass Incarceration, Voting Rights & State Sanctioned Violence

Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in-studio by Daryl Atkinson, Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in North Carolina.  In a conversation about mass incarceration, the erosion of voting rights and State sanctioned violence Aktinson asserts that “the State sanctioned violence that we saw in Ferguson…cannot happen outside of the larger context of putting 2.2 million people in cages.”

Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.
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Episodes of Left of Black are also available for free download in @ iTunes U
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Follow Left of Black on Twitter: @LeftofBlack
Follow Mark Anthony Neal on Twitter: @NewBlackMan

 

Follow Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Twitter: @SCSJ

Why I support the ‘Final Words’ book project

Final Words: 517 executed prisoners of Texas Death Row share their last words. It’s time to listen!

This is not a typical SCSJ blog post. I am speaking to you as one person to another, not in my professional capacity as an attorney. I hope you will bear with me. -Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, SCSJ

What is Final Words?

FinalWords  is a truly unique and compelling book featuring the last statements of the 517 people executed by the State of Texas since 1982. With every page, FinalWords not only testifies to the elemental humanity at the core of the death penalty, it further raises critical questions about this systematic and dehumanizing practice.

Final Words interrogates our presuppositions about the death penalty in an effort to challenge our comfort with perpetuating this legacy of state-sanctioned executions. It allows these executed death row inmates to speak to us, to have a voice in the debate.

Final Words forces us to examine this legacy and in doing so it offers an opportunity to look to the future and question if we can’t create a new way forward. To judge the death penalty on the basis of its full consequences is to honor our own democratic tradition. Let us face our beliefs with open minds, so we can listen to these voices—let us hear their final words.

final words

SCSJ’s Shoshannah Sayers does a “Selfie Against the Death Penalty” for the Final Words campaign

Why is this important to me?

North Carolina is one of the top ten states with the highest execution rates in the nation. It stuns me that for all of our talk about redemption and second chances, we continue to practice state-sanctioned murder at rates far above the national average. For me, it is impossible to work in a place like SCSJ – where we believe so strongly that every person deserves a second chance – and not be viscerally opposed to the death penalty. When our criminal justice system suffers from huge outcome disparities based on nothing more than the race or socioeconomic status of the person being tried, it is impossible for me to believe that any execution could ever be warranted.

Final Words gives us a chance to see people on death row as what they truly are – human beings. Regardless of race or class, guilt or innocence, the death penalty (and the entire system of mass incarceration, for that matter) takes away people’s basic humanity. We cannot allow this to stand.

 Why I supported the Final Words Indiegogo campaign

The death penalty embodies the mistaken belief that a person’s single, most horrible act means more than the sum of every good thing they ever did – it means more than their right to life. It says that there is a point at which we stop being people and start being chattel; bought and sold, permitted to live or forced to die subject to the whims of a broken criminal justice system. I cannot participate in such a system. And while I cannot end mass incarceration and execution in the United States by myself, perhaps we can, together.

So, with this hope in mind, I made a modest donation. Perhaps you will too. And perhaps together our voices will be louder, truer, and stronger than the voices of hate and fear that currently direct our criminal justice system. Perhaps together, our voices will manifest change.

I choose to amplify the voices of these 517 humans executed on Texas Death Row. Let’s publish their Final Words and begin a new conversation about the death penalty in America! I choose to support Final Words. And I hope you will do the same.

Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice

 

police culture

Prisons and police culture gone rogue

This post originally appeared in the St Louis American

By Christi Griffin

There are few who did not rise to the occasion, who did not donate, plan or pray. There are few who did not view the senseless and brutal shooting of Michael Brown as a reflection of the lack of value placed on the lives of black males. There are few who did not vow to carry on, to demand justice for Michael Brown and all who died before him.

But there are also few who realize the connection between brazen police shootings of young, black males and entire system of so-called criminal justice. They don’t see a carefully designed plan to demoralize African Americans and bolster incarcerations. They don’t see that the failure to vote out a prosecutor whose disregard for the African-American community has empowered law enforcement to shoot to kill without fear of prosecution.

For every white officer who goes unindicted for gunning down black boys, a message is sent to others. To the police, no matter how disproportionate the response or incompetent the confrontation, there’s little to fear as to consequence. To black boys, it’s a message of diminished value. To the world, it’s one that they are above the law.

The U.S. system of mass incarceration is big business. It generates over $72 billion a year in profits for corporations and those who buy their stock. Mass incarceration breeds on poverty, unemployment, disrespect and hate. It breeds on generations of black males once again learning their place; castrated by Tasers, billy sticks and guns.

It breeds on their submission to the constant taunting of racist and overbearing police – routine traffic stops turned into searches, routine searches turned into arrests. It’s a circuitous practice that criminalizes black males for behavior routinely ignored when engaged in by whites. It’s a practice that has prison cells disproportionately filled with minorities.

With a staggering increase in the rates of incarceration, the correlation between prisons and a police culture gone rogue should be clear. Those who profit from prisons, whether private or not, have bought their way into the pockets of politicians, courts and police. They have insured that their investments bring a return and that prison beds stay filled.

All prisons generate profits, but since the inception of private prisons 30 years ago their profits have soared. Essentially engaged in human trafficking on the stock exchange, their populations have increased by 800 percent.

There are few who ever thought St. Louis would be the epicenter of social change. That the killing of an unarmed teen in Canfield Green would galvanize a region and generate a resolve previously unknown. Outside of St. Louis, there are few who know the protests, violence and meetings are an indication that the days of unchecked police brutality has come to an end.

There’s a price to pay for our sons and that price will be high. We’re tired. We’ve had enough. From this point forward, the words “To Serve and Protect” will include our sons as well.

Christi Griffin police culture

Christi Griffin is the founder of The Ethics Project, a non-profit organization addressing the impact of crime, injustice and incarcerations. She is the author of “Incarcerations in Black and White: The Subjugation of Black America.” See www.TheEthicsProject.org or email TheEthicsProject@gmail.com.

private prison profiteers

Private Prison Profiteers

Private Prisons: The Injustice League

The two largest private prison providers in the U.S. each rake in tens of millions of dollars every year. How do they make their money, and what agreements are in place to protect their profits?

Guaranteed Occupancy

When a prison company approaches a state or city to either build or take over a facility, they’re often guaranteed certain occupancy rates. In other words, law enforcement is expected to provide prisoners (arrest and convict people of crimes) to avoid getting hit with fines, so the incentive to keep people in jail rather than out of jail is pretty clear.
65% – Private prison contracts that include occupancy rate guarantees (1)
80%-100% – Range of guaranteed occupancy rates; 90% is the most frequent (1)
$2 million – Amount Colorado taxpayers have been forced to pay in so-called “low-crime” taxes because crime has dropped by about one-third in the past 10 years (1)

95%-100% occupancy contracts: (1)

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Oklahoma
  • Virginia

Money Talks

It’s little wonder that states and cities have allowed private prisons to move in. The biggest prison companies in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, have spent millions lobbying and donating to political campaigns. (2)
CCA
$17.4 million in lobbying from 2002-2012
$1.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012
GEO Group
$2.5 million in lobbying from 2004-2012
$2.9 million in political contributions from 2003-2012

Candidate Contributions

Which candidates have been the biggest beneficiaries of lobbying by private prison companies?
Top candidate recipients, 2013-14 (3)
CCA
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) $7,000
Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) $5,000
Steve Fincher (R-TN) $3,500
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) $2,500
Rob Portman (R-OH) $2,500
GEO Group
Henry Cuellar (D-TX) $10,000
Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) $5,000
Joe Garcia (D-FL) $4,000
Mark Begich (D-AK) $3,000
Pete Gallego (D-TX) $2,500

private-prisons

Sources:
1. http://www.inthepublicinterest.org
2. http://www.beyondbars.org
3. http://www.opensecrets.org
Private Prisons
Source: Online-Paralegal-Programs.com

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration

With SCSJ attorneys in federal court hearings this week fighting against North Carolina’s voter suppression laws and the second Clean Slate Clinic in Durham quickly approaching, the disenfranchisement of the justice-involved population is a central topic for SCSJ this week.

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration at the National Level

According to The Sentencing Project, there are 5.85 million voters nationwide that are currently banned from the polls. North Carolina is one of nineteen states that does not allow voting restoration until an individual with a felony conviction has completed not only their prison sentence but also parole and probation. On the spectrum of disenfranchisement laws, North Carolina is one step below the most extreme policies of never restoring voting rights to previously convicted citizens or having a two-to-five year post-sentence waiting period. At the other end of the spectrum, there are only two states – Vermont and Maine – that never restrict an individual’s right to vote even while incarcerated.

Voting Rights and Mass Incarceration in North Carolina

This discussion of voting restoration is important as it pertains to formerly incarcerated people because loss of voting rights qualifies as a collateral consequence of incarceration. Collateral consequences prevent previously convicted people from optimally contributing to and coalescing with society.

Our process of voting restoration—how we determine who has the right to vote, how difficult we make the process of restoration, how we inform citizens about their rights, etc.—reflects the extent to which we value the voices, citizenship, and humanity of previously convicted individuals.

The Southern Coalition of Social Justice believes that once a sentence is served—be it incarceration, probation, parole, etc.— an individual’s full rights must be restored immediately and that their criminal record should not be held against them. The work we do through our Clean Slate program and participating in the fight against voter inequality demonstrates our commitment to eliminate policy and practice of disenfranchising this marginalized population. (Click here to learn more about the rights of justice-involved individuals to vote in North Carolina.)

So while our Voting Rights attorneys fight on for the rights of every eligible North Carolinian to vote, our Criminal Justice Reform team is gearing up for a Clean Slate clinic that will help ensure that the list of “every eligible voter” includes our brothers and sisters with involvement in the criminal justice system.

Post by Alexandra McKnight, SCSJ Voting Rights Organizing Intern

The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey

The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey

The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey

The first boldly honest resource for those affected by mass incarceration in the U.S. is stimulating powerful discussion.

The United States is the largest jailer in the world. With just 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. incarcerates 25% of the world’s prisoners. The human and financial cost is staggering.

Traumatized and grieving when a loved one is incarcerated, millions of children and families of prisoners are met with as much disdain as the prisoner. Most withdraw and isolate from the mainstream community where their knowledge and abilities are lost to our society. Many ultimately become dependent on public assistance.

Similarly, knowledgeable, skilled, talented people are locked behind bars unable to produce any benefit for society. When released they return to a largely unwelcoming and unforgiving society. The result is a national recidivism rate that has hovered near and above 65% for decades.

The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey illuminates the dire circumstances and offers effective guidance for confronting the devastation resulting from an entire family’s immersion in the prison culture.

The book is a bold, honest, realistic and practical guide for most productively navigating the daunting journey from the time of a loved one’s arrest through and following their community re-entry and family reunification.

The information is as relevant for those serving prisoners and their loved ones in such fields as counseling, criminal justice, education, social service and ministry as it is for members of the prison family.

Maya Angelou Story Quote

Maya Angelou’s legacy: stories that make us whole

Dr. Maya Angelou is famous for embracing and sharing all of her life experiences – the good, the bad, and the horrifying. Her philosophy was that all experiences are important parts of making a complete human being. In that vein, SCSJ offers you the poetry of formerly incarcerated people and their families. Because while these may not be happy stories, they are still important stories. They are stories that make us who we are today, and that makes them invaluable.

 

Maya Angelou's legacy

Generations

Your Daddy bought you a bicycle?

And he walked you into class?

Well my momma always told me

That “Daddy thing” don’t last

 

He read you a story in bed last night?

And then he tucked you in?

I thought that was a movie scene

Where them actors played pretend

 

Are you sure yo Daddy goes to work

And that he aint tricklin’ out that dope

Cause my Daddy too, was a good ole boy

Till them handcuffs stole his hope

 

Yeah, my Daddy gone

But its alright, cause I’m fillin in his shoes

His peeps they call me “Jr. Rock”

And they makin’ sho’, that I don’t lose!

 

Written by Nadiah Porter – Poet, SCSJ Intern

 

May Angelou

New Days Are Coming

I wouldn’t mind if the Sun chose to shine on Renee

Every day in her life it seems to rain

A little bit harder every single day

And I’m singing where the blue skies go

Cause lately her skies are nothing but gray

And I pray that through the grey skies she still sees the Sun

I pray, that through the grey skies she still sees the Son, o

Of our Heavenly Father

Telling her that God wrote for her life to go further,

Although it seems like the end of the road it is not

This was just the wrong turn,

A bad decision, a pit stop

 

Dear Renee, this time for God to sit you down and talk to you

New days are coming and He has much more for you to do

He wants to use you as a messenger

Tell your story of how you’ve been through the fiery pits of hell

And you made it through

Tell the world how the whole time God had you!

He had your back and He still do ‘

Please know He already prayed for you.

The victory, has already been written for you

You win!

You get to come home to your kids

They miss their mom and I miss my friend

The rain ends

A new chapter begins

You get to try life anew

The sun is shining on you!

Son is shining on you!

And I don’t mind because I love you

God bless you

Written by Regina Johnson – Poet

 

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time

 I was locked in a cell 4 years, 24/7.

No windows.

Finally,

I saw the “MOON”.

As if for the first time…….

” IT WAS BEAUTIFUL” !

I CRIED.

Written by Tico Porter – Former inmate

 

Decisions

Decisions

The valley of decision

He will have them in derision

Because of the prisons

Where the souls are dwelling

We hear them yelling for more to be built

To be filled with filth

That they relate to our race

As we blindly fill up the space

 

….I’m hollering wait

Stop the nonsense

Being convicts

Slaves to the system

You can’t resist them.

 

Find the simplest thing to do

You chose it

Don’t let It chose you

Life is a big road

With a lot of signs

Open the mind use what

You got

Fill your

Own slot

With a slug not from a so called thug

Trying to get props on a block

That’s already hot

 

……..I’m hollering wait

stop the nonsense

Being convicts slaves to the system

You can’t resist them

 

We are ALL victims

Even the slick ones

They tricking them

Keep it TIGHT

with the Right

And you can’t go wrong

What is strong is strong

You know steel(Israel)

You cant get over it

But you can get through it

So lock it down In your town (your state of mind)

 

….You can resist them……

Written by Shebah Irie – Poet

 

Blackman

“Blackman”

How does the story go… Listen to the rain against my window…

Under estimated, never congratulated, through the struggle He still made it..

Forced to kiss the hand of another man.. Spirit unbroken, still able to stand…

BLACKMAN, BLACKMAN run as fast as you can…

Run from the gangs that enslave our youth…

Run from the hatred to get to the truth…

No more sitting at the back of the bus, United we stand the world will hear from us..

One Man can’t change all, but divided we fall…

BLACKMAN, BLACKMAN can you take my hand?

Together as soldiers we fight in a war that equally isn’t right..

So break free of the pain we afflict one one another… And come together for change my Brother..

One Man had a Dream, together we can make it come true…

BLACKMAN,BLACKMAN that dreams starts with you….

Written by Jeron Jackson 2009- Former Inmate (nephew of Tico Porter, also former inmate)

 

when it rains it pours

“When it Rains it Pours”

I shed tears in my dreams, because this world won’t let me cry…

If I blink to slow, then the world just might pass me by…

Wishing I could break free of my chains and fly…

I wish I could run from the Day to find my Tomorrow…. Leaving behind the pain, leaving behind the sorrow….

Sometimes Life can be a bit too much,

Most times it’s not quite enough…

I wish I could time travel, but would I just get nowhere fast… In a glitch of minutes trying run from my past…

Feeling like an itch within a cast….

Unable to scratch away my scars….

Longing to break free of Life’s imprisonment ,unlocking these bars…

We spend our Lives trying to make it better… unable to escape the unclaiming weather…

Feeling our Life and time with objects to restrain the pain..

But no matter what is done there’ll always be a drop of rain…

So stop trying to close the doors…

Because everyone knows when it rains it pours…

Written by Jeron Jackson 2009- Former Inmate (nephew of Tico Porter, also former inmate)

 

beginning anew

Beginning anew

Beginning anew

And the things I now choose to do,

require much effort and energy

And focus on my part

But mostly exercising my free will.

The choice is mine, and no one else,

If I’m left behind or stripped away from freedom,

It’s because of self.

It is I who can only hold me back

Where’s the productiveness in that.

The code I once lived by was that of a lower nature and negative

And plenty of suspended animation and procrastination

But to continue to live without change

The result is MY

Producing mass incarceration

   By: J.F. Davis

Collage of photos of Members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People's Movement

FICPM on the vanguard of ending mass incarceration

SCSJ Criminal Justice Reform attorney Daryl Atkinson is a steering committee member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM). In the following radio piece from PRX, Daryl and his colleagues speak truth to power on issues relating to ending mass incarceration in the United States.

A half-century since the apex of the Civil Rights Movement, the quest for racial and economic justice continues unabated in the United States. Arguably the most powerful expression of that struggle today is the growing movement to end the racialized system of mass incarceration. At the forefront of leadership in the struggle to dismantle the US prison-industrial complex, and to alleviate its negative consequences, stands the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM). The FICPM is a nationwide coalition of formerly incarcerated men and women who are holding forth a radical vision for justice and transformation, and who are putting that vision to work in towns and cities across the nation. This 29-minute radio documentary highlights the voices of nine members of the FICPM steering committee, men and women who have experienced the workings of the US criminal justice system from the inside out, and who have dedicated themselves to the work of building a new and better future, not only for presently and formerly incarcerated people, but for the entire nation. The show includes a description of the FICPM’s critical analysis, closely mirroring the arguments of Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow), and it features candid dialogue about race and racism in the contemporary US. Also highlighted are the 14 points of the FICPM’s national platform, a blueprint for nationwide grassroots community organizing designed to bring about major structural transformation in the US criminal justice system, and in the US culture itself.

Just as the movement for justice and equality drew vision and leadership from key organizations during the 1950s and 60s, such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, today the movement to end mass incarceration finds the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement at the vanguard of the struggle. These are men and women of legacy re-enunciating a powerful message of freedom and equality during this newest phase of the continuing struggle to bring the United States’ practices into alignment with its core principles.

“The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement: The Struggle for Freedom and Transformation Continues” is the newest installment of the radio documentary series titled Bringing Down the New Jim Crow. Inspired by Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, this series explores the intersection of the drug war, mass incarceration, and race in the contemporary U.S. It is produced by Chris Moore-Backman and features the music of Stray Theories.