Monday, March 28, 2011

Community Feedback Wanted

We have been working on our awareness campaign for about six or seven months now, and the question has been raised, "What should we DO?"

We're interested in everyone's feedback.  Is an awareness campaign enough?  Once people are aware, they want to DO something.  What should that something be? 
  • We have discussed starting a "Ban the Box" campaign, asking employers to eliminate the box on job applications that has to be checked if you're a felon.
  • We've talked about establishing a mentor program, where ex-offenders who have successfully transitioned back into society would mentor guys coming out of prison.
We have some other ideas up our sleeves, but we would love to hear from you.  What is the most important thing we could do?  Please either comment on this post, or send us an email.  We want to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fourteen Examples of Systemic Racism in the US Criminal Justice System


by Bill Quigley / First published July 26th, 2010

The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people.
Saying the US criminal system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that. Below I set out numerous examples of these facts.
The question is – are these facts the mistakes of an otherwise good system, or are they evidence that the racist criminal justice system is working exactly as intended? Is the US criminal justice system operated to marginalize and control millions of African Americans?
Information on race is available for each step of the criminal justice system – from the use of drugs, police stops, arrests, getting out on bail, legal representation, jury selection, trial, sentencing, prison, parole and freedom. Look what these facts show.

One. The US has seen a surge in arrests and putting people in jail over the last four decades. Most of the reason is the war on drugs. Yet whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales, at roughly comparable rates – according to a report on race and drug enforcement published by Human Rights Watch in May 2008. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.

Two. The police stop blacks and Latinos at rates that are much higher than whites. In New York City, where people of color make up about half of the population, 80% of the NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. When whites were stopped, only 8% were frisked. When blacks and Latinos are stopped 85% were frisked according to information provided by the NYPD. The same is true most other places as well. In a California study, the ACLU found blacks are three times more likely to be stopped than whites.

Three. Since 1970, drug arrests have skyrocketed rising from 320,000 to close to 1.6 million according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice.
African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rate for whites – according to a May 2009 report on disparity in drug arrests by Human Rights Watch.

Four. Once arrested, blacks are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites. For example, the New York state division of criminal justice did a 1995 review of disparities in processing felony arrests and found that in some parts of New York blacks are 33% more likely to be detained awaiting felony trials than whites facing felony trials.

Five. Once arrested, 80% of the people in the criminal justice system get a public defender for their lawyer.
Race plays a big role here as well. Stop in any urban courtroom and look a the color of the people who are waiting for public defenders. Despite often heroic efforts by public defenders the system gives them much more work and much less money than the prosecution. The American Bar Association, not a radical bunch, reviewed the US public defender system in 2004 and concluded “All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.”

Six. African Americans are frequently illegally excluded from criminal jury service according to a June 2010 study released by the Equal Justice Initiative. For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on death penalty cases.

Seven. Trials are rare. Only 3 to 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial – the rest are plea bargained. Most African Americans defendants never get a trial. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent. Why? As one young man told me recently, “Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?”

Eight. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project reports African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.

Nine. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that non-white people will be the ones getting it. A July 2009 report by the Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people in the US with life sentences are non-white. In New York, it is 83%.

Ten. As a result, African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. Marc Mauer May 2009 Congressional Testimony for The Sentencing Project.

Eleven. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concludes that the chance of a black male born in 2001 of going to jail is 32% or 1 in three. Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Thus black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as white boys to go to jail.

Twelve. So, while African American juvenile youth is but 16% of the population, they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. 2009 Criminal Justice Primer, The Sentencing Project.

Thirteen. Remember that the US leads the world in putting our own people into jail and prison. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the US has five percent of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s prisoners, over 2.3 million people behind bars, dwarfing other nations. The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News.

Fourteen. Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate. A study by Professor Devah Pager of the University of Wisconsin found that 17% of white job applicants with criminal records received call backs from employers while only 5% of black job applicants with criminal records received call backs. Race is so prominent in that study that whites with criminal records actually received better treatment than blacks without criminal records!

So, what conclusions do these facts lead to? The criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist.
Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow laws enforced since the age of slavery ended. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sees these facts as evidence of the new way the US has decided to control African Americans – a racialized system of social control. The stigma of criminality functions in much the same way as Jim Crow – creating legal boundaries between them and us, allowing legal discrimination against them, removing the right to vote from millions, and essentially warehousing a disposable population of unwanted people. She calls it a new caste system.
Poor whites and people of other ethnicity are also subjected to this system of social control. Because if poor whites or others get out of line, they will be given the worst possible treatment, they will be treated just like poor blacks.
Other critics like Professor Dylan Rodriguez see the criminal justice system as a key part of what he calls the domestic war on the marginalized. Because of globalization, he argues in his book, Forced Passages, there is an excess of people in the US and elsewhere. “These people”, whether they are in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or US jails and prisons, are not productive, are not needed, are not wanted and are not really entitled to the same human rights as the productive ones. They must be controlled and dominated for the safety of the productive. They must be intimidated into accepting their inferiority or they must be removed from the society of the productive.
This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country’s police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror – domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.
What to do?
Martin Luther King Jr., said we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
A radical approach to the US criminal justice system means we must go to the root of the problem. Not reform. Not better beds in better prisons. We are not called to only trim the leaves or prune the branches, but rip up this unjust system by its roots.
We are all entitled to safety. That is a human right everyone has a right to expect. But do we really think that continuing with a deeply racist system leading the world in incarcerating our children is making us safer?
It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist system. Should the US decriminalize drugs like marijuana? Should prisons be abolished? Should we expand the use of restorative justice? Can we create fair educational, medical and employment systems? All these questions and many more have to be seriously explored. Join a group like INCITE, Critical Resistance, the Center for Community Alternatives, Thousand Kites, or the California Prison Moratorium and work on it. As Professor Alexander says “Nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this new caste system.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Preliminary Report on Race and Washington‘s Criminal Justice System

Written by the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System

To sum up:
We find the assertion that Black disproportionality in incarceration is due  solely to
differential crime commission rates is inaccurate.
We find that facially neutral policies that have a disparate impact on people of color
contribute significantly to disproportionalities in the criminal justice system.
We find that racial and ethnic bias distorts decision-making at various stages in the
criminal justice system, thus contributing to disproportionalities in the criminal
justice system.
We find that race and racial bias matter in ways that are not fair, that do not advance
legitimate public safety objectives,  that produce disparities in the criminal justice
system, and that undermine public confidence in our legal system.

See more at the link below:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System

Below please find an update on the amazing work being done by the Task Force on Race and Criminal Justice System.  Please go to for more information.

The Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System is working to address racial disparity in Washington's criminal justice system. On March 2, 2011, we met with the Washington Supreme Court at the Temple of Justice in Olympia Washington. Attending were representatives from the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors, the Washington State Access to Justice Board, the Minority and Justice and Gender and Justice Commissions, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, The Defender Association, the state's specialty bar associations, the state's three law schools, various law enforcement agencies, and many other organizations, as well as many judges and other leaders from Washington's legal community.
The March 2 event included presentations from the Research Working Group and the Recommendations/Implementation Working Group.

You may see a video of the March 2nd event at

(Note: the video works on Explorer but may not be working properly on Firefox; we are working on this.)
Presentation Notes, Slides, and Report. Jason Gillmer's notes can be found here; Alexes Harris and Katherine Beckett's slides can be found here; and Robert Chang's slides can be found here. The Research Working Group's Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System can be found here. The Recommendations/Implementation Working Group's presentation slides can be found here.
The Seattle Times ran a brief article about the event.
On the left navigation, you can find our Participants, Working Groups, Meeting Notes, and Research Reports.
We are developing next steps. This is a multi-year project. Please return to this page for updates.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Costs of 'life without parole' in California

Interesting documentary on costs of life without prison and our aging life without parole population.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fighting Discrimination After Conviction

One of the things we probably have not focused on enough here on our 6 and 44 blog is the effect that the label "felon" has on those trying to re-enter society after time in prison.  Upon release, there are myriad ways in which an ex-offender can be barred from employment, voting, public housing, food stamps, etc., etc.   The list goes on and on.

One organization in the Bay Area, called All of Us or None, is working to combat the many forms of discrimination faced by ex-offenders as they attempt to re-enter society.  Check out their website and take a look at the campaigns they have created to fight the discrimination affecting ex-offenders.

Also, a recent study by the Washington Uniform Law Commission stated that there are 586 "collateral consequences" of being labeled a felon just in Washington States laws alone.  In other words there are 586 ways in which a person labeled a felon can be legally discriminated against.  Imagine. 

The Uniform Law Commission is attempting to make laws consistent from state to state, and a current draft of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act is available online.  Committee members in various states are also listed, so if you want to have your voice heard, give them a shout.

As Michelle Alexander illustrates in her book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," it is the label of felon that relegates individuals to a second class status, creating an under-caste in our society.

If you have not looked at the data regarding collateral consequences, check out the work done by Michelle Alexander. Then, go help out our friends at All of Us or None or search for groups in your area.

With Hope for Justice!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seattle University professor's report calls misdemeanor courts "alarming" - Original article from Seattle Times April 28, 2009

Originally published April 28, 2009 at 2:52 PM | Page modified April 28, 2009 at 11:57 PM

Misdemeanor courts throughout the country — including many in Washington — are in a state of shambles, with people convicted without lawyers, public defenders swamped with impossible caseloads and judges who ignore basic constitutional rights to wade through seas of unnecessary cases, according to a report by a Seattle University law professor.
Misdemeanor courts throughout the country — including many in Washington — are in a state of shambles, with people convicted without lawyers, public defenders swamped with impossible caseloads and judges who ignore basic constitutional rights to wade through seas of unnecessary cases, according to a report by a Seattle University law professor.
The upshot is that millions of people nationwide end up harshly punished for minor offenses that could be handled differently, and taxpayers waste millions of dollars to do it, the report says.
"It's stunning; it's alarming; it's staggering; it's overwhelming," said professor Bob Boruchowitz, formerly the director of King County's The Defender Association public-defense firm. "The integrity of the whole justice system is at stake."
But the administrator for one of the courts Boruchowitz criticizes in the report says his examples are dated and improvements have already been made.
"I think it's a little bit exaggerated," said Jill O'Cain, administrator of Lynnwood Municipal Court.
The report, "Minor Crimes, Massive Waste," was published by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and released Tuesday. Boruchowitz and his colleagues spent a year gathering statistics and observing courtrooms in several states, from Florida to Washington.
In general, they said they found a system clogged with nonviolent, nondangerous citizens.
Defendants are encouraged to strike plea deals with prosecutors without consulting defense attorneys. Or fines and jail time are handed out after only minutes of consultation with public defenders who have hundreds of cases to handle at once.
Particularly troublesome is that some courts don't have defense attorneys present at all during crowded arraignment calendars, where some people are enticed to plead guilty on the spot, according to the report.
One key to the problem, the report found, is that in many courts nationwide more than a third of the defendants were charged with the most minor of crimes, especially driving with suspended licenses.
In Washington, Boruchowitz cites Lynnwood Municipal Court for handling more than 100 cases in less than four hours, with only two public defenders present for all defendants.
He said in one Lynnwood case, a defendant had only a couple of minutes in court — "less time than it takes to get a hamburger from a McDonald's drive-through" — before he was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine for possessing a small amount of marijuana. H
e also names municipal courts in Bainbridge Island, Burlington, Pasco and a county district court in Franklin County as places where no defense lawyers are present for arraignments.
In Kittitas County, he said, defendants — mainly college students — were facing misdemeanor driving, marijuana and alcohol charges with neither a defense lawyer nor a prosecutor present. A court commissioner was handling everything — and dissuading people from getting lawyers, the report said.
But misdemeanor convictions are no small matter. They can mean large fines and jail time up to a year and can create lifelong problems with employment, school and housing. And lots of otherwise law-abiding citizens can find themselves facing them, the report said.
"Do you want those people who you know and care about to end up in these courts we're talking about?" Boruchowitz said.
O'Cain, of the Lynnwood court, said Boruchowitz's charges are based on past problems that are being addressed. She said his caseload numbers are inflated and she stressed that public defenders always are present. Also, many minor cases, such as driving offenses, are resolved in ways that don't clog the system.
"I think we do a nice job of justice," O'Cain said.
Nationally, Boruchowitz pushes for making minor driving offenses and drug offenses, such as simple marijuana possession, infractions in which tickets are issued instead of court dates. Doing that would alleviate a third of the caseload overnight, he says, and save millions of dollars.
It's not all bad news.
He points to Seattle and King County as "beacons of light" for reform. Seattle, for example, recently started handling minor misdemeanors through diversion programs. Instead of facing more fines they can't pay, defendants are given options such as community service to get their licenses back.
"We're not saying ignore the laws; we're saying treat them in a different way," Boruchowitz said. "In the long run, it strengthens not only the justice system but society as a whole when we respect individual rights."
Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or