One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated. ban the box

One commentator says private employers can take action now to reduce the downstream effects on people who were formerly incarcerated.

This decade may mark one of the most significant shifts in popular thinking about criminal justice issues. Those shifts implicate every stage of the process, from policing, to charging and sentencing, to release terms, and to those many invisible penalties often visited on formerly incarcerated people.

There is no monolithic view of these topics. But there does appear to be growing consensus that a mass-incarceration and lifetime-penalty approach has not served society well.

Another example of that came in Saturday’s Arizona Republic, where attorney Mark Holden penned an op-ed recommending that private companies voluntarily adopt ban-the-box in their hiring practices.

Don’t know what ban-the-box is? Here’s Mark:

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

Mark Holden, GC and SVP of Koch Industries

“Right now, most employers require job-seekers to check a box on an application if they have any criminal record. Too often, this can function as an automatic ‘application denied’ for individuals with a blemish in their past.”

“Nationwide, some 650,000 incarcerated individuals rejoin society every year, and they desperately need jobs to help them transition back into society and to provide for themselves and their families. But the criminal record box often shuts them out of the job market before they can get a foot in the door.”

You can read his entire piece here.

(In an awkward headline difference: The print version is titled simply “Ban the Box: Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime?” Meantime, the online version has the pretty inflammatory headline “Arizona businesses should hire felons (or at least stop immediately asking them about their records)” Um, not quite, Arizona Republic. But nice try.)

What makes this especially interesting is Mark’s day job—he is the general counsel and senior vice president for Koch Industries. Yes, that Koch Industries, of the famed and very conservative Koch Brothers.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

Felony convictions have a significant and long-lasting effect on the economy.

Understand, as Holden makes clear, Ban the Box does not mean employers entirely omit the felony question from the hiring process. But instead of being asked the moment an applicant begins the process, the question is delayed until later in the process—by which time an employer may have found that the person’s skills and personality are a great match for the firm.

This stance is another indicator that the chasm between viewpoints may be shrinking a bit between civil libertarians and those concerned about the massive costs society incurs when incarceration effects continue long after a person is released from prison.

If you have a view into the downstream effects of incarceration, I’d like to talk to you for a possible story. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

This week's journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest. spj valley of the sun header cropped

This week’s journalism conference in Phoenix covers many topics of public interest.

I am pleased to share news of two conferences in Phoenix this week (April 28-30) that may serve your needs—in multiple ways. Aimed primarily at journalists, they will be of interest to anyone attuned to public policy, communications, criminal justice, and immigration.

I am helping to organize one of the journo conferences, with the Society of Professional Journalists, and I urge you to consider attending both of them. Links and agendas to each are below:

The Society of Professional Journalists Western Regional conference is on Friday and Saturday, April 29 (evening reception) and 30 (all day):

  • The Friday evening reception will be at Macayo’s. The conference will be at the Heard Museum. And the post-conference mixer on Saturday evening will be at the Clarendon Hotel’s Sky Deck.
  • The keynote of Saturday’s offerings will be a one-on-one interview of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio with Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini (for reals).
  • The full conference schedule is here.

Unity Journalists for Diversity logoAnd the UNITY: Journalists for Diversity conference is on Friday, April 29 (all day) at the ASU Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix:

  • The full conference schedule is here.
  • A day before the summit, Thursday, April 28, UNITY in partnership with ONE Arizona will hold a free special town hall meeting and panel discussion on immigration. The town hall will take place at Puente Human Rights Movement from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Register here.
  • UNITY also will be hosting a free rooftop networking reception at Hotel San Carlos on Friday, April 29, immediately following the Regional Summit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be served. Register here.

I’m helping organize the SPJ event, and I’ll be attending the UNITY conference Friday too. For a pretty modest outlay of dollars, this looks like some great content. I hope you can attend some or all of this!

A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver's license or worse.

A new Phoenix Compliance Assistance Program aims to assist residents whose civil fines have led to the loss of a driver’s license or worse.

This week, the City of Phoenix and its Municipal Court announced a new program that aims to counter situations that have too often have led people into financial straits and even into the justice system.

The new “Compliance Assistance Program” is “designed to give residents with past-due traffic fines a path to repay the debts and work towards restoring driving privileges.”

The past year has provided numerous examples from around the country in which residents faced financial ruin and increased interaction with police because of an accumulation of unpaid tickets, fines, and penalties. But these issues didn’t just face residents of Ferguson, Missouri, or other newsworthy places; they face residents of Arizona cities too. The Phoenix program is a salutary effort to address those problems; you can read more about it here.

As Megan Cassidy reports:

“The Compliance Assistance Program is designed to break what can become a crippling cycle of fines and subsequent driving penalties: Unpaid fines can lead to a suspended license. And driving on a suspended license can lead to criminal charges and jail time for the working poor. As of Dec. 31, Phoenix was owed more than $283 million in overdue municipal fines, fees and restitution dating back decades. As many as 6,000 people currently have their licenses suspended because of delinquent Phoenix fines.”

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego

Quoted in the story and a key driver of the change is Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego.

“We want people to be able to pay their fines in a sustainable way,” she said. “If you push people to the brink of their financial ability, the consequences are more negative.”

New Chief Presiding Municipal Judge B. Don Taylor came into the job via a contentious process, but his advocacy for these changes is a welcome sign for a progressive court, one that has substantial daily interactions with residents. Though the program is just a first step, residents should be heartened by the actions of Judge Taylor and Councilwoman Gallego, who “said she made reforming the Municipal Court system a priority in her decision-making when the City Council selected a new presiding municipal judge last year.”

As Judge Taylor says in the Arizona Republic story, “It’s really providing a mechanism that people haven’t really had before. I think creating something that will allow them to be compliant, get the license back, really helps them be in a good place.”

If the name Don Taylor sounds familiar, it may be because he’s a longtime lawyer, former prosecutor, and even a story-subject in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In 2007, we spoke with him as he worked at the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.

Congratulations on the new program.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

Attorney B. Don Taylor in the February 2007 Arizona Attorney, describing his work at The Hague.

When it comes to the ADA's 25th anniversary, should we celebrate? Do better? Or both?

When it comes to the ADA’s 25th anniversary, should we celebrate? Do better? Or both?

Yesterday, I pointed you toward a few news stories regarding the 25th anniversary of passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Today, I suggest some additional resources and reading.

Begin with an insightful op-ed by Erica McFadden. She’s an analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU. As she opens her piece:

“Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and there is reason to celebrate the progress it ushered in over that quarter-century. But needed still is a call to action to affirm equality — especially in terms of employment.”

“Just one in three Arizonans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 were employed from 2008 to 2012, according to the census. That’s compared to more than two in three (71 percent) Arizonans with no disabilities who were employed during that time.”

“Perhaps even more sobering is the percentage of Arizonans with disabilities not even in the job market: 59 percent.”

And then follow it up with a My Turn column in the Arizona Republic by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi where she examines the sad statistics surrounding employment of people with disabilities.

Understanding-the-ADA-Goren ABA bookThird, for the law practice-minded among you, head over the ABA website to consider purchasing a new book titled “Understanding the ADA,” by William D. Goren and described by the publisher:

“This new edition of Understanding the ADA delves deeper into many of the complex topics of disability claims. The updates offer expanded guidance on remedies if the law is violated; advice on when you have a right to sue; the statute of limitations for ADA claims; when a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss; and whether a class-action is a viable thing to pursue. There are new areas of discussion regarding standing, when a complaint is sufficient, statute of limitations, and mixed-motive jury instructions, and additional information on disparate treatment cases, class actions, jury selection, and Batson challenges. Expanded and new topics include: ADA as it relates to sports including the Office of Civil Rights guidance on § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Utilizing negligence and negligence per se actions as an alternative to title III claims Highly detailed chapter on remedies and procedural issues Improved checklists and litigation forms.”

Finally, please enjoy the great article by Judge Randall Howe that we published in May. It reminds us how important advocacy is to progress. In the judge’s case, it was his mother who was driven for equity in her son’s education. For you? Well, everyone may have a different advocate.

Grant Woods The Project logo

In “The Project,” Grant Woods aims to support the arts and repair a state’s image.

Interested in seeing—and hearing—Arizona in a new light? You may want to attend a September concert.

The impetus for the concert and a related CD is partially an expression of a love for the arts, as expressed by Grant Woods—a former Arizona Attorney General and current columnist in Arizona Attorney Magazine. His newest musical initiative is called The Project, and it’s described here.

The Arizona Republic’s Ed Masley did a great interview with and story about Grant and his newest project; you can read it in today’s newspaper.

Aiming to improve the state’s tarnished image—and to engage the songwriter part of his brain—Woods gathered a group of remarkable musicians and performers to launch a CD and hold a benefit concert (there is some overlap in who’s on the CD and who will perform in concert). The concert will benefit Arizona School for the Arts (disclosure: One of our daughters attends there, and our older daughter graduated from there.)

The first thing to know: I’m told the concert will be a hot ticket, and so you should consider buying for the September 18 show early rather than late. Tickets are on sale here.

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Second: Called “The Project,” the CD became available on May 14, and was described by the producers:

The Project, a collaboration of Arizona musical all-stars performing 10 of Woods’ original songs, will be released today. Performers on The Project, each of whom volunteered his or her time, include Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson, Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros, Al Ortiz, Francine Reed and Ray Herndon (both touring with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band), Michael Nitro, Alice Tatum, Walt Richardson, Blaine Long, Mindy Harris and Hans Olson.

More detail is here.

Finally, because we’re visual thinkers, enjoy this video about the making of The Project. It’s always nice to get behind the music.

What value do dark skies hold? An Arizona Republic article examines the issue.

What value do dark skies hold? An Arizona Republic article examines the issue.

This week, the Arizona Republic offered a comprehensive view of a topic that dogs the west—and most urban areas. Writer Megan Finnerty explored the value of maintaining dark skies over our heads—and how challenging that goal is.

The path that led to ensuring dark skies over Flagstaff may provide a roadmap to do so in other places. But the opposition that masses against such an effort is robust—and strategic.

Reading the story, I started to wonder whether there is a Dark Skies go-to lawyer in Arizona. Has anyone—perhaps someone who represented darkness advocates in the past—carved out a niche and reputation as an expert in the area?

If you know, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. There may be a legal story in the skies above us.

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Gila County, Ariz., courthouse, by Ken Lund

Arizona’s landscape is dotted with some beautiful courthouses, many still in operation. But for those that are not, finding a suitable “chapter two” can be a challenge.

In Gila County, a wonderful old courthouse faced an empty future. But, as an Arizona Republic story explains, it has been transformed into the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts.

I may be on an adaptive reuse kick this month (see my story from yesterday about auto dealerships transforming in Boston), but I was very taken with this Arizona story. You can read the whole thing here.

And for more information on the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, go here and here.