Corporatization of the Criminal Justice System ASU Law School

This Friday, speakers at ASU Law School will offer a seminar titled “Corporatization of the Criminal Justice System.”

According to organizers, the event will include a variety of speakers including scholars, attorneys, and advocates “working on the pressing issue of the role of private prisons in mass incarceration and immigration detention.”

The keynote speaker will be Ben Jealous, former CEO and President of the NAACP.

The event opens at 1:30 p.m. and ends with an 8:45 p.m. reception.

The complete agenda with panel titles is here.

Other organizations involved include Abolish Private Prisons, Changing Hands Bookstore, Osborn Maledon, the American Constitution Society, and the Carolina Academic Press.

Organizers plan to address numerous topics, including the relationship between private prisons and:

  • the length and severity of sentences and availability of parole
  • mass incarceration’s impact on communities of color

Speakers at the event will examine prisons, parole, immigration detention, bail, and probation.

The complete conference website is here.

The website for the speaker information is here.

ABA logoThis morning, the American Bar Association and the NAACP released a joint statement on “Eliminating Bias in the Criminal Justice System.” It’s likely to get a lot of attention, for a few reasons:

  1. It offers a dozen specific recommendations that have the possibility of engaging the community and law enforcement and criminal justice officials in a deep and change-making way.
  2. It is a joint statement that is a result of collaboration between two persuasive organizations, the ABA and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
  3. It is drafted in straightforward language that faces head-on a crisis in race and policing.
  4. Its signatories include respected legal leaders, including prosecuting attorneys. (And it also includes Arizona’s own Professor Myles Lynk, of the ASU College of Law.)

The complete statement is available here.

NAACP LDF logoAmong the opening paragraphs are sentences like these:

“One would have to have been outside of the United States and cut off from media to be unaware of the recent spate of killings of unarmed African American men and women at the hands of white law enforcement officers. … Given the history of implicit and explicit racial bias and discrimination in this country, there has long been a strained relationship between the African-American and law enforcement. But with video cameras and extensive news coverage bringing images and stories of violent encounters between (mostly white) law enforcement officers and (almost exclusively African-American and Latino) unarmed individuals into American homes, it is not surprising that the absence of criminal charges in many of these cases has caused so many people to doubt the ability of the criminal justice system to treat individuals fairly, impartially and without regard to their race.”

After mentioning statistics on race in the criminal justice system and the recent Justice Department investigation of law enforcement practices in Ferguson, Missouri, the statement continues:

“Given these realities, it is not only time for a careful look at what caused the current crisis, but also time to initiate an affirmative effort to eradicate implied or perceived racial bias—in all of its forms—from the criminal justice system.”

Among its suggestions, the statement calls for:

  • More complete and comprehensive data collection on interactions between law enforcement and citizens, and more transparency from prosecutors’ offices on the use of prosecutorial discretion.
  • More training and assistance for all members of the justice system on the problems that can occur from real or perceived bias.
  • More hiring and retention of lawyers and officers “who live in and reflect the communities they serve” by prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement.
  • Greater use of body and vehicle cameras “to create an actual record of police–citizen encounters.”
  • Promotion of dialogue about the criminal justice process between representatives of the judiciary, law enforcement and prosecutors, defenders and defense counsel, probation and parole officers and community organizations as well the community.
  • More accountability and quicker response to issues that arise.
  • A better understanding of the collateral consequences of convictions and the damage they can inflict on individuals who have paid their debt to society.
William Hubbard, American Bar Association

William Hubbard, American Bar Association

In a press release, leaders of the two organizations offered remarks.

“The American criminal justice system is clearly in need of reform on multiple levels,” said ABA President William C. Hubbard. “As lawyers, we have a duty and responsibility to ensure the fair administration of justice and to promote public trust in the system. The solutions are not quick or easy, but these proposals offer a tangible and potentially significant framework to make sure the system provides justice for all.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, added, “The events of the last year have powerfully demonstrated the need for the members of our profession to confront the issue of racial bias in our justice system. We are very gratified that the ABA joined with us in convening a group of prosecutors to discuss the role they can play in dealing with this important issue.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

“Both the ABA and the LDF share a commitment to building confidence in the rule of law that has been badly shaken over the past year among many Americans. Prosecutors and other members of the criminal justice system must play a role as we move forward in the critical days ahead. The measures identified by the ABA and LDF present a powerful framework for prosecutors who are committed to taking on the issue of racial bias.”

I look forward to more news on this topic. Specifically, which of the 12 recommendations are likely to be adopted first and on a widespread basis? Are any of these suggestions currently being implemented, but on a smaller scale, perhaps in a state or in one jurisdiction?

After reading the statement, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org to offer your thoughts.

On Monday afternoon, a press release came out of the United States Attorney’s Office here in Phoenix. It announced “the formation of a Civil Rights Unit to coordinate civil rights prosecution, training and outreach in the state of Arizona.”

 (You can read the complete release below.)

My first thought was: That sounds like an excellent idea.

My second thought was: Didn’t we already have one of those?

Apparently not, and this signals an additional element in the expanded brief of the new U.S. Attorney, Dennis Burke. When we spoke with him in the fall, soon after he had been confirmed, he was very open about the rebuilding—of morale and other things—that had to be done in a post-Alberto Gonzalez Department of Justice.

New U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, Arizona Attorney magazine, Jan. 2010

When I asked him about the District of Arizona, where the focus long had lain with counterterrorism and immigration, he agreed those would continue to be central to the mission of his office. But he added significant conversation about criminal activity in Indian Country—for a number of good reasons, above and beyond the large land areas in his jurisdiction. Replacing the nation’s first Native American woman with a white male—however qualified—as United States Attorney had to sting the Obama Administration at least a tad. Over the years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office also has harmed its “reservation cred” for its declination letters, in which it declines to prosecute criminal cases there, but provides no rationale. That leaves tribal authorities with the option of pursuing the matter themselves, but with no guidance as to whether the feds thought the case was weak or if they were simply too busy. And if the tribes pursue the case, they can assess far lesser penalties if they win a conviction. Given all that, Dennis Burke has made it an important part of his activities to nurture the relationship with the tribes.

Besides Indian relations, Burke also raised civil rights as an increasing area of focus. Asked if he meant housing, or election violations, or employment, he answered “All of those.”

Was that lip service? Today’s announcement suggests the answer is No.

Call it karma or something else, but the announcement came just hours before a significant ASU Law School lecture. The title of this year’s John P. Morris Memorial Lecture (sponsored by the Black Law Student Association) was “Civil Rights in the 21st Century.” And the speaker? NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. I couldn’t attend, but I am hoping the law school taped the speech.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP CEO

Mr. Jealous, of course, is more than a seriously cool name. He is the youngest leader the organization’s ever had, and a Rhodes Scholar, to boot. Before his current position, he served as director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International. Most impressive to us ink-stained wretches, he also once worked as a newspaper reporter and editor and as Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Let’s hear it for the news! (We like all of the Amendments, but the First does come first …)

So our state was writ large with civil rights today.

Farther east, health care reform also passed out of Congress Sunday in a historic vote—or a historic miscarriage of justice, depending on whom you ask. And civil rights came up there too.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi moved mountains (and horse-traded mountain ranges) to win the Democrats and President Obama a come-from-behind victory. And she even was quoted as analogizing this health care legislation to civil rights legislation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs health care legislation

Hyperbolic? Maybe. But her words came on the heels of out-of-control vitriol by health care opponents spitting on a Black legislator and shouting racist comments as he entered the historic building. That, combined with the size of the legislation and the generation-long changes it could effect, made Pelosi’s analogy less fabulous than it would have been otherwise. So a new law that has to do with insurance premiums and prescription co-pays could be enveloped in the mantle of civil-rights history.

Well, if she’s right, then it’s a civil rights victory unlike any we’ve seen before. This one, for instance, is cheered by large parts of corporate America. Perhaps many business leaders are simply happy to have the debate over and certainty in its place. But others may be pleased at the substance of the law, which aims to control medical insurance costs.

As Monday’s “Marketplace” program reported on American Public Radio, “The stock prices of health care companies showed healthy gains, one day after the House passed historic health reform. Investors apparently think the legislation will be good for the health care industry.”

They may be right—or they may be overstating it. Listen to the story at http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/03/22/pm-health-industry

So cheers to all of us: Props to the U.S. Attorney’s Office (and Dennis Burke) for creating a new division, and invoking the names of hate-crime victims Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. in the process. And cheers to all those who debated the health care issue freely—thank you, Bill of Rights, and that good old First Amendment!

[Press release follows]

U.S. ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES CIVIL RIGHTS UNIT FOR ARIZONA

PHOENIX – U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke announced today the formation of a Civil Rights Unit to coordinate civil rights prosecution, training and outreach in the state of Arizona.

The Civil Rights Unit Chief will have district-wide authority on civil rights matters. Burke named Assistant U.S. Attorney Claire Lefkowitz, of the Tucson Office, to spearhead the work of the new unit, and to coordinate efforts with federal prosecutors in the Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Yuma offices of the U.S. Attorney.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to and has had an historic role in upholding the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, including the most vulnerable members of our society,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke.  “The creation of the Civil Rights Unit in Arizona ensures civil rights cases will be given top priority, whether they be the prosecution of hate crimes, or protecting the victims of human trafficking, discrimination based on disability, or civil rights abuses under color of law.”

The Unit Chief will also work in coordination with the District Law Enforcement Coordinator to develop a protocol with law enforcement agencies that investigate civil rights cases in order to ensure cooperation and effective enforcement.  Training will be conducted to inform agencies of enhanced federal statutory authority on civil rights, including the new Hate Crimes Statute 18 USC Section 249, also known as the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The new law has a broader reach than preexisting hate crime statutes, and effectively criminalizes violent acts when they occur because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person. The statute also protects a wider class of victims of hate violence motivated by the victim’s gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identify. Previous law required the government prove that a hate-motivated crime be committed to prevent a victim’s participation in federally protected activities, such as voting or attending school.

“Today’s announcement by U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke establishing a Civil Rights Unit will continue to enhance the FBI’s ability to investigate Civil Rights matters,” said Special Agent in Charge Nathan T. Gray, of the FBI Phoenix Division. “The addition of a new Hate Crimes statute will provide the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office the ability to effectively address Civil Rights allegations in the State of Arizona.”

The Unit Chief will also work with a new bilingual Community Liaison to meet with consular officials with responsibility for foreign citizens living in Arizona, as well as other relevant organizations and community groups. 

RELEASE NUMBER: 2010-047(CVU)