Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘naacp

En Banc Ninth Circuit Upholds Felon Voting Ban in Washington State, Reversing Three-Judge Panel

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Thanks to a reader who alerted me that the en banc Ninth Circuit has issued its ruling in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, the Washington inmate voting rights case in which it heard oral arguments just a few weeks ago. The SF Chronicle reports:

A state can prohibit felons from voting even if the ban disproportionately harms minorities, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a Washington state case that bolsters a similar law in California.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a 2-1 decision by one of its panels in January that struck down the Washington law on the grounds that the state’s criminal justice system was racially biased.

That ruling, the first of its kind in the nation, would have allowed prisoners as well as parolees to vote in Washington. It also could have invalidated laws in the eight other states in the circuit, including California, if courts found that a state’s system of arresting and prosecuting suspects was racially skewed.

Two quick thoughts upon my initial scan of the full ruling (PDF link here): Read the rest of this entry »

The Virginia NAACP’s (Mobile) Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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The Virginia NAACP is sending mobile billboards around downtown Richmond, highlighting America’s high rate of incarceration and the disparity between spending on prisons and schools. The billboards are intended to drum up support for Sen. Jim Webb’s National Criminal Justice Commission Act. Local TV coverage here (also the source of these screen shots). Another after the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow: Ninth Circuit Oral Argument in Important Felon Voting Rights Case

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, an important case that could affect the voting rights of prisoners in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, California, Hawaii, and Arizona. Back in January, a split Ninth Circuit panel ruled that, in Washington State, “minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained, and ultimately prosecuted,” and that, because “some people becom[e] felons not just because they have committed a crime, but because of their race, then that felon status cannot, under section 2 of the [Voting Rights Act], disqualify felons from voting.” Washington State appealed for en banc review, which is what tomorrow’s proceeding will be.

The proceedings will be broadcast live at 2 PM PST/5 PM EST on C-SPAN 3 available on C-SPAN 3 at a later time.* If you are in or near San Francisco, you could also attend the hearing in person — it’s scheduled for 1:30 PM in the Ninth Circuit courthouse at Mission and 7th. Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and All of Us or None are organizing a group to attend — here’s the flyer (.doc file).

* EDIT: When I first visited the NAACP LDF case page, it suggested there would be a live broadcast, but it looks like they’ve since edited the page to reflect otherwise.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Problem of Legislative Deadlines

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Poor Eric Holder: It can’t feel good to know that the ACLU, Focus on the Family, the American Conservative Union, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Jim Wallis, Prison Fellowship, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP, and the National Immigrant Justice Center—among others—are all “furious” with you, and all for the same reason. Back in June, Obama’s attorney general missed his statutory deadline to promulgate national standards for reducing prison rape. The standards have been proposed by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was convened pursuant to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, and represent what are already best practices at the facilities that have done the most to curtail prison rape. But they still require Holder’s formal say-so to become binding conditions on federal funding for prisons and jails nationwide.

(Incidentally, for a skeptical take on whether such conditions can actually reduce prison rape, especially in light of widespread public indifference to the problem, see this 2003 Slate article by my criminal law professor, Bob Weisberg. Ever-insightful readers: Do you think things have changed since 2003? Just Detention International thinks so: “The standards release was a turning point in the struggle to end sexual abuse in detention. After decades of institutional denial, downplaying, and flippant repetition of stereotypes, government agencies and corrections officials have finally begun to describe the problem of sexual abuse behind bars as a serious violation of human rights … .”)

Yesterday, the above-listed coalition of strange bedfellows issued an open letter urging Holder to promulgate the standards sooner rather than later. In fairness, it’s not that Holder has completely ignored the issue: rather, he says his office needs more time to assess the implementation costs to prisons and jails (as required by the PREA itself), and to ensure that the regulations promulgated “will endure” (PDF link to Holder’s letter). But many advocates view the delay as indefensible foot-dragging in the face of widespread violations of prisoners’ human rights. In any event, this controversy sparked my interest in the broader question of statutory deadlines of this type. What exactly were the terms of the Attorney General’s deadline, and what, if any, are the consequences for Holder’s failing to meet it? If there are no consequences, what was the point of Congress’s legislating the deadline to begin with? I’ll (sketchily) consider these questions after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

States that Don’t Fix Prison-based Gerrymandering May Face Lawsuits

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If you want political power, you should move to City Council Ward 2 in Anamosa, Iowa. There, you’ll only have to share your City Council representative with 57 other constituents! In any of Anamosa’s other three wards, you’d have to share your representative with about 1,370 other constituents. How is this possible? Through the magic of prison-based gerrymandering. Anamosa’s Ward 2 contains a state penitentiary home to about 1,320 inmates, who get factored into the population count for the purpose of City Council districting even though they can’t vote, and are unlikely even to be from Anamosa.

That’s an extreme instance of prison-based gerrymandering, but it’s not as extreme as you might think. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has produced an informative publication, Captive Constituents (PDF download), that outlines the democracy-distorting effects of counting prisoners where they’re incarcerated when drawing state and local election districts. As the example of Anamosa demonstrates, prison-based gerrymandering is not primarily an urban-rural or racial issue. It dilutes the votes of everyone who doesn’t live in a district with a prison — like the rural Iowans who live in Anamosa City Council Wards 1, 3, and 4.

That said, prison-based gerrymandering undeniably has unique effects on urban minority communities. Read the rest of this entry »

The NAACP President’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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From an interview with the Big Think (video and full transcript here):

Question: What’s the most important thing Obama could do for black Americans that he hasn’t done yet?

Ben Jealous: The biggest piece of the agenda that doesn’t seem to be really even on the radar screen is serious criminal justice reform, serious criminal justice reform. Black people are 15% of crack users in this country. We use crack like every other group at about direct correlation with our percentage of the population. White people are 65% of the crack users in this country. White people are 5% of the people locked up for using crack, black people are 85% of the people locked up for using crack. Yeah, that issue, he was very clear when he was campaigning was — that that disparity was unacceptable and the disparity that compounds it, which is that the punishments for using crack are 100 times stiffer than for using powder, even though it’s the same drug as cocaine.

So, we would like to see him speak out on criminal justice issues. … In the last decade, I guess the good news, if you will, is that black drug arrests were down 20%. The other news is that white drug arrests, the bad news, were up 40%. The war on crystal meth that we are seeing right now, if you look at the footage, which is typically poor white people being locked up, engaged with the police and locked up. It’s literally a film negative. It’s just like it’s flipped from what we saw on the war on crack 20 years ago in poor black people. That’s not progress.

Written by sara

April 5, 2010 at 3:20 pm

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