Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Archive for the ‘Upcoming Events’ Category

In an Age of Mass Incarceration, Should Good People Be Prosecutors?

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That was the question posed in an October 2009 debate hosted by the NYU Law Forum (full video above) (OK, so I added the “in an age of mass incarceration” part, but I think it’s implied). Paul Butler, a self-described “recovering” federal prosecutor and the author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice (New Press, 2009), says “No”:

[As a black prosecutor, Butler said he] felt his presence was meant to be evidence that the U.S. justice department was diverse, and that the law was being applied fairly, justly—to ensure the American people that “everything’s cool.”

“But, ladies and gentlemen, everything is so not cool,” Butler said. “The United States locks up more people than any country in the history of the world. …When crime goes up, the prison population goes up. When crime goes down, the prison population goes up. When crime rates stay the same, the prison population goes up.” According to Butler, this is a result of excessively harsh sentencing laws and the “dysfunctional politics of law in the United States.”

Butler contended that with racial profiling by police and mandatory sentences for many drug crimes, prosecutors have little power to fight these problems from the inside. To answer the question at the center of the debate, the efforts of good people would be wasted as prosecutors, in Butler’s view. [NYU professor Anthony] Barkow, however, said that attorneys, even when they are not the lead prosecutor, can and do make discretionary decisions that allow them to work within the law to have influential voices in cases. “Supervisors will often defer, extensively in my experience, to the line prosecutors,” Barkow said. “So the line prosecutors making all these discretionary decisions are really kind of driving the bus most of the time.”

Incidentally, I noticed that the NYU Law Forum is also planning a debate this coming March on the topic, “Does the United States incarcerate too many people?” Though readers can probably guess what my answer would be to that question, I’m sure the debate will make for an interesting discussion and I’ll look forward to the recap and video on the NYU website.


Written by sara

February 15, 2010 at 8:28 am

Upcoming Event: Imprisoned at Yale Law School

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On March 4-5, Yale Law School is putting on what looks to be a great conference on all aspects of prison reform, entitled “Imprisoned.” For details or to register, click here. Panel topics include solitary confinement, immigration detention, prison litigation, and the relationship between law schools and prisons, and the line-up of panelists includes leading experts and practitioners: U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and many more.

Upcoming Event: The New Jim Crow

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Stanford Law School will host Ohio State professor Michelle Alexander this Wednesday, Feb. 10, to discuss her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2010). Here’s the publisher’s blurb on the book:

As the United States celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status—much like their grandparents before them.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community—and all of us—to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

Written by sara

February 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Upcoming Event: Black Inmates at Alcatraz

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This Saturday, Feb. 6, as part of its Black History Month programming, the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library will host a screening and Q & A with local filmmaker Kevin Epps, who will present his 2009 documentary “The Black Rock”:

The untold story of the black experience at Alcatraz Prison as told through the eyes of Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, infamous Harlem gangster; Robert Lipscomb, counterfeiter turned prison activist; and William “Ty” Martin, the only black inmate to participate in a planned escape from Alcatraz.

(Here’s a list of additional screenings this month around San Francisco.)

Written by sara

February 2, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Upcoming Event: Three Perspectives on Race and Incarceration

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This Thursday, Feb. 4, Stanford Law School will host a panel entitled “Three Perspectives on Race and Incarceration” (free and open to public with RSVP at link above):

Why are people of color—African American males in particular—grossly over-represented in prisons and in jails relative to the numbers in the U.S. population? What happens to them in prison? What happens when they get out? The purpose of this panel is to examine the causes and consequences of racial disparities in imprisonment from three different vantage points. Professor Steven Raphael will discuss the relationship between criminal justice policies and racial disparities in imprisonment. Filmmaker Tamara Perkins will discuss a new documentary she is developing which tells the stories of black men in San Quentin State Prison. Finally, Chief Ronald Davis will discuss a re-entry program he has developed in collaboration with Free At Last in East Palo Alto.

Written by sara

February 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

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