Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative, and Steven Colbert

On December 4th, Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and professor at New York University School of Law, appeared with Steven Colbert on Comedy Central's Colbert Report to talk about the challenges of mass incarceration.  (The Equal Justice Initiative is a private, non-profit organization headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama.) Mr. Stevenson begins the interview citing some statistics that illustrate how mass incarceration affects our society: "The Bureau of Justice reported that at the start of this century that one in fifteen people can expect to go to jail or prison, but one in three black males can expect to go to jail and prison." Statistics such as these should convince the American people, no matter what their political affiliations, that our country needs prison reform.The short interview is worth a listen.

The Colbert Report
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Sunday, December 8, 2013

November 24th New Jim Crow Task Force Meeting

Nineteen people people participated in the meeting of the North Shore New Jim Crow Task Force on Sunday, November 24, 2013, at the Northshore Unitarian Universalist church in Lacombe, LA. Among the participants were visitors from Ohio, formerly incarcerated people who spoke of their experiences, religious leaders, a local criminal defense lawyer, representatives of local organizations, members of the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society, and regularly attending task force members.

Bonnie Schmidt opened the meeting with a few words about the task force's mission, and then Ann Porter gave the group some background description on the musical group, The Shiv, based at Southeastern in Hammond, LA. The group's You-Tube version of the song "New Jim Crow" was then played as an introduction to the meeting, as it highlights Louisiana's drug/prison system.

A local criminal defense lawyer then provided the group with legal information and background on federal and state drug laws. He explained some of the typical sentencing for scheduled drug offenses and the inequity of those sentences compared to the sentencing for DWI convictions. He also described some of the differences between the state and federal judicial systems, noting how sentencing in federal courts depends on "criminal points" the suspect may or may not have accrued from prior convictions. In addition, he spent some time explaining jury trials in Louisiana and the role of district attorneys in St. Tammany parish specifically. At the close of his talk, the criminal defense attorney fielded questions from the audience.

The meeting was wrapped up with two brief presentations from task force members Anita Dugat-Greene and Ann Porter. Anita showed the participants the task force's new blog, Equal Justice Louisiana, which she is currently maintaining for the group. Ann Porter described the exciting possibilities of having the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and the American Civil Liberties Union co-sponsor in our area a forum on criminal justice reform, much like the panel discussion that took place in Lafayette, LA, on November 13th at South Louisiana Community College. The Abita Springs Town Hall was suggested as a possible venue for such a program.

The next meeting of the North Shore New Jim Crow Task Force will be scheduled in January of 2014.