The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Criminal Justice System
Our criminal laws, while facially neutral, are enforced in a manner that is massively and pervasively biased. The injustices of the criminal justice system threaten to render irrelevant fifty years of hard-fought civil rights progress.
July 7, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., speaking at the June 2001 introduction of the End Racial Profiling Act. The bill has been introduced in previous Congresses, but hasn't passed. ERPA has not yet been introduced in this Congress.
A new report jointly authored by the Rights Working Group and the American Civil Liberties Union found that racial profiling by law enforcement agencies still persists on our nation's roadways, in airports, and near our border and urges Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).
ERPA would prohibit all law enforcement agencies from racial profiling, require agencies to collect data on the number of stops, searches, and arrests by race and gender, and allow victims of racial profiling to sue local, state or federal authorities.
"The U.S. government must take urgent, direct action to rid the nation of the scourge of racial and ethnic profiling and bring this country into conformity with both the Constitution and international human rights obligations," said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program.
The report cited several studies in 22 states showing that African-American and Latino drivers are more than twice as likely to be stopped, searched, or arrested by law enforcement officers as White drivers. Racial and ethnic profiling has contributed to the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in the American criminal justice system, the report states.
The report also assessed federal programs, including Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism efforts, and found a rise in racial profiling of immigrants and foreign nationals from Muslim-majority countries.
The report was submitted last week to a human rights body at the U.N. that monitors compliance with International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
June 25, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) is calling for the Senate to lift restrictions that make it harder for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to provide legal services to low-income people.
The LSC is a non-profit corporation created by Congress in 1974 to ensure equal access to justice for millions of Americans who need but cannot pay for a lawyer. The LSC is primarily funded by Congress and gives grants to free legal aid organizations around the country that help low-income Americans with legal matters.
In a letter to the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, LCCR said: "In these times of economic distress, when more and more people require help in battling foreclosure and eviction, securing unemployment and benefits, and dealing with medical and insurance matters, the Senate must assist those most vulnerable by funding the LSC sufficiently and by lifting no-cost restrictions."
Since the 1990s, the LSC has suffered budget cuts and a number of restrictions – including those preventing legal aid lawyers from collecting attorneys' fees and LSC clients from joining class action lawsuits – which have forced it to turn away nearly a million cases a year. The House passed a budget recently that included significant increases in funding and removed the restriction on the collection of attorneys' fees, but left in place many of the other restrictions. The Senate is expected to consider the funding bill for the LSC this week.
June 3, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Troy Davis' sister Martina Correia speaks at Action Day for Troy Davis on October 26, 2008, in Atlanta, Ga. Photo Credit: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Congressional leaders and civil rights groups are calling for intervention in the case of Troy Davis, who currently sits on death row in Georgia for a murder he may not have committed.
On May 22, 24 members of Congress sent a letter to Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, requesting federal action on Davis' behalf. Other groups such as Amnesty International and the NAACP have launched petitions that will be submitted to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, as well as other government officials, demanding justice.
In 1991, Troy Davis was found guilty of the murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga., based solely on witness testimony. Since then, seven of the nine non-police officer witnesses have taken back their testimony against Davis. Many of the witnesses claim to have been pressured into providing damaging testimony against Davis by police officers eager for a conviction.
In light of this new evidence, many people think that Davis deserves a new trial.
Despite the withdrawn testimonies and the absence of physical evidence to tie Davis to the crime, the courts have continuously denied his petitions for a new trial. On April 16, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Davis a hearing to present new evidence, writing, "Davis has not presented us with a showing of innocence so compelling that we would be obligated to act today."
Troy Davis is now petitioning the Supreme Court to send his case back to a federal district court to hear new evidence supporting his innocence. The petition says that going forward with Davis' execution without a "full and fair hearing in which he could make a truly persuasive demonstration that he is actually innocent" would be unconstitutional.
Current law makes it difficult for a death row inmate to appeal his or her case to the higher courts. This has spurred civil rights leaders to appeal for government intervention. "An innocent man may be executed." says Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, in a statement to the public. "You and I must work together to reform our country's criminal justice system, and we must start by saving the life of one man."
May 21, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
A new report released by the National Council of La Raza and the Campaign for Youth Justice yesterday finds that the U.S. justice system incarcerates more Latino youth than white youth and treats them more harshly for similar offenses.
The justice system incarcerates nearly 18,000 Latino youth each day and holds nearly one in four in an adult jail or prison. The report shows that holding Latino youth in adult facilities subjects them to significant dangers, such as suicide and rape, and causes severe emotional damage due to unjust treatment and the lack of therapeutic care.
The report calls on Congress to provide funds for community-based programs and alternative treatments to incarceration that effectively promote educational and emotional development among Latino youth and to reauthorize and update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act this year to reduce racial disparities in the justice system and ban youth from being housed in adult jails. It also recommends that state and local policymakers stop housing Latino youth in adult jails and transfer resources from incarceration to effective, community-based programs.
May 14, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
A study last December from Northeastern University shows that youth crime may be rising, particularly among African-American youth, and that Congress has to do more to prevent kids and teens from becoming involved in violent crime and gang activity.
In February, both Democrats and Republicans, led by Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., introduced the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Youth PROMISE Act provides funds to communities with the highest rates of crime and gang activity to each form a council of local leaders, such as representatives from law enforcement, schools, and social service organizations, that will develop a plan for preventing young people in their community from joining gangs or engaging in criminal activity.
"I have long believed that the best way to reduce violence in this country is through prevention, and the Youth PROMISE Act does just that. We must engage youth in positive ways through education, after school programs, sports, as well as family and community support to keep kids away from the dangers of gangs and other violent activities," said Rep. Mike Castle, R. Del., when the bill was introduced.
In this video submitted to 99Problems.org, a site where people can upload video testimonials about problems facing their communities, Joe Hill of Philadelphia explains why he sees a need for the Youth PROMISE Act in his community.
May 13, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Congress is closer than ever to eliminating a 100-to-1 disparity in federal cocaine sentencing that affects African Americans at much higher rates than Whites.
In current federal drug sentencing law, someone who sells crack cocaine faces the same sentence as someone who sells 100 times as much powder cocaine. For example, someone who sells 5 grams of crack cocaine would receive the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence as a person who sells 500 grams of powder cocaine.
April 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Sister Helen Prejean, one of the nation's leading advocates against the death penalty, celebrates her birthday this week.
Prejean became involved in death penalty issues more than 20 years ago after befriending a convicted rapist and murderer, Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was on death row in Lousiana. Prejean's met Sonnier through her order's community outreach program. During Sonnier's time on Louisiana's death row, Prejean visited him regularly and, in the course of those visits, began to learn more about how the state executed death row inmates.
Prejean's relationship with Sonnier became the first of many that she would have with death row inmates, which convinced her that the death penalty system is ineffective in administering justice.
"The death penalty, far from being a peripheral moral issue concerned about how we should punish a few terrible criminals, reveals the very soul of America. It lays bare our deepest wounds as a nation -- our racism, our assault on poor people, and our ready instinct to use violence to solve social problems," said Prejean, during a speech at the Democratic Interfaith Gathering in Denver in August 2008.
Currently, 35 states allow capital punishment. In March, New Mexico repealed the death penalty, making it the second state to do so since a U.S. Supreme Court decision reinstated it in 1976. Five other states currently have pending legislation to abolish the death penalty.
April 15, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Two reports released this week address civil rights issues in the criminal justice system:
April 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Senator Patrick Leahy, D. Vt., recently introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a law that was designed to reduce juvenile crime and protect children in the juvenile justice system.
Congress initially passed the JJDPA in 1974 to keep children from having contact with adults in jails and prisons and establish rules under which juvenile offenders can be detained.
However, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice, an average of 7,500 juveniles are incarcerated in adult jails every day because the JJDPA doesn't apply to children who are being tried as adults. The new bill will strengthen restrictions on the pretrial detention of juveniles in adult jails and the detention of children who commit offenses like truancy or breaking curfew.
The majority of youth in detention centers across the country are African American or Latino, even though the law was amended during a previous reauthorization in 1994 to require states to find out why disproportionate numbers of minority juveniles are detained.
The new bill also provides federal funding for programs that prevent child delinquency and reduce crime and recidivism among youths
March 23, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Fifteen-year-old Brett Elder died yesterday in Bay City, Mich., after he was Tasered by a police officer trying to break up a fight. State police are investigating the circumstances of the death.
Many law enforcement agencies in the United States use Tasers, a type of weapon that shoots dart-like electrodes on conductive wires, causing an electric shock which temporarily incapacitates the person who is struck.
Although Tasers are not meant to be lethal, a August 2008 report from Amnesty International found that in the United States since 2001, 334 individuals died after being struck by Tasers. Around 90 percent of those individuals were unarmed.
In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about U.S. police using Tasers against "unruly schoolchildren," people with mental disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, and unarmed suspects fleeing minor crimes. The committee called for Tasers and similar weapons to be used only where "greater or lethal force would otherwise have been justified."
More Information On
Social Justice Brief: A Social Work Perspective on Drug Policy Reform - National Association of Social Workers
Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America - Rights Working Group (2011)
The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs - The Sentencing Project
A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society - The Sentencing Project
Critical Condition: African American Youth in the Justice System (pdf) - Campaign for Youth Justice
Latest on criminal justice from Unfinished Business.
In The News
Recent news clips on this issue.