At our October 1st Symposium: Understanding & Dismantling Mass Incarceration, we asked the audience members to tell us what they thought the most urgent issue regarding this large, overwhelming structure we call mass incarceration was; where, as North Carolinians, we should focus our attention as we work to change the current state of our criminal justice system. Below you’ll see the various answers to these questions. Attendees were also given red dots with which to “vote” for other’s ideas if they agreed it was an issue calling for immediate attention.
The four issues that were voted by attendees to be most urgent, along with some great resources for working on these issues:
Addressing the school-to-prison pipeline in North Carolina is is particularly urgent because here all 16 & 17 year olds are automatically prosecuted as adults in North Carolina—we are only one of two states in the Nation that do this. Work has already started to #Raisetheage in North Carolina: see Youth Justice North Carolina, NC Child, and Raise the Age North Carolina for more information. Also to learn more about the school-to-prison-pipeline, make sure to watch this video created through a partnership between Youth Justice North Carolina and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
Economic Pitfalls of Criminal Justice Involvement
There is a reason we dedicated an entire panel to the economics of mass incarceration at the Symposium– from money bonds required for release pretrial; to the individual’s monetary burden once convicted in the form of fines, court fees, and probation fees; to the cost to society to pay for imprisoning so many people– the costs to individuals and to us collectively are way out of hand. NC-CRED itself is advocating for pretrial release reform. To learn more about the high costs of imprisonment to defendants and their families, read this report from the Brennan Center at NYU School of Law. Finally, the arguments that our current criminal justice system is too expensive to be justified–not to mention the high costs on the lives of the people imprisoned– is creating a bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform. You can see Representative Madden, who spoke at the Symposium, talking about this issue here.
By far the largest number of attendees agreed that re-entry issues were the most important area for reform. The Ban the Box campaign got the largest number of votes in this category, but a slew of issues were identified by our knowledgeable audience: inability of convicted felons to vote, to receive financial aid for education, or to live in public housing. Some called it the “revolving door,” or indicated a need for programs in prisons to prepare those who are incarcerated for re-entry. Benevolence Farm joined us at the Symposium to educate our attendees about their novel program–a transition house and working farm for women being released from prison to live and develop work skills as they acclimate to life outside prison. We were also proud to highlight the work Community Success Initiative at the Symposium, a nonprofit that serves people who are or have been entangled in the criminal justice system.
Abolition of the Death Penalty
As incarceration rates began to surge in the 1970s, “death sentencing rates and execution rates [also] reached highs that the United States had not seen in fifty years, while every other Western democracy converged on abolition as a reflection of a growing consensus that the death penalty constitutes a violation of international human rights.” (Steiker, 2014) There have been several victories against the death penalty since the turn of the century, Nebraska’s abolition being the most recent, but death sentences and executions are still being utilized, even as more and more innocent people are being released from death row. The NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation are two local groups working on ending the death penalty in North Carolina.