Justice Update: Debate on Mass Incarceration, Criminal Records and the Economy

January 18, 2013

Upcoming Event: How New York Reduced Mass Incarceration

On January 30th, the Brennan Center will host a debate evaluating how and whether New York’s police policies led to a reduction of the state’s incarceration rate, and whether these policies should be a model for other states. At the event, co-sponsored by the Vera Institute of Justice, leading criminologists Dr. James Austin, expert witness in the landmark Supreme Court Plata v. Brown case, and Dr. Michael Jacobson, director and president of the Vera Institute, will discuss a new report documenting these shifts in New York. The debate will also feature Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Heather MacDonald, Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research; Glenn Martin, Vice President of the Fortune Society; Eugene O’Donnell, lecturer at John Jay College and former NYPD officer; and the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman and Inimai Chettiar.

For more information or to RSVP to the event, click here.

Brennan Center Highlights Impact of Criminal Records on the Economy

The Brennan Center filed comments yesterday with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the impact of criminal background checks on employment, and its particular effects for black and Latino workers. The Commission requested comments after an update to federal guidance that limits how employers can use arrest and conviction records in hiring decisions.

The comments, by Nicole Austin-Hillery, Thomas Giovanni, and Meghna Philip, explain that policies such as the new guidance help downsize the huge fiscal, economic, and social costs of discrimination against those with criminal records. “At the same time the U.S. is spending billions of dollars to maintain [its] system of mass incarceration, it is losing as much or more in revenue and labor due to restrictive employment practices that bar individuals with criminal backgrounds from obtaining stable employment.” Other advocacy groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, also plan to file comments.

Continuing Need for Smart Federal Budgeting Policies

When the U.S. was teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff in late December, the Brennan Center sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget urging the agencies to take a “rational, data-based, and economically rigorous approach” to making any cuts to DOJ’s budget.

The letter, signed by Chettiar and Austin-Hillery, offered a mechanism through which the federal government could prioritize its limited criminal justice resources, by “reduc[ing] funding for programs that do not effectively achieve legitimate public safety goals and preserv[ing] funding for programs that do… [the] DOJ can methodically ensure that programs that work continue to improve the country.” The Brennan Center urged the DOJ to preserve successful state performance incentive funding programs, and release elderly prisoners who pose little safety risk.

Brennan Center Files Amicus in Rhode Island Foreclosure Settlement Conference Case

On Monday, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals supporting a Rhode Island court program for foreclosure cases. The program helps borrowers and lenders agree on solutions that retain the value of mortgages and keep families in their homes. Some banks have challenged the court’s authority to establish the program.

The brief explains that the district court had the power to set up the program under court rules. Furthermore, “the process underway is not just fair and efficient; it will save millions of dollars for the parties and the state of Rhode Island.” The brief, co-authored by Mark Ladov and Matt Menendez, along with the National Consumer Law Center and Rhode Island Legal Services, was also signed onto by Direct Action for Rights and Equality and the Housing Network of Rhode Island. The court will hear argument in the case on February 5, 2013.

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