Justice Update: Election Criminal Justice Recap, Foreclosure Protections Threatened

November 26, 2012

Fiscal Arguments Not Enough for Voters on Criminal Justice

California’s referendum to abolish the death penalty may be this election’s most important case study for criminal justice advocates. The referendum would have saved $130 million yearly and the state’s execution of 13 prisoners since 1978 cost a whopping $4 billion. Yet voters in this cash-strapped state chose to stick with the death penalty.

Inimai Chettiar explained the subtleties of using fiscal arguments for The Huffington Post. “Social justice reformers are wise to cast arguments in economic terms. It is accurate that the calculus of costs and benefits drives decision-making at all levels – personal, governmental, and financial.” She cautions against “adopting the incomplete definition peddled by conservatives that fixates on fiscal costs” and to “remember that lurking alongside dollars and cents are values and misconceptions,” especially when speaking with the public.

As one way to change voter calculus, Gabriel Solis contemplated whether the public needs a different view of “justice.” Explaining how public messaging is key to justice reform, Meghna Philip contrasted voters’ enactment of a referendum easing California’s “Three-Strikes-You’re-Out-Law” with enactment a separate referendum expanding human trafficking laws so broadly that it could criminalize sex abuse victims.

Brennan Center Analysis Finds New Crime Data Misconstrued

A Brennan Center analysis of recent FBI and DOJ crime reports revealed the press misreported the DOJ data as an increase in violent crime when both reports actually showed a continuing drop in crime. Inimai Chettiar and Jim Lyons explained “sensational crime reporting is a venerable journalistic tradition. This phenomenon has led the U.S. to incarcerate more of its population than any country. When it comes to criminal justice, it is well past time to set aside superficial understanding and emotionalism and replace them with cold, hard facts.”

Chettiar wrote in Politico about how the media sowed unnecessary public fear via exaggerated news of rampant looting in the days after Hurricane Sandy.

New Federal Proposal Could Increase Preventable Foreclosures

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has issued a proposal to increase mortgage fees that could curb homeowner protections in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and Illinois. As Mark Ladov told the New York Post, the FHFA asserts that strong consumer protection laws increase lenders’ risk of loss, but these laws actually save money for homeowners, communities, and lenders by encouraging affordable alternatives to foreclosure that keep families in their homes.

Ladov and Matt Menendez filed formal comments with the FHFA explaining that foreclosure protections are particularly critical for communities of color that were targeted for subprime loans. The National Consumer Law Center joined the Center’s comments, and the Center for American Progress, Americans for Financial Reform, and numerous members of Congress also filed objections today.

In the Media

  • Thomas Giovanni discussed the shooting of a police officer by a parolee on National Public Radio's Morning Edition WNYC segment. He explained how current incarceration policies often lead to less public safety and more crime.
  • ThinkProgress quoted Inimai Chettiar’s analysis in CNBC on how ending incarceration for low-level crimes would bring economic benefits while protecting public safety.
  • In the Brennan Center post-election blog symposium, Giovanni contemplated the link between race and voting, and Chettiar explained how voters “signaled an understanding of the legitimate role of government in helping the country achieve prosperity.”
  • Mark Ladov explained in American Banker and the San Francisco Chronicle that payouts from the $25 billion national mortgage settlement are not sufficiently directed at hard-hit Black and Latino communities. The New York Times echoed the Brennan Center’s call for greater transparency and demographic data.
  • Today the Supreme Court begins another round of oral arguments, including in Henderson v. U.S. on the rights of criminal defendants, and Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk on access to the courts. Read Sidney Rosdeitcher’s legal analysis of both cases in this week’s Supreme Court Preview.

Future Events

  • National Legal Aid & Defender Association Conference, Chicago, IL, Dec. 5-8, 2012: The Brennan Center will join civil and criminal justice lawyers at NLADA’s annual conference, Building on our Legacy: The Next 100 Years. Nicole Austin-Hillery will lead a discussion on how the constitutional right to counsel is still not a reality fifty years after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision. Roopal Patel will speak on unnecessary incarceration for criminal justice debt, and Mark Ladov will explain challenges of the national mortgage settlement.

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