Justice Update: Election & Mass Incarceration, Supreme Court Hears Diversity Case

October 17, 2012


Mass Incarceration is a National Economic Issue

As last night’s debate made clear, the two central issues of the election are how to spur economic growth to reduce unemployment and how to trim government spending. President Obama has talked about “invest[ing] $2 billion in community colleges” and Gov. Romney has promised “better retraining programs that help to match unemployed workers with real-world job opportunities.”

Over at CNBC and The Huffington Post, the Brennan Center’s Justice Director Inimai Chettiar demanded specifics on the candidates’ plans to grow the economy. And as Chettiar points out, reforms to the nation’s incarceration regime, a costly government program that serves limited public safety goals, has received virtually no attention in this election cycle despite its disastrous economic consequences. Our prison system “squanders human capital in the worst way,” she writes. “Missed educational opportunities, interrupted employment and severed family connections weaken the communities to which prisoners return and make our nation poorer as a whole.”

Chettiar continued this theme when she spoke to the Congressional Black Caucus last month. “In a time of strained budgets and competing priorities, it may be useful to cast incarceration in different terms,” she suggested to lawmakers in a companion piece in The Hill.

Brennan Center Weighs in on Supreme Court Diversity Case

The Supreme Court heard argument last week in a case challenging the admissions policies of the University of Texas at Austin. At issue in Fisher v. Texas is whether race can be used as one factor in college admissions. The Brennan Center and the League of Women Voters filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting UT Austin. The brief provided comprehensive social science research demonstrating that a diverse student body leads to increased intellectual leadership and improved education for all students. Watch Chettiar discuss the case on Thom Hartmann’s The Big Picture.

Forbes took note of the Center’s brief to discuss how diversity leads to innovation, and over at The Hill Chettiar explained the danger of stifling diversity to lawmakers. “When people from different backgrounds and viewpoints come together to exchange ideas and knowledge, it produces new ideas and new knowledge. The United States’ singular advantage is our ability to create, not imitate.” She and Roopal Patel also explained in The Atlantic the impossibility of separating race from someone’s identity, which is an element in admissions.

Mark Ladov analyzed the oral argument for the American Constitution Society, and Sidney Rosdeitcher provided a detailed legal analysis of the case. Rosdeitcher also previews next week’s Supreme Court arguments in right to counsel, debt collection, and other justice-related cases.

Stabilizing the Foreclosure Crisis by Providing Legal Services

Mark Ladov and Meghna Philip submitted testimony for a public hearing before New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on civil legal services. Lippman made news earlier this year with his groundbreaking proposal requiring law students to spend 50 hours on pro bono work. The Brennan Center’s testimony focused on the cost-effectiveness of legal services, using homeowners facing foreclosure as an example. One New York program that advised troubled homeowners estimates it saved $68 for $1 spent because, among other things, the program preserved property values and spared families from homelessness.

Ladov also spoke to WCNY radio about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s suit against certain banks for defrauding investors through sales of mortgage-backed securities. Ladov advocated that proceeds from the suit should not only go investors, but to homeowners as well. 

In the Media

  • Inimai Chettiar is listed in the new 2012 directory of national Top Wonks, along with ten other Brennan Center staffers, on criminal justice reform and economic policy.
  • Chettiar explained for Bloomberg BusinessWeek how the new book Invisible Men “not only deconstructs the myth of black progress, but also the myth of American progress overall.” Read more at The Guardian about these hidden costs of incarceration.
  • Roopal Patel spoke to Lawyers.com about the growing trend to incarcerate people too poor to pay criminal justice debt. Patel also co-authored a motion for appeal in Michigan v Bailey, which could set a precedent to prevent this type of unnecessary incarceration.
  • Thomas Giovanni and Chettiar analyzed a series of reports by Justice Policy Institute explaining the high costs of a broken pre-trial and bail system.
  • Over at The Huffington Post, Gabriel Solis further explored Fisher v. Texas, explaining his own experience at UT Austin as well as the link between under-education and mass incarceration.

Future Events

  • Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Eliminating Racial Disparity, Oct. 18-19, 2012: This week the Brennan Center, the New York County Lawyer’s Association, and others will host this conference in New York City to develop concrete reforms to reduce racial disparities in the justice system. Nicole Austin-Hillery and Michael Waldman will deliver opening remarks, and Thomas Giovanni will moderate panels on prosecutorial discretion and pretrial incarceration.
  • A Discussion for Criminal Justice Advocates, Oct. 24, 2012: The Brennan Center, ACLU, John Jay College, and the Innocence Project will host a public discussion on solitary confinement in prisons. It will feature Maddy deLone, head of the Innocence Project, and Nick Yarris, a death row exoneree who spent time in solitary.
  • American Bar Association Fall Conference, Oct. 25-26, 2012: The Brennan Center is cosponsoring the ABA’s Criminal Justice Conference in Washington, D.C., which will focus on overincarceration. Speakers include: Edwin Meese III, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former U.S. Attorney General; Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson, vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission; and the Brennan Center’s Inimai Chettiar.

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