Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Criminal Justice System and Mandated Sentences Part 4

This is part 4, or the last part of an interview series about injustices in the US criminal justice system. You should first see part 1, then part 2, part 3 and finally this part 4.

Important Notes from part 4 of the Interview of Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen by Dr. James Haney

DBK: They wanted more police officers on the street to fight this war on drugs. And they got their 100,000 more police officers.

There were a hundred thousand more police officers put on the street and those police officers were put in primarily, minority communities. To look for drug users and drug dealers; and they found them.

From there what I wanted to look at was from 65, where we stopped basically, before we started talking about what happened once freedoms were given that had been deserved and fought for, for so many years.

Once those freedoms were given, all of a sudden you see the arrest rates of African Americans which had remained at about 25 percent (anywhere from 25 and 30 percent) from 1934 when the UCR started collecting arrest rate data.

From 1934 'til about 1966 arrest rates remained at about 25 to 30 percent for African Americans. And their prison population was about 25 to 30 percent, so it matched their arrest population.

Well, from the middle sixties on, what happened is, you still have an arrest rate of African Americans that runs from 25 to 30 percent on a given year but yet their prison population is made up:

65 to 70 percent of our prison population is African American Now!

And if you look at the Federal Prisons and people who are in Federal prison for non-violent drug offenders: It's 85 percent of non-violent drug offenders who are in Federal prison are African Americans. And this is because of this war on drugs.

What my concern is, it's because of the whole issue of privatization of prisons as well, coming right along side of this.

Ok, we're arresting all the drug dealers. And of course the drug dealers are African Americans, which we know they're not. And they're not arrested any more; they're looking for the African American drug dealer, but they can't find him because they still only have an arrest rate of 25 to 30 percent but they've got all these police officers looking for them; they can't find them. So obviously that's not who's dealing drugs and not who's using it.

At the same time you've got these disparities and arrest vs. incarceration rates which it should be like this:
(Photo: Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen making a gesture with her hands of how the arrest vs. incarceration rate should be but telling us that it is not really that way)

but it's not. You've got privatization of prison. So you've got all these prisons opening up. And one in particular has opened up in Northern Virginia that used to be one of the largest slave plantations back in the 1800s in the United States.

They're taking all the prisoners from Washington D.C., which primarily is going to be about 90 percent African American and putting them in that prison in Virginia, which used to be slave plantation lane. They're doing and they're in private prisons doing labor for free -- In this private prison in Virginia -- African American males who are in there for non-violent drug offenses.

JH: This has also been a part of the system in the State of Tennessee as well, has it not? The private criminal systems and efforts on the part of some peoples to increase their numbers? Is that true in reference to your statement here?

DBK: Right. Correctional Corporation of America is probably one of the biggest prison systems. We have a -- Correctional Corporations is here in Nashville -- a parting place. And they are housing a lot of inmates.

The reason why people are voting for, and agreeing with, and not screaming about this privatization of prison looking a lot like slavery, is because it's coming under the umbrella of, well it's saving the tax payer's money. And we don't want to pay taxes to keep people locked up, so if the private prison can do it cheaper, let 'em do it.

What they don't understand is that the private prisons are incarcerating people for profit. They're going into these prisons and they're making clothing and they're booking their airline flights and they're getting credit card information off of people who are calling in to buy things. And prisoners are on the phone booking your airline flight and getting your credit card information. Which isn't a big concern to me because you know they're not going to do anything with that information.

JH: This is still an exploitation of labor.

DBK: Yeah. That was my concern. It's not that they were getting information. It's that they're doing labor, making profit for corporations.

JH: Which use them to expand the system itself.

DBK: If you're incarcerating people for profit, then you're going to want to put more and more people in prison. You're not going to want to solve crime. You're going to want to lock people up.

JH: That's what it's all about.

DBK: Right.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Criminal Justice System and Mandated Sentences Part 3

This is part 3 of an interview series about injustices in the US criminal justice system. You should first see part 1, then part 2 and after viewing part 3 finally see part 4.

Important Notes from part 3 of the Interview of Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen by Dr. James Haney

Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen is talking about the Criminal Justice System in the United States.

JH: ...We continue talking about the institutionalization of racism. ...the whole issue is a part of the real sense of our society...

DBK: Where I kind of left of was the fact that, all of a sudden the civil rights legislation was passed. There are new freedoms for African Americans and other oppressed members of our society. But it was 1970. I mean, it wasn't even 5, maybe 6 years after this that the Nixon administration put an all out front on the war on drugs.

The war on drugs became a criminalization of black people. Drugs meant blacks, black meant crime. Drugs and crime meant let's lock up black people. It was never this intent until the 70s.

What concerns me about that is once the juror segregation and discrimination is gone, now all of a sudden you've got institutionalized racism.

You've got the menial portrayal that people who do drugs are African American. They're the people to fear as a group! Not just, we've got to fear a person who does drugs but we've got to fear the black male. Because the black male is the drug dealer, who's out killing people for drugs or killing people to sell drugs. And that's what we've got to be careful about.

So all of a sudden we've got a bunch more police officers on the street looking for the drug dealer who is African American male. Supposedly, but that's not reality. Reality is not that that's who was selling drugs.

Self report studies on drugs sales and drug use from 1970s on, which was data collected by the Michigan Alcohol and Drug Survey said that -- self report studies say that white European American males are the ones who are the drug dealers and the drug users at a much higher rate than African American males.

But the images of the media and the image of the political arena was that it was African American males. The African American males became a threat to the white population and the white politician and the white criminal justice system.

So once that happened, more legislation continued to be passed that was about the war on drugs. Every President, from Nixon on, that's what they fought for up until Barack Obama's administration.

The war on drugs wasn't really mentioned much at all in this because the economy was so bad. I think that people wanted to hear other things beside the war on drugs. But any politician who ran for office from the seventies on could not "not talk about" the war on drugs and not talk about crime and.

JH: Troubled cities

DBK: Right, or troubled cities. Or they would not had gotten elected. You had to say: what am I doing about crime. And you had to say, what am I doing specifically about the drug dealers on the street that are shooting each other.

That image of the drug dealer was a Black African American Male. So what are you doing about the inner city streets of America? What are you doing about the Detroits? What are you doing about the Chicagos? What are you doing about the L.A.s?

Ever since then, we've had legislation that's been passed, that's been revolving around this particular interest. I think the most damaging was the "Crime Control Bill" which said, If you've got just 5 grams of crack cocaine, you've got a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison vs. 500 grams of heroin, vs. 100 grams of regular cocaine.

We all know that cocaine is cocaine, whether it comes in the form of powder cocaine or rock. But we focused on, OK, we've got to get the people who've got crack -- and they're going to get for 5 grams of crack, -- they're going to get the same time as someone who has 100 grams or 500 grams of heroin.

The person who we saw as the crack dealer, specifically in the 80s, was the black African American male. So all of a sudden we've got all these people out on the streets -- looking for the crack dealer -- who was ONLY looking in African American communities. That's were the law enforcement officers were put.

Clinton's administration in the 90s also passed crime control legislation, put 100,000 more police officers on the street. Of course that crime control legislation: 100,000 more police officers went where?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Criminal Justice System and Mandated Sentences Part 2

First See Part 1 of this interview, then watch this video, and finally go on to part 3 and part 4.

Important Notes from part 2 of the Interview of Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen by Dr. James Haney

JH: We're talking to Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen from Tennessee State University and the topic is the Criminal Justice System from the United States.

...Were going to continue talking about what we call police brutality...

DBK: ...They had a publication and a march called "October 22" out in Southern California, where people would protest actual police brutality cases. And they published a book that was literally this thick:

Dr Deborah Burris-Kitchen(Photo: Dr. Burris-Kitchen making a gesture with her fingers showing that the book was about an inch and a half thick, full of police brutality cases.)

DBK: Talking about people that had been shot by the police. And these were NOT cases were the person was challenging the police officer or threatening the police officer. They were cases where the person did not have a weapon, the person's back was to the police officer. Obviously they were not threatening the police officer in any way and they should not have used that type of excessive force.

So that's why I wanted to talk about that. It's because I think there's still some obvious problems. If you have a group that can come up with that many people who have been victims of that type of crime, EVERY YEAR, and protest; literally hundreds of thousands protest this on October 22, then it's a problem.

I wanted to kind of go back to the legal code and how it came out of the European history because I think that's going to lead up to our final discussion as far as racial disparity is concerned. We'll talk about that in just a little bit.

When we talk about coming out of the legal code: The first laws that were written were basically to protect property rights owners in the United States. And those property rights owners were European Americans.

So, Excluded from protection from the legal code were obviously Native Americans, African Americans who were brought here: they were not US citizens or United States Citizens.

Because of that, the laws that were written to protect property rights were usually written as repressive laws against those who didn't have access to the ownership of property. Whether it was Native Americans, or whether it was people who were brought here from Africa against their will.

Because of that legislation, people of color were criminalized very early in our history. And continue to be criminalized throughout American history up until the 1865, 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery which passed.

Once they abolished slavery, they put in that "with exclusion" act.

Ok, slavery is abolished but with the "Exclusion" of those who have been convicted of a felony offense. And slavery could be used in the form of a punishment.

They still use that part of the legislation to enslave! Predominantly African American people who were convicted of crimes that they did not get their due process for. So it would go into court, and of course they would NOT get a jury. If they did, they certainly did not get a jury of their peers.

It was one's person's word against another's and of course, the white person's word was the word of the law. So the person of color was convicted of the particular crime and probably put back on the plantation that they were freed from a few years prior.

JH: That's similar to what you would call the "Chain Gang System" that many of these individuals had some how gone against the law, but it might not be legal. Legal in the terms of what they did but in the end they would be placed back into a situation where they would basically "enslave you" once again.

Is that the so called "Chain Gang System"?

DBK: Yes. That would be part of the chain gang system.

Many of the people were put right back on the slave property that they were on, prior to being freed from the 1865 legislation. So absolutely. And then of course, we had it in our legal code that sever but equal.

Plessy vs. Ferguson was saying also that it was illegal for an African American to go into white establishments, or sit at the front of the bus, or whatever it was that they were segregated from; the school systems...

So that was in place until Brown vs. the Board of Education back in 1954. So we've had a legal segregation, we've had legal discrimination in this country for years. In which, African Americans have been prosecuted because of this legal written documentation.

It wasn't until probably 1964, 1965 that civil rights legislation started putting it into place that legal segregation and legal discrimination was "almost" completely abolished.

The criminal justice system has always been, or had repressive laws against people of color in American History. And then once you look at, not only the laws, but the Court system and the fact that due process has never been a part of African American or Native American History, or anyone that wasn't a "white European American"...

JH: When you say Due Process, enslavement?

DBK: A jury of your peers, a fair trial, a speedy trial, this stuff was never accessible until probably 1960s legislation for African Americans or other people of color, or women, or different groups that have been discriminated historically up until that point.

So I think that's an important history to understand before we get into the racial disparities because without that history then it's going to be difficult to understand where we came from as far as once the civil rights legislation was passed. What's happened since then, that's lead to even more racial disparities, which you would think would be the opposite...

JH: In other words, it's almost a continuation of what it already had been. It really should not be surprising, I would imagine, to a person involved in the criminal justice system, like yourself, that this has happened. This is deja vu in many instances.

DBK: That they wouldn't find new repressive laws to make sure that a population that has been discriminated against historically continues to be discriminated against. Absolutely.

So when we look at "The War on Drugs" specifically, that's what I want to get into a little bit later.

When we look at the war on drugs specifically we can see that that's what's been the repressive law of today; of contemporary society: To make sure that there's over representation of people of color that are coming through the criminal justice system. Just like the juror segregation was used in the past to make sure that the criminal justice system was flooded with African Americans.

JH: ...It broadens our point of view in terms of problems that we will have to face, in terms of challenges. As you've indicated, this has always been a part of the American experience. I think that the more people recognize that this has been a part of the system, then it's easier to deal with it, when you think in terms of trying to move forward.

I think the system CAN be reformed. I think that there HAS been quite a bit of reform in the system but still, it's a real problem. Of course we'll talk about that as an issue. Later on, during this fine segment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Criminal Justice System and Mandated Sentences Part 1

This is part 1 of an interview series about injustices in the US criminal justice system. After viewing it and reading the transcript you should then see part 2, part 3 and finally part 4.

Important Notes from part 1 of the Interview of Dr. Deborah Burris-Kitchen (hereinafter DBK) by Dr. James Haney (hereinafter JH)

JH: Let's look at the Criminal Justice System from Dr. Burris-Kitchen's perspective

DBK: Three Aspects of the Criminal Justice System

1. Policing (Looking for People who are committing violations against our legal code)
2. The Courts (Those who prosecute those who are accused)
3. Corrections (The people who are responsible of taking care of the people who are sentenced under the criminal justice system)

Where the disparities lie is from the Courts into the sentencing aspect, then into incarceration. We've also got probation and parole. Parole is where they come out of the system. Probation is where they are basically at the front end. They are given probation as opposed to being sentenced to a prison system when they're convicted on an offense.

Our legal system came basically from the English Common Laws. So we're still a system that looks a lot like what was brought over by the English when they came to the United States.

JH: And so the whole aspect of the Criminal Justice System in the United States is really an extension, almost, of the English System?

DBK: Right! And when we get to that part of the discussion, that's going to play a big role, and why the system looks like it does, as far as it being somewhat discriminatory against different racial groups in our society.

JH: ...We've heard quite a number of people complain, quite recently about what they call Police Brutality. I don't think that it is as prevalent really today as it had been, I think in the past but is that a real issue today, in the criminal justice system

DBK: There's a lot more control over what goes on with Law Enforcement Officers, because they have cameras in their car now and they are constantly being watched. There's a lot more surveillance now than there ever used to be for police officers. But I still think that there is some police brutality that goes on. And one of the projects that I worked on out in Southern California was related to police brutality and they actually had a book that was published, it's called October 22, where they published all the different people who were actually killed by the police.

Monday, December 22, 2008

United States Court of Appeals Districts

There are currently 13 Different Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals in the United States. Each circuit Court of Appeals is in charge of hearing cases from a set number of States in the Union.
United States Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals hear appeals from Federal civil cases as well as from Federal Criminal cases. They also hear appeals from bankrupcy courts, tax courts and decisions made by Federal Administrative Agencies. The list of States that belongs to each Federal Circuit is determined by Title 28 U.S. Code, § 41.
The 13 Circuits

Map showing the what states belong to which Federal circuit Court of Appeals
  1. Main
  2. Massachusetts
  3. New Hampshire
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Puerto Rico
  1. Conneticut
  2. New York
  3. Vermont
  1. Delaware
  2. New Jersey
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. Virgin Islands
  1. South Carolina
  2. North Carolina
  3. Virginia
  4. West Virginia
  5. Maryland
  1. Louisiana
  2. Mississippi
  3. Texas
  4. Panama Canal Zone
  1. Kentucky
  2. Michigan
  3. Ohio
  4. Tennessee
  1. Illinois
  2. Indiana
  3. Wisconsin
  1. Arkansas
  2. Iowa
  3. Minnesota
  4. Nebraska
  5. North Dakota
  6. South Dakota
  7. Missouri
  1. Arizona
  2. California
  3. Idaho
  4. Montana
  5. Nevada
  6. Oregon
  7. Washington State
  8. Alaska
  9. Hawaii
  10. Guam
  1. Colorado
  2. Kansas
  3. New Mexico
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Utah
  6. Wyoming
  1. Alabama
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  • Judicial District Court of Appeals:
  1. District of Columbia
  1. Covers all Federal Judicial Districts
Each of the above United States Courts of Appeals are in charge of hearing appeals from a set number of Districts assigned to them. There are currently 94 districts. 89 of those districts are found within the 50 states. The other 5 districts are for cases stemming from locations such as Guam, The Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and The District of Columbia.
You can find what District you belong to as well as the specific Court you need to file your initial case in, by simply typing in your zip code in the www.uscourts.gov search filter.