Setting the Record Straight – Part I

An observation of the impact of criminal records on pursuing employment opportunities, its effect on national poverty, and the steps that have, can and should be taken to address this injustice.

by Scott E. Whitman

Image Available Here.

One in three U.S. adults has been arrested by age twenty-three.[1] In real numbers, between 70 and 100 million Americans possess some type of criminal record.[2] Even a minor criminal record—such as a misdemeanor or simply an arrest without a conviction—can create an array of lifelong barriers that stand in the way of professional and financial success.[3] This systemic issue has drastic implications for individuals’ and families’ economic stability, as well as for our national economy as a fleeting encounter with the criminal justice system may close every employment door to those who may need it most.[4] For some, this essentially leaves business ownership as the only meaningful option to provide for their families and to rehabilitate their image.[5] However, given the restrictions often preventing former felons from owning businesses, criminal records have come to serve as a major driver of poverty in the United States.[6]

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Traffic Stops and Discriminatory Policing in the United States

by Erin Killeen

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Many American drivers have been pulled over by a police officer at some point in their lives. Police make approximately eighteen million traffic stops per year in the United States.[1] Twelve percent of drivers are stopped per year by the police.[2] For minorities, that rate is higher: twenty-four percent of non-white drivers every year by the police.[3]

Anyone with a driver’s license knows that it is impossible to obey every traffic rule at all times. How many of us pause at a stop sign for precisely the right amount of time, or turn on our turn signal at precisely the correct distance from an intersection? It is well established that police use these minor traffic violations as a pretext to stop drivers and search their cars for more serious legal violations.[4] When more African American drivers are pulled over than white drivers, and more frequently subject to these searches when the police do pull them over, it becomes clear that the way police conduct these investigatory stops perpetuates the racial divide in America.[5]

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How to Actually Fix a Broken Window

To learn more about Broken Windows policing, check out Nowhere to Go: The Impacts of City Ordinances Criminalizing Homelessness, by Donald Saelinger, available on Westlaw and LexisNexis.

by Kimberly Kidani

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Image available here

In 1982, George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson wrote an article entitled Broken Windows, which purported to offer a policing strategy that would help police to serve the needs of communities.[1] This strategy empowered officers to focus on “order maintenance.”[2] The authors based the strategy outlined in Broken Windows on the premise that that crime and disorder are linked, and therefore increasing order through greater police presence in neighborhoods would prevent crime and make residents feel safer. In theory, this strategy would empower officers to restore a community through the policing of low-level offenses.[3] In practice, “broken windows” policing is an antiquated attack on the poor that the criminal justice system needs to replace with real solutions. 

Although The Atlantic published Broken Windows over thirty-five years ago, the article still has a large influence over how and what we police today. For example, New York City’s adoption of “broken windows” policing evolved into “zero tolerance” policing—strictly enforcing low-level offenses—which in turn motivated the city’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies.[4] Attorney General Jeff Sessions has explicitly encouraged broken windows policing.[5] He has followed through on this proclamation in his reforms of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) operations and initiatives. For instance, the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) no longer investigates and reports on problems within police departments on a voluntary basis. Instead, Sessions is encouraging “proactive policing” strategies—those that attempt to seek out and stop crime before it happens, like stop-and-frisk and zero tolerance policing—which many people associate with broken windows tactics.[6] However, although some supporters of Broken Windows credit this strategy with decreases in crime since the 1990s, other changes since then—including economic development and demographic shifts—make it impossible to definitively determine how effective Broken Windows is at reducing crime.[7] Regardless of its efficacy, this policing strategy resonates with many people in the community: A 2015 Quinnipiac poll indicated that a majority of New York City voters support broken windows policing.[8]

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The Justice Reinvestment Act: An Opportunity for Change and Progress in Maryland

by Sophie Breene

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Image available here.

On May 19, 2016, Governor Larry Hogan signed the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA) into law, making Maryland the 26th state to pass some form of justice reinvestment legislation in the past ten years.[1] Beginning in October 2017, incarcerated individuals can petition the courts to start putting the law’s provisions into action.[2] The law came to pass after several rounds of bipartisan negotiations, and thus critics on both sides of the political spectrum argue that JRA does too much or not enough for criminal reform.[3] Despite its limitations, the new law will help to curb the cycle of incarceration that disproportionately hurts people living in poverty.

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Backlash Against Proposition 47: Why the Criticism of California’s Criminal Justice Reform is Misguided

by Michael Waxman

In 2014, criminal justice reform advocates proclaimed the ballot initiative Proposition 47 a historic step toward transforming California’s beleaguered criminal justice system.[1] But in the years since, media outlets and law enforcement groups are lashing back at the law for increasing crime rates. However, this criticism is largely unfounded because there is little evidence that Prop. 47 has had a causal impact on crime. Moreover, critics have overlooked the law’s potential benefits from investing millions of dollars in treatment and services for low-income communities. Ultimately, Prop. 47’s success or failure in rehabilitating California’s justice system and revitalizing low-income communities will likely have major political and policy implications for criminal justice and poverty reform efforts at the local, state, and national level.

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In Memoriam: E. Clinton Bamberger Jr. (1926-2017)

by Brendan Kearney

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From left to right: Clinton Bamberger, Author’s sister, Author’s mother. Photo provided by Author.

Growing up in Baltimore, I attended Corpus Christi, a liberal outpost of the Catholic Church led during my childhood by a nun and then by a former Federal Communications Commission lawyer turned priest. After Mass, my mom would chat with other parishioners, and one of her favorites was a kindly older gentleman named Clinton Bamberger L’51. I liked him, too: he had an easy manner, spoke slowly and deeply, and one day, taught me a “secret” handshake, my memory of which he tested each time we crossed paths. I’m not sure where it came from, but the sequential combination of handholds and gestures made me feel like I had a special bond with an important man.

Over the years, my mom told me about things Mr. Bamberger had done, like help run the Legal Services Corporation and travel the world teaching law. I remember Mr. Bamberger himself telling me about his time at Piper & Marbury, when it was only a dozen or so lawyers, a far cry from the international behemoth DLA Piper is today. I came to understand that Mr. Bamberger had lived a full and admirable life. But I didn’t grasp the full measure of it until he died last month.

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How a Billionaire President Could Impact the Working Class

by Desiree Tims

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President Donald Trump Official Photo, available here

On November 8, 2016, the United States elected its forty-fifth President of the United States.[1] The historic presidential election of Republican Nominee, Donald J. Trump, who is a real-estate billionaire, sparked a national debate between those who support and oppose him due to his divisive campaign rhetoric and political inexperience.[2]

Polling data revealed that Trump received an overwhelming amount of support from working-class white voters.[3] Trump’s thematic “Make America Great Again” slogan was followed by his campaign promises to reinforce law and order, restrict immigration and reduce taxes.[4] Trump has many working-class supporters—some who yearn for the return of high-paying hourly factory jobs—as well as high-income supporters who deeply desire a change to the federal tax code.[5] Furthermore, Trump’s self-declaration as the “law and order candidate” has fueled the debate on criminal justice reform, racial disparities, and equitable application of law.[6]

President-elect Trump’s impact on working-class Americans remains to be seen, but here are three issues that could come to bear during his time in office:

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What Go Set a Watchman Can Teach Us

by Claire Chevrier

Trayvon Martin was killed by a man with multiple gun-related arrests who now makes his living painting Confederate flags.[1]  Mike Brown was shot by a police officer for allegedly stealing a box of cigarillos.[2]  Eric Garner was killed in front of all of us for selling loose cigarettes.[3]  Sandra Bland died in jail after a routine traffic stop.[4] Corey Jones was killed by a plain-clothed, rookie police officer who shot him while he was pulled over with car trouble.[5]  And Barack Obama is our president, perhaps creating a false collective “one Black friend,” thereby allowing implicit biases to bubble up where they were previously suppressed.

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Fighting Modern Day Debtors’ Prisons in the American Justice System

by Johanna Schmidt

Long lasting principles in the American criminal justice system require that it be sensitive to the needs and treatment of people who are indigent.[1]  This sensitivity encompasses all aspects of trials, including access to counsel on direct appeal,[2] transcripts, and court records.[3]

Most importantly, the Supreme Court has continually affirmed that people who are indigent must be fined differently from their wealthy peers. In Tate v. Short, the Court held that “the Constitution prohibits the State from imposing a fine as a sentence and then automatically converting it into a jail term solely because the defendant is indigent and cannot forthwith pay the fine in full.”[4]  Continue reading