Governor Beverly Perdue’s new 34-member StreetSafe Taskforce is a step in the right direction.  With prison populations breaking state budgets throughout the nation, this year is a perfect time to discuss the best ways to ensure that offenders can become successful contributing members of society.

The Taskforce is tasked with ensuring that the public is safe while also discussing the best practices to reduce recidivism and to keep prison entry rates from increasing.  Community programs that have been on the chopping block for years now have a chance at survival.

Attorney General Roy Cooper will co-chair the Taskforce.  Perhaps, conversations on the effectiveness of reentry versus lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenders will increase support for reforming North Carolina’s costly habitual felon law.

Today, Whitney Houston will sit down with talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Many will tune in because they love Whitney as a musical artist.  But many others will watch because they are seeking inspiration for their own substance addictions.

Whitney Houston, a Grammy-winning international songbird, is in the fight of her life.  Like others, she is battling a substance addiction that can consume a person’s entire being and change the world for all around them.   If viewers can take something away from watching Whitney on Oprah today, perhaps they will understand that substance abuse is real and that status and class protects no one from addictive substances.

If Whitney’s story inspires one more person to fight their addiction, her story will not be in vain.

A Glimpse of Whitney speaking about her fight

For North Carolinians who ever questioned the Racial Justice Act, Tom Keith is Exhibit A.

Keith, the district attorney for Forsyth County, is always quick to make a case against the new law that allows criminals on death row a chance to have their convictions overturned if they can prove race played a part in their conviction.

But in an Aug. 26 interview with Yes Weekly of Greensboro, Keith clearly displayed why the Racial Justice Act is so important. The top law enforcement official in Winston-Salem, it appears, believes African-Americans are naturally inclined to crime.

“If you’re African-American, you’re six, seven or eight times more likely to have a violent history,” Keith said in the article. “I didn’t go out there and put a gun in your hand and say, ‘You commit eight crimes and I’m a white man, I’ll commit one.’ That’s just instincts, that’s just how it is.”

Today, a group of pastors and other Forsyth County residents held a rally to demand Keith’s resignation. For them, it’s not acceptable that their district attorney holds views that echo Jim Crow.

 

Send in the mirrors.  Obviously there’s a shortage, judging by the lawmakers and district attorneys who acknowledge racial bias in the justice system in neighboring counties, but never in theirs.

The North Carolina Racial Justice Act, which simply allows defendants in capital trials to present another piece of evidence that race was a significant factor in their case, is up for a concurrence vote in the Senate today.  

Senators are being asked to restore the bill’s original intent of securing fairness in the ultimate punishment. It strips out amendments inserted by Senators eager for the state to resume executions, and whom still voted against the bill even after their amendments were added. 

The Racial Justice Act has been subjected to a cruel, years-long political game among legislators wary that their votes might make them vulnerable in an election year.  But more than most questions put before our lawmakers, this bill is about life and death judgments. Lawmakers have long ignored racial prejudices and assumptions that are typically unspoken and infinitely present in capital sentencing.

In the last year, three innocent black men were released from death row. It’s bad enough that those men served a combined 41 years in prison on death row, but they would have been executed without the state’s court-imposed moratorium on the death penalty.

Today blacks make up 20 percent of the state’s population but 60 percent of those on death row.

It’ll take Senators willing to put away the politics for a day, and who have the conviction to take a hard look in the mirror before voting, to push percentages like that into the history of another era.

 

 

For more information on the NC Racial Justice Act – Senate Bill 461, please visit www.ncmoratorium.org.

NC Racial Justice Act Video 

To contact a Senator to urge support for the bill, link to

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1576/t/6273/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=27713

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Carolina Justice Policy Center is a partner group of the NC Coalition for a Moratorium on Executions.

Death Row Exonerees Levon 'Bo' Jones, Jonathon Hoffman, Glen Edward Chapman & Prison Exoneree Darryl Hunt

Death Row Exonerees

Reports of inmate abuse are flying fast and furious these days. 

In North Carolina, the sad saga of Timothy Helms has been unfolding for weeks in The News & Observer. It appears guards severely beat Helms, leaving him partially paralyzed. Last week we learned that guards doused the recuperating and wheelchair-bound Helms with pepper spray as he rattled a hospital room door at Central Prison.

In January, the News &Observer reported the allegations of an Anson County inmate that he was drenched with pepper spray and that guards wouldn’t allow him to wash off the burning chemicals or get prompt medical attention.  It’s enough to make one wonder what’s going on inside the prison walls when the media isn’t watching.

Even more troubling is that the state is moving in a direction that could lead to more reports of inmate abuse.  Legislators want to close several prisons and double-cell inmates to save money. At the same time, prison personnel are increasingly frustrated with pay cuts and longer hours. The elimination of popular rehabilitation programs won’t help matters.

A new coalition is organizing to help monitor prison conditions and advocate for the rights of inmates.  NC CURE, which already is looking into a plethora of letters from prisoners, is partnering with the Carolina Justice Policy Center to investigate those allegations even when the media isn’t watching.