Scathing new report: Racism, bias and prosecutor misconduct plague “dying” U.S. death penalty

Death-penalty3The Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School is out with a damning new report this morning that seems certain to put another nail in the coffin of the death penalty in the United States. This is from the release that accompanied “Too Broken to Fix: Part I — An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties”:

“Today, Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project released a new report offering an in-depth look at how the death penalty is operating in the handful of counties across the country that are still using it. Of the 3,143 county or county equivalents in the United States, only 16—or one half of one percent—imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. Part I of the report, titled Too Broken to Fix: An In-depth Look at America’s Outlier Death Penalty Counties, examined 10 years of court opinions and records from eight of these 16 “outlier counties,” including Caddo Parish (LA), Clark (NV), Duval (FL), Harris (TX), Maricopa (AZ), Mobile (AL), Kern (CA) and Riverside (CA). The report also analyzed all of the new death sentences handed down in these counties since 2010.

The report notes that these “outlier counties” are plagued by persistent problems of overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias. Researchers found that the impact of these systemic problems included the conviction of innocent people, and the excessively harsh punishment of people with significant impairments. Many of the defendants appear to have one or more impairments that are on par with, or worse than, those that the U.S. Supreme Court has said should categorically exempt individuals from execution due to lessened culpability….

In conducting its analysis, the Project reviewed more than 200 direct appeals opinions handed down between 2006 and 2015 in these eight counties. The Project found: Read more


Editorial: NC voucher program = “discrimination tax”

School-vouchersThe lead editorial in this morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record provides an apt characterization of North Carolina’s school voucher (aka “opportunity scholarships”) program. It calls the program a “discrimination tax.”

As Chris Fitzsimon first publicized a few weeks back, the voucher program funnels state dollars to private schools that, among other objectionable things, discriminate against LGBT kids and families and teach children religious-based concepts as “science.” This morning’s editorial focuses on the LGBT discrimination. Here’s the N&R:

“Schools participating in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program shouldn’t discriminate.

All taxpayers fund the voucher program, and all should expect it to offer equal opportunities.

That’s not how it is, however, according to recent reporting by The Charlotte Observer. It found that several private schools in its area expressly refuse to admit LGBT students, or claim the right to expel them for that status. Some require parents to be in a traditional marriage.

Such attitudes could be ignored by outsiders if those same schools weren’t accepting public dollars to educate North Carolina children. But once they put their hands out for the state cash, they assume a greater responsibility….

By far, most of the voucher money paid so far has gone to schools with religious viewpoints. Maybe if a school denied admission to children from Republican families, the GOP lawmakers who created this program would see why discrimination shouldn’t be supported by public dollars. Rather than worry about such things, however, they are rapidly expanding the voucher program.

Many parents want their children to receive private education and religious instruction at school. If that’s their choice, they should be willing to pay for it.

The public, on the other hand, shouldn’t be taxed for it, especially if participating schools discriminate for any reason.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

NC Budget and Tax Center, TANF 20 Years Later

Twenty years later, TANF does little to relieve poverty and hardship

This blog is the second post in a series that will detail how lawmakers have weakened Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the past 20 years, explain why TANF is a cautionary tale rather than a model for other work and income support programs, and map out a better way forward.

TANF does little today to help families make ends meet or to connect them to work to reduce their need for supports—thus violating the purported intention of the 1996 welfare law to move people off welfare to work. Known as WorkFirst in North Carolina, TANF is a cautionary tale, not a model, for lifting families out of poverty.  Below are the top three reasons why.

1. WorkFirst provides a safety net for fewer families who are poor, despite increased need. Just 8 out of 100 North Carolina families with kids living below the federal poverty line benefit from the program today, as opposed to 74 out of 100 when the law was first enacted (known as the TANF-to-poverty ratio; see the chart below). There are only seven states with a lower ratio. In other words, cash assistance through TANF is simply inaccessible in North Carolina.

In fact, WorkFirst failed to cushion families against deep spikes in unemployment during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The TANF-to-poverty ratio either stayed flat or fell every year since the 2007 downturn. Since 2006-07, nearly 50,000 more families with children live in poverty, but caseloads dropped by more than 36 percent. One would expect, at minimum, for the cash assistance program to respond modestly to meet the surge in poverty, but WorkFirst failed completely to react and left a lot of needy families without the basics. Read more


Charter advocate calls for class-action lawsuit against North Carolina counties over funding

Former N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon

Former N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon

Marcus Brandon—former Democratic representative in the N.C. General Assembly, Guilford County resident, and, through the group Carolina CAN, a staunch advocate for school choice in North Carolina—admits he only achieved two of his top three goals in this year’s legislative session.

The so-called “achievement school district” model, a controversial means for charter takeovers of a handful of low-performing schools, is now law. So is a mammoth expansion of the state’s publicly-funded voucher program, which pays to allow low-income children to attend private schools.

But when it comes to charter school funding, a frequent rallying cry for advocates who say charters are being short-changed, Brandon points out Republican-backed legislation opening up more coffers of public funds to charters stalled in a legislative committee in June.

Now, Brandon is promising to be “more forceful” on this issue in the coming months. He started Monday, during a presentation before the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, by suggesting charter-backers should file a class-action lawsuit against every county in North Carolina to collect more cash from public coffers.

“This is money that charters are owed,” said Brandon, who frequently breaks with the state’s Democratic party when it comes to education issues.

As Policy Watch reported this year, proponents such as Brandon say charters, which are publicly funded but are granted greater flexibility in curriculum than traditional public schools, are not being funded properly.

This year’s legislation sought to open up more funds for charters, including grants, gifts and sales tax revenues that charters are legally excluded from receiving in North Carolina.

The bill was met with skepticism from both Republican and Democratic leaders in the legislature, with some pointing out that the bill would have allowed charters to collect on school lunch funding grants despite the fact that charters are not required to provide lunches to their students.

Still, Brandon said Monday that he believes there’s a “good chance” charter supporters win out in their annual funding war with traditional public schools.

Monday’s presentation was made mostly to conservative advocates in the state and a handful of members of the media.

At one point Monday, Brandon blamed Democrats and public school supporters for failing to understand the root causes of poverty and the “cultural issues” in low-performing districts. For instance, he said black students “don’t want to come to school (as early as) 7:30 a.m.”

“Black people are different,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Read more


Texas judge’s decision should have no impact on HB2 lawsuit

NO-HB2A decision this morning by a conservative federal district court judge in Texas purporting to enjoin the Obama administration from implementing directives to aid transgender students in the public schools should have no impact on the HB2 lawsuit that currently sits in the courtroom of another conservative federal judge here in North Carolina.

As AP reported earlier today:

“A federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration’s order that requires public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

In a temporary injunction signed Sunday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the federal education law known as Title IX ‘is not ambiguous’ about sex being defined as ‘the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.’…

The federal government issued the mandate days after the Justice Department sued North Carolina over a state law that requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch likened that law to the policies of racial segregation. Republicans have argued such laws are commonsense privacy safeguards.”

Happily, however, the ruling should not endanger the ongoing challenge to North Carolina’s infamous HB2 law that is currently pending before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem.

This is from the folks at the ACLU of North Carolina, who are helping to spearhead that ligation:

“We are disappointed by this ruling in Texas, but the decision does not change our clients’ ongoing legal challenge to North Carolina’s House Bill 2. In fact, the district court in Texas expressly recognized that its decision should not interfere with other pending federal court cases on this issue. HB2 continues to harm our clients and all transgender North Carolinians, and we are looking forward to a decision on our request to have the anti-transgender provisions of this law blocked while our case proceeds.”