Commentary

Convicted felon and current probationer to keynote Pope-Civitas event

You’ve got to hand it to the Pope-Civitas Institute. The group is not afraid to do whatever it takes to advance the right-wing message — even if it means setting new standards in gall and hypocrisy.

The latest exhibit: It was announced yesterday that the keynote speaker as this year’s “Conservative Leadership Conference” will be right-wing activist and convicted election law felon Dinesh D’Souza. This is from a September 2014 Huffington Post story describing D’Souza’s deeds:

“Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was sentenced on Tuesday to spend eight months in a community confinement center during five years of probation after pleading guilty to a campaign finance law violation.

The defendant, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan. He was also given a $30,000 fine and ordered to do one day of community service a week during his probation.

D’Souza, 53, admitted in May to illegally reimbursing two ‘straw donors’ who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.

‘It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea,’ D’Souza told Berman before being sentenced. ‘I regret breaking the law.’

Prosecutors had sought a 10-to 16-month prison sentence, rejecting defense arguments that D’Souza was ‘ashamed and contrite’ about his crime and deserved probation with community service.”

You got that? An organization that regularly rails about “soft-on-crime” policies and politicians and a supposed epidemic of election fraud in the country is nonetheless turning over its podium to someone who was sentenced for committing an election law felony less that a year a half ago. The guy just got out of jail last year and is still on probation for heaven’s sake.

Maybe the point is to have him come and hold forth on second chances for those who’ve been convicted of crimes after having made stupid mistakes in life. If that’s so, well then, good for him and the Civitasers.

But the email promoting the event gives no indication that this is the case. Instead, it’s the usual hard right vitriol. And indeed, the “about” section from the website promoting D’Souza’s new post-jail book, “Stealing America” includes this doozy of a summary: “Why Hillary, Obama, and the entire Democratic Party are no better than a gang of thieves.”

All in all, it sounds like ol’ Dinesh may be a case study in likely criminal recidivism rather than rehabilitation and second chances. Stay tuned.

Commentary

“Ban the box” momentum grows; time for NC to take action

As noted in the post below, there has been some very encouraging news at the federal level in recent days surrounding the issue of criminal justice reform. As attorney Daniel Bowes reported, President Obama recently announced some important bipartisan progress in addressing America’s over-incarceration problem — including a move to “ban the box” in federal hiring:

“I’m taking action to ‘Ban the Box’ for the most competitive job at federal agencies–the federal government should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we’ve even looked at their qualifications.” The President directed the Office of Personnel Management to take action to modify its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process. In doing so, he cited several private employers, including Walmart, Target, Koch Industries, and Home Depot, as well as 19 states that have banned the box. President Obama explained his hope is that this collective action to Ban the Box makes the practice of not automatically excluding applicants with criminal records from opportunities “a basic principle across our society.”
In light of this progress, a growing chorus is calling for similar action at the state level. This is from a media release distributed this morning by the North Carolina Justice Center:

North Carolinians call on Gov. McCrory, legislators to “Ban the Box” for public employment
More than 1,000 North Carolinians visiting the NC State Fair signed a petition in support of fair hiring procedures that would prevent exclusion of job applicants with criminal records Read more
Commentary

President Obama announces bipartisan progress in addressing America’s prison problem

Second chancesLast week, President Obama announced several executive actions aimed at promoting the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into communities across the nation. The announcement came in response to consistent pressure from advocates, including the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, and follows a growing trend among states of reducing barriers to reentry and otherwise restoring opportunities for productive citizenship for individuals with criminal records.

Standing before a crowd of formerly incarcerated individuals, reentry service providers, business and community leaders in Newark, New Jersey, President Obama cited some of our criminal justice system’s more startling statistics:

  • 2.2 million Americans—disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos— are currently behind bars
  • The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its inmates
  • More than 600,000 inmates are released each year
  • one in three adults of working age—or 70 million Americans—have a criminal record

As the President explained in his description of what life with a criminal record can mean:

“A lot of times that record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society even if you’ve already paid your debt to society. It means millions of Americans have difficulty getting their foot in the door to try to get a job, much less actually hanging onto that job. That’s bad for not only those individual— it’s bad for our economy. It’s bad for our communities who need more role models who are gainfully employed. So we’ve got to make sure that Americans that have paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.”

Towards this goal of restoring opportunities for productive citizenship for deserving community members, President Obama announced the following measures: Read more

Commentary

Governor brags of pardon while request from exonerated brothers languishes

McCollum BrownIf you’re like most people, you probably missed Governor McCrory’s announcement yesterday touting a new state plan to help a peanut operation create 78 jobs over three years in Chowan County. Though all well and good as far as these announcements go, what really stands out about this one was its inclusion of the Governor’s statement that he was especially happy to have pardoned one of the company’s leaders in 2013 for crimes he committed several decades ago.

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: a) Bravo! Thousands of good North Carolinians undoubtedly deserve such second chances, and b) Speaking of which, Governor, what in the heck is going on with the pardon applications of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown?!

McCollum and Brown, you’ll recall, are the half brothers who were found innocent last year of crimes for which they were imprisoned more than 30 years. In other words, they didn’t commit a terrible crime and then later get their lives together; they were wrongfully and horrifically railroaded into prison and served decades for crimes they didn’t commit. McCollum was sentenced to death!

Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of the pardon requests the men submitted — a period during which the men have received no compensation for the terrible injustice inflicted upon them by the state of North Carolina. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last month:

“The men, who are half-brothers and who are intellectually disabled, were each given $45 in cash when they left prison in September – the sum total of help they have received from the state. They live in Fayetteville with their sister, who struggles to pay the rent and keep the light and water bills paid. They have depended on the kindness of supporters for all their money.

A Superior Court judge declared them innocent in September. North Carolina law authorizes payment of $50,000 a year, up to a maximum of $750,000, to incarcerated individuals later proven innocent. But the brothers first need to obtain a pardon of innocence from the governor.”

Earth to Governor McCrory: The time for action is long past due. Do the right thing and help these men and their families — now. And if you want to learn more about the subject, all you have to do is walk a couple blocks down the street from the mansion and attend a panel discussion that Campbell Law School will be holding Thursday evening. Here are the details: Read more

Uncategorized

Progress in “ban the box” effort

Cumberland County is taking steps to join Durham County and a growing list of governmental bodies around the country that have “banned the box.” 

The “ban the box” campaign is, of course, a movement to convince employers of all kinds to alter their hiring practices so that questions about an applicant’s criminal record are not asked right up front on the initial job application. The concept is simple and sound: Read more