News

Community forum in Chapel Hill on impact of criminal justice debt

If you’ve been following Policy Watch’s coverage of court fines and fees, the for-profit bail industry and efforts toward reform, you’ll want to check out Thursday’s community forum on the impact of criminal justice debt in Orange County.

The forum, to be held at Chapel Hill Town hall at 6 p.m., will include presentations from academics, experts, advocates and activists looking at the real costs of interacting with the justice system, even for those who are eventually found not guilty or whose charges are ultimately dropped.

News

Reform groups oppose how California eliminated cash bail

This week California became the first U.S. state to officially end cash bail.

But some groups pushing for that reform — among them the ACLU and Human Rights Watch — wound up opposing the final bill.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered Udi Ofer, deputy national political director of the ACLU and the director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, explained the group’s objections:

“[T]he problem that we have with the law is that it replaces this current system with another system that could be even worse, lead to an increase in pretrial detention and that gives way too much power to judges and to prosecutors without unnecessary oversight.

So the new law passed in California creates broad new categories of people who will now be presumed to be subjected to pretrial incarceration – so for example, anyone arrested and charged with a robbery or any felony where there was just a threat of violence even if no actual violence took place.

You know, there’s a whole industry out there of people who are creating these essentially algorithms that take a bunch of factors into consideration and then pop out a number that tells law enforcement or a judge what risk you are – so an algorithm that would take into consideration past arrests even if there hasn’t been a conviction. We know that communities of color are over-policed and come in contact with the criminal justice system much more frequently. If you now build an algorithm that gives you a worse score on a risk assessment because you have been arrested before, then that perpetuates racial bias in the criminal justice system.”

Ofer said the ACLU would prefer to see evidence of  things like actually skipping court be the sort of thing that leads to pre-trial detention rather than the product of an algorithm.

The ACLU of California’s full statement on the legislation can be read here.

 

News

California becomes first state to officially end cash bail

California became the first U.S. state to officially abolish cash bail Tuesday, a landmark for the national bail reform movement.

“This is a transformative day for our justice system,” said Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. “Our old system of money bail was outdated, unsafe, and unfair.”

The bipartisan bail reform effort in California is seen as a model for those working toward reform in other states, including North Carolina.

Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, emphasized the work of all three branches of state government that led to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown finally signing the reform bill into law this week.

“It took a three-branch solution with Governor Brown, the Legislature led by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblymember Bonta, and the Judicial Council’s Administrative Director Martin Hoshino working with judges in my Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group to bring about a fair and just solution for all Californians.”

For more on this issue and how it impacts North Carolina, check out Policy Watch’s continuing coverage of the for-profit bail industry and the movement to reform it.

The North Carolina Courts Commission will be discussing the bail system at its next meeting, to be held September 7.

News

UNC Board of Governors to meet in Silent Sam aftermath

The UNC Board of Governors will meet Tuesday for a closed session legal briefing with UNC General Counsel Thomas Shanahan.

The meeting is the first since the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue was toppled last week at UNC-Chapel Hill. About a dozen protesters with Confederate flags were met with many more counter-protesters at the site of the felled statue during a demonstration over the weekend. Seven people were arrested when members of the two groups clashed. UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said none of those arrested were part of the university community.

Members of the Board of Governors have condemned the statue’s toppling and called for the SBI to investigate the incident – including police response, which board members criticized as ineffective.

Board member Thom Goolsby took to YouTube and Twitter last week to say the statue will be reinstalled at UNC “as required by State Law WITHIN 90 days.”

Goolsby referenced N.C. General Statute 100-2.1(b), part of the 2015 law that made it more difficult to legally remove Confederate statues on state property. But the provision he cited in a YouTube video on the subject says statues that are temporarily relocated under the law for their own protection or because of construction must be replaced within 90 days. It does not speak to a legal requirement for the university system to reinstate a statue that has been vandalized or destroyed.

Before the statue was toppled students, staff, faculty and even Gov. Roy Cooper all made the argument that the statue should be relocated for its own protection under that same law. The Board of Governors opposed that idea. Instead, the university spent $390,000 last year on its protection.

Despite Goolsby’s assurance the statue will be reinstated, the full board has not met or taken any action, according to UNC spokesman Jason Tyson. Several members of the board actually supported the idea of removing the statue before it was toppled and called for a full board discussion of the idea.

After initially saying the board would have a discussion about whether to petition the N.C. Historical Commission for the statue’s removal, UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith announced last month that the board would have no such discussion.

Tuesday’s board meeting will be held at 11 a.m. at the Center for School Leadership Development in Chapel Hill.

 

 

News

Amendment language for voter guides set

The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission met Thursday to finalize language describing proposed constitutional amendments.

The North CarolinaConstitutional Amendments Publication Commission held an emergency session Thursday, the last day available to finalize language describing proposed amendments for voter guides.

The commission consists of three members: Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, representing the General Assembly.

Their goal: craft descriptions will be distributed through the county-level elections offices and through voter guides mailed to more than four million North Carolina voters.

The commission would have also crafted short captions for each amendment appearing on the ballot this fall, but the GOP-controlled General Assembly seized that authority just earlier this month during an ongoing power struggle with Gov. Roy Cooper and other North Carolina Democrats.

Legislators are being called back to Raleigh for another special session Friday after a three judge panel ruled their ballot language was not a fair representation of the amendments.

Five separate lawsuits over the proposed amendments have to be resolved before the ballots can go before voters.

Earlier this month, the commission met and approved language for the proposed amendments on crime victim protections (HB 551) and hunting and fishing (SB 677).

On Thursday the commission took up language for the proposed amendments on voter ID (HB 1092) and capping the state income tax rate (SB 75).

The two amendments blocked by the three judge panel were not considered by the commission.

Final explanations of the four amendments got final approval Thursday, though Coble repeatedly took issue with language Marshall and Stein suggested. The lines at issue pointed to what the amendments do not tell voters – chiefly, how much implementation might cost and how it would be carried out.

“We have fiscal notes on a lot of things, almost everything we do,” Marshall said in an interview after the meeting. “That might lead some people to think they don’t want that factor known. But also, giving them the benefit of the doubt – they haven’t said what’s going to be required. So, it’s like a cloud – trying to get ahold of it, to know what the cost is going to be. It could be enormous, it could be miniscule. But because we don’t know, it’s impossible to say.”

Stein agreed.

“Most times there’s a constitutional amendment, it speaks for itself,” Stein said. “It will say what it does and the voters will know what the full implications are. Occasionally, the amendment will need more legislation from the General Assembly. And when that happens, what’s usual is the legislature will pass the bill first so that voters actually know the full import of what they’re doing. That’s not the case with the voter identification provision. It just says, ‘The legislature is going to tell us what this means at some point in the future.'”

Coble declined to speak with reporters Thursday, as he did after the commission’s last meeting.