Monday, May 16, 2016

BROKEN JUSTICE - Reforms Falling Short

"Top civil rights lawyer says U.S. criminal justice reforms are falling short" PBS NewsHour 5/13/2016


SUMMARY:  The Equal Justice Initiative's Bryan Stevenson has become a leading voice for criminal justice reform, and blames the U.S.'s world-leading incarceration rate on deep-seated institutional racism that goes back to slavery.  As some states move to increase probation and parole supervision, Stevenson tells Jeffrey Brown why these measures fall short of the reforms that are truly needed.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a nonprofit founded in 1989 by lawyer and civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson to represent death row prisoners and indigent and juvenile defendants who he argues have been denied effective representation, often due to racial bias.

In recent years, which included the publication of an acclaimed memoir, “Just Mercy,” Stevenson has become a leading voice nationally for criminal justice reform.

I met him at his office in Montgomery while reporting on Alabama's overcrowded prisons and spike in prison violence.

BRYAN STEVENSON, Founder, Equal Justice Initiative:  There were less than 5,000 people in Alabama's prisons throughout most of the 1970s.

And then you had politicians like you had all over the country get captivated, I'm going to say intoxicated, by the politics of fear.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Intoxicated.

BRYAN STEVENSON:  Yes, intoxicated by the politics of fear and anger.  They began competing with each other over who could be the toughest on crime, and putting people in prison became the solution to virtually every problem.

Drug addiction and drug dependency, which could have been seen as a health issue, was seen as a crime issue.  The growing freedom that was emerging in the Deep South for African-Americans, who until just a decade earlier couldn't vote, couldn't go into schools, had to be regulated.  So we used the criminal justice system, and you saw this massive increase in the number of people sent to jails or prisons.

So, we went from about 5,000 people in the 1970s to 30,000 people today in a state with about 4.5 million people.  That's an unbelievably high rate of incarceration.

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