Tag: prison

Cyntoia Brown is Home. Now What?

Greetings RLD Family,

Lacy Atkins (The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

Cyntoia Brown, who garnered the support of many celebrities as well as grassroots activists, is now back home. She was serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in self-defense as a teen. Cyntoia was a victim of sex trafficking, but was not treated as such by the criminal legal system. But once the fanfare dies down, where is the support to help her and other folks coming home from prison? This type of re-entry support is critical to help prevent recidivism (returning to jail for new crimes).

See my thoughts on the issue in theRoot.com. I was also interviewed by Buzzfeed – see the video here.

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

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So, like many of you, I am an addict of the show “Scandal”. Not that I want to be Olivia Pope (although I do love her clothes, but hate her romantic decisions), it does give an interesting look of the behind the scenes of the dirty world of politics and national security. Whether it’s art imitating life accurately remains to be seen. But in last week’s episode, Olivia’s dad gave an impassioned speech about “even the monsters need saving”. This was in response to Olivia’s frustration about the fact that everyone around her seemed to be amoral at best, and used murder as a tool. “No one wears the white hat anymore” was her complaint. Olivia’s dad basically said, “YOU are the savior, and the one that drags every last one of us into the light.”

The monologue really hit home for me. Many times, people ask me, “why do you bother?” In my line of work as a prosecutor, I have challenges left, right and center. At times, I have victims who have no interest in participating in the prosecution. Even though they were the ones that were hurt, they are reluctant due to fear, apathy, or a deep distrust of the system. The community, especially the African American community, distrust the motives of a prosecutor. They assume your role is to lock up young men of color at any cost. On the other side, the hard core conservatives (some of whom are in my profession), look at the work I do in the community and say “why bother? You can’t save them”.

So why do I bother? Why do I take time away from myself, from my husband, skip lunch hours, to give lectures to young students in rough areas? Why do I get hands on in the nastiest housing projects? Why do I get frustrated when the media takes a narrow, sensationalized view of the legal system instead of the truth? Why do I sit down next to defendants, shackled, and who are facing a life sentence based on my recommendation but are about to take less as a plea and say to them “get it right this time…F$&! it up and I personally will lock the door and throw away the key?” Why do I persist in a job where no one thanks you by word or by paycheck?

Not out of weakness. Not out of my liberal leanings. Not out of perceived government employee laziness.

But because I want to touch one. Just one person a day. I know I can’t save them all. That would be ludicrous to believe.

But if one kid can say “you know, I remember when this chick who was a lawyer came to speak. She said xyz, and it stuck with me”. If one defendant says “someone offered me a chance, and I took it and turned my life around”. If one person in the community says “I was wrong about what prosecutors do, they are not all bad.” Then, I have succeeded.

Not everyone is born a monster. Some are, and yes, they need to be put down. HARD. I have no problem doing so. Others are monsters by lifestyle, and nothing in this world will change them. And again, I am there, ready with the proverbial smack down.

But it is those minds who are still open. Those minds, that need a nudge in the right direction, to get right. To get it right. Those in the crowd are who I want.

And now, I can quote Olivia Pope’s dad and say “even the monsters need saving”.

Detention or Jail? New Choices for Disruptive Students

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The school to prison pipeline. You may have never heard of it, but it is a growing issue.  Across the nation, students are being arrested for minor offenses.  Offenses that twenty years ago, would have gotten the student sent home, given detention, or at worst, suspended. Now, students are getting criminal records for misdemeanor charges such as loitering, trespass, and disorderly conduct — which boils down to fighting, staying on school grounds after hours, or being disruptive in class.

Last week, the country’s 6th largest school district, located in Broward County, Florida, took a large step in a new direction.  The superintendent of Broward County schools came together with the state attorney’s office, the police department, and the NAACP to empower school principals to decide when and how students would be arrested.  In the past, it was the school resource officer who made these determinations. The NAACP became involved, because they noted that a large amount of those arrested were students of color…and their peers were receiving warnings instead.

The new policy states that for non-violent charges like trespassing, harassment, incidents related to alcohol, possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, school officials are to work it out in house without an arrest. Options for punishment, in addition to traditional means, include participation in a week-long counseling program. No student would be arrested for a first time non-violent misdemeanor, but repeat offenses will receive an escalation in punishment. After a fifth incident, students are referred to law enforcement. The police will still handle felonies or serious threats.

This school to prison pipeline issue may be occurring as a result on our shifting society. In years past, there was a parent or relative that would be available to take a child from school.  Schools were more engaged with the family and the community. Now, with many parents working more than one job to make ends meet, or are the head of a single parent household, it is easier for the school to call the police than for the parent to leave work.  Some parents may be short on patience, and hope that an encounter with the criminal justice system will “scare them straight”.  Other parents may have deeper issues preventing them from being a role model and disciplinarian. On the other side, many schools and teachers are overworked as well as underfunded.  “Zero tolerance”, rather than taking the time to work with the child, is perceived as easier when resources are stretched thin.  Lastly, many beneficial after school programs, including organized sports, arts/crafts, and meals programs, have been cut in an attempt to save money.  These programs are instrumental in keeping kids on the right track, keeping them busy with positive activities. In these days of recessions and budget cuts, lawmakers need to be mindful of the trickle-down effect the lack of programming has, including an increase in criminal activity.

The key problem lays in the fact that very rarely does the criminal justice system help a child.  That initial contact often lays the groundwork for repeated criminal conduct, due the child being exposed to more experienced teens. Additionally, the child now develops a criminal record, which becomes a problem when applying for jobs, as well as financial aid for college.

The bottom line is, it takes a village to raise a child. As a prosecutor, I handled juvenile cases early in my career. The majority of the kids I saw were not bad kids.  It was the usual mischief that kids have gotten into from the beginning of time.  But putting kids in the system without addressing the underlying issues that caused the behavior is a formula for disaster.  Broward County has already seen a decrease in arrests as a result of this program, with positive feedback being given all around.  I hope that other school districts take their rightful place as a safe haven for learning, rather than a route to prison.

Published on theLaw.tv November 12, 2013.  http://news.thelaw.tv/2013/11/12/detention-or-jail-new-choices-for-disruptive-students/

Follow me on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.