Category Archives: Criminal Justice

NETWORK Lobby enthusiastically celebrates Judge Jackson's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

Ahead of this week’s nomination hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, NETWORK sent a letter strongly supporting her confirmation to the Supreme Court to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley.

Watch Judge Jackson’s nomination hearings here.

The letter asks Senators Durbin and Grassley to ensure a respectful, thorough, and swift confirmation process for Judge Jackson.

Judge Jackson’s work representing criminal defendants as well as her participation on the bipartisan Sentencing Commission is particularly meaningful from the Catholic tradition. As the letter explains,

The Gospels echo a sacred call proclaimed by the prophet Micah to act with both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8-9). During World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis used the three parables in Luke Chapter 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son—as a model of Christian mercy, saying: “Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness.” Judge Jackson’s work to eliminate racial disparities in sentencing and other sentencing reforms as well as her call for robust public defense systems to ensure just, fair, and reliable outcomes demonstrate her profound regard for the humanity of defendants. This is Christian mercy in the public square.

As the Supreme Court regularly decides critical civil rights and civil liberties cases, Judge Jackson’s confirmation will lend an important perspective to the Court’s deliberations. Her more than 600 rulings reflect her dedication to being a fair-minded, even-handed jurist committed to equal justice for all. She has garnered respect and recognition across partisan and ideological lines, and received broad support from the Senate for several high-level appointments. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is undeniably qualified to serve on the highest court in the land.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Sign NETWORK’s letter to show your support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination!

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 18, 2022

On February 2, 2022, yet another Black person in the United States, 22-year-old Amir Locke, was shot and killed by the police. Amir Locke died with two wounds in the chest and one in the right wrist while lying on a couch just after 6:45 AM as Minneapolis Police Department and SWAT team members conducted a ‘no-knock’ warrant raid. Locke was not the subject of the warrant, and he should still be alive today. For how long must we wait for comprehensive policing systems reforms while Black and Brown lives lie in the wake?

This is yet another occurrence of police in the U.S. utilizing tactics that deny human dignity and sacred worth. Minneapolis was also home to George Floyd, who died while a police officer’s knee was placed on his neck for over 9 minutes, and Philando Castille, who was killed during an unwarranted traffic stop. Nationwide pleas for justice and meaningful change in the wake of Floyd and Castille’s deaths have seemingly gone unheard, unmet, unaddressed, as policing reform negotiations failed on Capitol Hill. Our elected officials on Capitol Hill and across the country must not fail to act now.

Cornell Law defines a “no-knock warrant” as, “A search warrant authorizing police officers to enter certain premises without first knocking and announcing their presence or purpose prior to entering the premises. Such warrants are issued where an entry pursuant to the knock-and-announce rule (i.e., an announcement prior to entry) would lead to the destruction of the objects for which the police are searching or would compromise the safety of the police or another individual.”

The ’no-knock’ raid that resulted in the death of Amir Locke is similar to what transpired with Breonna Taylor two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky. Ms. Taylor was an EMT who was shot and killed in her home during the execution of a no-knock warrant, of which she was not the intended focus. There is an ever-growing divide between law enforcement, local and federal government officials, and the public trust given the lack of action and transparency following so many deaths of Black people across the country at the hands of police.

Following Breonna Taylor’s death, activists have advanced  Breonna’s Law to end to the use of no-knock warrants, at the local, state, and federal level. However, more concrete steps and substantive legislation need to be enacted to make these changes real.

In solidarity with Amir’s parents, Andre Locke and Karen Wells, we ask for policing reform negotiations to resume, and for President Biden to include a federal ban on no-knock warrants as well as reforming the harmful 1033 and 1122 programs in his anticipated Executive Order on policing reform. As Democratic Senators Schatz, Wyden, Baldwin, Smith, Sanders, Brown, Van Hollen, Warren, Markey, and Casey recently wrote in a letter to President Biden, “Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer.”

A more perfect Union must establish justice in order to provide domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty that should be afforded us all. Congress and President Biden can – and must – implement these federal reforms to create a country where everyone, no matter our color, origin or gender, is safe and our human dignity is respected.

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 11, 2022

Members of the US Senate are currently considering a package of three sentencing reform bills already approved on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate passage of The First Step Implementation Act (S. 1014), the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act (S. 601), and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act (S. 312) would make meaningful if incremental, progress toward a more just criminal legal system. Sentencing of those who have been found guilty of wrong-doing must be based on values that honor human dignity, sanctity, and the allowance for redemption. However, our system for sentencing those convicted of crimes has for too long borne no relation to these values, resulting in prisons that are heavily populated by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Over the last 30 years, the United States has come to rely on its criminal justice system and lengthy prison terms more than any other nation.  With just 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners, including one-third of all women incarcerated worldwide.

The ACLU has reported [1] that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 2019, approximately 2.1 million people were in adult correctional jails and prisons around the United States. Many thousands of people, disproportionately people of color, are cycled in and out of state jails or prisons every day.

Extreme sentencing laws and practices are keeping people in prisons for far longer than ever before. The result is that more people are spending more of their lives in prison than at any point in U.S. history. Over-reliance on incarceration is fiscally unsustainable and has imposed a burdensome human toll and a disparate impact on African American and Latino persons and communities.

The federal prison population has increased nearly 800% since 1980 and more than doubled since 1994, with spending up 1700% during that time, and federal prisons are currently operating at 131% of capacity. This is due to a significant degree to the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences.  Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. [2]

There is consensus across the political spectrum that our criminal justice system is out of balance and in need of significant reform. Many states have enacted bipartisan “smart-on-crime” reforms that achieve significant cost savings and reduce crime. Now, it is time for these reforms to be made at the federal level.

 

Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021 (S.79)

Introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) on January 28, 2021, this bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, established in 1986 when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act–a major contributor to mass incarceration–and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. Congress set a 100:1 disparity, sentencing crack cocaine offenses at a higher level even though the drugs are nearly identical chemically and comparable in physiological and psychoactive effects. Although it did not address the disparity fully, Congress passed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity to 18:1 for pending and future cases only. The change was not made retroactive until the bipartisan First Step Act of 2018.

Prospective Impact: The Sentencing Commission [3] estimates that approximately 827 offenders each year would benefit from this section of the bill.2 The current average sentence for those offenders is 74 months. The estimated new sentence for those offenders would be 43 months.

Retroactive Impact: Approximately 7,787 offenders in BOP custody would be eligible to seek a modification of their sentence based on this section of the bill. The Commission estimates that up to 7,644 offenders would receive a reduction in their sentence. [3] The current average sentence for these offenders is 173 months. The estimated new sentence for these offenders would be 100 months

 

First Step Implementation Act of 2021 (S. 1014)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 25, 2021, this bill would further the goals of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) by correcting unfairness that has resulted in implementation and interpretation errors that contravene the spirit of the FSA by:

  • Allowing courts to apply the FSA’s sentencing reform provisions to reduce sentences imposed prior to the enactment of the FSA;
  • Broadening the safety valve provision to allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum for nonviolent controlled substance offenses if the court finds the defendant’s criminal history over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record and the likelihood of recidivism;
  • Allowing courts to reduce sentences imposed on juvenile offenders who have served more than 20 years;
  • Providing for the sealing or expungement of records of nonviolent juvenile offenses; and,
  • Requiring the Attorney General to establish procedures ensuring that only accurate criminal records are shared for employment-related purposes.

 

Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 (S. 601)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 4, 2021, this bill would end the perverse practice under which federal courts consider acquitted or dismissed charges as aggravating factors when imposing sentences for convictions. It would do so by:

  • Amending 18 U.S.C. § 3661 to preclude a court of the United States from considering, except for purposes of mitigating a sentence, acquitted conduct at sentencing, and
  • Defining “acquitted conduct” to include acts for which a person was criminally charged and adjudicated not guilty after trial in a Federal, State, Tribal, or Juvenile court, or acts underlying a criminal charge or juvenile information dismissed upon a motion for acquittal.

 

Covid-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (S. 312)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on February 12, 2021, this bill would clarify and expand the eligibility for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program (introduced by the FSA), including explicitly naming COVID-19 vulnerability as a basis for compassionate release under this program. It would do so by:

  • Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including reductions for good time credits (H.R. 4018, which passed the House by voice vote last Congress);
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least two-thirds of their term of imprisonment;
  • Clarifying that elderly nonviolent D.C. Code offenders in BOP custody are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release;
  • Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (based on the First Step Act’s compassionate release provision); and
  • Providing that, during the period of the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability is a basis for compassionate release and shortening the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days.

There are too many people in prison serving unnecessarily long sentences.  These people are not a threat to the public and serving inhumanely long sentences actually reduces their chances of becoming productive law-abiding citizens.  We must support shorter sentences when appropriate.  These bills are not only appropriate, but also imperative.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system bypassing the First Step Implementation Act, the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act, and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act.

[1] Sentencing Reform | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)

[2] Federal Sentencing Reform (americanbar.org)

[3] Prison and Sentencing Impact Assessment for the EQUAL Act of 2021 (ussc.gov)

EQUAL Act Passes House

EQUAL Act Passes House!

Julia Morris
September 30, 2021

On September 28, the House overwhelmingly voted to pass the EQUAL Act 361 to 66! While there are many issues leading to racial disparities in the criminal legal system, passing the EQUAL (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law) Act is a huge step forward to ending mass incarceration in the United States. The EQUAL Act (H.R.1693/S.79) is faithful, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), and Don Bacon (R-NE-02). It seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing.

This May, more than 100 justice-seekers participated in NETWORK’s first virtual lobby day, conducting 50 lobby visits with their Representatives to push for the passing of the EQUAL Act, it is always rewarding to see our hard work pay off.

Before the House vote, NETWORK sent a letter urging all Representatives to support this legislation, saying: “We call on all Representatives to take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system by voting yes on the EQUAL Act so that it can swiftly make its way to the Senate floor. ”

Read NETWORK’S Vote Recommendation on the EQUAL Act here.

Now it’s time for the Senate to pass this legislation. Sign up for our action alerts to join our team to put pressure on the Senate to pass this legislation. Text JUSTICE to 877-877 to sign up for text alerts or sign up for emails here.

Virtual Lobby Day: Dismantling Racism in Our Criminal Legal System

Virtual Lobby Day: Dismantling Racism in Our Criminal Legal System

Caraline Feairheller
June 1, 2021

On May 12, 2021, more than 120 justice-seekers from across the country went on 50 lobby visits to urge their Representatives to co-sponsor and vote YES on the EQUAL Act (H.R.1693). Thanks to you, our community of activists, the EQUAL Act now has ten new cosponsors – moving us closer to a criminal legal system that provides fair and equal justice under law!

For decades, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses has contributed to our country’s shameful legacy of systemic racism and mass incarceration despite being two forms of the same substance. As Executive Director of New Hour for Women and Children Serena Ligouri said at the Lobby Day Kick-Off Rally, “It is by no mistake, in fact it is intentional that racism has continue to perpetuate disproportionate sentencing in the carceral system. It is no longer okay to let our legislators stand back and perpetuate this in our communities.” As we celebrate our advocates for educating our elected officials on the importance of the EQUAL Act, we know there is much more work to do.Mary J. Novak emphasizes how “being sentenced in today’s U.S. criminal legal system is essentially a life sentence if you consider the severe consequences economically, the disruptions in family life, the limited future access to employment, housing, voting, the stigma, the trauma to both the person incarcerated and that person’s family.” In order to build anew, Congress must pass legislation that lifts bans on housing assistance and other social safety net programs for those who have been released from incarceration.

Every person is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves respect, dignity, and equal justice under law. We must support each other in these challenging times and continue working to pass policies like the EQUAL Act and George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This will help dismantle systemic racism, eliminate the wealth and income gap, improve the wellbeing of our communities, and allow all people to thrive.

Stay engaged and find more ways to take action to advance policies that build our systems and structures anew at www.networklobby.org/ActNow.

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

Caraline Feairheller
May 25, 2021

On the one-year anniversary since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, it remains clear that the criminal legal system will not self-correct. The racism embedded in the system continues to terrorize Black and brown communities across the nation. We cannot tolerate the loss of another life to police violence. In order to build anew, we must affirm that every person is made in the image of God and entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. This is a sacred responsibility. As Pope Francis reminds us, “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Since passing the House in the 117th Congress on March 3, 2021, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.1280) has seen no action in the Senate. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a crucial step in facilitating greater police accountability and towards dismantling the white supremacy in policing by ending long-held practices that allow law enforcement to murder Black people with impunity. The legislation:

  • Ends qualified immunity for law enforcement
  • Establish a national standard on use of force
  • Bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level
  • Mandates data collection on encounters with law enforcement
  • Restricts police access to military-grade equipment
  • Improves federal laws to prosecute excessive force

Congress has a moral and civic duty to protect Black lives. NETWORK calls on the Senate to pass H.R.1280, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act immediately.

Opportunities to remember George Floyd and act for racial justice:

  1. Call your Senators at 888-496-3502 and ask them to pass H.R.1280 the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
  2. Join the Sisters of Mercy in prayer at 2:00 PM Eastern.
    Register here.
  3. Mark the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death with prayer with Catholics 4 the Common Good – GA at 8:00 PM Eastern. Register here.
  4. Watch the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s panel discussion From Protest to Policy.
  5. Follow the George Floyd Memorial Foundation to stay informed of their work on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
  6. Participate in the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s Virtual Day of Action.

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

Joan Neal and Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
April 13, 2021

The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act (H.R.1693/S.79) is bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

The EQUAL Act was introduced in the House on March 9, 2021 by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL) and Don Bacon (R-NE-02). Across the Capitol, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously introduced the bill on January 28, 2021.

Before introducing the bill, Senator Booker said, “For over three decades, unjust, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness… I encourage my colleagues to support the EQUAL Act as a necessary step in repairing our broken criminal justice system.”

While there are many provisions within the justice system that produce discriminatory and racist impacts, the crack/powder sentencing laws are among the most obvious. For many years now, science and experience have shown us there is no difference between use of crack or powder cocaine. Neither one is more or less addictive nor produces more violent behavior in the user. The difference is that crack cocaine has historically been used in more urban communities of color, specifically Black communities, while powder cocaine has more often been found in whiter, more suburban communities. The racial implications couldn’t be clearer.

Furthermore, the sentencing disparity between these two drugs has contributed significantly to the growth of mass incarceration in this country. According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system by passing the EQUAL Act (H.R.1693/S.79).

Join NETWORK’s Virtual Lobby Day on May 12 to lobby your Representative to pass the EQUAL Act in the House! Learn more and register here.

American Rescue Plan Must Protect Incarcerated Populations

American Rescue Plan Must Protect Incarcerated Populations

Caraline Feairheller
March 4, 2021

Nearly a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape the daily lives and policies of everyday people – from social distancing to mask mandates. However, nearly a year later the Congressional response to protecting and ensuring the health of people who are incarcerated has failed to measure up. This moral failure is coupled with the fact the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and disproportionately incarcerates people of color.

From the onset of the pandemic, it was clear that the enclosed nature and overcrowding of jails, prisons, and detention centers would make social distancing impossible. The failure to adequately address these challenges has resulted in 1 out of every 5 people in prison being infected the loss of and the loss of thousands of lives. While incarcerated, many inmates face barriers to access health services such as expensive medical co-pays especially considering how incarcerated people typically earn 14 to 63 cents per hour which is equivalent to charging a free-world worker $200 or $500 for a medical visit.

The moral failing to protect the health of those incarcerated extends beyond the walls of the prison as upon release returning citizens face intersecting obstacles of low wages, lack of affordable housing, and barriers to government sponsored safety net programs. These harmful barriers to eligibility to exacerbate the hardships of families at a time where an unprecedented number of people are experiencing food insecurity and unemployment.

Our country’s addiction to mass incarceration has jeopardized the health of millions of people. In order to Build Anew, Congress must reintroduce and pass the COVID-19 Corrections Facility Emergency Response Act in order to cover costs of testing, treatment, and provide community support services. , Congress must eliminate health care costs for those who remain incarcerated. Finally, Congress must remove barriers of eligibility to government safety net programs and increase the benefits provided by those programs to better meet the needs of families.

Download the full list of NETWORK asks in the next COVID-19 relief package. 

Don’t miss your chance to advocate for the American Rescue Plan with NETWORK. Text “JUSTICE” to 877-877 to sign up for NETWORK’s text alerts.

Protecting Expression, Not Criminal Acts

Protecting Expression, Not Criminal Acts

India-Grace Kellogg
January 28, 2021

For the past year, our nation’s capital has been flooded by protestors. The Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other people of color’s deaths at the hands of police re-invigorated a debate on what ”acceptable” protests look like. To many, the debate highlighted a clear break in the types of information that citizens are receiving about important topics, whether through their own lived experiences or through the media they are consuming. On one side, Black Lives Matter protestors were considered justice seekers facing violent suppression of their Constitutional right to protest while the other side balked at property damage, arguing that it was about looting and not protesting. When the Proud Boys and other pro-Trump groups arrived in Washington, D.C., a shift in police reaction and rhetoric angered many and highlighted the disparity in the way protestors are handled depending on what they look like and what causes, and perhaps more importantly who, they are supporting.

Complex and deeply personal to each person in this country, the debate on how people in the United States should express their views has always been, in itself, a part of who we are as a country. Our First Amendment rights invite debate with our government and, importantly, dissent to the majority opinion. The breach of the U.S. Capitol building may have seemed brazen and paralyzing to many watching it, but in hindsight, it may be the logical course of events in a country where a leader contributed to decimating trust in our democracy. But, in the aftermath of the events on January 6, 2021, it seems dire to address, factually, the ways we express grievances to our government, and name when that expression no longer honors the values and intent of our Constitution. Those who walked up the steps of the Capitol building, even those who simply passed the first barricade were not the first to step past the boundaries of what the Constitution protects under the First Amendment. Their violent trespassing, many of them armed and with an intent to harm elected officials, was far outside of the bounds of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Earlier, at a protest on December 12, 2020, Trump supporters openly burned a Black Lives Matter flag taken from the Asbury United Methodist Church, a historic Black church. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who admitted to burning the flag but later pleaded not guilty, faces destruction of property charges and was ordered to stay out of Washington by a judge. The D.C. police department labeled the burning of the flag a potential hate crime.

In the District of Columbia, hate crimes such as this act as an enhancement of the crime committed. Under D.C. Statute §22-3703, Bias-Related Crime Act, a person found guilty of a bias-related crime will be fined or imprisoned up to one and a half times the maximum fine or designated term. A bias-related crime means that a criminal act demonstrates the accused prejudice toward a victim. The statute covers a multitude of bases for the accused’s prejudice, including race, color, religion, and political affiliation. While the statute specifies a limited amount of crimes, Aboye v. U.S. established that the term “designated acts” means any criminal act under D.C. law. Therefore, anyone who commits a crime in D.C. that demonstrates their prejudice against the victim of that crime can be charged with an enhanced sentence under §22-3703.

Looking specifically at the actions of the Proud Boys and Enrique Tarrio on December 12, bias-related crime charges could be brought. If it can be established that burning the Black Lives Matter flag demonstrates Tarrio’s prejudice to the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or political affiliation of the Asbury United Methodist Church, Tarrio could be charged with a bias-related crime. However, the crime must not have been committed but for the prejudice. (Lucas v. United States) The prosecution would need to show that Tarrio would not have burnt the Black Lives Matter flag but for his prejudice. While this is a decision left to the discretion of the prosecutor, the potential legal repercussions of burning a Black Lives Matter flag are important to highlight.

While the public debate may often rely on the morality and the nation’s values relating to how we protest, there are legal realities involved that cannot be ignored. The violent attack on the Capitol was not the first, and most likely will not be the last, time that white supremacists and other pro-Trump groups claim Constitutional rights to excuse their criminal actions.

The Constitution does not protect all expression nor does it protect violent actions, as a long history of legal debates have proven. Many states have enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes, many that have been challenged for violating the First Amendment. The D.C. Bias-Related Crime Act was upheld as constitutional to the extent that it provides an enhanced penalty for crimes that an individual commits against a victim simply due to their own prejudice against the victim’s protected characteristic (Lucas v. United States).

The First Amendment protects many forms of expression but it does not protect criminal expressions of prejudice against another’s protected characteristics. The precedent concerning what expression is protected by the Constitution is vast and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States serve to uphold the intent of the Constitution over what many may consider to be justice for those harmed by certain type of expressions. The Proud Boys and those who claim that they are seeking to uphold the values of our country may claim to be within their rights and to be fighting for our nation, but their actions are not protected by the very Constitution they claim to be protecting. While we as a country should and will continue to debate the nuances of protests and their aftermath, we should also continue to do the work of understanding what we are truly debating – when does our expression of disagreement step past what our national conscience believes should be protected? And why?

Bus Blog: New Hour for Women and Children

Bus Blog: New Hour for Women and Children

Caraline Feairheller
September 25, 2020

There are no words to describe the grief of hearing keys jingling down a cell block corridor. There are no words to describe the trauma that long-term isolation can have on a body and mind. Yet, these are common experiences faced by women incarcerated within the United States criminal justice system. The idea that the tremendous trauma created by the U.S carceral system cannot and should not be normalized was the main idea that came out of the September 22nd Nuns on the Bus Virtual Site Visit conversation with New Hour for Women and Children.

New Hour for Women and Children is a Long Island based non-profit founded to provide meaningful support to current and formerly incarcerated women, and their children and families. New Hour was created to address the need for a re-entry program in Long Island, as Executive Director Serene Liguori said “When I got released there was no one there to help me. There was no program to help us. Now, for the first time there is a program on Long Island that supports re-entry.” While the agency may look small, Pamela Neely the Social Justice Coordinator was quick to emphasize that it “gets the work done.” Through serving over 1,000 women in incarceration annually, the numbers only prove her point when comparing the 65% recidivism rate of women who are released from jail to the 2% recidivism rate of women who go through the New Hour program.

The U.S carceral systems measures out punishment in terms of months and years. However, the New Hour Program recognizes that the grief and loss of imprisonment stretches well beyond those years and thus re-entry never stops, it is a lifetime process. Part of this lifetime process is recognizing the reality that all women have faced some form of trauma or violence in their lifetime, so even before experiencing the traumas that come with imprisonment they have their own unique triggers. Program Director Danielle Donaphin emphasized that “I do what I do because I believe in people” and it is this belief in the resilience of these women that the healing process can truly begin. Women, mothers in particular, who make up ¾ of the women behind bars, face unique challenges. Often times, their number one goal is to be reunited with their children and New Hour meets those demands by offering parenting classes and teaching work skills.

As the conversation came to an end, Serenea Liguroi left us with a couple questions that are especially relevant in a moment where prison reform and police accountability are dominating the news streams: “What about the prisons? What about the jails? How do we create equality among those who have been impacted by the carceral system?” We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we can begin by remembering that there is an innate worth in the women who are currently incarcerated those who have been formerly incarcerated. We can begin by remembering that there is a future beyond the prisons walls. We can begin by remembering that we all have the power to change the course of our lives.

Watch the full site visit on Facebook or Youtube.