Intern Blog

After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

The intern blog below is a commentary on the communities that are being impacted by the recent natural disasters in the South based on the article that can be found below the commentary. The South has been bombarded with natural disasters this past month. First, tornados devastated Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia. Now communities along the Mississippi River are facing massive flooding and some fear that the worst is yet to come. As with most natural disasters, poor people of color are being hit the hardest and the question is usually whether the government is doing enough to help them. Millions of dollars of property have been destroyed and communities have been fragmented. I wonder what the overall impact of these disasters will be in comparison to Hurricane Katrina and if there will be a racial connection. I am interested in the historical aspect of housing discrimination that puts poor people of color in the most vulnerable locations. It would be interesting to research redlining policies from the first half of the 20th century and see if the areas that have been hit the hardest by these disasters correlate. I am doubtful that much will be done about housing inequalities in the near future because people with higher incomes would not be willing to live in potentially dangerous areas.

After cresting in Memphis, flooded Mississippi River takes aim at poverty-stricken Delta

By Associated Press

VICKSBURG, Miss. — William Jefferson paddles slowly down his street in a small boat, past his house and around his church, both flooded from the bulging Mississippi River that has rolled into the Delta.

“Half my life is still in there,” he said, pointing to the small white house swamped by several feet of water. “I hate to see it when I go back in.”

The river was taking aim at one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country after cresting Tuesday at Memphis, Tenn., just inches short of the record set in 1937. Some low-lying Memphis neighborhoods were inundated, but the city’s high levees protected much of the rest of Memphis.

Downstream in Louisiana, inmates were filling sandbags to protect property in Cajun swamp communities that could be flooded if engineers open a spillway to protect the more densely populated Baton Rouge area. Fear was high among residents there.

Jefferson’s Vicksburg neighborhood has been one of the hardest hit in the historic city that was the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. Jefferson refuses to leave, so he spends his days in the sweltering sun watching the water rise and sleeping in a camper at an intersection that’s likely to flood soon, too.

“If you don’t stay with your stuff, you won’t have it,” he said. “This is what I do every day. Just watch the water.”

Over the past week or so in the Delta, floodwaters along the rain-swollen river and its backed-up tributaries have already washed away crops, forced many to seek higher ground and closed some of the dockside casinos that are vital to the state’s economy.

The state gambling industry is taking a hit: All 19 casinos along the river will be shut down by the end of the week, costing governments $12 million to $13 million in taxes per month, authorities said. That will put some 13,000 employees temporarily out of work.

But the worst is yet to come, with the crest expected over the next few days. The damage in Memphis was estimated at more than $320 million as the serious flooding began, and an official tally won’t be available until the waters recede.

To the south, there were no early figures on the devastation, but with hundreds of homes already damaged, “we’re going to have a lot more when the water gets to where it’s never been before,” said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi emergency management agency.

Across the region, federal officials anxiously checked and reinforced the levees, some of which could be put to their sternest test ever.

In northwestern Mississippi, crews have been using dirt and sand to make a levee higher at the Bolivar-Coahoma county line in the north Delta, said Charlie Tindall, attorney for the Mississippi Levee Board.

About 10 miles north of Vicksburg, contractors lined one side of what is known as a backwater levee with big sheets of plastic to keep it from eroding if floodwaters flow over it as feared — something that has never happened to the levee since it was built in the 1970s.

In Vicksburg, the river was projected to peak Saturday just above the record set during the cataclysmic Great Flood of 1927.

Jimmy Mitchell, 46, and his wife and two children have been living in a loaned camper for more than week at a civic arena in Tunica.

“There’s no sewage hookup. You go in a barn to take a shower,” said Mitchell, who is from the small community of Cutoff. “We have no time frame on how long we can stay.”

As Mitchell and friends sat outside chatting in the breeze, children rode bikes nearby.

“Cutoff is a community where everybody lives from paycheck to paycheck. It’s also a community where everybody sticks together,” Mitchell said.

Widespread flooding was expected along the Yazoo River, a tributary that is backed up because of the bloated Mississippi. Rolling Fork, home of the bluesman Muddy Waters, was also in danger of getting inundated.

Farmers built homemade levees to protect their corn, cotton, wheat and soybean crops, but many believed the crops would be lost entirely.

Vicksburg National Military Park, where thousands of Civil War soldiers who died in an 1863 battle are buried, was expected to remain dry. The park is the site where Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s troops entrapped a Confederate army under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton, forcing its surrender. The victory effectively split the Confederacy in half.

Vicksburg was forecast to see its highest river level ever, slightly above the 56.2-feet mark set in 1927. Farther south in Natchez, forecasters said the 1937 record could be shattered by 4 feet on Saturday.

The Mississippi crested in Memphis at nearly 48 feet, just short of its all-time record of 48.7. Officials said the river level had decreased slightly on Wednesday, and they were doing a flyover to assess the most heavily damaged areas.

Some homes had polluted floodwaters near their first-floor ceilings, while others were completely submerged. Snakes and other creatures slithered in the foul water, and officials warned of bacteria. Nearly 500 people in Memphis were in shelters.

The passing of the crest was of little consolation for many.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve already lost everything,” said Rocio Rodriguez, 24, who has been at a shelter for 12 days with her husband and two young children since their trailer park flooded.

On the downtown Memphis riverfront, people came out to gawk at the river. High-water marks were visible on concrete posts, indicating that the level was dropping slowly.

“It could have been a lot worse. Levees could have broke,” said Memphis resident Janice Harbin, 32. “I’m very fortunate to stand out here and see it — and not be a victim of the flood.”

In Louisiana, jail inmates filled sandbags to protect property in St. Martin Parish, which could be flooded if authorities open a second floodway to take pressure off levees that protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

On Monday, the corps began opening the Bonnet Carre spillway near New Orleans. The second floodway, Morganza, is upriver from Baton Rouge and could be opened this weekend.

The floodway pours into the Atchafalaya River, and on to the Gulf of Mexico. Communities such as Morgan City on its southern end were sandbagging against the expected floodwaters, and hoping for the best.

“Everybody is just scared. They don’t know what to do,” said St. Martin Deputy Sheriff Ginny Higgins, who was overseeing prisoners who stuffed sandbags in stifling heat and humidity while clad in black and white striped jumpsuits.

Sharonda Buck, an unemployed 18-year-old mother, lives in a house with 12 relatives in Vicksburg. The water has been creeping into their yard and the power company said electricity will be cut off Wednesday morning. They spent Tuesday walking the railroad tracks through their neighborhood, kids throwing rocks in flooded yards.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re trying to find somewhere to stay, that’s all I know,” she said.

Tavis Smiley: This Presidential Race Will be Most Racist in History Due to Tea Party and Trump

The intern blog below is a commentary on Tavis Smiley’s opinion of the role that race will play in the 2012 presidential election based on the video that can be found below the commentary. As the nation gets ready for the 2012 presidential election season to begin, the Republican Party is weighing its options for potential candidates to run against Obama. In the video posted below, Tavis Smiley opines that the 2012 election will be “the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist… in the history of this republic”. The comments of Tea Party supporters and leaders have made the truth in Smiley’s statement apparent. Former Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams stated, “It is the duty of every American Citizen to do everything within their power to disrupt and defeat the domestic enemy that currently occupies the corridors of power in Washington and a dangerous number of state capitols”. This comment, in addition to others, forced him to resign. Even though his words were condemned, I know that many people agree with him, which makes me fearful of the tactics that will be used in the 2012 elections. However, I think that the fact that Osama Bin Laden was killed under Obama’s watch will prove to be a large benefit to his campaign. The New York Times reports that between April and May, Obama’s approval rate went up by 11%. This fact makes me believe that Smiley’s ominous prediction will prove to be true. The Republican Party will have to resort to divisive tactics to have a chance of posing a legitimate threat to Obama.

TAVIS SMILEY, PBS: I said over a year ago that this was going to be, this presidential race, Lawrence, was going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist, the most racist, in the history of this republic. I did not know that that race to the bottom would begin so quickly. One can disagree with the Tea Party…

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, HOST: Why did you see this coming?

SMILEY: I saw it coming because it’s pretty clear given how the Tea Party has acted, given that Donald Trump is now playing to the worst in the Tea Party, that this would be possible. I don’t want to demonize or cast aspersions on the Tea Party broadly. I believe that there’s a certain angst that many people in that entity feel, and I share that angst about government. I don’t believe that it’s the solution to reduce government. Government does have a role to play. We’ve got to figure out, we can figure out and debate what that role is, but there have been semantics they’ve engaged in that made it clear to me: showing up at rallies with guns, and the Secret Service, you know, working overtime to protect this president. More threats against his life than any president in the history of the nation, indeed, presidents combined. So the evidence is pretty clear that they would do anything and say anything in order to make sure he does not get reelected.

Arizona Uprising: Chained Ethnic Studies Students Take Over School Board in Tucson

The below intern blog is a commentary on an Arizona policy based on the article that can be found below the commentary. Arizona has been a germinating petri dish of “ethnic” issues when it comes to policy. At the African American Policy Forum we work exclusively with the repercussions and consequences of historical policy on African Americans. Arizona is singling out a group of people and rerouting their place in history as invalid by omitting it in their educational processes. The protests being held by students are one day going to make the books of history. But why are they not front page? Why isn’t the entire country in up roar when something so blatantly unjust is affecting our youth in catastrophic ways? I think it may have to do with the idea of policy and law being a harder lens through which to pinpoint racism. It is easier to view racism as a moment of name-calling or discrimination. That moment of fear, anger and disappointment may not transcend generations, but structural racism does. The affects of structural racism are irreparable if a new policy does not amend the injustices.

Arizona Uprising: Chained Ethnic Studies Students Take Over School Board in Tucson

Has Wisconsin finally come to Arizona? In an extraordinary uprising at the Tucson Unified School District board meeting last night, Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies (MAS) students chained themselves to the board members chairs and derailed the introduction of a controversial resolution that would have terminated their acclaimed program's core curriculum accreditation. "Just like the people of Wisconsin took a stand and said 'enough is enough', the youth of Tucson are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with these attacks on their education and on their future," said Sal Baldenegro, Jr., a TUSD Ethnic Studies alum and member of the Southern Arizona Unity Coalition. "They have been under relentless assault by Tom Horne, John Huppenthal, and by the Arizona State Legislature, and they have had enough." Popular Tucson blogger and activist David Abie Morales called it a "field trip for civics and democracy in action." "Nobody was listening to us, especially the board," said MAS high school student and UNIDOS activist Lisette Cota. "We were fed up. It may have been drastic but the only way was to chain ourselves to the boards' chairs." While hundreds of supporters packed the district meeting room in a celebratory fashion, nine MAS students and UNIDOS activists defied security officers and literally took over the board members' places minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin. "I'm very moved by their passion and commitment to maintain these courses and curriculum," said MAS teacher Sally Rusk. "They're brilliant. This is not a one-time event. It looks like they're not going to stop until they have an impact on this decision." TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone canceled the board meeting, but students have vowed to return to the district office until TUSD board president Mark Stegemen withdraws his proposed resolution, which has brought stark divisions in the community. Over the past two years, the Ethnic Studies Program in Tucson has been subjected to a controversial and costly witch hunt by Attorney General Tom Horne. "We'll keep coming back, with twice as many people next time, each time," added Cota. "We're not going to let this happen. We're going to make it impossible for them to vote." Through the evening, the students and their community supporters chanted: "Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!"

Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Human Costs of Parental Incarceration

The below intern blog is a commentary on reproductive rights of incarcerated women based on the article that can be found below the commentary.

Often times the consequences of incarceration and the barriers faced in successful reentry are usually limited to the ex-offender perspective. In the process of studying these issues, far too often we forget to consider the most vulnerable and innocent victims: the children of offenders. Through no fault of their own, they are thrown into circumstances that they have no control over and have a tremendous impact on their lives. According to recent research the loss of a parent to incarceration often results in trauma very similar experienced in the death or divorce of a parent. Children of these offenders often face the unique stigma of lowered expectations. They face the assumption that, just like their parents, failure and possibly prison is their destiny. Coupled with research demonstrating increased behavioral and health problems, it seems that children of incarcerated individuals face a perilous path to reach adulthood successfully. If you then stop to consider that African American and Latino children are respectively 7 and 2.5 times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children, the societal implications become even clearer. The policies of mass incarceration are imposing costs that disproportionately affect minority communities and will soon bankrupt the remaining social foundation. The children are our future, let us give them the best chance to succeed.

Children on the Outside: Voicing the Pain and Human Costs of Parental Incarceration

By Judith Greene and Patricia Allard

The pain of losing a parent to a prison sentence matches, in many respects, the trauma of losing a parent to death or divorce. Children “on the outside” with a parent in prison suffer a special stigma. Too often they grow up and grieve under a cloud of low expectations and amidst a swirling set of assumptions that they will fail.

Fifty-three percent of the 1.5 million people held in U.S. prisons by 2007 were the parents of one or more minor children. This percentage translates into more than 1.7 million minor children with an incarcerated parent.

African American children are seven and Latino children two and half times more likely to have a parent in prison than white children. The estimated risk of parental imprisonment for white children by the age of 14 is one in 25, while for black children it is one in four by the same age.

Previous research has shown a close yet complex connection between parental incarceration and adverse outcomes for children, including:

• an increased likelihood of engaging in antisocial or delinquent behavior, including drug use;

• an increased likelihood of school failure;

• an increased likelihood of unemployment, and;

• an increased likelihood of developing mental health problems.

Policymakers and the public must take such findings seriously. They also need to understand the real costs of mass incarceration on children and the communities in which they grow up. Too often, society dismisses the children of incarcerated parents as future liabilities to public safety while overlooking opportunities to address the pain and trauma with which these children struggle. It is by tackling the psychological and emotional trauma head-on that we not only aid these children to grow into our future mothers, fathers, taxpayers and workers, but also ensure more stable and thriving communities.

A Prison Life Gets a Second Act

The below intern blog is a commentary on a job opportunity that a formerly incarcerated man was fortunate to find, which is based on the video that can be found below the commentary. It is a known fact that several formerly incarcerated men and women are faced with numerous obstacles in obtaining employment upon their release from correctional facilities. Accustomed to his usual workout while incarcerated, a formerly incarcerated man by the name of Robert Salzman continued his workout regimen on a street corner in the South Bronx. It was on public transportation that Mr. Salzman was approached by a film director about participating in a film entitled “Gun Hill Road” by Motion Film Group. After being incarcerated for most of his life and experiencing his post-release living conditions in homeless shelters, Mr. Salzman was fortunate enough to come across such a great opportunity after his release. Although it does not appear that Mr. Salzman has fully recuperated from his years of incarceration, he has been given an opportunity that several other formerly incarcerated individuals long for – work.

A Prison Life Gets a Second Act

NY Times Video

In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

The below intern blog is a commentary on education based on the article that can be found below the commentary.

Why is good education a commodity? The power of good education, we know, is monumental in developing functional citizens in society. Those in the top tiers such as presidents, lawyers and government officials are cultivated to take on those roles. It is a life long process that begins at birth. In the year 2011, it is disheartening to observe and experience the privileges that arise from attending a private school in comparison to the lack of resources, funding and time commitment in public schools.  So what needs to change? If we know the answer to that question then why are we still combating the same issues?  If it is expected that our presidents will be amongst the best educated then why are public schools not breeding presidents?

In Public School Efforts, a Common Background: Private Education

by Michael Winerip

Ten years ago, the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by the House of Representatives, 384 to 45, marking the first step toward a major transformation of public education in America. The law has ushered in what its supporters like to call the “reform movement.”

For the first time, human bias was removed from student assessment and replaced with scientific accountability systems.

No longer did teachers’ subjective opinions of children distort things. Scores on standardized tests became the gold standard.

No longer did a person with a clipboard have to spend days observing a school to determine whether it was any good. Because of the law, it is now possible for an assistant secretary of education to be sitting in his Washington office and, by simply studying a spreadsheet for a few minutes, know exactly how a school in Juneau is performing.

Each year since then, researchers have found new things to assess. The New York City Department of Education, a pioneer in the science of value-added assessment, can now calculate a teacher’s worth to the third decimal point by using a few very long formulas. (No word yet on whether department researchers have developed a very long formula to assess chancellors and mayors.)

For a while it appeared that the Republicans were way ahead on the reform front, but in 2007, Whitney Tilson, a hedge fund manager and Democratic fund-raiser, founded Democrats for Education Reform to help his party catch up. By all accounts, it has worked. Today, the consensus is that there is little difference between President Obama and former President George W. Bush when it comes to education policy. Nor is it easy to distinguish differences between the secretary of education under Mr. Bush, Margaret Spellings, and the current secretary, Arne Duncan.

Those who call themselves reformers are a diverse group, men and women of every political stripe and of every race and ethnicity.

But there is one thing that characterizes a surprisingly large number of the people who are transforming public schools: they attended private schools.

Which raises the question: Does a private school background give them a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

Your call.

Following is a list of some of these national leaders and the private schools they attended:

Senators Judd Gregg (Phillips Exeter, Exeter, N.H.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Milton Academy, Milton, Mass.) and Representative John A. Boehner (Archbishop Moeller High School, Cincinnati) were three of the four Congressional sponsors of the education legislation, which was signed into law by Mr. Bush (Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.) on Jan. 8, 2002. (Representative George Miller was the fourth sponsor.)

Mr. Obama (Punahou School, Honolulu) will be remembered for his signature education program, Race to the Top. This program rewards states with hundreds of millions of dollars in grants if they develop systems to rate teachers based on their students’ test scores and if they agree to fire teachers and principals based on those scores. In contrast, Michelle Obama, who attended public schools (Whitney Young High, Chicago), has frequently spoken out against the education law’s reliance on testing. “If my future were determined by my performance on a standardized test,” Mrs. Obama has repeatedly said, “I wouldn’t be here, I guarantee that.”

Michelle A. Rhee (Maumee Valley Country Day School, Toledo, Ohio), the former Washington schools chancellor and a founder of StudentsFirst, an advocacy group, is probably the No. 1 celebrity of the reform movement. She is education’s Sarah Palin.

As governor, Mitt Romney (Cranbrook School, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) brought accountability to Massachusetts.

Bill Gates (Lakeside School, Seattle) has donated billions of dollars to public schools with the proviso that they carry out his vision of reform, including tying teacher tenure decisions to students’ test scores. In November, Mr. Gates and Mr. Duncan (University of Chicago Laboratory School) called on public school leaders to increase class size as a way of cutting costs in these hard times. The two men suggested that schools could compensate by striving to have an excellent teacher in every classroom. The private school Mr. Gates attended has an average class size of 16, according to its Web site. The home page says the best thing about Lakeside School is it “promotes relationships between teachers and students through small class sizes.” Mr. Duncan’s private school has an average class size of 19.

Jeb Bush (Phillips Andover), the former governor of Florida and the founder of the Excellence for Education Foundation, is responsible for making Florida a pioneer in the accountability movement by issuing report cards for every school based on test results. In the process he had to overcome many obstacles, including how to explain why his state’s rating system was so badly out of whack with the federal government’s rating system. One year the state report cards gave two-thirds of Florida’s schools A’s or B’s, while the federal system rated two-thirds of Florida schools as failing. As a result, there was widespread confusion among parents who couldn’t tell if their child’s school was succeeding brilliantly or failing miserably.

Bail Shouldn’t Mean Jail for Poor Nonfelony Defendants

The below intern blog is a commentary on the placement of poor nonfelony defendants into jails basedon the article that can be found below the commentary.

Poor nonfelony defendants are being placed into jails for an average of two weeks confinement for simply lacking the funds to post bail. Rather than setting bail in the form of unsecured appearances or surety bonds for nonfelony defendants (which is less complicated for the poorer individuals), judges in New York City constantly set bail for nonfelony defendants in the form of cash or secured bonds. According to research, judges in New York City not only set bail in the form of cash or secured but they were more likely to set bail at an amount that was financially burdensome for the nonfelony defendants to afford. As written by Jamie Fellner, “Why then do judges set bail at less than $500 in only 2 percent of New York City’s nonfelony cases?” This in itself places the less-fortunate in a predicament where they must spend an average of two weeks in pretrial detention for something like jumping the turnstile at a train station or getting into a physical altercation in public. “Bail shouldn’t mean jail for poor nonfelony defendants.”

Bail Shouldn’t Mean Jail for Poor Nonfelony Defendants

Jamie Fellner

In 1970, the New York Legislature reformed the state's bail law with the goal, among other things, of reducing the number of people behind bars solely because they could not afford to pay for their pretrial freedom. The reforms included an expansion of the forms in which bail could be set, giving judges a range of options, such as unsecured appearance or surety bonds, that would be easier for low income defendants.

Unfortunately, our research into New York City bail for nonfelony defendants indicates that judges invariably set bail in the most financially onerous forms-cash or secured bonds. They also set bail at a level the defendants cannot afford.

In 70 percent of nonfelony bail cases, judges set bail between $500 and $1,000, with bail at $1,000 accounting for 30 percent of the cases. This may not seem like a lot of money. But for people scrambling to pay the rent each month or who live on the streets, a $1,000 bail is as impossible to make as one of $100,000.

Almost nine out of 10 nonfelony defendants who have bail set at or lower than $1,000 will be unable to post it at arraignment. Too poor to buy their pretrial freedom, they will spend an average of two weeks behind bars, accused of low level offenses such as smoking marijuana in public, shoplifting, jumping turnstiles, possessing small amounts of drugs or getting into a fight.

Sending nonfelony defendants to jail for want of a few hundred dollars cannot be squared with basic notions of fairness, the right to liberty and the right to equality under the law. It is also expensive. Men and women accused of misdemeanors who cannot post bail account for almost one in four of the annual admissions to New York City jails. Using data provided by the New York City Department of Correction, we calculate New York City could save at least $42 million annually if those defendants were not subjected to pretrial detention.

In the eyes of the law, pretrial detention is not punishment but a precautionary measure to ensure defendants show up in court. From the perspective of those enduring days and nights behind bars, this is a distinction without a difference.

Pretrial detention for misdemeanor defendants is particularly troubling given that one in five of those detained will ultimately not be convicted, typically because their case is dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

It is also disproportionate to the punishment that can be expected for those who are convicted. Only one in five convicted misdemeanants receive jail sentences, and half of those sentences are for less than 15 days; indeed, in 9 percent of the cases, the jail sentence is less than five days. Some misdemeanants thus receive sentences shorter than the length of time in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention as well as time in police lockup pre-arraignment is punishment paid in advance for the 19.5 percent who receive sentences of time served.

As research by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency has shown, pretrial detention of nonfelony defendants also increases the likelihood of a conviction. This may reflect the frequency with which nonfelony defendants plead guilty to avoid or end time pretrial behind bars. A defendant who pleads guilty mostly likely goes home with a sentence of conditional discharge, a fine or time served. If a defendant does not accept the plea, she can spend weeks or months behind bars before the case ends. Not surprisingly, about 60 percent of misdemeanor arrests result in guilty pleas.

New York law gives nonfelony defendants a statutory right to release on recognizance or bail. The law also gives judges broad discretion to make release and bail decisions. There is nothing in the legislative history, however, to suggest the Legislature meant bail to operate as a sub rosa vehicle for sending nonfelony defendants to jail pretrial.

Everyone who has spent any time in New York City's criminal courts knows most defendants are poor if not destitute. Why then do judges set bail at less than $500 in only 2 percent of New York City's nonfelony cases? More than 300,000 nonfelony defendants are arraigned annually in New York City and the entire arraignment typically lasts no more than a few minutes. Judges may lack the time and information to tailor bail to the defendant's resources.

Our research also indicates, however, that some judges deliberately set bail at levels they know defendants cannot afford because they believe detention is necessary to ensure the defendants appear in court. (They may not realize 84 percent of New York City nonfelony defendants who are released pretrial show up for the court proceedings; only 6 percent miss a court appearance and do not return voluntarily within 30 days.) Some set high bail because they want the defendant behind bars for public safety reasons (e.g., in misdemeanor domestic violence cases), even though public safety is not a legislatively authorized purpose for bail. Some judges want to encourage defendants to take a plea, or to impose preemptive punishment on defendants they assume, based on prior records, to be guilty. Judges are also greatly influenced by prosecutor bail recommendations: the higher the bail requested by a prosecutor, the higher the bail that is set.

In addition to setting bail at an amount defendants cannot afford, New York City judges also persist in setting bail in the form of cash or secured bonds. Bail in the form of unsecured or even partially secured appearance or surety bonds is far less likely to pose a financial obstacle for poor defendants. Say the judge wants to set bail at $500. If bail is set in cash, the defendant must come up with the full amount or go to jail. But if the judge sets the $500 as a partially secured appearance bond and required only a 10 percent deposit of the amount (the maximum permitted by statute), the defendant would have to come up with $50 in order to secure her pretrial release. The financial incentive to return to court remains strong, because she would be liable for the remainder of the $500 if she did not make her scheduled court appearances.

It is difficult to understand why judges ignore the alternative bail forms. Longstanding court custom may be partially responsible. Cash bail and secured bonds are common practice and in the rush of arraignments, judges have little incentive to do something different. Our research also suggests many judges are simply unaware of the alternative forms of bail.

Defense counsel share some of the responsibility. Even if they know the options are available (and we found that many do not), they rarely request that bail be set in a different form because they believe therequest would be futile. If the defense bar consistently pressed for alternatives to cash bail or secured bonds, however, judicial practice might change.

The American Bar Association has long criticized financial bail, pointing out that it undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system, is unfair to poor defendants and is ineffective in achieving key objectives of the release/detention decision. The ABA's standards for pretrial release provide that financial conditions should be used only when no other conditions will provide reasonable assurance defendants will appear for future court appearances; if financial conditions are imposed, they should be set at the lowest level necessary to ensure the defendant's appearance and with regard to his financial ability; and they should not be set at an amount that results in a defendant's incarceration solely because he could not post the designated amount.

Federal bail law has similar provisions prohibiting the imposition of money bail that defendants cannot afford and which results in pretrial detention. Under the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1984, the arraigning court is required to release the defendant on his own recognizance or upon execution of an unsecured appearance bond, unless more restrictive conditions are deemed necessary. Bail may not be set in an amount that would produce pretrial detention.

A number of steps should be taken to reduce the pretrial incarceration of poor nonfelony defendants in New York City. At the very least, judges should lower bail amounts and make greater use of alternative bail options, defense counsel should urge them to do so and prosecutors should not object. New York City should also consider establishing pretrial supervision programs for nonfelony defendants who are ineligible for release on recognizance, cannot afford cash bail and who need stronger conditions to ensure return to court.

If, as we suspect is the case, pretrial detention of nonfelony defendants who cannot afford bail occurs throughout the state, legislative solutions should also be sought. For example, New York criminal procedure law could be amended to incorporate provisions similar to those proposed by the ABA or contained in federal law. At the very least, the Legislature should amend the law so that when a judge decides a nonfelony defendant should not be released on recognizance because of a flight risk, the judge must consider releasing the defendant on an unsecured or partially secured bond before setting other forms of bail.

We have focused on nonfelony defendants because pretrial detention for persons accused of minor offenses seems particularly unjust. But most of the arguments against conditioning pretrial freedom on the size of one's wallet apply equally well to felony defendants.

Although it happens every day, and is so routine as to be almost invisible, confining people in jail simply because they are too poor to pay for their freedom is a serious inequity in a criminal justice system that aspires to be just. It is time for the legal community to press for much needed reform.

Criminal Injustice Confronting the Prison Crisis

The below intern blog is a commentary on the criminalization of poverty based on the document that can be found below the commentary.

The criminal justice system supports the richest Americans as they live off the poor. This was my interpretation of a written document entitled, The Criminalization of Poverty by Sabina Virgo. According to Virgo, "crime" is defined by the most powerful individuals - who tend to be the wealthy, Caucasian males of America. The article reviews several political loopholes that trap the socio-economic lower class into the criminal justice system whereas the richest individuals "will get away with it and will never even see a court room." This statement may be slightly exaggerated but there seems to be some level of truth when considering the population that fill the prison system today. The criminal justice system in itself is flawed. The richest Americans are kept satisfied while the lower class is used as scapegoats. As stated by Virgo, the richer individuals DO commit crimes but they are allowed passes on their actions; "we end up in jail and they end up in front of ethics committees."

Please press the link below to view the excerpt:

Book: Criminal Injustice Confronting the Prison Crisis (Edited by Elihu Rosenblatt)

Chapter: The Criminalization of Poverty (Written by Sabina Virgo)

Elite Institutions Are Tested on Diversity

The below intern blog is a commentary on the lack of diversity in elite institutions based on the article that can be found below the commentary. As a minority student currently navigating the depths of higher education at an Ivy League institution, I have been made acutely aware of the need for increased diversity across colleges and universities. I haven’t taken the time to consider though that our issues with a lack of diversity among collegiate student bodies might not only be limited to the United States. Needless to say, I was quite surprised to see that similar discriminatory practices that keep minority and disadvantaged students from entering into the most prestigious universities here are quite prevalent abroad as well. Of course the name and look of the tools might be slightly different (instead of the SAT exams, in Britain you have A level exams). In the end though, both standardized tests do the same thing. Keep talented and capable underrepresented students from being able to enter the most prestigious schools. I completely agree that, “for the premiere educational institutions in the world to wash their hands of the responsibility to dig deeper to find talent is extraordinarily complacent.” It is time for these world leading institutions in education to look beyond simple (and highly flawed) metrics of success and start finding ways to actively increase their diversity.

Elite Institutions Are Tested on Diversity

By D. D. Guttenplan

David Lammy is still mad. In December, Mr. Lammy, a former British higher education minister, currently serving as a Labour Party member of Parliament, released figures showing vastly different success rates for white and black applicants to the country’s two oldest universities. Oxford, he claimed, admitted only a single black student of Caribbean origin last year, while Cambridge, which admitted one in three white applicants, admitted just one in six black applicants.

Both universities pushed back hard, with Oxford claiming to have admitted a total of 27 British black students and Cambridge demonstrating that, contrary to Mr. Lammy’s claim, the university did have black academics — though it was unable to say how many.

“They want to get into a debate about statistics, not about substance,” Mr. Lammy said in an interview, pointing out that his original criticisms were as much about the failure ofBritain’s elite universities to recruit a socially and geographically diverse student body as they were about the relative dearth of nonwhite students. “They want this to be about race, when it was always about class.”

Perhaps because of the lack of a racial element, a recent study by the Sutton Trust, a charity devoted to promoting social mobility through education, received less attention for its report that a student who graduated from an expensive private school was 55 times more likely to be admitted to Oxford or Cambridge than a student whose family income was low enough to qualify for free school meals.

Taken together the reports paint a picture of elite institutions struggling to adapt to the modern world in a country where universities still depend on the government for most of their funding — and where the independent Office for Fair Access is supposed to make sure that any university wishing to charge the new £9,000, or $15,000, a year maximum tuition has made sufficient progress in encouraging participation by low-income and other under-represented groups.

But have other countries done any better meeting the challenges of diversity?

Mr. Lammy points to the United States, where universities consider many factors besides test scores in determining admissions. “If you graduate first in your class in Harlem, theIvy League schools are going to want you,” he said.

David G. Blanchflower, a British-educated economist who now teaches at Dartmouth, argues that “at Dartmouth we’ve found those folks are really worth having.”

Although the standardized test scores for students recruited from inner-city public high schools may not be as high as for students from wealthier suburbs, “the value added is incredible,” Mr. Blanchflower said. “We haven’t really had to compromise at all.”

The French Grandes Écoles have also made a big effort in recent years to open up access to schools long considered the training grounds for the country’s elite. Pierre Tapie, president of the Conference des Grandes Écoles, said that six years ago “the most intellectually selective schools, the École Polytechnique; ESSEC; the École Normale Supérieure and so on, took only 13 percent of their intake from ‘boursiers,”’ students whose family income was low enough to qualify for a scholarship. Today that figure has risen to 20 percent, with a target of 30 percent already reached in many Grandes Écoles.

Dutch universities are far less hierarchical, said Dirk Jan van den Berg, president of the Delft University of Technology. “We like to think we are the best for engineering, just as Utrecht has a reputation in law and Rotterdam in medicine,” he said. “But there is no sense of an elite group.”

Entry to most university courses in the Netherlands isn’t competitive, either. Students who have completed the proper high school course are simply admitted. But in those courses, like medicine or architecture, where the state has set a limit on the number of places, the Dutch have a novel solution. “There are still no entry exams. Instead there is a lottery,” Dr. van den Berg said.

Such an approach is unlikely to attract much support in Britain, where A-levels, written exams normally taken at the end of the final two years of high school, are an object of national fascination. At Oxford and Cambridge, A grades in three subjects are normally seen as a prerequisite for an applicant to be considered. A spokeswoman for Oxford said: “36,000 students got three A’s last year. Of those 17,000 applied to Oxford. We have 3,000 places.”

She also said that Oxford was already making a concerted effort to widen its intake. “We spent over £4 million on access last year, hosting 1,400 separate events, and making contact with 78 percent of the schools in Britain.”

Last year Oxford also ran three summer schools for “students from under-represented groups,” she said. All of those students attended state schools, and 40 percent of them were eventually offered places at Oxford.

But she also noted “a cultural difference” between Britain and the United States: “The exclusive focus in admissions on academic merit (rather than personal merit or the contribution you can make to the student body).” She added, “We really are obsessed with finding the most academically able person.”

However, research by the Sutton Trust indicates that by using A level results as a filter, elite British universities may actually be missing able candidates. “All our studies suggest that when you enroll a state school kid they are more likely to do well at university than someone from a private school with the same A levels,” said Lee Elliot Major, the trust’s policy director. Mr. Elliot Major suggested that one way to overcome this was for universities to “use more contextual information” as part of the admissions process. “A poor child is more likely to be at a school that doesn’t push them to reach their full potential. But when they get to university they really fly.”

The French experience suggests the same. According to Mr. Tapie, students recruited to the rigorous preparatory course for entrance to the Grandes Écoles from socially deprived backgrounds typically have grades 2 points lower (on a scale of 20) than their peers. “But after two years of the course, the difference has narrowed to between 0.5 and 0.7 of a point,” he said.

In Britain, elite universities often say that given the focus on academic excellence, their admissions process simply reflects the reality of a school system where although only 7 percent of students attend private schools, they make up 15 percent of those who take any A levels — and a third of those who receive three A grades.

But Mr. Lammy remains convinced that much more can be done, calling for the current system where individual Oxford and Cambridge colleges control their admissions to be scrapped, and for outreach aimed at the country’s least advantaged communities. “I think it’s myopic to say that this is simply a problem of the British school system,” he said. “For the premiere educational institutions in the world to wash their hands of the responsibility to dig deeper to find talent is extraordinarily complacent.”

Education Matters: Change doesn't come easily

The below intern blog is a commentary on the effects of where you live on your education, based on article that can be found below the commentary. The quality of your education varies on where you live, the schools you have access to, and the qualifications of your teachers. The education system believes once a school achieves a high passing rate on state exams the students are learning up to par. The truth is they aren’t! Unfortunately, parents are too busy working to attend the parent-teacher meetings or demand their child(ren) to receive the education they need to excel as a working class citizen. So, public schools continue to cut back on artistic programs. The education facilities are focused on their students exam score because if they don’t pass the school may be closed down the following school year. President Barack Obama “plans to reform public education centers” to address these issues “by emphasizing the role of results, standards, measurement, and community involvement in making education decisions”. Although the president wants this change it is not possible until educational decisions involve the parents, community, and students. Simply leaving it up to the experts in the field have not helped our children but rather harmed them. The children have become statistics instead of the future. If the schools took the time to focus on what the children need not simply what they need to know to pass the state exams, our education system could take a turn for the better. Before we change the policies of education, we need to redefine the purpose of a school. Is a school a tool to teach students how to prepare to work a nine to five and remain focus on various tasks to receive a monetary reward? Or is a school a facility that promotes the acquisition of knowledge and growth to challenge what is being taught to present their own perspective on life?

Education Matters: Change doesn't come easily

Posted on January 14, 2011

By Catherine Sanderson

President Barack Obama's plan to reform public education centers largely on two goals: raising standards for children and increasing accountability for adults. This plan represents a new way of thinking about how to improve our public schools, by emphasizing the role of results, standards, measurement and community involvement in making education decisions.

Historically, in Amherst and around the nation, decisions on curriculum, programs and direction have been made exclusively by school staff with virtually no input from the community and no accountability to publicly document effectiveness. Today, many people continue to believe that because teachers and administrators are the educational professionals, the community should trust them unilaterally to make all decisions about how to run our schools. They are uncomfortable with serious debate between adults, and prefer a collaborative model in which the community simply supports whatever the experts decide.

Other people share Obama's view of educational reform, and the dual focus on setting high expectations for children and holding adults accountable for helping children reach these goals. People with this view believe that results matter, and that districts which use best practices, evidence-based decision-making, and serious evaluation provide good results for kids. They believe that creating harmony between adults (teachers, administrators, school committee members) is less important than educating kids.

As regular readers of this column know, I don't believe the primary goal of public schools should be to make teachers and administrators happy. Instead, my focus throughout the time I've served on the School Committee has been to create a results-oriented system that responds to the community's expectations and concerns and holds adults accountable for providing all children with the best education possible.

I've therefore pushed for programs and policies that reflect the priorities of our community and lead to good results. We closed Marks Meadow so that we could maintain rich programs in music, art and PE. We redistricted to avoid concentrating low-income children at one school based on research indicating high poverty schools lead to lower achievement for all kids. We added Spanish in our elementary schools because it is consistent with our multicultural goals, was requested by parents for a decade, and allows Latino children (a traditionally underperforming group in our schools) a place to shine. We created a policy requiring regular evaluation of our programs so that we would understand both the strengths and weaknesses of our approaches. We added a preschool for low-income children based on research showing the importance of early education in reducing the achievement gap. We requested outside evaluations of the middle school, the K to 12 mathematics curriculum and special education, because these were consistently identified by parents as areas of concern.

Although implementing these changes created conflict among adults, they also improved education for children.

Amherst is not a town in which change happens easily. There is intense resistance to change in our schools, just as there is strong resistance to civic projects like zoning changes and municipal plans.

Thus, without the difficult conversations of the last three years, none of this progress would have been accomplished. After all, many of these goals had been discussed collegially, by administrators, parents and school committee members, for years without any changes.

As a community we cannot abdicate our responsibility to children out of a desire to maintain harmony among adults; we need to be willing to experience serious discussion, and even discord in order to achieve tremendous benefits for kids.