The true cost of the non-unanimous jury law

The true cost of the non-unanimous jury law

Until Louisianans voted to end the practice in 2018, Louisiana was one of only two states that put people in prison without a unanimous jury conviction – a policy rooted in overt racism and that did particular harm to black Louisianans, according to a 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by The Advocate. While this was a meaningful step forward for criminal justice reform, the change in the law does not help those who have already been convicted. With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule on the fate of people convicted by non-unanimous juries in the coming weeks, Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine tells the stories of three affected Louisianans and the racist origins of the policy: 

In 1898, Louisiana held a state constitutional convention. The delegates asked for a racial breakdown of the voting rolls and learned that about 15 percent of eligible voters, and thus jurors, were black. The delegates then voted to allow convictions in 12-juror trials even if three jurors dissented — permitting the majority to override the opinion of a likely number of black jurors at any trial. (In 1973, at another state constitutional convention, Louisiana increased, from nine to 10, the number of jurors required for conviction for crimes that carry a penalty of hard labor and imprisonment.)

In a timely letter to the editor, Kiana Calloway tells his story in The Advocate as a formerly incarcerated person seeking housing in the Crescent City, and highlights the need to ban the box on all housing applications.


A new voice for indigent defendants
Louisiana’s public defenders are chronically overworked and underfunded, and are overly reliant on on court fines and fees to finance their operations. But the Louisiana State Public Defender Board now has a new leader – Metairie lawyer Remy Voisin Starns – who takes over after his predecessor abruptly quit last summer. Starns inherits a class-action lawsuit alleging that the state’s under-financed indigent defense system violates the constitutional right to counsel for poor people. Jacqueline DeRobertis of The Advocate explains:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright requires states to provide lawyers for defendants unable to hire their own. When the Louisiana Public Defender Board released its annual report for 2018 at the beginning of last year, (former public defender James) Dixon noted the workload of public defenders across the state was “almost five times what it should be.” He also pointed out that, with a statewide decline in traffic tickets, the public defender system would face a new crisis “as early as 2020.” 

Racial split in top performing schools
Louisiana does a fine job of letting parents know about the quality of their child’s school, but has done little to fix large racial disparities in access to quality classrooms. That’s according to a recent report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, which reviews state compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act in the 2017-2018 school year, the first year the law went into effect. Will Sentell highlights the report’s findings in The Advocate

But the state also suffers from some of the same shortcomings as others, including white students dominating A-rated schools and black students filling those with failing marks, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. In Louisiana, black students make up an average of 47% of public schools but typically only 22% of an A-rated public school in the state. Black youngsters comprise 83 percent of a typical F-rated school in Louisiana, the group says.


Neighborhoods matter
The neighborhood where a child grows up impacts everything from their future earnings to their life expectancy. Now, a new report by Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Clemens Noelke and Nancy McArdle of Brandeis University, shines a light on stark differences in opportunity for children both between metro areas in the United States, and within metros. The report is based on the newly released Child Opportunity Index 2.0, which provides opportunity scores based on 29 metrics and covers all 72,000 neighborhoods in the U.S. The authors explain why this matters and how racial and ethnic disparities continue to set boundaries on childrens’ life opportunities:   

As they develop, children are influenced not only by their families but also by their neighborhoods and schools. These three environments shape children’s experiences, their opportunities for healthy development, and the adults they will become—their educational attainment, health and socioeconomic success as adults. (…) Neighborhoods matter because they influence access to important conditions and resources for healthy child development: quality schools, safe playgrounds, availability of healthy food, adequate income and good jobs for the adults in their lives. 

You can map your neighborhood at The data broken down by race and ethnicity is a sobering reminder of how far we have to go to ensure all children share equally in the opportunities to succeed.


Number of the Day
6,000 – The number of people locked in Louisiana prisons with sentences of either life or 50 years or more — a higher number than in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee combined. (Source: The Advocate)