Another chance to toss unfair convictions

Another chance to toss unfair convictions

Louisiana voters in 2018 overwhelmingly overturned a Jim Crow law that allowed people to be convicted of crimes even when some of their jurors did not believe they were guilty. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it did not affect earlier split-jury convictions, leaving as many as 1,500 people in Louisiana imprisoned by divided verdicts. Now, as John Simerman reports in | The Advocate, the Louisiana Supreme Court has agreed to take up the question of whether the state’s ban on non-unanimous convictions could provide relief to those already convicted.

The case of Reginald Reddick, who was convicted by a 10-2 jury vote that is no longer allowed, sets up a decision by the state’s highest court that could affect as many as 1,500 Louisiana inmates, most of them serving life sentences without parole. Convicted by split juries years ago, their appeals exhausted, those inmates missed a shot at new trials when the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to make its 2020 ban on divided juries retroactive. Still, advocates have argued that the high court’s ruling doesn’t prevent the Louisiana Supreme Court from deciding that those older split verdicts violate the state’s constitution and should be tossed.

Congress should pass housing relief
Children suffer when their families can’t access stable housing. But America’s housing assistance programs are woefully underfunded, leaving out three-fourths of families with children who experience rental hardship. And with millions of Americans not caught up on rent and pandemic emergency rental assistance programs still falling short of need, now is a critical time for more federal investments in programs to support long-term housing stability. Sonya Acosta of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why housing assistance increases proposed in the Build Back Better plan should be a part of any compromise deal worked out in Congress:

The Build Back Better Act, as passed by the House, includes a Housing Choice Voucher expansion that would serve about 300,000 extremely low-income households after phase-in, including about 80,000 vouchers for households experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We estimate this expansion would help about 274,000 children and their families and that more than 70 percent of people served would be people of color. These additional vouchers would lift about 250,000 people, including 90,000 children, above the poverty line.

A comprehensive approach to serving the unhoused
When people lose their homes, they lose access to many other sources of stability, such as a dependable place to bathe and use the bathroom, a safe place to store vital documents and other conveniences that make it easier to find work, maintain social connections and stay healthy. As Joanne Kenan reports in Politico, the city of Rockford, Ill., is taking a comprehensive approach to serving the unhoused by focusing on keeping people sheltered and making it easier for people without homes to access multiple assistance programs at once.

It’s not just unemployed people who become homeless; the working poor, who live paycheck to paycheck, can find themselves unable to pay their rent, particularly if illness or some other crisis wipes out their limited resources. Housing is also a matter of racial justice, city officials note. All kinds of people become homeless, but they are disproportionately people of color. Ending homelessness doesn’t mean that no one ever becomes homeless again, explained the city’s long-time housing coordinator Angie Walker. What Rockford is really doing is ending “functional homelessness.” With support, diversion and preventive mechanisms in place, including that close collaboration with the eviction court, far fewer people lose their homes. And those that do, don’t stay homeless and they don’t become homeless over and over again.

Racist assumptions cut holes in our safety net
A large and growing body of evidence shows that public benefits programs like cash assistance have positive outcomes, both for the programs’ participants and for society at large. But as Alex Samuels and Neil Lewis Jr. argue in Five Thirty Eight, policies rooted in racist stereotypes undercut America’s safety net programs, harming people in need and acting as a drag on the economy:

Politicians across the political spectrum have found a number of scapegoats to use while arguing against expanding the social safety net, including playing to Americans’ fears about rising inflation rates. As a result, various programs that would help people — namely the poor and people of color — have become taboo. What’s striking, though, is that if you actually look at most social science research, investing in the social safety net is fiscally responsible — it pays large dividends for both individuals and our collective society. Economists have studied this for decades, finding that anti-poverty and cash-assistance programs executed both in and outside of the U.S. are linked to increased labor participation in the workforce, while investing in childcare benefits not only children, but the broader economy and society they are raised in. 

As Eli Hager writes in Route Fifty, the decimation of cash assistance under President Bill Clinton’s administration offers a cautionary tale of how narratives about the undeserving poor, driven by racial stereotypes, lead to policy that harms poor children — and how new policy, like expanded Child Tax Credit payments, offers a new chance to right old wrongs.

If spending less on helping those in need is actually the point of welfare law, then opponents of the child tax credit in Congress are right to say that TANF works well enough already. In fact, spending less on parents and children was built into the original structure of TANF. The program’s funding was frozen in 1996 — and has not been increased since to account for inflation or population shifts. That means less and less is available per poor family with every passing year.

Number of the Day
$3.8 billion – Total amount of student debt in Louisiana eligible for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Temporary changes to the program allow more borrowers pursuing careers in public service to qualify—more information is available at (Source: Monroe News Star)