From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in and Age of Colorblindness, pp.96-7 and PBS Frontline The Plea

“Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American.  You are innocent.  After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home.  Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation.  You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence.  Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children.  Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs.  You are also now branded a drug felon.  You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing.  Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.

A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty.  At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution.  You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.”

Regardless of guilt or innocence, is this type of “tough-on-crime” system and its devastating collateral consequences really solving anything?  Or just making things worse?  We need to be people of courageous problem-solving, instead of weak-kneed singleminded-ness.  Will we boldly examine and correct all that stands in the way of life and love?  For Emma’s sake, I sure hope so.


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