NC JUSTICE NEWS: Racial Justice Act + Gender & Unemployment + Economic Road Show

December 6, 2011

RACIAL JUSTICE ACT: Repeal eliminates safeguard against discrimination

Last week, the North Carolina Senate voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act, a piece of legislation intended as a safeguard against racism in our state’s justice system.

The Racial Justice Act was enacted in 2009 in an effort to help address issues surrounding the death penalty in North Carolina and eliminate discrimination in such cases. Under the law, death row inmates may challenge their sentences if they can prove racial bias played a part in their trial and conviction. The repeal bill is being paraded as a “reform” of the original act, yet the repeal would make it nearly impossible to prove racial bias has impacted a death sentence. Suddenly “reform” seems to mean returning the law back to its original form.

Senate Bill 9 elicited heated debate and testimonies at the General Assembly, yet the very core of the Racial Justice Act – racial discrimination – was barely addressed by lawmakers. The vote went through without any serious examination of studies that have shown race can play a role in who receives the death penalty in North Carolina. Instead, lawmakers claimed the Racial Justice Act would somehow result in convicted murderers being released from prison, a patently false statement. On the contrary, death row inmates who prove race played a role in their sentencing will go on to serve life in prison. The law is by no means a “get out of jail free” card.

The Racial Justice Act is now in Governor Perdue’s hands. The governor should heed the calls of advocates across the state and protect this critical law.

GENDER & UNEMPLOYMENT: Both men, women struggled during recession

The Great Recession has spared few individuals, and a recent profile of unemployment shows just how widely challenges have spread across the population, among both men and women.

A new profile from the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, shows that unemployment for both men and women doubled during the recession. In 2010, women had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, up from 4.9 percent in 2007. Men had a slightly higher growth, which went from 4.2 percent in 2007 to 11.7 percent in 2010. The labor force participation for both genders declined so greatly that, as of last year, the employment-to-population ratios for men and women were at their lowest points since 1983 and 1979, respectively.

Although the official recession period has disproportionately affected men, economic recovery has actually hit women the hardest. Nationally, men lost more than twice the number of jobs that women did between December 2007 and June 2009, yet for the first time in a recovery since 1970, women have lost jobs while men found them nationally.

With federal backing for unemployment benefits set to expire soon, it’s imperative that national lawmakers act to protect individuals from all walks of life. In January 2012 alone, 69,700 North Carolinians will be affected by the loss of unemployment benefits. The National Employment Law Project has a petition encouraging lawmakers to extend the badly-needed benefits. Sign now to protect thousands of North Carolinians.

MENTAL HEALTH: Advocates urge for supportive housing

This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded an investigation against North Carolina, finding that the state violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act through the segregation of thousands of individuals with mental illness in large, institutional adult care homes. The investigation found these individuals would be able to successfully live and thrive in integrated settings such as supportive housing, where those with physical and mental disabilities could live on their own with provided services and supports.

Advocacy groups from across the state came together last week to call on Governor Beverly Perdue to end the state’s reliance on such institutions, in an effort to avoid a threatened lawsuit by the Justice Department. If the lawsuit happens, the North Carolina stakeholder group warned in their letter, the state will lose. Read the complete letter here.

North Carolina is capable of taking steps to ensure individuals with mental illness are able to live in supportive housing and provided with critical services. Resources from the institutional adult care homes might be redirected to support individuals in their own homes, beyond the confines of outdated surroundings which don’t allow these people to thrive and succeed.

BUILDING A STRONGER NC: Interactive sessions across NC

This year, United Way and the NC Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, are once again teaming up to share the story of the economy and state budget. Through interactive sessions across North Carolina entitled “Building a Stronger North Carolina,” communities will be given the opportunity to respond and help write the next chapter in this ever-changing story.

Attendants will be encouraged to ask and answer a variety of questions, such as:

  • How have the state budget and the economy impacted your community?
  • What budget trends are developing, and how long will it take for NC to recover from the Great Recession?
  • Is NC falling behind in areas like Education, Health and Public Safety?
  • How can you impact the issues you care most about?
  • How can you join with others to focus your local advocacy for the greatest outcome?

There will be two events held this upcoming week. On Wednesday, December 7, Hickory will play host to the community conversation event at the Catawba Valley Community College's East Wing Auditorium from 8:30-11:00 a.m. Click here to register for the Hickory event.

The event moves to Charlotte on Thursday, December 8, where community members are invited to Hope Haven Inc. at 3185 N. Tyron Street from 7:30-10:00 a.m. Click here for more information.

There will also be multiple events throughout December in Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Elizabeth City, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Durham and Orange County. Check out this flyer for all of the details, and keep an eye out for updates in future newsletters.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: NC Policy Watch heads west

On Monday, December 12, NC Policy Watch staffers Chris Fitzsimon and Rob Schofield will be in western North Carolina for two special Crucial Conversations — a lunch event in Asheville and an evening event in Boone – to address what a year of conservative control has meant to the NC General Assembly.

Chris Fitzsimon is the Director of N.C. Policy Watch and North Carolina’s leading progressive media personality. A veteran journalist and nonprofit leader, Chris's daily commentaries are heard on radio and read online throughout North Carolina. His colleague, Rob Schofield is the Director of Research at N.C. Policy Watch. Rob is a lawyer, lobbyist and writer with more than 25 years experience fighting for progressive policies at the state level.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from these two experts at this critical time. The event in Asheville will be held on Monday, December 12 at 12:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Asheville. Click here to register for the Asheville event.

Later that day, NC Policy Watch will head to the Cooperative Extension Agricultural Conference Center in Boone for the second event, held at 7:00 p.m. on Monday evening. Click here to register for the Boone event. Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or with any questions.

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