Category: Public Policy

almsDavid Schelhaas, Professor Emeritus of English at Dordt College, recently published an article titled “What Does Social Democrat Mean?” Schelhaas suggests that “Christians should seriously consider the merits of social democracy.” Schelhaas is quick to point out that he does not advocate socialism, with state control and management of the means of production, coupled with the redistribution of wealth. Instead, he advocates for the lighter “social democracy.”

Schelhaas goes on to outline his vision of social democracy, including the state’s role in “creating a good and just society” and “using taxes to pay for…other social changes they desire.” His chief concern is wealth inequality, and claims it is the underlying cause of “virtually all social problems that plague a society, things like infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, mental illness, etc.”

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suspensionIn Dothan, Alabama, school officials are meeting to make changes to the Dothan City Schools suspension policies because of disparities between the rates of suspensions between black and white students. Across the American South, these suspension disparities are among the greatest. The terms for how students are punished are largely subjective, and this punishment increasingly falls harder on minority students compared to their white counterparts. An August 2015 report published by the University of Pennsylvania highlighted some of the disparities in punishment and brought to light some of the disproportionate impact these harsh discipline policies have on black students in the Southern states in particular.

The report found that across the country in one academic year there were 1.2 million black students suspended from K-12 schools. More than half of these suspensions occurred in Southern states (55 percent). Southern school districts also accounted for half of the expulsions of black students in the nation. Overall black students were punished at disproportionately high levels across Southern school districts. In 84 school districts black students accounted for 100 percent of all suspensions, and in 181 districts black students accounted for 100 percent of expulsions. Those numbers only represent the districts where all of the harsh discipline was entirely directed at black students — in hundreds of other districts punishment was directed towards black students 50 or 75 percent of the time.
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Evangelicalism historically has always been embroiled in political and social movements in the West. Because of the effective reach church leaders have in reaching the masses in past history, politicians take particular interest in the church during political campaigns. Donald Trump’s new found interest in evangelicalism, then, makes historical sense. Winning over evangelicals could translate into votes. In fact, in the post-Nixon era evangelicals were very useful tools in the growth of the GOP as some Christian leaders unintentionally sold out the mission of the church to win a “culture war.”

In the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, evangelical figures like Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop, joined forces in the mid-1970s to call evangelicals to fight against the proliferation of abortion. Matthew Miller does a wonderful job of explaining how these men woke evangelicals up to an issue that Catholics were already fighting against.

In 1975, Brown and Koop launched The Christian Action Council which became the first major evangelical lobbying organization on Capitol Hill. In 1976, Francis Schaeffer’s film and lecture tour, How Shall We Then Live, served to awaken many evangelicals to the decline of Western culture on issues like abortion, materialism, secularism, the influence of evolution in public schools, the increasing coercion of government power, and so on.

Under the leadership of Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, evangelicals officially launched their first offensive in the culture war as the pro-life movement recruited more crusaders. In the years that followed, the second generation of evangelical culture warriors were deployed. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson, and so on, established a solid pro-life movement. These leaders would be key figures in the formation of The Moral Majority movement of the 1980s which enlisted Christians in the culture war for traditional family values, abortion, prayer in schools, among others.
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Dollar Banknotes, Handcuffs And Judge Gavel On Wood TableThe Atlantic magazine published an article on July 5, 2016 highlighting the growing problems in Louisiana with legal financial obligations (LFOs) and their effect on poor defendants and the recently incarcerated. Former prisoners usually have a hard time finding a stable income post incarceration and LFOs often require former prisoners to pay thousands of dollars upon release. The average amount in the state of Washington is $1,347, with interest rates that make the debt increase over time. One woman the article mentions owed $33,000 upon her release from prison, and after making minimum payments for 13 years owed $72,000. This is an extreme example, but for the poor — who are the most commonly imprisoned on the socioeconomic scale — any amount can quickly become overwhelming and cause them to face more jail time.

The relationship between the poor and prison is one that has always existed, but one that has become more of a problem in the United States in the recent decades. A 2015 report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) found that our current welfare and criminal justice system actually hurts the poor more than other demographics and in many cases lands them in prison. Their conclusion is that the poor and minority populations in the United States are profiled and arrested at unjust levels. This is not a groundbreaking conclusion, but their findings show some of the extent of the current problem. The problems exist all over the system and pervade different aspects of society from school discipline to Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws.
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The current debate surrounding overcriminalization and juvenile incarceration is often centered around the male prison population. The debate increasingly overlooks the problems that face young girls caught in the prison pipeline to juvenile detention. New data in the past several years has shown that the prison pipeline for girls often includes a pattern of sexual abuse that is not present in cases involving male delinquents.

A 2015 report published by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found that girls in juvenile detention have a high likelihood of being sexual and physical abuse victims. The reports summarizes new data on the ‘abuse to prison pipeline’ present in the female juvenile justice system. The report found that there is systemic criminalization of victimized girls, often disproportionately girls from minority populations.

Sexual violence against girls is a modern American tragedy, and this sexual abuse is a primary predictor today of a girl’s entrance into a juvenile detention center. Girls that were victims of sex trafficking are often arrested on prostitution charges and put in detention centers to be punished instead of being helped to overcome the trauma of the sex trafficking industry. Ethnic minority girls are increasingly being incarcerated as a result.
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Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
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juvenile_500x279In early June 2016, Matthew Bergman, 15, allegedly admitted to police that he killed his aunt and stabbed his mother in Davidson County, Tennessee near Nashville. When teens commit crimes in the suburbs or in urban areas, experts are ambivalent about what to with them because of the long-term consequences of youth incarceration. Low income communities get hit the hardest.

Since the 1980s juvenile incarceration rates have increased steadily creating a phenomenon often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” There are many reasons for the increased numbers of incarcerated youths and there are often implications for juvenile delinquents as they become adults. It is no secret that those imprisoned in their teens have a higher likelihood of spending time in prison at some later point in their lives. The Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University published an article titled “The Devastating, Long-Lasting Costs of Juvenile Incarceration” examined the long-lasting effects of juvenile imprisonment and the problems surrounding the current system.
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The brokenness of America’s criminal justice system is not just an urban issue. Working class defendants in small towns across America are vulnerable to system that does not protect them from government negligence.

For example, New York’s state legislature approved new indigent defense measures last week that finished an almost decade long battle over statewide indigent defense problems. The case began with a 2007 lawsuit by the NY Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several indigent defendants (Hurrell-Harring et al. v. State of New York). The Hurrell-Harring case was settled in 2014, but only brought indigent defense reform to 5 of the 57 counties in New York. The New York state senate unanimously approved to extend the reforms statewide and will take effect once it is signed by Governor Cuomo. The new measures will take the burden of paying for indigent defense services off counties and place them entirely on the state. The bill has received praise from around the state because it will help many counties provide better services for indigent defense in the future.

New York, like many other states, does not have a statewide system of indigent defense. In New York, each county provides the resources for indigent defense which results in some of the poorest counties falling far short of providing just trials for defendants. If the quality of defense differs from one county to another the system would seem to be providing adequate defense to some indigents. Before Hurrell-Harring, a 2006 New York State Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services report found that, “nothing short of major, far-reaching, reform can ensure that New York meets its constitutional and statutory obligations to provide quality representation to every indigent person accused of a crime or other offense.”
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