Here is a link to the Ban the Box editorial posted in today’s Charlotte Observer.
Public Records Requests in North Carolina: What We’re Not Given, and How The Civil Rights Clinic is Trying to Change That.February 22, 2013
The Civil Rights Clinic’s Public Records Project is well on its way to drafting a letter to the North Carolina Attorney General addressing the insufficient response format to a public records request in North Carolina
Currently, under North Carolina General Statutes, there is neither an established period in which the state must respond, nor a mandated response format. When a request is denied, North Carolina Statutes simply state a person who is denied access to public records may apply to the appropriate division of the General Court of Justice for an order compelling disclosure or copying.
The Public Records Project has implemented a research plan focusing on the North Carolina statute and the approaches of other states to address public records requests and responses. Currently, the Clinic has researched all 50 states’, and the District of Columbia’s public records statutes, classifying states as those with similar or comparable statutes, those with less stringent requirements than North Carolina, and those with more stringent requirements than North Carolina. The goal of the statutory research is to determine how other states have either improved or justified their disclosure method, as well as what North Carolina can do to improve its disclosure and response format to resemble that of the Federal Freedom Of Information Act, which requires a detailed index stating the specific exemption for those documents not disclosed known as a Vaughn Index. Though the Clinic’s Public Records Project is concerned predominantly with state law, the Federal Freedom of Information Act’s response format, the Vaughn Index, is a model the clinic is striving towards.
Research so far has shown severe ends of the spectrum. For example, while North Carolina provides no real substance on how a state agency is to format its denial to a public records request, Georgia requires that any decision to withhold all or part of a requested record shall be made known to the person requesting such documents, along with the specific legal authority exempting the requested record from disclosure by Code section, subsection, and paragraph within a reasonable amount of time, not to exceed three business days.
The Civil Rights Clinic’s next step is to delve into case law, Attorney General’s statements, and administrative rulings regarding public records request among all fifty states. The end goal for the Public Records Project is a letter to the North Carolina Attorney General seeking an opinion addressing the insufficient response requirements to a public records request, along with a proposal for a new standard for public records request responses. It is the hope of the Civil Rights Clinic that research will lead to improvements, not just within North Carolina, but to other states with similar or comparable statutes and those with less stringent requirements.
By Katie Webb
Approximately one in every 163 adults is incarcerated in Mecklenburg County. That amounts to about 3,800 people in jail and prison at any given time. As of last July, 6,874 were on probation. The unfortunate reality facing many of these individuals with a criminal past is that they walk out of a prison cell, straight into a box.
This “Box” is often a simple question on employment applications that requires the applicants to check “yes” or “no” as to whether they have previously been convicted of a crime. According to Devah Pager, author of The Mark of a Criminal Record, once the applicant checks the box, employers are twice as likely to deny employment to an applicant with a criminal record than an applicant without one. People who complete their time and are released find themselves chained to their past, with a dark shadow standing over them every time they fill out a job application or sit down for an interview. They all stand in the shadow of The Box.
According to the Center for Community Transitions and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, 97 percent of those incarcerated in Mecklenburg County will return to the community, many with little or no resources, and nearly a 50 percent chance of being rearrested within a year. In a study done by the Indiana Department of Corrections, if employed, ex-offenders’ recidivism dropped from a high of 44.7 percent, down to 28.5 percent for someone without a GED or high school diploma; the numbers go as low as 17.3 percent if that individual has a college degree and employment.
The challenges individuals with criminal backgrounds face disproportionately impact people of color, the working poor, and minorities; populations which are convicted and incarcerated in numbers disproportionate to their population. According to the Department of Justice, African-American and Hispanic males were imprisoned at a rate between 2 to 7 times that of white males nationwide during 2011. This imbalance has created a disparate impact on job seekers from minority communities. The Box greatly exacerbates the re-entry adversity which thousands of potential employees, their families and communities already face.
In an effort to promote and assist with the communal reintegration of those with a criminal history, the Ban The Box movement seeks to remove the requirement that applicants disclose all past convictions on a preliminary application for public employment with the City of Charlotte. Past efforts in the community have shown that employment dramatically lowers the recidivism rate for participating ex-offenders by as much as 35 percent below the national average. Research from the Center for Community Transitions shows that finding and retaining employment are major factors in preventing return to prison. Over 20 cities have passed similar legislation including Durham City, Durham County, San Francisco, Seattle, and more. Some states, like Massachusetts, have successfully adopted legislation at the state level.
The cost? An opportunity to explain. City employers would not be prohibited from making background checks, but would instead have to extend a conditional offer of employment prior to a check taking place. Qualified applicants would be able to discuss their criminal history in an interview and explain why it should not disqualify them, as well as provide evidence of their rehabilitation. Adopting the ordinance would not only lower recidivism, preventing the overcrowding of prisons and jails, but would also significantly decrease the cost to taxpayers of housing inmates.
Ex-offenders may have few or no resources to begin to unshackle themselves from their past convictions and gain lawful employment. Through this proposal they will have a chance at becoming functional, contributing members of society once again, while simultaneously decreasing their chances of recidivism. The Ban The Box Coalition plans to present its resolution and proposed ordinance to the City Council Monday, February 25th, at 6:15pm. Everyone is invited to attend and show their support. With our help, ex-offenders have a chance to get out from under the shadow of The Box.
By Daniel Melo
In the past few weeks, I came across numerous articles discussing mental health and access to healthcare for those with mental illness in the Charlotte Area. This prompted me to do more exploration on the issue. I discovered that Mecklenburg County has a program, at the heart of the controversy, called MeckLINK. MeckLINK is an organization which serves individuals suffering from mental health, substance abuse, or developmental issues, and provides a resource for evaluation and referrals to community mental health providers. Most everyone knows someone affected by a mental illness; many of those affected are impacted by the current dispute between the Department of Health and Human Services in Raleigh and Mecklenburg County regarding the oversight of millions of dollars of Medicaid funding. As a community member, I found myself primarily concerned over the stability and effective provision of mental health services to those in need, thus prompting my interest in the issue.
What is the current state of Mental Health in Mecklenburg County and what is MeckLINK?
Mental health is seventh on the Mecklenburg County’s top-ten list of current health priorities. A national study revealed that 19.8% of North Carolina adults have suffered with a mental illness. In Mecklenburg County, more than 150,000 individuals who suffer from mental illness, including substance abuse, rely on Medicaid funding for care. One method of addressing community mental health needs was the County’s formation of “MeckLINK.”
MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare is a component of the Mecklenburg County government with a mission “[t]o assist persons, families and communities affected by mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental disabilities to achieve their life goals.” According to their website, MeckLINK provides individual assessment of needs and then coordinates with community mental health providers to “link” the individual with the appropriate services. Most relevant to the current unrest is the fact that MeckLINK also provides these services for individuals with “limited financial resources or no insurance,” including individuals who rely on Medicaid for healthcare. Delivery of services and sufficient funding constitutes a major concern for any community attempting to prioritize mental health, as well as to those who suffer from illness.
So, what is currently happening in the News?
At the end of 2012, the North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary, Albert Delia, made the decision to remove oversight of Mecklenburg County’s federal and state Medicaid funding from MeckLINK. This decision came as a shock to the County, who had already taken drastic steps toward implementing the MeckLINK program as a managed care organization, including spending millions of dollars to initiate MeckLINK and hiring hundreds of employees. Mr. Delia ordered the Medicaid program’s reassignment to a private corporation, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions.
This decision received major pushback, from not just the Mecklenburg County government, but also, from providers and residents within the County. The County was frustrated with the decision, not only because of the time spent establishing the program, but also because of its belief that MeckLINK would work. Through MeckLINK, Mecklenburg would become the only county in the state to operate a managed care organization at the community level. By keeping Medicaid money and oversight within the community, the County’s goal is to reduce costs and to increase accountability and care.
One reason for the decision to move oversight to a private corporation was Mr. Delia’s belief that MeckLINK would not be operational by the deadline of February 1, 2013. Thus, on his last day of office, Mr. Delia reassigned the program to Cardinal Innovations Healthcare.
This January, Mecklenburg representatives and the new North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary, Aldona Wos, reached an agreement giving MeckLINK another chance. Mecklenburg County has until March 1, 2013, to launch the program. If the county fails to demonstrate that MeckLINK will function as promised, then its services, including the millions of dollars in state and federal Medicaid money, will be permanently reassigned and the hundreds of employees hired by the County will be out of jobs. Additionally, Mecklenburg County will be out the millions of dollars it spent to initiate the program.
Thankfully, in the first of two progress reports, required by the January agreement, MeckLINK received a favorable report. According to WFAE, on January 30, 2013, a state consultant indicated that MeckLINK is “on track” for meeting the March 1st launch deadline.
What is at Stake if MeckLINK fails?
The goal of giving MeckLINK oversight of the Medicaid funding “is to . . . reduce costs by keeping people out of institutions and to be more accountable and consistent with services.” Apart from losing control of the supervision of Medicaid dollars within the County, what else is at stake if MeckLINK fails?
According to a statement from the Mecklenburg County Public Information Department, the state’s decision to give MeckLINK more time will avoid litigation. Given the number of people who rely on Medicaid funding for healthcare and the need for access to mental health services, it is doubtful that litigation would assist the county’s goal of prioritizing mental health.
Additionally, given the ever-present newsreel concerning the dangerous inadequacies in mental health care, instability in the provision of mental health services is an alarming prospect. The outcomes of untreated illness include substance abuse, homelessness, and physical ailments. The fight to overturn the initial reassignment declaration began as a result of concerns raised by both consumers and community advocates that reassignment would reduce the quality of services provided.
Finally, should MeckLINK fail, the county will be forced to lay-off hundreds of employees, and the $3 Million dollars used to initiate the program will have been for naught.
I am not an expert in Medicaid or in Mental Health services in Mecklenburg County, however, I am an interested and concerned citizen. After conducting research, I can say that I am pleased that MeckLINK is making progress. For the sake of mental health care in Mecklenburg County and the highest quality mental health services for individuals on Medicaid, I hope that the program will remain on track through the deadline.
I fear the delay that would result from MeckLINK’s failure. Additionally, I fear that removing oversight of these critical funds will result in the disjointed provision of care in Mecklenburg County. Mecklenburg is the only county in the state attempting to establish a managed care organization of its own. I fully believe that the state should support a county fighting for a way to increase accountability and stability in mental health care. The state should support a county whose mission is to prioritize mental health for its citizens. As a community member, I support the County’s fight and hope for the success of MeckLINK.
By: Emily Ray
Charlotte School of Law Law Review’s Annual Symposium (March 15th 9:00 am – 2:00 pm)
This year, the Law Review is presenting speakers from across the political and ideological gamut to discuss the social institution of marriage, and the effects of marriage laws on states and citizens alike. As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor (two major cases that challenge both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (a state marriage law), the Law Review seeks to keep local activists, attorneys, and students on par with the theories that fuel these debates.
The morning panel, “I do, You don’t. A Constitutional Debate on Marriage,” will showcase legal, academic, and social scholars presenting unique and wide-ranging theories on the definition of ‘Marriage.’ The debate will mirror the current issues before the Supreme Court, as proponents and opponents of state and federal constitutional amendments are given the opportunity to fully flesh out the issues before an inquisitive audience of students and attorneys. The panel will respond to questions from the audience and participation is encouraged as this is an issue that affects all members of the public, regardless of orientation or belief.
As the issues from the first panel resonate, speakers, students, staff and attorneys will have the opportunity to meet and greet, and come together in reflection during a catered lunch.
The afternoon panel, “A Straight and Narrow Path: Navigating the Law for LGBT clients,” will be a practice-oriented discussion of how to serve and advocate for LGBT clients within the existing legal framework. Topics will include ethical issues that lawyers may face, overcoming state constitutional amendments such as North Carolina’s Amendment One when representing clients in family law or wills and trust issues, discrimination issues, and the relatively new and unique issues faced by transgender clients.
With such a hot topic currently being decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, the Law Review strives to have a wide range of public representation at the Symposium. Regardless of belief, orientation, practice, or opinion, these are issues that affect each and every person, and if every viewpoint could be represented, the conversation would greatly benefit.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” —Helen Keller
Students, we need your support in helping the Civil Rights Clinic get the Ban the Box initiative passed by the Charlotte City Council!January 14, 2013
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ban the Box, it is an ordinance intended to encourage full participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories in our workforce, reduce recidivism, and assure public safety. The ordinance accomplishes these ends by establishing practices that:
1) Encourage the use of an applicant’s job application as a tool in appropriately assess information about their qualification for the position desired without the specter of any past legal mistakes.
2) Help city employees making hiring decisions more adequately and correctly assess an applicant’s criminal history by providing a qualified applicant an opportunity to discuss any inaccuracies, contest the contend and relevance of a criminal history, and provide information about rehabilitation.
3) Encourage the full employment and full integration of people with conviction histories back into the community as a critical part of ensuring public safety.
4) Ensure strict EEOC compliance in relation to criminal backgrounds.
We are planning on presenting the initiative at the City Council meeting on Monday February 25th at 6:15pm. Our goal is to have a turn-out between 50-100 people in support of the measure, along with 4 people who will address the Council directly. I would like to get your commitment to come out and support the initiative at that meeting. Along with your support, I would like to also enlist your help in spreading the word, and getting people with whom you work or know to also commit to coming to the meeting. In our conversations with the people who got a similar ordinance passed in Durham, they said that the number of people who attended the meeting, a little more than 50 people, was the key to their success. If the City Council sees that this is a community effort, we have a great chance of success. We already have Councilwoman Mayfield in our corner, and she is ready to motion to have the initiative sent to committee after our presentation. What we need now is your commitment to attend, and your help in spreading the word so that the rest of the Council will be motivated to pass the ordinance. If you can come to the meeting, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will add your name to the list of attendees. You may also forward this email to your contacts, and enlist their help. Please have them email their commitment to my email address. I look forward to working with all of you, and thank you for your support!
Around 2:45 PM on Monday, January 30, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police entered the Occupy Charlotte camp to enforce the newly enacted ban on camping on city property. Seven protesters were arrested for nonviolently resisting the eviction by refusing to leave their tents. Members of the Charlotte Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild were present to document the eviction as neutral Legal Observers.
There is a heated debate between the protesters and the police regarding the proper interpretation of the ordinance. The protesters read it to say that tents are permissible as long as they are not used for sleeping, or to store personal possessions. The police read the ordinance to say that all tents must be removed with the exception of a single information canopy.
Please decide for yourself. Here’s the relevant text from the ordinance:
- Ch. 15 Art. I Sec. 15-26 Camping and other activity prohibited on public property.
- (a) Definitions.The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this article, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this subsection, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
- Camp or camping means the use of city property for living accommodation purposes such as sleeping, or making preparations to sleep (including the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping), or storing personal belongings, or placing any tents or a temporary shelter on city property for living accommodation purposes.
- Temporary Shelter means tents, tarps, or any type of structure or cover that provides partial shelter from the elements.
- (b) It shall be unlawful for anyone to camp on any public property owned by the city including public right of ways and sidewalks.
- (c) Camping as defined in this section is deemed a public nuisance and the city may summarily remove a temporary shelter, bedding or personal belongings.
- (a) Definitions.The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this article, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this subsection, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
Ken Davies, an attorney representing Occupy Charlotte is busily working on obtaining a temporary restraining order. The Clinic will be closely following the legal action surrounding the eviction. For more on the eviction and Occupy Charlotte’s legal response, please check out this article by the Herald Online.
The Clinic’s work preparing for the upcoming DNC and our opposition to the ordinances passed on Monday hasn’t gone unnoticed. Jennifer Moxley of News 14 Carolina visited our Friday meeting and ran this segment about our work: Charlotte Law Students Advocate Debate, Protest Ordinance.