Updated: Feb 15
NCBL CRIMINAL JUSTICE SECTION
The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) Criminal Justice Section’s focus is to fulfill the mission of NCBL to serve as the legal arm of the Movement for Black Liberation by dismantling the criminal punishment system in the United States and replacing it with a system that has as its priority ensuring that all communities have the essentials necessary for them to thrive.
We advocate that behavior that violates the codes of honesty and sanctity of life be addressed within the framework of a community-based approach.
Ultimately, the goal of the Section is to create a system to address what is now termed “criminal” behavior in ways that heal and restore. When the community determines that punishment is needed, it should be imposed in a humanistic, holistic, fair and just manner.
The Section therefore supports and will work towards the abolition of the prison industrial complex and its systems of mass incarceration and over-policing. This includes dismantling all of the laws, structures, policies, and practices that target Black activists and criminalize their demands for justice; that criminalize Black immigrants and subject them to detention and deportation; and that trap many Black people into a permanent second-class status.
We understand that the first step in realizing this vision of dismantling prisons and policing is to ensure that there is a shared understanding among our supporters and allies of the issues that our people face and the essentiality of implementing this vision. This shared knowledge and vision will be taken throughout communities in the United States to educate them and build on the movement articulated by NCBL’s client and sister, Angela Y. Davis, to abolish the current criminal punishment system.
The Criminal Justice Section works with other organizations and groups that embrace the goal of dismantling the prison industrial complex that drives mass incarceration.
Black people are disproportionately represented at every stage in the United States’ criminal punishment system. We are subjected to over-policing in our neighborhoods and our children’s schools; racial profiling that leads to disproportionate traffic stops, searches, and arrests; and harsher charging by prosecutors.
We are more frequently subjected to pre-trial incarceration than similarly situated whites and given higher bail amounts. The data shows that as compared to similarly situated whites, we have higher conviction rates and receive harsher sentences, including the death penalty. As a result of Black people’s disproportionate rate of incarceration, we are unduly subjected to dangerous and often unconstitutional conditions of confinement.
Racial stereotyping also leads to Black people encountering more obstacles after being involved with the criminal punishment system, including obtaining jobs, housing, and other necessities for leading a fulfilled life. We are the targets of repressive government programs designed to destroy our community’s efforts to thrive and to resist illegal and invasive police activities. These programs include, for example, the FBI’s COINTELPRO and Black Identity Extremist Assessment; Attorney General Barr’s Operation Relentless Pursuit and Operation Legend; and immigration detention by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to name a few.
Eliminating the exception clause in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allows for “involuntary servitude” (slavery) when duly convicted of a crime;
Dismantling the prison industrial complex, including the abolition of all forms of incarceration and invasive probationary supervision;
Removing the law enforcement, commonly called school resource officers, from schools and replacing them with education and child behavioral specialists;
Promoting mandatory classes on peaceful conflict resolution, restorative justice modalities, meditation, and martial arts within school curricula;
Defunding (divesting) police departments and investing in community-based programs and services that create and maintain a robust, healthy community, including educational and vocational programs for all ages; health care, both mental and physical; substance use treatment; employment services; adequate and safe housing for all; and stores providing essentials such as clean, healthy food, household supplies and medication;
Promoting community development and control over conflicts and disagreements, including addressing those who violate the rules or laws designed to keep people safe.
Obtaining permanent protections for Black immigrants and abolishing immigration enforcement, detention and deportations.
We understand that implementation of this vision will not happen overnight and that as we move towards its realization, there are actions we must take. We will therefore also work with others to:
Hold law enforcement accountable for its actions, including all police crimes, misconduct, brutality and killings;
Hold prosecutors and judges accountable to use their powers fairly and without bias toward the police or against people of color and the poor;
Eliminate mandatory minimums in sentencing and other harsh and inflexible punishments, including abolition of the death penalty and life sentences; and, encourage sentencing proportionate to individualized circumstances,
Increase the age for juvenile jurisdiction to 25 years or an age consistent with neuroscience research on adolescent brain development;
End the money bail system;
Eliminate all fines and fees that don’t take into consideration ability to pay;
Eliminate all wealth producing mechanisms such as fees for electronic monitoring, drug testing, supervision, community service, and telephone and other communication services for the incarcerated;
Demand that federal, state, and local governments create and maintain humane conditions in prisons, jails, detention centers, and civil commitment housing, consistent with international human rights principles;
Significantly decrease reliance on incarceration to address deviance from societal rules, and rather, increase alternatives to incarceration, releasing immediately all those who pose no danger to others;
Decriminalize all marijuana and low-level drug charges, all traffic matters, and all “status offenses,” such as loitering, entering a building, trespassing, vagrancy, panhandling, and public urination;
Immediately release all political prisoners and prisoners of war from the COINTELPRO era, and allow those in exile to safely return without threat of sanction;
Challenge and end disenfranchisement laws that strip the right to vote from people with criminal convictions;
Expand expungement opportunities;
Implement large scale fair chance hiring and renting policies;
Combat the collateral consequences of convictions by repealing policies that create criminal record-based disqualifications;
Oppose property forfeiture;
Implement restorative justice programs;
Pursue reparative justice to heal the impact of historical injustices of the criminal punishment system;
Implement immigration policies and practices that provide a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers and other documented residents; and,
Cease racialized policing and surveillance.
The NCBL Criminal Justice Section’s advocacy includes studying these issues; creating educational materials through fact sheets, toolkits, videos, webinars, presentations, and public discussions; policy development; and providing trial and post-conviction training, in an effort to raise consciousness around the need for abolishing the current United States criminal punishment and policing systems.
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On December 8, 2020, the NCBL Criminal Justice Section held its first online conversation: "Abolishing the Criminal Punishment System". Following is a hyperlink for the video: