2.3 million Americans are currently living their lives behind bars...

a number that has nearly tripled since 1980.

Sixty percent of this population...

are black, Latino or some other nationality considered minority...

That’s one in three black men

confined to a concrete walled room at some point in their lifetimes...

The question...is why?

The Center for Public Safety Innovation

decided to interview, and listen, to three key players

whose lives have been affected by this issue

– representing law enforcement, judicial and minority communities

Each has their own unique perspectives, challenges

– and desires to make things better.

Color of Guilt,
or Innocence

A perspective on the issue of Disproportionate Minority Contact

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Community Toolkit

There is a wealth of information available for those seeking resources on the subject of DMC. If looking to take action in your neighborhood or community – here are a few suggested links to get you started. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it!

About the Project

The Issue:

Were the riots of Baltimore and other cities in 2015 really about police brutality? The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was established in 1974, forming a Disproportionate Minority Contact provision that required states to address the issue of why so many youth of color were being channeled through America’s courts and prisons. Forty years later, the problem continues to handcuff our inner cities. The challenges not only face minority communities, but also the judicial system and law enforcement entities. Each has their own unique perspectives – and desires, to make things better.

Featured Stories

Finding Justice in the Rust Belt – was based on in-depth interviews and research surrounding the work of Lauren Abramson, who founded the Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore. Abramson, who grew up in Detroit in the 1960’s, has pioneered an alternative form of justice in what many consider one of the toughest inner city neighborhoods in the U.S.

A World Not Built for Kids – formed its inspiration from a minority youth named Kenneth Young, sentenced to three life prison terms at 15-years of age for non-violent offenses. The story unfolds through the work of Paolo Annino and the Children in Prison Project at Florida State University – where a professor and his students work pro bono to give freedom to youth living their lives behind bars.

Policing the Ghetto – was inspired by the book, Cop in the Hood. We interviewed the author of this work, Peter Moskos. A graduate from Harvard with a Sociology Degree, Moskos took on the challenge of becoming a cop to learn about crime in inner cities. He graduated from a police academy and was assigned to Baltimore’s eastern district working the midnight shift – the same neighborhood where HBO’s “The Wire” was filmed.

Producing Agency

The Color of Guilt, or Innocence Project was created and produced by the Center for Public Safety Innovation (CPSI) at St. Petersburg College through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. CPSI’s media production center houses an acclaimed staff of writers, producers, videographers and editors that since 1998, has created award winning training and issue awareness products.
CPSI logo

This project was supported by Grant No. 2010-DD-BX-K018 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to St. Petersburg College’s Center for Public Safety Innovation. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the SMART Office, and the Office for Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice.
BJA logo

Community Success Stories



While the complexities of the DMC issue may never fade, there are many working beyond the drug corners and shadowed streets of America to create change. Perhaps these words from a C.S. Lewis novel of 1955 said it best: “One moment there had been nothing but darkness, next moment a thousand, thousand points of light”...

  • The Children's Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
    childrensdefense.org

  • Seattle Young People's Project's history dates back to 1992. SYPP has been striving to focus on a youth leadership driven model. This has helped the organizing community to better support the empowerment of our youth.
    sypp.org

  • The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family, and formerly and currently incarcerated people‘s movement to challenge America‘s addiction to incarceration and race, gender and class discrimination in Los Angeles County‘s, California‘s and the nation‘s juvenile and criminal injustice systems.
    youth4justice.org

  • Detroit Summer is multi-racial, inter-generational collective in Detroit that has been working to transform communities through youth leadership, creativity and collective action since 1992.
    DetroitSummer.org

  • To promote a culture of excellence, a commitment to justice, and a pursuit of leadership that is courageous, inclusive, and accountable.
    urbanunderground.org

  • Since 1999, SpiritHouse Inc, a Durham, North Carolina based cultural arts and organizing organization, has worked with low-wealth families and community members to uncover and uproot the systemic barriers that prevent us from gaining the resources, leverage and capacity for long-term self-sufficiency.
    spirithouse-nc.org

  • Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth (TFIY) is a network of families and community members who have been affected by the juvenile justice system.
    tfiy.org

  • The Youth and Family Services Bureau provides counseling and support services for youth under 18 years of age and their families, with the goal of promoting youth development and preventing juvenile delinquency.
    ebcconline.org

  • Voices of Youth offers inspiring, original insight and opinion from across the globe – from young people, for young people.
    voicesofyouth.org

  • Founded Over 20 Years Ago, Florida Home Partnership (FHP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) and a certified Community Development Corporation (CDC).
    flhome.org

  • Using "West Side Story" as the point of reference, adult planners worked with 30 dedicated youth to organize summits attended by over 300 youth who participated in gang prevention workshops, dramatic role reversals with officers, and theater games to reduce cultural conflict.
    seattle.gov

  • The Graffiti Arts Project (GAP) is a youth prevention and intervention program that teaches graffiti art as a tool for positive self-expression and an alternative to unsafe behaviors.
    muralmusicarts.org

  • Totally Positive Production (TPP) is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization in Chicago, IL that provides an opportunity for talented, but economically disadvantaged youth to be recognized for their artistic talent.
    totallypositiveproductions.com

  • HCZ® has achieved unprecedented success, helping thousands of children and families and disrupting the cycle of generational poverty in Central Harlem through our innovative and effective programs.
    hcz.org

  • Since 1982, Greyston, the country‘s leading social enterprise, has provided individuals in Southwest Yonkers, NY with employment, skills and resources to lift them out of poverty.
    greyston.com

  • The Center‘s mission is to transform lives, schools, and troubled neighborhoods, from the inside out.
    cneonline.org

  • The Union Mill is a center that attracts individuals and organizations that work to strengthen those communities today.
    theunionmill.com

  • Founded in 1994, The Dream Center is a volunteer-driven organization that finds and fills the needs of over 80,000 individuals and families each month.
    dreamcenter.org

  • LA Gang Tours creates awareness and solutions to organizations and other communities that are experiencing similar gang related issues imported from Los Angeles.
    lagangtours.com

  • Summer Night Lights (“SNL”) operates at 32 locations across the City of Los Angeles, keeping recreation centers and parks open between the hours of 7 pm – 11 pm throughout the summer months.
    grydfoundation.org

  • Ice Hockey in Harlem's mission is to improve the social and academic well being of children from the Harlem community.
    icehockeyinharlem.org

  • Cure Violence stops the spread of violence in communities by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the highest risk individuals, and changing social norms.
    cureviolence.org

  • Coffee with a Cop brings police officers and the community members they serve together–over coffee–to discuss issues and learn more about each other.
    coffeewithacop.com

  • Robert F. Kennedy Children‘s Action Corps is a leader in child welfare and juvenile justice, operating a number of programs and services for at-risk youth and families
    www.rfkchildren.org

  • The Burns Institute eliminates racial and ethnic disparity by building a community-centered response to youthful misbehavior that is equitable and restorative.
    burnsinstitute.org

  • Established in 1986, The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.
    sentencingproject.org

  • The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University supports and educates leaders across systems of care to advance a balanced, multi-system approach to improving outcomes for, and promoting the positive development of, youth at risk of juvenile justice involvement.
    cjjr.georgetown.edu

  • Connect our youth to positive and caring adults through our Transformative Mentoring™ programs.
    mentor.org

  • The Communities That Care Coalition (CTC) brings together youth, parents, schools, community agencies, and local governments to promote the health and well-being of young people in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.
    communitiesthatcarecoalition.org

  • ReWired for Change, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, empowers at risk youth, families and communities living in under-served areas through media and social advocacy and the facilitation of community building resources.
    rewired4change.org

  • In 1997, the Public Interest Law Center began its Children in Prison Project (CIPP) in response to the wave of Florida children being swept into the adult criminal system. The primary goal is to provide legal representation to children in adult prison.
    archive.law.fsu.edu

  • The Community Conferencing Center (CCC) is a conflict transformation and community justice organization that provides ways for people to safely, collectively and effectively prevent and resolve conflicts and crime.
    communityconferencing.org

  • With all these protests and criminals calling for the blood of officers we need to support them now more then ever.
    facebook.com/pdlivesmatter

  • The Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI) creates a formal inter-agency support system for inmates before their release from the House of Correction.
    scsdma.org

  • Justice for Families (J4F) is a national alliance of local organizations committed to ending the youth incarceration epidemic.
    justice4families.org

  • A non profit eco-agricultural business connecting people to nature and healthy food,educating & training people to grow their own food.
    localfoodpark.com

  • President Obama launched the My Brother‘s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.
    whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper

Finding Justice in the Rust Belt

Community Conferencing in Baltimore

“My block was my neighborhood,”

She grew up in Detroit in the 60’s. “My block was my neighborhood,” says Lauren Abramson, a pioneer of sorts who founded the Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore decades later. “After the riots, I was one of nine white kids in a class of 40. So I had the experience of being a minority as a white person.” Talking of change, a city that once stood proud in the shadows of giant factories producing automobiles. Ford, GM, Chrysler, the sweet melodies of Motown...the mythical American dream dancing in the streets of suburbia. But then the steel hats stopped coming to work. Social unrest boiled over in the heat of a summer’s night in 1967.

“When it came time on Malcolm X’s birthday, the white kids were told basically to don’t come to school. That it wouldn’t be safe.”

“A lot of kid’s families lost their jobs,” says Abramson. “I got a broader and deeper education about what goes on in the world. When it came time on Malcolm X’s birthday, the white kids were told basically to don’t come to school. That it wouldn’t be safe.” She talks of being threatened, of being harmed because of the color of her skin. “It gave me a taste of it,” she added. “But I certainly didn’t have the institutional oppression people of color experience day in and day out.”

View slideshow
Photo Slideshow
by Brian Day

What began as a welcome home in a bar for two black Vietnam veterans, turned to police brutality and riots on a Sunday evening. Five days later, 100 city blocks were burned, more than 40-people killed and 1200 injured. The National Guard marched its streets and a term called white flight took hold. But in years to follow, Abramson’s family stayed on. “I really just liked the big, small-town feel of rust belt cities. I grew up in a community that took care of each other. And I think that has a lot to do with the work that I do today.”

The Community Conferencing Center, a non-profit, formed in one of the toughest inner-city neighborhoods in the nation. The very same neighborhoods depicted in HBO’s ‘The Wire,’ a long running television series, its theme often centered on the “War on Drugs – its total failure, and the institutions that make up the American way of life shown as being irreversibly corrupt; rank and file detectives and police officers helpless pawns in a game that does anything but serve and protect.”

“I thought it was a good tale of the immorality of the drug war,” adds Abramson, “and how people of color are affected in such a horrible way. I like to call the work that we do the flip side of ‘The Wire.’ Because it’s the exact same neighborhoods, but we’re providing people with a structure to resolve crimes and conflict outside the system.” Then she adds importantly, there’s always going to be crime and conflict. It’s how we address these conflicts that is going to make a difference. “There’s another part to this story,” she adds. “The people that are really trying to raise their kids, to find jobs and do the right thing. It’s really such a struggle. The cards are so stacked against them.”

Prison Talks and Sunday Morning Football...

“I really got a lot of flak when I started this,” says Abramson. “It’s not going to work in a big city, it’s not going to work in inner city neighborhoods. The implication of that was offensive to me.” When Lauren Abramson talks of ghettos and streets, the people who live there – she sees hope. A growing awareness about the forces that create poverty. She talks of Michael Woods, the former Baltimore cop who realizes a change is needed in our culture. The way we see things. In social media reports that went viral, Woods talked of his work – how he was trained, a culture that reportedly promoted police officers to not look at minorities as human beings. Talking of a stake out that changed him, “I was doing narcotics work. I was spending a lot of time doing surveillance in a van, or in some vacant building. You’re watching people for hours at a time. You see them just going about their daily lives, getting groceries, running errands, going to work. Suddenly, it seemed like an entirely different place.”

“It’s not going to work in a big city, it’s not going to work in inner city neighborhoods. The implication of that was offensive to me.”

He talked of his earlier years in policing, the “us against them” mentality. “It’s ingrained in you this is a war, and if someone isn’t wearing a uniform, they’re the enemy,” says Wood. He admitted to seeing things wrong – responding to 9-1-1 calls, people in conflict assuming that was all there was in these neighborhoods. The kids who are put into the system at a young age, often for doing nothing wrong in his words. “You start to see that they never had a chance,” he adds. “So much of it goes back to lack of empathy. You start to see how neither side is able to see things from the other’s perspective.”

“The work that we do, to me, addresses one part of it. Which is to cut into this culture of blame and punishment...”

“Poverty is bad enough,” says Abramson. “Then add onto that institutional racism that happens in so many subtle and not so subtle ways. I think there’s so many who just really have a hard time.” She talks of the people without jobs. “What would you or I do, if we didn’t have a means for income?” In her words, “were just warehousing marginalized people of color in prisons. And at the same time, when we get these folks out, what are they going to do?” She talks of restorative justice working to change attitudes. “The work that we do, to me, addresses one part of it. Which is to cut into this culture of blame and punishment...around arresting and incarcerating people of color; and having a justice system that is so biased, based on how much money you make and what color your skin is.”

View slideshow
Planet Detroit
by Brian Day

The Conferencing Center in Baltimore that Abramson started, with a handful of staff and volunteers, appears to break the mold when it comes to conflict and crime. “It has to do with human beings,” she says. “Finding a way towards understanding and healing through doing the incredibly radical thing of talking to each other. You know, this business that we’ve got to be hard on crime is feeding into people’s fears and has nothing to do with reality.” Backing this statement with fact, she further comments on re-offending rates for people that go through conferencing being 60-percent lower than if they went through the criminal justice system – at one-tenth the cost.

The concept Abramson utilizes was learned from an ancient tribal culture, the Maori people of New Zealand. One that quite simply gathered people together to collectively mete out justice. A community circle is formed, the perpetrator, victims and others affected discuss how the crime affected their lives and written agreements offer paybacks, apologies and resolution. The results are often astounding. Tears and the warm embrace of people caring for each other - often with tough kids in settings where such behavior is unfamiliar,...the cold prisons, the drug-filled streets and alleys of inner cities.

For a man named Bernard Williams, it was one such conference that changed life in the face of death. “I would be driving the car and hear a song on the radio from that time when he was alive, and just out of the blue I would start crying over nothing,” he said. Williams spoke of his son Beethoven. There was a 187-page court document – State of Maryland v. William Norman. In it, a photo of a crime scene – a young teen lying in the street with a chest wound, an American flag showing.

“What happened,” said Abramson, “this man was a Vietnam veteran, slept with a semi-automatic rifle next to his bed because kids had been vandalizing and damaging the truck he was trying to fix up. One night, some kids had pushed Bernard’s son into the truck and the alarm went off. So this man ended up killing Bernard’s son, shooting him in the back.” Norman said he pushed some window blinds open and they fell across his rifle – said he never meant to kill the boy, just scare him.

View slideshow
Time Traveler
by Brian Day

“There are lots of victims out there who realize 10-years after the crime they aren’t healing,” says Abramson. She warned Bernard, meeting Norman inside a high security prison 13-years into a 30-year sentence would be challenged, but offered to help. As described in a Washington Post article documenting the event, the two did eventually have that chance in a “bare cinder block room.” He reportedly wanted to find out who his son’s killer was, as a person – to find out if he was sorry for what he’d done.

“It was one of the most powerful conversations I’ve ever heard between two men,” Abramson says. In the meeting, Williams talks of the death of a son, of what he’d been through – and asks Norman to put himself in his shoes; his grief, the drug addiction and depression that followed – the anger that he said, “was so profound he would have killed Norman if given half the chance.” Norman talked of the effects of the crime in his own life. His girlfriend moving on, the daughter that never speaks to him. “I knew it wasn’t anything righteous that I did,” said Norman. I always felt shame, plain and simple.” “We are both victims,” says Bernard.

Then amazingly, Williams – eyes said to have been filled with tears, drew his face close and offered this...”Keeping you here won’t bring my son back. I know you wish you could pull that second back.” With Williams testimony, Norman was released on parole 18-months later.

“That conversation really changed his life,” says Abramson. “Because now he can finally celebrate his son’s life, instead of mourning his death all the time. He celebrates his birthday again.” Williams is just one of 18,000 in the Baltimore area who have worked to benefit through conferences at the Center since the late 90’s. “Nobody at the time I started this, was doing this in a large American city,” she adds. “These circles are just an amazing way for people to be emotional, and that’s part of who we are biologically as human beings. It’s an incredibly powerful way to be emotionally and socially healthier with each other.”

“We see kids with 15-priors, and then they become adults and they get slammed,”

It also keeps minor offenders, kids stealing cars, writing graffiti and selling drugs – out of courts, jails and from getting a police record. More than 97-percent of young offenders diverted from the juvenile justice system have been minorities – a harsh reality of today’s inner cities. “We see kids with 15-priors, and then they become adults and they get slammed,” Abramson adds. “We put them in a costly, deep-end system that sucks up 90-percent of the entire justice budget.” Statistically, the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population, but possesses 25-percent of the prison census; numbers of incarcerated drug offenders rising 1200 percent since 1980.

She continues, talking about a neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore, its young people the source of hundreds of calls to police over two years. Kids being arrested. Then 44-neighbors, young and old, sat in a circle and talked about it. The kids, hounded by drug dealers – had no place to go when school was out. The streets weren’t safe. Then Abramson states, “Don Fergus, whose’ beloved Cadillac had been damaged by these kids numerous times said, okay...I’ll chaperone you. I’ll take you to the park.” The next day, 21-kids showed up. The play time turned into a football league. Coach Don, as he was later called, eventually led 150 kids, black and white, with 40-adult volunteers. Teams like the Black Knights, Redd Doggs, Purple Kings and Gold Wildcats changed their worlds to something positive.

“We needed to save our kids from drugs,” said Ferges. One participant was an 11-year-old boy shot on a front porch stoop the summer before – a man who thought they were dealing drugs in front of his house. The mother begged Coach Don to take her son. There were rules. No cursing, playing in streets, no skipping school or failing grades. No violence or disrespecting coaches or other players. Kids signed contracts of agreement. The neighborhood saw a change. “The first thing is, I love them,” Ferges explained. “They know I love them. I tell them I love them as my own.”

Years later, Coach Don was felled by a heart attack – but continued as league commissioner until his passing several years ago. It all started with a community conference. “The kids are more important than anything else,” said Ferges. “That’s our next generation that’s growing up out there. If we don’t look after them, nobody else will.”

“No matter how good it feels to play a Sunday morning game,” says Abramson, “these kids still have to face the problems most inner city kids do...drug dealers on street corners, parents with substance abuse problems, crime in their neighborhoods.” But then she adds, “who knows what this alone is planting in people’s hearts and minds. In terms of wow, there’s a way that we can do this ourselves and I actually feel a hell of a lot better doing this then when I went to court.”

A Future in the Neighborhood...

“If white people were stuck in ghetto’s without a means of employment, with bad schools, with unsafe streets and a lot of drug use, and a lot of police enforced all around,” says Abramson, “levying enforcement disproportionately on my people and my neighbors and my family,...I would behave in exactly the same way.”

She talks of Baltimore during the months following riots resulting from Freddie Gray’s death. “There was a lot of pain expressed. I feel like in Baltimore since the uprising, there’s an awakening that I haven’t felt before.” She adds that in May and July, the city had more than 40-murders in each month – and there continues to be a lot of really difficult things going on. “There can be a powerful movement in this country to shift the way things are going,” she adds. “I think that’s where the hope is...and hopefully little efforts like what we’re doing and restorative justice is doing and what the fair wage movement is doing and food security and all these other movements...to eventually come together and create a country that works for everybody. That’s the hope!”

View slideshow
Long Exposure
by Brian Day

“The real problem,” says Abramson, “is people need jobs. I mean, right now, the drug economy is the only viable means of employment for way too many in the minority community.” She adds the drug war has been devastating and we need serious criminal justice reform. That and she emphasizes, a change in the culture of law enforcement itself. “There are so many incredible people in law enforcement and I in no way condemn that aspect of our society and I really appreciate them. The work that they do is difficult. But that culture has just kind of gone astray from protecting and serving.”

“I can’t tell you the number of city blocks with row homes we’ve gone to in Baltimore, where the neighbors have never spoken to each other.”

Perhaps thinking back to her Detroit upbringing, the abandoned steel factories and neighborhoods that tried to stay together in times of turmoil and despair, “I can’t tell you the number of city blocks with row homes we’ve gone to in Baltimore, where the neighbors have never spoken to each other. Safe and healthy communities are ones that are connected.” Pausing as if feeling the pain these communities often face, “For so many, the future is just blank,” she says. “We just want them to be able to paint their own pictures.”

Lauren Abramson’s Detroit today, as captured from behind a glass lens. Brian Day is a renowned street photographer who revels in the monochromatic vibe inspired by Ansel Adams and many others. “I shoot what connects with me,” he adds. “I enjoy photographic moments that inspire some sort of narrative thought or emotion. I believe black-and-white requires a strong emphasis on mood, composition and subject to stimulate the senses.” Despite an award winning portfolio already featured in exhibitions, print and online media around the world – Brian still calls himself a student of photography, guiding those who view his work through lights and contrasts; life’s daily grind, changes of season, the struggles and triumphs of the city. Check out his website if you’d like to see more (http://brianday.org/).

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If I Had Wings
Flight
Flag
Spat
Nobody, But Nobody
Don't Expect a Genie
Midtown
Field of Dreams
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Convergence
EBITDA
Revolutions
Everything Will Be Alright
Kiss the Sky
Where This Road Ends, Another Begins
8 Minutes From Earth
Time is Our Only Enemy
Nuit Blanche
Mothership
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Michigan Works Building
The Rip
She Blinded Me With Science
ZZZZZZZ
The Sound of Miles Davis
Intelligent Life Forms
Feel It
That's the Way Love Goes
Cascade
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A World Not Built for Kids

The Children in Prison Project

He talks from his windowed office, the exterior buildings offering historical grace...

He talks from his windowed office, the exterior buildings offering historical grace – the look of a small southern plantation, a cluster of houses bleached white in Florida sun. Inside, his desk is surrounded by books. Glassed shelves, stacks of legal volumes, one several feet high, teetering within arm’s length where there is also an overflowing brief of paperwork, notepads and a large coffee cup for long hours of study. His parents and grandparents direct descendants of the Italian foothills, Paolo Annino, Director of the Children in Prison Project at Florida State University, works with a select group of impassioned law students to bring justice to children trapped behind bars. For many, it’s their only hope for a future – a day when they can breathe freedom.

“I got the list of kids in one of our prisons here in Florida,” says Annino. “It was an adult women’s prison in Jefferson County. And I went down the list and saw there was a 13-year-old girl there. Her name was Jessica Robinson.” He described his first visit to the place hidden away in rural northern boundaries of the state, as something surreal. “So were driving to the prison and there’s this field. There must have been 50, 75, a hundred women pushing these old-fashioned lawn mowers by hand on the field. It was a very strange experience.”

But for Annino and his students, no lawyers with leather briefs, Armani suits or expensive cars, only a professor and a group of young people carrying backpacks and living in dorms – it was a beginning. One that would make a difference in real lives for years to come. The students are part of the program’s Public Interest Law Center. Their work is pro bono. They file endless appeals and motions for re-hearings, research patterns of abuse and track numbers – names behind stats showing too many kids living in tiny cell blocks. In Florida, roughly 7,000 of these youth transferred from the juvenile system to adult criminal prisons in the mid-90’s. Many were African-American. Annino talks of how other states didn’t try to match these numbers. States transferring three or four kids, ten kids. Nowhere near Florida. In his words, we were in the middle of a major social experiment.

In an early interview with the 13-year old, Jessica, who Annino described at the time as looking like she was nine or ten, very thin, hair split down the middle. “She just looked like a tiny little kid,” he added. “We asked her what she wanted. That global question. At that moment, Jessica looked up and said milk. It was one of those moments where we were just dumbfounded.” The girl sentenced to nine years by a judge quoted as saying at the hearing, “I don’t think we need people like you in our country,” faced charges for armed kidnaping and robbery. A tag-a-long with older teens who took jewelry and cash at gunpoint. Described by her mother as abused and in need of psychiatric help – something she could not afford. Referencing Jessica’s response, Annino added that it really opened their eyes to the problem. “We moved all these children to an adult system that in many ways, was not built or meant for them.”

“...they said we’re no longer going to put all of these kids in the juvenile justice system. We’re going to put these kids in the adult prison system and we’re going to treat kids as adults.”

Why kids in prison? According to Annino, it had a lot to do with a major crime spike in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, partially induced by crack cocaine. In Florida, no secret a state depending largely on tourism, two brutal killings by under-aged youth involving British and German tourists led to what many labelled a knee-jerk response. “What occurred,” said Annino, “is they said we’re no longer going to put all of these kids in the juvenile justice system. We’re going to put these kids in the adult prison system and we’re going to treat kids as adults.” The affect this would have on minority communities in years to come, devastating – a disproportionately high number, black kids taken from their homes, placed in detention, adult courts and state prisons. The courtroom gavels had fallen with little consideration for consequence.

Cash, Air Jordans and a Six-Pack of Beer...

Annino also talks of a young man named Kenneth Young, African-American, only 14-years-old at the time. He lived in a tough neighborhood in Tampa, Florida referred to as Suitcase City – named for its cheap housing built quickly for a growing university population in the 80’s. It also had abandoned buildings and crack houses. Nearly a third of its residents lived in poverty. ‘Graffiti covered walls and drug dealers cruised its streets,’ reported a St. Petersburg Times article in 2000. According to the story, they made quick deals to motorists then sped away. Said one home owner, “If you minded your business and stayed on your property, you would be okay.”

View video
Judge Patrice Moore,
former public defender and current member of Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County, FL

But Kenneth’s father died when he was an infant. His mother a crack addict. A sister, 15, was raising her own child. The two were forced to live and survive this world where gunshots often rung out in the night. That’s when his mother’s dealer said she owed money. He threatened to kill her unless the boy helped to rob area motels for cash. “He wasn’t even 16,” says Annino. “Kenneth would jump over the counter and grab the money. Jacques Becia, the dealer and a convicted felon, would point the gun at the tellers and drive away.”

Then Annino adds something that seems unconscionable. “So what happened was they got arrested? Jacques Becia got one life sentence and Kenneth got four consecutive life without parole.” Suddenly, Young was one of the statistics living in adult prison. “They looked at him as a throwaway kid. You know, the mother that’s a crack addict...no one thought he was valuable. No one just looked at it and said, hey look, why are we giving four consecutive life sentences when no one got killed? No bullet was ever fired.”

For his part in the crimes, Young reportedly got $50 cash, a pair of Air Jordans and six-pack of beer. The prosecutor told the judge in the case, Young could be sentenced anywhere from 51-months to life. The prosecutor asked for life. Young’s attorney wanted Young tried as a juvenile. That’s seven years – in part because there was no criminal history and the fact he played a secondary role in the heists. Padgett, the judge, sided with the prosecutor telling Young, “I feel you’re dangerous. I’m going to take you out of circulation for the rest of your natural life.” Then in an interview years later adding he never intended to send Young away forever, suggesting he’d made a mistake. That the rules had always allowed inmates to be routinely granted early release. This was 2001. Annino states, the law changed in 1983.

“There’s no one I’m going to point to who was a blatant racist,” says Annino. “But what you had here was a culture devaluing poor African-American males. And that’s really what the Kenneth Young story’s all about. It’s a story about culture and how laws follow culture.” He and his students searched for justice – for what was right, suggesting that if Kenneth Young had been middle class white, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. “It’s not like this was a kid with a long track record. We had three different cases. Why wasn’t there a red flag,” he says with understated passion. “This isn’t right what’s going on here. Why didn’t the defense attorney, why didn’t the state attorney...why didn’t the judge say something?”

With rising crime rates, phrases such as ‘Super Predators’ and ‘tough love’ came into play during this time. One theory, there would soon be super predators, groups of African-American kids that wouldn’t have a conscience – no moral compass. One social scientist even warned of a “blood bath of violence that could wash over the land.” While ‘tough love’ was coined by then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, signing several bills that would expand juvenile prosecutions in adult court. Crimes like burglary, carjacking and battery suddenly led to life sentences without parole.

“Tough love resonated with a lot of folks, and you have a generation of children being brutalized in our prisons because of it.”

“Lawmakers were channeling hysteria,” says Annino. “Tough love resonated with a lot of folks, and you have a generation of children being brutalized in our prisons because of it. So, the consequences were very severe.” Especially, he adds, for the minority communities. Stating matter of fact, “it should be that the law applies to all. That the law applies equally.”

In 2010, a landmark case coming from the highest court suggested the tables had turned. That freedom from what essentially were death sentences to children long forgotten by society, living in windowless cells, some visiting family only through glassed windows, a prison guard nearby. Prisoners, in many cases, not yet old enough to attend a high school prom.

It was called simply, in legal jargon – Graham v. Florida. Case history tells a story of a 16-year-old, Terrance Graham, who committed armed burglary. Graham the son of a crack cocaine addict, the judge at the time showed leniency. He gave probation and withheld adjudication of guilt – no criminal convictions. Then Graham later violated the terms, a second burglary. The same judge criticized his choosing a life of crime. He sentenced him to life. Florida having already abolished its parole system – there was virtually no chance for release. Than in 2010, the esteemed justices of the U.S. Supreme Court determined sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide crime violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The red flag had finally been raised, but the fate of more than 200 prisoners fell to the Florida court system. One appellate judge described it, a ‘constitutional quagmire.’ The work for Annino and his law students, in many ways, had just begun.

“If we can’t rehabilitate a percentage of kids who are 15 or younger when they commit a crime,” said then House sponsor Mike Weinstein in a Tampa Bay Times Story, “then we have to ask ourselves if we can rehabilitate anyone.”

Young was now in his mid-twenties – a model inmate. Said to have earned education certificates, learned the barbering trade – helped other inmates who were sick. His only blemish, forgetting to make a bed on a Saturday because he thought weekends exempt. At the rehearing in 2011, Annino and students again presented their case – thoughtfully and with reason. This judge believed Young rehabilitated – but did not consider it relevant to the new sentencing as laid out by the courts. It was a legal interpretation. One of the hotel victims stated, “I’m not ready to have him walking around where I live, and I’m not moving.” His sentence was reduced to 30-years. The release date – 2030.

“What the courts never did is ask why. Why was he involved with this drug dealer,...what was going on?”

“He was simply wrong as a matter of constitutional law,” said Annino. “That the Supreme Court ordered the resentencing based on rehabilitation. The judge just looked at the crime itself. And based on the crime itself, he came up with a 30-year sentence.” The fight to free Kenneth would continue. “You know it’s really interesting with Kenneth,” Annino continues, “in the sense that he realized that was a very dangerous community he was living in. That things were out of control. Realized that what he did was wrong, but what he also realized was that he was a kid. And kids do dumb things.” Pausing for a moment, then adding, “He was remorseful. At the resentencing he turned to the actual victim and apologized. What the courts never did is ask why. Why was he involved with this drug dealer,...what was going on?”

In another Florida case, two years later – a Jacksonville judge did consider rehabilitation. Freeing a young man from a life sentence handed out in 1988 for stealing a car, shooting and wounding a deputy sheriff. The sheriff was reported to have offered forgiveness advocating for release. The youth, said to have since made a life goal to prove this judge made a right decision. Young continues to sit and wait for his freedom...another day in court.

Annino talks of discretionary sentencing and what it means. Statutory maximums and minimums. “Judge Padgett did not have to give Kenneth four consecutive life sentences,” adds Annino. “The legislator did not force the judge to give four consecutive life sentences. He could have given a seven or three-year sentence. But instead, the judge did what’s called maxed out. He went to the extreme. He couldn’t go any further because there’s no death penalty in Florida.”

Too Many Roadblocks...

“What needs to happen as a democracy is we need to discuss the issue of race,” says Annino. “The courts can only do so much. Their role is to protect fundamental constitutional rights. So it really is our lawmakers as citizens who need to become engaged in these issues.” He adds, the fact we now have black attorneys and judges is a step forward. “We have a history of racism in this country, a long history. You know, it’s going to take a while. That’s part of our baggage that we have to confront and deal with.” He then emphasizes, when people say race doesn’t matter, his response is that it doesn’t matter if human beings are not human beings.

“What we’ve done, we’ve imposed all these collateral consequences on these kids. They can’t get student loans. They can’t get public housing. They can’t get all these different jobs because they’ve been convicted felons.” He mentions the Children in Prison Project’s attempts to enroll Jessica Robinson in college after winning her release, but there were too many roadblocks.

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Bryan Stevenson,
We need to talk about an injustice

“We need a number of programs. We need to make it so someone really does have a second chance. They did their prison time. They need to be able to get re-integrated back into society.” In a recent documentary about Kenneth Young, “15 to Life,” there’s an image of a young boy, sitting alone in his prison cell, head down, staring at the floor. In its simplicity, you can feel the loss of youth – the emptiness of a life behind bars. Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative makes the statement, “These are people who have suffered physical abuse and sexual abuse and neglect and torture and mistreatment and poverty and mal-nourishment and no one’s done anything,” concluding, “I think we can come up with different solutions then life without parole.”

“No one is born with a gun in his hand,”

“No one is born with a gun in his hand,” states former Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Greg Johnson in a report, Inside Criminal Justice. “We can lower disproportionate minority contact numbers by not sending kids into the justice system for less than a misdemeanor.” He then adds, his greatest concern – to catch those youth most at risk before they enter the system.

“A lot of these kids like Kenneth Young are amazing,” says Annino. “They have found inner strength. Somehow they dived deep into their inner selves and found this strength to resist all these hurdles. So, it’s pretty amazing how some of these kids are.” Perhaps they still believe in justice. A window for freedom - a place where color in a person’s skin will cease to define guilt or innocence.

Judge Patrice Moore, former public defender and current member of Sixth Judicial Circuit in Pinellas County, Florida – talks about embracing those who have already paid their debts in prison.

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Filmed February 2012 at TED2012
In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America's justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country's black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America's unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.

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Policing the Ghetto

Harvard Grad Working the Midnight Shift

“When she died, I returned to Baltimore, hitched a ride in a police car from the train station to the funeral, and stood in the cold rain at attention in my civilian clothes with my uniformed fellow officers.” Moskos talked of the single mom and fellow academy mate years before, the times he’d dial her up on the radio during his midnight shift to see how she was doing. He learned the hard way, flag-draped coffins are an unfortunate part of police reality. In the book he would later write, ‘Cop in the Hood,’ he dedicated its words to his friend Crystal Sheffield and nine others lost in the line of duty.

“...if you go into the job thinking there’s good and evil and you’re on the side of good, you’re not going to save the world.”

“She was police for all the right reasons,” said Moskos. He described her as a single mom, one of thirteen who went through the Academy with him. A lady who never saw police work as a crusade against good and evil. “Part of the problem,” he says, “is if you go into the job thinking there’s good and evil and you’re on the side of good, you’re not going to save the world.” At the funeral, he worried about the son she loved – the reason she went on the job. “I was worried what the hell was going to happen to him.”

Peter Moskos, today an Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was not born into a police family, his father a professor at Northwestern and a high school teacher for a mom. Grew up in Evanston, Illinois, which he described as a liberated suburb of Chicago. Attended a large public high school - was expected to go to college, to do well in life. Part of white, middle-class America. A Harvard grad school major in Sociology, he took interest in things like crime rates, inner city poverty and the plight of urban populations.

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Michael Leiber,
Professor and Chair for Department of Criminology at University of South Florida

“I was probably the first academy trainee ever to go directly from the academy to the commissioner’s office. And I didn’t view him as a friend, because he was trying to kick me out basically.” Challenged to do a study about a crime drop in Baltimore in the late 90’s, the acting police commissioner asked him why he didn’t want to become a cop for real. Six months later, as described in his book, he was suddenly armed with a tin badge and a gun, and more questions than confidence – a trainee on the streets who then had to learn to be a cop. One assigned to the city’s eastern district working the midnight shift, an area many consider one of the most violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. “The researcher’s task,” he says, “is how to outwit the institutional obstacle course to gain entry.”

Within the first two weeks, Moskos was the primary officer responding to a shooting. As he states, “officers with thirty years in a safe suburb might wonder if they can handle East Baltimore.” His primary goal, as with all officers, was to return home safely. In terms of carrying a gun, he said his service weapon – a charged semiautomatic nine-millimeter Glock 17 with no safety and seventeen-round clip – was rarely pointed at somebody, but was routinely removed from its holster. “I chased people down alleys and wrestled a few suspects. I maced one person but did not hit anybody.”

“I went to Baltimore and didn’t know a sole in the city. Because of shift work, working midnights, the life was almost a hundred percent in the cop world.” But he related to challenges in understanding that police world. “What goes on after work at the bar, going to a hunting cabin on an off-day, going to a colleague’s kid’s confirmation...Bull and Oyster roasts in Baltimore, that’s going to give you more of a sense of police culture then what you see on the job.”

No Champagne on New Year’s Eve...

Moskos talks of working in the ghetto comparing it to third world shanty towns. Forty-five year old great grandparents, junkies not raising their kids, drug dealers, everywhere violence and despair. “You can’t really appreciate the despair and true poverty we have in America until you see it,” he adds. “Just the amount of people getting shot that don’t make the news.” He talks of the level of segregation and isolation. The kids that grow up never leaving their neighborhood. “If your entire world is within a five block radius and literally most of that world is totally vacant and abandoned...you know, what are the odds their going to make it?”

“If your entire world is within a five block radius and literally most of that world is totally vacant and abandoned...you know, what are the odds their going to make it?”

Along with poverty, he talks of a world of violence that lives in the shadowed streets and alleys of inner city Baltimore. “I helped guard the crime scene of a 12-person shooting,” he writes. “I remember being there, talking and whiling the night away, making tasteless jokes about the blood splattered remains of the food spread. Out of boredom, I smoked a cigar another officer gave me. I don’t even like cigars.”

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by Kevin Moore

Moskos also writes in his book about working a shift on New Year’s Eve. There were no parties or champagne. He described it as self-preservation. Police tradition requiring duty patrol officers to take cover between midnight and 1am. “After getting coffee at Dunkin Donuts, we drove around our post a bit before retiring to a covered place near Hopkins Hospital to ring in the New Year. As gunfire began, my partner’s girlfriend kept calling, upset that he wasn’t with her.”

“She’s yelling at me like it’s my fault,” said his partner. “Like I want to be working on New Year’s Eve rather than with her. Your career is always screwing you.” Moskos talked of police making attractive targets. The gunfire heard throughout the city like fireworks, and of being careful to keep moving – his gun un-holstered and lying in his lap.

“They don’t have the street savvy that everybody in the neighborhood has...

Black men age 15-29 reportedly represent less than three percent of the city’s population but account for one-third of those murdered. Its’ part of a culture where disproportionate numbers of blacks end up sentenced to prison terms at a rate much higher than white suburbanites. But Moskos also adds, cops don’t see the full picture of the ghetto. “As a police officer, the people who do have jobs and graduate from school...they’re not the ones you have to be concerned with – because they’re not the criminals.” He says there are class elements here. But suggests white officers who never lived in the ghetto, don’t always see that. “They don’t have the street savvy that everybody in the neighborhood has to make some crude assessment as to what a person is up to. You have to get out of your car and interact. Walk down the street, buy something from the corner store...talk to people.”

Moskos further observed cops play street rules in the ghetto. The unwritten code, if you enter and back down from a conflict, it’s considered a loss of face. In his words, police simply cannot afford to lose confrontations. Personal safety depends on “bravado and a little bit of bluff, cowardice a chargeable offense.”

He talks of the 9-1-1 calls on hot summer nights. “There’s cops placed disproportionately where they should be, where’s there’s need for cops. Where people are getting shot or killed.” He adds the system will always be disproportionate because it reflects a politically incorrect reality – social and economic factors often lead to soaring crime rates. In his words, we could replace every white officer with a black officer and the problem wouldn’t get better. “To some extent we have to deal with the deck of cards that we have and figure out what we can do better.”

“Morally its’ unfair that a person who maybe isn’t a criminal suddenly gets frisked.” Moskos talks of the neighborhood where he was assigned to work. “There were almost no white people. You know, there was one old Greek lady and a couple junkies. I could count them on one hand. You tell a cop he’s being racist and he’s like, these are the only people I deal with.” He further talks of minority contact, of how rules are different in high-crime drug areas. “You cannot go to the upper east-side of Manhattan and stop and frisk rich white people - if you don’t have reasonable suspicion the person may be armed.” Then he adds, there’s a direct link between drugs and violence - that policing is different in the ghetto.

The Baltimore Police Department estimates 80-percent of homicides are drug related. In a study authored by Moskos and Stanford Franklin, it states that too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs led by unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing.

“...our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and more police officers wouldn’t have to die.’

In high-crime areas, police spend much of their time answering drug-related calls for service, clearing dealers off corners, responding to shootings and homicides, and making drug-related arrests. America leads the world in illegal drug use and incarceration for drug crimes. Most of those affected are black. The report also states that without the drug war, America’s most decimated neighborhoods would have a chance to recover. ‘Working people could sit on stoops, misguided youth wouldn’t look up to criminals as role models, our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and more police officers wouldn’t have to die.’

“Police rarely witness the actual drug deal,” writes Moskos. “After a year on the street, most patrol officers believe that citizens know more about what goes on in an area than the officers who patrol there. Young and eager police will jump out on suspects and stop and search – jack-up,” he says. “They may not all have drugs on them. But nine times out of ten, one of them is dirty.”

“Nobody here will talk to the police,” said one officer. “Half the public hates us. The other half is scared to talk to us. They know who’s dirty and who’s not. They know who’s shooting who.” Then he added, “We just drive around in big billboards. How are we supposed to see anything? We can only do so much.”

Heroin stashes and cocaine vials are hidden in weeds, trash bins, windowsills or abandoned buildings. Slingers, who make the deals, are often young kids. A narcotics detective states, offer a 14-year old a pair of sneakers and 200-dollars and risk is worth reward in their eyes.

Said another officer, “We can’t do anything. Drugs were here before I was born and they’re going to be here after I die. All they pay us to do is herd junkies.” Moskos observed children walking to school past drug deals and discarded needles while dealers shouted to advertise their wares and confront residents. “The culture and chaos and fear in the Eastern District is the cost of illegal business.”

He further states, even if crack cocaine laws and mandatory minimum sentencing were not racists in their original intentions, the war on drugs is a de facto war against poor blacks. In his words, communities cannot survive when incarceration is the norm.

Freddie Gray and Salutes in the Rain

“My thought is that we put cops in situations they can’t win and then we blame them when they lose,” says Moskos, referring to the recent events involving Freddie Gray on Baltimore’s streets where he once served. “The cops get word to do something and in the cop’s world, that means stop people, frisk people, do field interviews and make arrests.” He talks of the endless war on drugs, all the historical baggage and contemporary problems of the city crystallizing down to a single drug corner.

“...we put cops in situations they can’t win and then we blame them when they lose,”

“Freddie Gray ran away and they chased him. He had a knife on him. Absolutely the cops wanted to arrest him,” he says. “Because Freddie Gray made them run after him.” He says he spoke to cops who knew Gray personally. Not a particularly bad guy. A drug dealer when he had to be, a small-time hustler. Someone said he was claustrophobic. Moskos is quoted as saying out of tens of thousands of arrests made every year and dealing with many who have no health care, drug and mental health problems...one of them is going to die. “You just roll the dice every time.” But then added, “He shouldn’t have died. Once someone’s in your custody, they’re your responsibility.”

“It’s going to take money,” suggests Moskos. “You can’t just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and blame it on the individual because people grow up there without hope. It’s going to take a lot of money and it’s going to take a change in culture.” He talks of places like Baltimore, St. Louis and Detroit. “First you had white flight, then you had working class black flight, to a large extent, the positive role models, the workers, people with stable jobs and families left.”

He says we can do better in America, referring to the 14-year old kid forced to deal drugs because his mom is passed out. “His family has to eat,” Moskos adds.

“I think a lot of criticism, in terms of law enforcement, relates to not understanding the job. Not understanding that it requires use of force and it will never always be pretty. We have to criticize incarceration. We have to criticize the war on drugs. We have to criticize cops who were trained to use mace or tasers as compliance techniques. How we got there, I’m not quite certain. But those could change.”

Moskos returns his thoughts to his friend Crystal. She died in a car accident answering a back-up call from another officer. “Her sister was a police officer, and she saw that it was a good life move for her. She didn’t go on the job saying she wanted action and thrills, it wasn’t about carrying a gun. She just cared about people,” he added. “And that made her a better cop.”

Talking about that day in the rain, the salute...his comrades lined at attention. “I had to go. I still get choked up about it fifteen years later. It’s where the good part of solidarity and blue brotherhood comes out.” It was a brotherhood that stood by him when he published his book about them. He worried about betrayal. “I quote people saying things they could have gotten fired over. But I never got a bad comment from anybody. They didn’t want to be presented as heroes. They just wanted the truth told.” After 14-months on the streets, handling countless 9-1-1 calls, wearing the badge...Moskos life became routine again. “I went in for 11:39pm roll call, hit the streets, cleared corners, settled domestics, heard gunshots, schemed consecutive days off, swapped war stories at the bar and went to sleep around noon. On my last night of work, I was sent home right after roll call. Such is tradition,” he added. “Nobody wants to die on their last night of work, or be responsible for someone who does.”

Michael Leiber, Professor and Chair for Department of Criminology at University of South Florida, and Equal Protection Monitor for Department of Justice – talks about a country that has yet to deal with the issue of inequality.

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Photography can put a face on something otherwise labelled abstract or statistical. Kevin Moore is an impassioned photographer who often carries his camera and lens into the streets and alleys of his hometown Baltimore. “I‘ve always been drawn to the depressed urban areas and marginalized people who live there,” says Moore. “One day I photographed the areas of the Freddie Gray civil unrest then drove just a couple of miles to an upper-class polo match. It‘s two worlds.” His images have been featured in media nationally – including The Boston Review, Sports Illustrated and the Colbert Report. To see more, visit his website (http://www.kbmoore.com/).

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