De-incarceration Through Civil Rights Litigation Conference

Thanks to all who made the "De-incarceration Through Civil Rights Litigation Conference" a success!

April 14 - 15, 2016

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights and visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, was the keynote speaker at our evening reception. Reginald Dwayne Betts, juvenile justice reform advocate and award-winning author of “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.”

Conference approved for CLE credit.

Cobnference session topics included police accountability as a strategy to de-incarcerate, litigation challenging racial disparities in policing and in the administration of justice, solutions to the crisis in indigent defense, advocating for those still-imprisoned as a result of system-level scandal and abuse, and strategies for leveraging prison and jail conditions litigation in de-incarceration campaigns.

Police accountability and de-incarceration. Police are the gateway to mass imprisonment. And when police departments operate with impunity, innocent people are funneled into the prison system, communities are terrorized by abusive police practices and the entire system breaks down. This panel will explore legal strategies that aim to hold police accountable for past wrongdoing and those that are designed to protect communities from ongoing (and future) unlawful policing. Panelists will discuss issues specific to litigating against the police.

Bringing them home after the scandal. Police (and other law enforcement related) scandals have rocked jurisdictions around the country. But merely exposing the misdeeds of law enforcement does not automatically result in freedom for the men, women and children who are imprisoned as a result of these bad acts. Attorneys around the country have experimented with innovative legal strategies in the hopes of securing systemic relief for the still-imprisoned victims of these scandals. Panelists will explain the different approaches used when seeking this sort of extraordinary systemic relief.

Access to counsel as a de-incarceration strategy. The illusory nature of the right to counsel has been well-documented in courts and administrative proceedings throughout the country. In response to these deficiencies, civil rights attorneys have won a number of recent victories securing the right to counsel in criminal adjudications and parole revocation proceedings. Panelists will discuss the various legal theories related to this issue and discuss strategies for monitoring and enforcing consent decrees and settlements to ensure that victories are meaningful and result in sustainable, systemic reform.

Conditions crisis as leverage to de-populate. In the wake of revelations about unconstitutional and often brutal prison and jail conditions, officials have been forced to decrease the number of people held behind bars—sometimes as a result of court orders and sometimes as a result of elected officials' reactions to these crises. This panel will examine litigation conducted in a number of jurisdictions where facilities were downsized in the wake of conditions litigation. Panelists will describe how such litigation can result in de-incarceration and how litigators avoid "building a better mousetrap."

Shutting the revolving door to prison: Fees, fines and other collateral consequences. Some people who are involved with the justice system find themselves imprisoned because they are too poor to pay fines and fees leveled against them. Additionally, states have significantly expanded the number of people who must register with law enforcement post-imprisonment, and in order to register, people must pay a fee—or be sent back to prison. Panelists will discuss different legal strategies aimed at preventing people from being imprisoned (or re-imprisoned) merely because they are poor. Additionally, panelists will describe potential civil rights challenges to housing restrictions and other—often cost prohibitive—conditions placed on people post-imprisonment.

Solitary confinement reform: deep-end de-incarceration. The movement to abolish solitary confinement has made great strides over the last year, as highly publicized condition scandals have forced officials to enact policies (and sometimes even laws) that prohibit (or limit) solitary for certain populations. Panelists will discuss how solitary reform intersects with efforts to reduce overall prison populations, the legal strategies that have successfully reformed solitary confinement practices and the new legal frontiers in this movement.

Litigating race. The racial disparities in the criminal justice system are real, stark and cannot be explained away by rates of offending. While civil rights litigators who seek to reform the criminal justice system may be enforcing the 4th amendment or the 8th amendment, racial injustice is the underlying issue—and it is at the core of any such litigation. Drawing lessons from recent U.S. Department of Justice civil rights lawsuits, this panel will also explore how litigators can directly challenge racial disparities in the administration of justice. Using insights from ground-breaking social science research, this panel will also discuss how attorneys can best present issues of race and racial disparities to fact-finders.

Full Agenda (pdf)