The conference this year is co-sponsored by the UNC Law Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. It will bring together legal scholars, practitioners, activists, community members and academics from other fields.
The current economic crisis has exposed deep flaws in U.S. economic systems including greed, mismanagement, and lack of government oversight. Although tremendous disparities in wealth have been revealed, little attention has been paid to how such great inequalities affect both crime itself and state responses to crime.
In keeping with the 13-year trend of bringing to light those issues that receive less attention in the mainstream legal conversation, the UNC Law Conference on Race, Class, Gender, and Ethnicity will examine the relationship between the economy, greed, crime rates, and state responses to crime, looking in particular at how economic and racial inequality has been made worse by the current economic climate.
Our program consists of three panels (the titles are still tentative, and may go through slight variations as we confirm our list of participants). These panels follow the journey of incarcerated individuals, from initial involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems, to experiences in courtrooms and prisons, and following release, including reintegration and, all too often, re-entry.
The panels are:
1. Pre-Entry/Entry-Budget cuts across all levels of social services deeply affect the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This panel will examine ways in which economic and racial inequality, exacerbated by the current economic crisis, contribute to the likelihood of involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Neighborhoods disproportionately affected by high incarceration rates experience a loss of opportunity and expectation, refueling the cycle of crime and punishment.
2. Abuses Both Inside the Criminal Justice System and Inside Prisons and Jails-This panel is to explore the effect of the economic crisis on systemic responses to crime, focusing on concerns about adequate funding for fair representation in court, as well as basic human rights conditions in the prisons themselves. Once people encounter the criminal justice system through an arrest, charge, or conviction, a powerful stigma attaches, too often to the effect that principles of basic dignity and human rights are ignored or denied.
3. Re-Entry and Recidivism-This panel will examine the lack of opportunity following a person's involvement with the criminal justice system. While the purpose of the juvenile and criminal justice systems should at least in part be to rehabilitate offenders, current rates of homelessness and poverty, and recidivism among persons exiting the system, indicate that any sentence is a lifelong sentence. What little opportunities existed prior to entering the system are now even further diminished, as the stigma that attached upon entry into the system follows a person throughout their entire lives. While there was a lack of support to begin with, the current economic crisis has further reduced and eliminated supportive systems, as well as dramatically reduced viable alternatives for productive engagement in society, including vocational and educational opportunities. But, despite overwhelming odds, some organizations provide a glimpse of hope in challenging the standard options available for formerly incarcerated individuals.