Mental Health and Criminal Justice Collaboration Grant – Update

As we reported in our last update, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is seeking applications for funding for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. The purpose of this grant is to help communities create and continue cross-system collaborations for people with mental health issues that may become justice involved. To promote the grant, a series of webinars were presented to help grant seekers understand the process.

Units of local government are eligible to apply for this grant. To be considered for the grant the application must demonstrate that the proposed project involves collaboration between criminal justice and mental health agencies. The deadline for submission for this grant is April 4, 2017. The application can be accessed online.

You can also view a recorded webinar on the grant project and application process.

Center for Death Penalty Litigation Successfully Argues against the Death Penalty for Buncombe Man

Phillip Davis was resentenced from a death sentence to life without the possibility of parole, reducing the number of active inmates on North Carolina’s death row to 148. We previously reported on Phillip’s hearing here.

The final decision was issued last Friday in Buncombe County. Mr. Davis was represented by attorneys from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. The resentencing was based, in part, on the evolving standards for applying the death penalty, the low IQ of the defendant, and the fact that, as a juvenile, his brain development should have been considered at the time of sentencing. Additionally, the judge determined that the removal of the only qualified African American from the jury contributed to the need for resentencing in this case. The issue of removing African Americans from capital juries was the centerpiece of the, now repealed, Racial Justice Act.

CJPC wants to commend the Buncombe County District Attorney, Todd Williams, for being open minded and progressive as it relates to the administration of the death penalty. We hope that other District Attorneys across the state will follow the example being set in Buncombe County and reconsider the impacts that racial bias in jury selection may have had on death penalty cases.

National Alliance on Mental Illness NC 2017 CIT Conference

Last week, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) held its annual CIT Conference. The conference was designed for law enforcement officers, jail administrators, court personnel, emergency responders, social workers, counselors, and mental health advocates. During the conference attendees heard from criminal justice professionals about how to effectively and humanely deal with the growing number of criminal justice involved people with mental health issues.

A highlight of the conference was a lecture by Risdon Slate, Ph.D., Criminology Professor. He bravely shared how his personal battle with mental illness caused him to be involved with the criminal justice system. As a criminal justice professional who has personally experienced being mentally ill and justice involved, his perspective was powerful and enlightening.

During an award luncheon at the conference, the following people were recognized for their outstanding work with CIT:

CIT Officer of the Year CIT Champion of the Year
Officer Darrell Meadows Suzanne Porter
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Dept.

CIT Volunteer of the Year Outstanding CIT Trainer of the Year
Keith Gibson Senior Sergeant Hardin Brown, Jr.
Cumberland County Sheriff Dept.

Outstanding Law Enforcement Executive of the Year
Sergeant Christopher Smith
New Hanover County Sheriff Department

Outstanding CIT Partnership
Lincoln County CIT Steering Committee

We encourage you to reach out to the municipalities the honorees represent to learn more about how CIT is making a difference in their communities and how you may be able to advocate for CIT training in your community.

HK on J March Draws Possible Record Crowd

On Saturday, the North Carolina NAACP held its 11th annual HJonK March in Downtown Raleigh.  According to the News and Observer, the agenda included expressing support for the Affordable Care Act amid Republican efforts to repeal the health care law known as Obamacare, as well as opposition to President Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico and his executive order on immigration, which state NAACP president William Barber has criticized as “nothing more than a Muslim ban.”

Unofficial reports indicate that this was the largest crowd the HJonK has ever drawn.

You can read more on the March »

Nancy Shakir: A Loss to the Advocacy Community

It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Nancy Shakir, a friend to CJPC and a tireless activist for social justice in North Carolina, including educating citizens about the documented racial bias in North Carolina death penalty cases and the Racial Justice Act. Even as she struggled with her health, she NEVER stopped working to make North Carolina fair and just.

Nancy Shakir dedicated her life to serving others. When running for Congress in 2010, she shared that she was a retired educator who started her career in the classroom, but eventually served in administrative roles. The self-described activist wrote that she began her activism as a teen during the Civil Rights movement when she participated in demonstrations against Woolworth’s and other companies that did not hire people of color. She was a founding member and officer of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Shakir wrote opinion editorials for the Fayetteville Observer where she served as a member of the Community Advisory Board. She volunteered with the Cumberland County Progressives, hosted a local Progressives cable show and volunteered as a reader for the blind and as a reading buddy in Fayetteville schools.

Right until the end of her life, Nancy Shaker gave all she could to create social change. On a personal note, Ms. Nancy was a warm, beautiful soul who we all should strive to emulate. At this critical time in American history, Ms. Nancy should serve as the prototype for what our activism to protect social and civil rights should look like. We were privileged to work alongside her and we promise to use her life as an example of who and what CJPC should be.

CJPC is Hiring!

CJPC is hiring a new Executive Director. Download and review the job description and share with interested candidates.

From Board Chair Dr. George Wilson about the departure of Lao Rubert, Executive Director:

Lao Rubert, CJPC’s wonderful and beloved Executive Director has decided to retire from her position in the Spring, 2017. CJPC has been privileged to have Lao at the helm of our organization for many years.  In spite of our sadness, we are excited to see what the future holds for Lao and for CJPC.  While Lao will be taking a much-needed break from fighting for criminal justice reform on a daily basis, CJPC will continue to work tirelessly as it always has to make North Carolina a better place to live.  The organization will continue to build on the foundation of Lao’s outstanding leadership.

Lao’s work was most recently acknowledged when she received the NAACP Citizen of the Year Award from the Durham NAACP in November, 2016.   Lao has been a tireless worker for social justice issues for more than 37 years. She helped establish and staff the Citizens Commission on Alternatives to Incarceration in 1981 and was an original member of the NC Sentencing Commission.  She has worked to develop pre-trial services and multiple state and local programs to create and implement alternatives to incarceration.  She’s worked to improve options for persons with mental illness and addictions and to build meaningful re-entry services. Lao has advocated consistently against the death penalty and for clemency; she played a critical role in helping to enact the Racial Justice Act, ending the death penalty for persons with mental retardation and advancing efforts to raise the juvenile age.  Throughout her tenure, Lao has kept citizens across the state informed about policies and legislation that involve social justice and criminal justice issues that impact their communities and the state.

CJPC has a committed Board of Directors that will be making transition decisions and receiving Executive Director applications in the coming weeks.  As we move forward, our Board will insure we maintain a statewide scope that connects with, empowers and supports those who share our vision of creating a state that can raise the juvenile age, end the death penalty, and reduce the overuse of prisons and jails.

The Board is proud of Lao’s leadership in keeping a small non-profit agency vital and influential as it addressed often unpopular issues for over 37 years.  The Board is committed to continue and honor Lao’s legacy has we move forward.

Finally, Lao will work closely with the staff through the transition period and until our new staff is hired.  Dawn Blagrove, our talented Assistant Director will also be hard at work to make sure we have a smooth transition.  On behalf of the entire Board, we wish Lao the best as she leaves the Executive Director position.  We know she will remain engaged in criminal justice and social justice issues as she enters this new phase of her life.