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Panel Descriptions

 

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Voting Rights Act

Section V of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) required covered jurisdictions to obtain “preclearance” before making changes to voting laws.  In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court held that the formula determining which jurisdictions were covered by Section V was unconstitutional.  Following Shelby County, states previously covered by Section V began proposing changes to election laws.  If those laws are in fact discriminatory they must now be challenged under Section II of the VRA, which places the burden on plaintiffs to show racial discrimination.  This panel will provide an update on proposed and enacted election law changes being made in the South, and it will consider the future of the VRA, including: (1) the efficacy of Section II for preventing disenfranchisement; (2) the possibility of Congress updating the coverage formula for Title V inclusion; and (3) the role of the public interest lawyer in VRA enforcement.    

 

Law Enforcement, Community, and Military Tactics: What's the Conflict?

Local law enforcement is a critical community service, and the expense of maintaining a modern and effective police force can be substantial in relation to local resources.  At the same time, military equipment, SWAT teams, and aggressive search and seizure tactics have been called into question by the recurring loss of innocent life and Fourth Amendment concerns attendant to the use of overwhelming force.  This panel will consider the funding mechanisms available to police and sheriff departments for equipment and capital investments, the incentives these revenues create, and the conflicts between community trust and the atmosphere of counter-insurgency which military style raids engender in marginalized communities.   

 

Poverty in Suburbia: Are the Poor Out of Reach?

The story of suburbs in America sweeps in much of this country’s modern history of sprawling land use and the self-segregation of affluent and middle class commuter communities.  This panel will explore the current state of the suburbs and ask whether the infrastructure that supports a commuter economy is compatible with changing demographics.  Who lives in the suburbs, and who speaks for them in local government?  Are the children of lower income communities further disadvantaged in terms of income mobility by virtue of living in the suburbs?  What problems arise when affordable housing is located in areas with poor public transportation and few job opportunities?  Are poor people being pushed out of urban areas?  If so, is greater urban density a more desirable policy option than bringing transportation services to the suburbs?     

 

Privatization of Prisons: Costs and Consequences

The privatization of prisons is generally undertaken by states to lower the cost to the public of housing prisoners.  Whether cost savings actually result is debatable.  Importantly, the ways in which private prisons do cut costs are problematic from the perspective of public safety, human rights, and public policy.  In some well-documented cases, prisoners have escaped due to lax security and poorly trained staff.  More generally, staff turnover rates are often high and the compensation packages of private prison guards may be inadequate to attract the best candidates.  The U.S. Department of Justice produced a report in June of 2013 documenting that over 30% of juvenile detainees were sexually victimized at Paulding Regional Detention Center – a privately run facility northwest of Atlanta.  While that facility’s contract will not be renewed, the trend towards privatization of juvenile detention facilities continues.  This panel will discuss the consequences of entrusting vulnerable populations to a system run for profit.   

 

Delivering Public Assistance: What Does it Mean to Follow the Law?

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is the rare public program that provides direct assistance to families in need.  Georgia, like other states, receives block grants to administer TANF.   What is the current state of the TANF program in Georgia and is assistance getting to those who need it?  Should the state be more proactive in reaching out to those who qualify for assistance?  Are there times when qualifying families are unable to access benefits due to administrative hurdles and poor customer service?  What recourse do families have if they are not treated fairly by TANF administrators?  This panel will ask why Georgia has among the lowest rates of TANF assistance in the country (8% of impoverished families receiving assistance) despite having among the highest rates of poverty (approximately 300,000 families living in poverty).