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ENEWS: On Criminal Justice, Rural Places and Inner Cities, and Broadband

Date Published: 01/17/2018

Author: Jane Leonard & Dane Smith

Our Blogpost on “Collateral Consequences”

Check out our most recent blogpost, by attorney and legislative expert Robert J. Tennessen, calling for the reform in Minnesota of our “Collateral Consequences of Conviction.”   Tennessen vividly describes all the ways that convictions permanently and unfairly damage the lives of people who are seeking to rebuild their lives.  Comparing their predicament to that of Jean Valjean in the classic novel Les Miserables, Tennessen writes:  “Your past conviction for a felony, and sometimes for a gross misdemeanor or even a misdemeanor, is a scarlet ‘C’, invisibly but indelibly stamped on your face. You are barred from jobs, loans, educational benefits, licenses, and housing, not by the judge at your sentencing, but by the automatic imposition of non-criminal laws called collateral consequences.” A recent MinnPost article cites a recent book by Emily Baxter, “We Are All Criminals” that makes similar arguments about the unfairness of collateral consequences.  Tennessen and Baxter, who has been active on criminal justice reform in Minnesota, point also to the institutional racism underlying current laws and sanctions, and the threat they represent to our workforce and a competitive economy.

Small Rural Towns are the “New Inner City”

The national news media seems to have discovered a basic truth that Growth & Justice has been highlighting for several years:  rural places are actually quite similar to the inner cities on socio-economic statistics, and a lack of opportunities.  A Fox Business report warns: “In terms of poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, reliance on federal disability insurance and male labor-force participation, rural counties now rank the worst among the four major U.S. population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas).”  Meanwhile, a Huffington Post article commentary draws a similar conclusion and offers this observation:  “If large parts of rural America are going to survive at all, they need an influx of people, and that means attracting immigrants. Needless to say that isn’t likely to happen as long as rural Americans hang on to their xenophobia and white nationalism.”  

Broadband Continues to Rise as Policy Priority

“Expanding access to broadband has not and should not become a partisan issue; all Minnesotans, regardless of political affiliation, need access to broadband.”  This central policy theme radiates throughout the recently released MN Governor’s Task Force on Broadband Annual Report 2017

It notes the successes over the past four years of the state’s broadband grant program: leveraging $110 million in matching local and/or private investments with $85 million in state matching grants, making service available to more than 34,000 households and 5,200 businesses across Minnesota. The task force recommends continuing the grant program at $71.48 million in on-going, biennial (or $35,741,000 in annual) funding over the next four years to help provide broadband Internet to the 252,000 households that currently lack such service – moving us closer to achieving the statutory broadband speed goal of connecting all Minnesotans with broadband Internet at speeds of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps by 2022.

Minnesota’s vision is an inspiration for the rest of the nation where 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack internet access that meets the FCC’s minimum definition of “broadband” service – the 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. (And MN goes further with a 100/20 goal by 2026).

An overview of the national need is deftly laid out in the January 16 issue of the Conversation, by Dr. Sharon Strover, Director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and a leading researcher in digital divide issues and the economic impact of broadband.  Check it out here: The Conversation

Quote of the Week

“These sanctions are self-defeating for both the ex-felon and for the rest of us, a threat to our economic competitiveness, and morally offensive because they compound the serious racial disparities that plague our state.”  -- Robert J. Tennessen, member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law, a member of the American Law Institute, and a former Minnesota state senator, from Growth & Justice blogpost, cited above.

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