Arkansas key to national agenda on rural areas

Good editorial by Sean Alexander in the Democrat Gazette about setting a national agenda on rural development:

"Arkansas should create a blueprint for a national rural development strategy. After all, Arkansas is a small rural state, which makes the task of coordinating development activities less challenging than in the national context. Moreover, our geography is diverse but representative: The Ozarks look a lot like the Appalachians, while the crippling poverty in the Arkansas Delta reflects the reality of many other Mississippi River counties.

Arkansas is also home to some of the best rural development organizations in the United States, including the UA's Cooperative Extension Services, the Delta Regional Authority, Southern Bancorp Inc., the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and many other private and nonprofit organizations."

 

New Brain Research on Young Offenders , Ages 18-21

I have often wondered about the seemingly arbitrary distinction between “under 18” and “18.” Surely it is a legal fiction that, within the flick of a day, an adolescent transforms instantaneously into an adult. If under 18, the defendant is determined “less blameworthy,” as the Supreme Court has concluded. But if he is 18, he is an adult deserving of little mercy.

Obviously, lines need to be drawn somewhere. But is there no way to account for the gray area between 18 and 21, years in which he is still developing?

Scientific research finally has turned towards this question. In the past, research devoted to youth under 18, coupled with the tireless work of youth advocates, resulted in real social change. In 2005, the Supreme Court decision Roper v. Simmons banned the death penalty for defendants under 18 at the time of their crime. And over the course of the past six years, the Supreme Court, has steadily limited, and finally banned, life without parole (LWOP) for youth under 18 at the time of their crime.

But until now, scarcely any research has been done on the brain development of young adults, ages 18 to 21. A recent Vanderbilt study, the result of an intensely interdisciplinary collaboration among law professors, neuroscientists, doctors, and psychologists, shows “distinct changes in the brains of young adults, ages 18 to 21, suggesting that they too may be immature in ways that are relevant to justice policy.” They write that “young adulthood is a distinct developmental period, and that young adults are different both from adolescents and from somewhat older adults in ways that are potentially relevant to justice policy.”

 

Source (above and right): Casey, BJ and Bonnie, Richard J. and Davis, Andre and Faigman, David L. and Hoffman, Morris B. and Jones, Owen D. and Montague, Read and Morse, Stephen and Raichle, Marcus E. and Richeson, Jennifer A. and Scott, Elizabeth S. and Steinberg, Laurence and Taylor-Thompson, Kim A. and Wagner, Anthony D., How Should Justice Policy Treat Young Offenders? (February 2017). MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, February 2017; Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 17-9. Available at SSRN:  https://ssrn.com/abstract=2881607

Source (above and right): Casey, BJ and Bonnie, Richard J. and Davis, Andre and Faigman, David L. and Hoffman, Morris B. and Jones, Owen D. and Montague, Read and Morse, Stephen and Raichle, Marcus E. and Richeson, Jennifer A. and Scott, Elizabeth S. and Steinberg, Laurence and Taylor-Thompson, Kim A. and Wagner, Anthony D., How Should Justice Policy Treat Young Offenders? (February 2017). MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, February 2017; Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 17-9. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2881607

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Many of their findings seem like common sense. But scientific research on this topic represents a turn to treating this age group as worthy of advocacy. Patrick was 18 when he was arrested. Had he been 17, the punishment of his crime would have been different. His record could be expunged; he would not have a felony; and he might have a better shot at making a living. He may have been placed in juvenile rehabilitation rather than in state prison. And just as important, he might view himself differently. If the law offers a reason for mercy, the defendant might be more willing to offer it to himself. 

For further reading on young adulthood and criminal justice, see this helpful bibliography that I lifted from the study.

Japanese Americans imprisoned in the Arkansas Delta

Nearly 17,000 Japanese Americans were sent to the Arkansas Delta and imprisoned. The ACLU called it the single most egregious violation of civil rights in American history. Once arrived, they cleared land, cut down trees, and increased the value of the land, previously worthless, seven to fifteen fold. The Arkansas legislature responded by attempting to ban any person of Japanese descent from owning land. 

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In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066 that authorized Japanese American internment, the Arkansas State Archives launched a digital collection on materials relating to the Rohwer and Jerome Relocation Centers in the Arkansas Delta. For more resources, also check out Densho for a powerful collection of oral histories that chronicle the story of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. 

Courtesy of  Arkansas Gazette , June 3, 1942,  Arkansas State Archives

Courtesy of Arkansas Gazette, June 3, 1942, Arkansas State Archives

"River Guide Wants People To Paddle The Mighty Mississippi, Not Fear It"

John Ruskey, owner of Quapaw Canoe Company, builds his own canoes, leads trips down the Mississippi, and has taught kids how to paddle down the river. He's one of my favorite people in the Delta, and I was so glad to see that NPR's Melissa Block did a story about him. John took Patrick, his family, and me on a trip paddling down the river and out to Buck Island, and we loved it. 

Quapaw has three locations: Clarksdale, Natchez, and Helena.  

During high water season, water floods the trees and you enter what seems like a secret, underwater forest. You canoe around the trees. Yes, it's as magical as it sounds. 

During high water season, water floods the trees and you enter what seems like a secret, underwater forest. You canoe around the trees. Yes, it's as magical as it sounds. 

Men in Prison Face Crushing Child Support Debt

Men in prison face crushing child support debt. This excellent article, written by Eli Hager at the Marshall Project, is based on interviews with a number of incarcerated men.

“Billing poor fathers doesn’t help poor mothers and kids become less poor,” said Jacquelyn Boggess, a poverty expert with the Center for Family Policy and Practice. “All it creates is a highly indebted individual.”

This graph obviously applies to Missouri, not the Delta. 

This graph obviously applies to Missouri, not the Delta. 

Private Schools Established to Avoid Court-Ordered Integration

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, private schools across the Delta were established to avoid desegregation. In Phillips County, the name of that school is De Soto. To this day, De Soto has not enrolled a black student.  

Above and right:  Helena Daily World , April 24th, 1970. 

Above and right: Helena Daily World, April 24th, 1970. 

The people who chartered private schools did so because their time was up: 16 years after the Supreme Court mandated integration in Brown, the federal government finally appeared serious about enforcing it.  The government threatened to withhold funds and file lawsuit. Helena, along with around fifty school districts across the Delta, were still not in compliance with the federal government's mandate.

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

After De Soto opened in 1970, some white families chose to send their children to the newly integrated public schools in Helena, which flourished in their early years. But the economy would collapse in a decade, and with the closing of a rubber company, Helena shuttered practically overnight. De Soto became a bastion for the remaining white families. Public schools today are 99 percent black.

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Stars Academy, alternative school

Stars Academy, an alternative school for expelled students, was at once a dumping ground and a valuable experiment. I met Patrick here. After a run of seven years, it was shut down by the Helena Public Schools in 2006 due to lack of funding. Once shuttered, it became a playground for vandals. In 2015, two teenagers from Mississippi lit a car on fire on the property, burning down parts of the walls and roof. The Arkansas Department of Education has no record of Stars existing. 

 

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Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Stars was known as "Helena Crossing." Elderly black residents who attended the school remember it fondly, recalling that teachers held high expectations and cared deeply for the children. In 2016, one of these residents bought the property and began work to refurbish it.