It's no secret that the field of law oftentimes seems too conservative, too rigid, to truly bring about the changes that reformers and criminal justice advocates would like to see.
The very nature of the legal system requires that you follow a strict set of rules simply to get into court in the first place. Once there, you must navigate a second system, meeting rigorous standards and getting past a series of gatekeeping mechanisms that allows for the entry of some evidence while other evidence is kept out. If you successfully navigate this second system, the fate of you or whatever issue you are fighting for is often left in the hands of a jury that may or may not clearly understand the gravity of the issue.
This system of gatekeeping can be good or bad depending on which side of the issue you are on. Undeniably, though, it oftentimes leaves those of us fighting for civil rights disillusioned. Recent DOJ decisions in the Michael Brown case as well as in the George Zimmerman case are prime examples. Even Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged this, saying in part that he thinks that "some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate."
This kind of realization forces attorneys like myself, who went to law school for the sole purpose of impacting issues affecting my community, to question whether or not law is the adequate avenue to levy change, and if not, what is.
I strongly believe that the law has in the past been a powerful tool to fight injustice. Today, though, I feel that we need to figure out more innovative ways to bring about change.
Civil rights 2.0 requires us to think of ways to utilize technology to bring about the change we want to see.
I am attempting to do just that.
A year ago, I participated in the Oakland Hackathon for Black Male Achievement, pitching an idea that I think could change the landscape for criminal justice reform. That idea was 2econd Impression.
2econd Impression is a web/mobile platform designed to make the job search for individuals with criminal records more productive and efficient by mapping employers who are proactively working to hire individuals with criminal records. It simultaneously allows social-justice-minded individuals in the community to identify these businesses and patronize them.
Frustration with over-incarceration today is at an all-time high, such that we are finally seeing bipartisan support for reform. Van Jones' #Cut50 initiative, which aims to cut the prison population by 50 percent over the next 10 years, just led a huge summit attended by change-makers spanning the political divide. A number of cities and states have passed "Ban the Box" initiatives, prohibiting employers from requiring job applicants to check a box on their applications indicating whether or not they have a criminal record.
Both of these initiatives are vitally important. However, they also leave some stones unturned. Employers, for example, still have the ability to require background checks before they hire. So while banning the box is effective at the front end, there remains a gap that needs to be addressed before the ultimate goal of increasing employment opportunities for those with records can be fully realized. Cutting the prison population by 50 percent is an urgent need and a noble effort, but what happens when the remaining 50 percent are released from prison and can't get jobs?
It is estimated that approximately 6 out of 10 ex-inmates return to prison because they can't find employment. This reality leads to an estimated $57 to $65 billion in lost economic output annually.
The time for creative, innovative, and multi-faceted solutions is now. The promise of a second impression is to simplify the job search for people with records and to leverage consumer power to either support progressive employers or put pressure on employers who fail to adopt more progressive hiring policies.
It puts the power in the hands of the people, as it should be.
We have recently launched a Kickstarter to speed up development.