Utilize holistic defense in the justice system

By Cory Biggs

The Arkansas legal community should work to employ a fairly new concept in legal circles called holistic defense, the goal of which is to more directly combine the legal work of traditional public defenders' offices with improved access to social services — drug rehab, mental health counseling/therapy, educational/vocational training, etc. — that address the issues that send indigent citizens into the justice system. The idea was pioneered by a New York non-profit called The Bronx Defenders, whose model focuses on teams of lawyers, social workers, probation officers and others working, often side by side, with clients from arrest to the conclusion of legal proceedings to ensure that all needs of the client are met. In Arkansas, there are a lot of groups — from drug courts to veteran support organizations to social services — that are working toward the same goal, but not under the same roof. In a holistic justice system, a defendant could, for instance, get legal support in one room and meet with a drug or workforce counselor in another, instead of being referred from one agency to another and so on, possibly missing an important link along the way due to scheduling or transportation problems.

Other holistic defense programs have been set up through a combination of private attorneys working pro bono with students from legal clinics or through public defenders' offices. Regardless of the organizational structure, embracing the practice is sure to help us turn the corner on lowering the rate of recidivism.

Cory Biggs is executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. Biggs researched holistic defense in partnership with the Arkansas attorney general's office for his capstone project at the Clinton School for Public Service.

Rethink the Arkansas Highway Commission

By Tim McKuin

Change the name of the Arkansas Highway Commission to the Arkansas Transportation Commission. Then send every commissioner, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department director, and their families on a month-long, all-expenses-paid, first-class worldwide learning expedition. First, they should visit the Netherlands for a week to see how simple changes in infrastructure design can allow bikes to play a significant role in the transportation network. Then send them to France to ride the trains for a week, both the high speed TGV and the more traditional lines that crisscross the country. Next, take them to South America to experience true Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia. Finally, the expedition should conclude its trip with a weeklong stay in Vancouver, British Columbia, to relax in a place that proves that cities can absolutely thrive with no freeways.

Such a trip, if it leads to real change back on the ground in Arkansas, will be much cheaper for the people of this great state than just continuing with business as usual. It's time for our tax dollars to go toward building real choice and resiliency into our statewide transportation system instead of just leveraging billions of dollars of debt to continue building and expanding roads that we can't afford to maintain. Cars and highways will always play a significant part in our transportation system, but it's foolish to lock us into that one mode for all of our trips when it's cheaper, healthier, better for our economy and just more enjoyable to make walkable, bikeable places that are also served by convenient public transportation. The leaders at the newly renamed Arkansas Transportation Commission should focus on increasing freedom and choice rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Tim McKuin is co-author of the blog MoveArkansas (movearkansas.blogspot.com).

Memorialize racial atrocities

By Guy Lancaster

Right now, the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission is aiding communities in establishing markers for a variety of military events that happened across the state during the Civil War. While I am a tremendous supporter of this initiative, the attention paid to these various skirmishes — some of which entailed only one or two deaths (such as the Skirmish at Lunenburg) — highlights by contrast the events that remain invisible upon our commemorative landscape, despite their having far greater significance. The Elaine Massacre of 1919 entailed, according to one estimate, approximately 200 murders and has poisoned race relations in Phillips County and the Delta to the present day. The Harrison Race Riots of 1905 and 1909 and the Catcher Race Riot of 1923 involved the brutal destruction of vibrant black communities, so much so that few, if any, African Americans live in those places now. In Little Rock, before there was the Central High Crisis, there was the 1927 lynching of John Carter, during which 5,000 whites rioted in the heart of the city's black community as they burned and tore apart Carter's corpse. The state of Arkansas needs to establish markers at the site of these events, for more than Civil War skirmishes, these riots and massacres impact our present lives, and solemnly commemorating them will help us understand the present shape of race relations and aid us in coming to grips with how we might improve our record on civil rights and human rights for the 21st century.

Guy Lancaster is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

Consider racial disparity in the criminal justice system

By Adjoa A. Aiyetoro

Racial disparity in Arkansas's criminal justice system must be addressed. Disproportionately higher rates of incarceration based on race harms communities of color and ultimately all of Arkansas. Since the death penalty is the punishment for which, once imposed, there is no recourse, Arkansas should start by addressing it and implementing a Racial Justice Act. Such an act would allow people of color charged with a capital crime to challenge the imposition of the death penalty by presenting data that the punishment has not been imposed on similarly situated whites.

The problem of racial disparity in the death penalty was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 in McClesky v. Kemp. The late David Baldus presented statistical evidence showing that in Georgia, black men were significantly more likely than white men to be charged with a capital crime. The disparity increased when the victim was white. The Supreme Court said to invalidate death sentences based on the statistics would turn the criminal justice system on its head. Justice Powell, who authored the opinion, later said if he could revisit it he would decide differently.

Baldus conducted a similar study in Arkansas's 8th circuit north (Hempstead and Nevada Counties) and 8th circuit south (Miller and Lafayette Counties) in 2008 that reviewed cases from January 1, 1990, to December 31, 2005. He found that only black men had been charged, convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death and only for the murders of white victims.

State legislators throughout the United States have introduced Racial Justice Act legislation. It passed in North Carolina in 2009 and is now the basis for a number of challenges by black men to their sentence of death. Legislation addressing the death penalty, however, should only be the first step. The same approach should be taken for other felony convictions. Why should the state allow this actualization of structural racism?

Adjoa A. Aiyetoro is the director of the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity and an associate professor of the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law.

Close off Clinton Avenue in the River Market on weekend nights and create a health care program for Little Rock artists and musicians

By Grayson Shelton

Closing President Clinton Avenue from LaHarpe to the I-30 bridge on Friday and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. would make the area safer and more friendly to crowds. It would keep people who cruise the River Market away and allow police to set up checkpoints, which would allow them to spot underage drinkers and otherwise monitor the crowds.

The blueprint for a healthcare program for local artists is Austin's HAAM, which helps professional musicians with basic health and dental care and mental health counseling. A program like this could inspire a new wave of creativity in Little Rock and, ultimately, benefit the economy.

Grayson Shelton is a Little Rock musician, who plays in the band War Chief.

Reconnect the Old State House to the Riverfront

By Mason Ellis

The Old State House was built in the mid 1800s atop a prominent hill along the Arkansas riverbank. It was the one of the most impressive buildings in the state when it was built and a focal point along the old riverfront. Today, it is still a prominent landmark along Markham Street, but with the construction of La Harpe Boulevard, the Old State House was cut off from the riverfront it once proudly overlooked. East of La Harpe, the Riverfront Park and downtown meld into one bustling environment, but to the west, downtown and the river are divided by a concrete barrier where once the land sloped down to the river from behind the Old State House.

We should reconstruct this connection and build a tunnel over La Harpe behind the Old State House to create a large green lawn between Ashley and Conway streets. The greenway would link downtown to the west end of Riverfront Park and encourage more people to use it. The caged pedestrian bridge that crosses La Harpe behind the Old State House now is often overlooked or avoided because it is small, hidden and unsightly. And though it makes it possible to cross over La Harpe, it does not invite visitors to do so. Access to the west end of Riverfront Park could spark a renewed interest in that area, similar to the revitalization of the east end of the park that we have seen in recent years.

Mason Ellis is an intern architect at Witsell Evans Rasco Architects and Planners.

Embrace naturism

By John Bryant

Arkansas is called the "Natural" state, but yet "Naturism," or social nudism, is expressly prohibited by a legislative act passed in 1947 after a crusading preacher passed through the state and convinced lawmakers to pass this obviously unconstitutional legislation.

Other locales, North Miami Beach (Haulover) for instance, have embraced the desire for residents and tourists to enjoy their beach sans clothing and in doing so have realized millions of visitors from around the world who come and spend millions of dollars each year. Arkansas has literally hundreds of natural scenic areas that lend themselves to nude recreation. Not to mention private development of facilities accommodating nudists that is now being prevented by this archaic legislation. Although not a coastal state, Arkansas has much more to attract such development than other inland areas that have capitalized on nude recreation like Pasco County, Fla., which is home to more than a dozen nudist resorts and residential communities. Also, Palm Springs, Calif., boasts several upscale nudist resorts and spas. And they are in the middle of a desert! Let's get with it Arkansas, and become truly the "Natural State".

John Bryant is retired from a TV broadcast career. He lives in Elkins.

Make registering to vote easier

By Gary Phillips

While right-wingers push to pass laws requiring photo IDs for people to vote, we should introduce a law that automatically registers everyone 18 and older who has an Arkansas photo ID (Driver's License or Non-Drive ID). Those who get driver's licenses prior to 18 would, on their 18th birthday, be automatically registered to vote. The technology is there to make this a reality. All that is lacking is the political will. Of course there are those who will not ever vote, but at least this method removes an impediment to true representative democracy.

Gary Phillips is the chair of the Mississippi County Democratic Central Committee.

Build an iconic performing arts center

By Philip Mann

Little Rock needs an iconic performing arts center that would serve as a hub for creative and innovative talents from our great state and a magnet to expand our ability to draw top talents in all fields to Arkansas. 

I imagine a building, possibly on the riverfront, with a performance hall for live symphony, opera, ballet and a myriad of other productions. It would also house a smaller venue for recitals, an experimental space for innovative projects and office and rehearsal spaces for the center's resident arts organizations.

The center would provide a high quality acoustic space where great artists from Arkansas and around the world could be heard at their best. Arkansas has a great symphony orchestra, and building it a performance hall with world-class acoustics would be like giving a talented musician a great instrument. It could also be the impetus for a return of full-scale opera and ballet to downtown Little Rock. Its heart would be a hall where fans and artists of every genre, from an Ozark folk or bluegrass band to a gospel chorus, could experience the joy of an intimate, acoustic concert experience.

The center would be a bustling hive for arts education, offering activities for young Arkansans to expand their horizons and potential, hosting everything from youth orchestras, to music lessons, to ballet lessons and rehearsals, to studio opera projects, to university and student productions, to any number of things that have yet to be imagined.

Incredible possibilities for collaborations and original projects would result from the close interaction of local artists and organizations as a product of their physical proximity to each other.

As a new Arkansan, I have been amazed and heartened by the quality of our key performing arts organizations, and I can think of no better way to advance our community and attract creative capital for the future of our state than to build them a home.

Philip Mann is the music director of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Encourage a gap year between high school and college for travel

By Nikki Beard

The Brits do it. The Aussies do it. It's a tradition in Israel. The concept of a gap year between high school and university is commonplace in many parts of the globe. Unfortunately, it remains the exception here in the U.S., and as a result young people are missing out on a prime opportunity for self-betterment. Let's encourage young Arkansans to take a gap year between high school and college to travel the world.

It's a rare high school graduate who has a firm grasp on what she wants to study in college (three changes in major and a semester of exploratory electives, anyone?). Parents, save the tuition money that indecision will cost you and introduce your graduates to new cultures and ideas that may unlock a previously dormant passion and stimulate a new, more directed thirst for knowledge. Let high school graduates wander a bit and then come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective, ready to take on the next phase of life with focus and clarity.

Spending time abroad builds muscle in adaptability, problem solving, self-reliance and communication, giving young people who take a gap year a leg up in university admissions and later, the job search. Entering university life bolstered by this new maturity is sure to foster a more successful college experience. Investing in our youth in this way will lead to a great return on investment as they become the future pillars of the community.

A young person's gap-year experience starts by learning how to raise and save money for the journey. Seed money gets young travelers through their first leg, after which they can take a job overseas for cash or work a volunteer program that covers room and board. Time abroad is more rewarding when one has a purpose and can stay for a while. Working or volunteering in a country fills both criteria nicely.

Regardless of how young travelers elect to spend their time abroad, any type of self-directed exploration at that age will lead to a host of character-building opportunities. A workforce populated with well-rounded, self-assured, focused people can only be a good thing for Arkansas.

Nikki Beard is a international group travel specialist at Poe Travel. She recently lived and worked in McMurdo, Antarctica. She's traveled to all seven continents.

Volunteer

By Fernando Cutz

A recent study done by the federal government ranks Arkansas dead last, 51st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, for hours spent per resident volunteering in their community.

When I first moved to Arkansas, I was impressed by the kindness and friendliness of everyone I met. People are genuinely interested in each other and proud of their Southern hospitality. I admire that a lot. But isn't it time we took that a step further?

Last year, a few classmates and I took it upon ourselves to drive over to the Delta region in Eastern Arkansas on a monthly basis and help mentor kids on college access. We're busy folks, and it's a long drive to get there. But doing this has quickly become one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences I've had.

I know the Delta is a ways away for many of us, but we can look closer to home for other opportunities. There is always great need in your own backyard. Whether it's through your house of worship, your child's school, a foodbank or a local veteran's organization, what's important is to find something that you care about, and give them a bit of your time.

The impact is tremendous. In recent years, Tennessee has averaged $3.2 billion in economic benefit from the volunteering that folks did in that state. Missouri averaged $3.5 billion and Texas $13 billion. In these tough economic times, what we need is not more political bickering or protesting or grandstanding, but to extend Southern hospitality outside of our homes and into our communities. Please consider volunteering.

Fernando Cutz is the student body president at the Clinton School of Public Service. This year, he is doing his Capstone Project with U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

Stop tearing down old buildings

By Vanessa Norton McKuin

Throughout Arkansas, the pervasive attitude is that progress means clearing the old — sometimes to make room for the new, other times to get rid of a perceived problem. This outdated approach takes a toll on our towns and cities, stripping communities of important distinctive places, and robbing communities of the opportunity to give character-defining sites new life for the future.

Tearing down buildings is wasteful. Most debris from demolished buildings goes into landfills, increasing the burden on already stressed municipal and county resources. Materials from old buildings include old-growth timber, brick, stone and tiles that would last hundreds of years if maintained instead of discarded.

Demolition is not a development strategy. Run down, vacant neighborhoods or commercial districts are the product of long-term disinvestment, not of bad buildings. It is time to re-evaluate existing assets and re-imagine how to use them. We have examples all over Arkansas — an abandoned warehouse becomes a public library, a "haunted" hospital becomes energy-efficient affordable housing.

Old neighborhoods are well designed. Look anywhere in the country and the desirable places to live, visit and do business in are historic, walkable neighborhoods. Trendy new developments, like the Promenade at Chenal, go to great lengths to mimic the look and feel of older communities, but cannot recreate the quality, diversity and authenticity.

Instead of tearing down buildings that are vacant, abandoned or in need of updates, let's commit to finding innovative uses to reinvigorate our state's undervalued assets. Let's redirect public money set aside for demolishing buildings to stabilizing and marketing for redevelopment instead, offering incentives that leverage private investment, adopting and enforcing property maintenance codes to allow municipalities to address problem properties before condemnation and demolition become the only attractive options, adopting policies to evaluate buildings for historical significance before demolition permits are issued, and re-evaluating required parking minimums in dense communities.

Vanessa Norton McKuin is executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

Replace stairs with slides at every school

By Max Green

Add a second floor to every elementary school, also instead of stairs have slides and eskalaters.

Nine-year-old Max Green lives in North Little Rock.

No more buyouts

By Eric Francis

The legislature should pass a law that forbids any buyout clauses for public employees in contracts. No one — not coaches, not university presidents — should be exempt. You screw up, you get fired and don't walk away with a hefty taxpayer-funded subsidy.

Eric Francis is a freelance journalist living in North Little Rock.

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