We celebrate this Martin Luther King Jr. Day amid a collective whiplash. Last year’s celebration came on the heels of a transformative year for racial justice — a “reckoning,” it was called — with the opening of a national dialogue on racism and public sentiment skewing toward change in our systems of public safety, education, and economic opportunity. The energy of that time brought more voices to the table and empowered people to speak more freely.
It would be shocking if it wasn’t so familiar. “This holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., sees a nation embroiled in conflicts that would have looked numbingly familiar to him,” writes Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker. Says Emanuele Berry of “This American Life”: “This backlash, it’s not surprising. This is what America does: Reconstruction, then Jim Crow. The civil rights movement, to the war on drugs.” In her recent episode “Talking While Black,” Berry highlights the very personal stories of Black people on the receiving end of this backlash, from a school principal who wrote a widely praised email to parents in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and was fired for it less than a year later, to a student who was the target of racial hate speech from classmates who faced no consequences for their actions.
Reactionary forces are always at work where progress finds a foothold. But it is leaders like King who inspire us as a nation to push on. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he said many times, including during the march from Selma in 1965 and at the National Cathedral in 1968. King popularized the quote, but he was invoking the words of Theodore Parker, a little-known abolitionist and Unitarian minister. Some say its meaning has been misconstrued, allowing us to write off our fate as predetermined. Former Attorney General Eric Holder argued the arc only bends when people do the work to pull it. And Mychal Denzel Smith writes that while we understand the bending requires effort, we have not yet defined where that arc should lead us — what our collective idea of “justice” truly is.
I don’t interpret King’s quote as predestiny. I have faith that we, the people, can shape our trajectory. I choose to believe that even the smallest actions we take in pursuit of justice will lead us closer to a brighter and more just future. This MLK Day, King’s words bring me comfort and hope — and that is something we could all use right now.
Criminal Justice in 2022:
5 Things to Watch
By Evan Mintz, communications manager
In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the reform landscape of 2022 in all the areas where we work. This week we kick off the series with criminal justice. Even as the upcoming midterm elections make for a rocky path to bipartisan reforms, there are plenty of opportunities for federal, state, and local leaders to make a more fair and accountable system.
Here is where real change is likely over the next year:
In policing, expect to see more cities react to the nationwide spike in homicides with a focus on evidence-based strategies. Dallas, for example, saw its homicide rate fall after implementing data-driven policing, blight abatement, and focused deterrence — where police identify those at the highest risk of violence and intervene. St. Louis, too, saw a reduction in homicides with community-led violence intervention programs and by focusing more resources on violent crimes over low-level offenses.
In the pretrial space, America’s heartland is leading the way with bipartisan reform in Ohio, and bail reform bills are also moving through the state houses of Michigan, Utah, and Tennessee. Legislative groundwork is also being laid in Texas.
Last year, Debt Free Justice launched a national campaign to eliminate fees and fines on youth and their families and achieved key wins in 2021 in a handful of states. Expect momentum on this issue to grow and 19 states to introduce bills in 2022.
In community supervision reform, CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance will kick off the second phase of its Reducing Revocations Challenge, piloting targeted solutions to reduce the number of people sent to jail due to probation revocations.
Fallout Continues Over Controversial Alzheimer's Drug
By Juliana Keeping, communications manager
A messy saga involving Biogen's embattled Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm continued this week with a preliminary coverage decision from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare announced it would only cover the drug — and monoclonal antibody therapies like it — in randomized-controlled trials approved by the CMS or supported by the National Institutes of Health. The news underscored the need for evidence-based policy solutions writ large in the drug approval and pricing arenas.
Why it Matters: The drug was set to drive rising health care costs even higher, adding billions of dollars in extra expenses to the Medicare Part B program — for both the drug’s price tag and the associated costs to administer it. The agency hiked its 2022 Medicare Part B premiums in part to accommodate the anticipated costs of Aduhelm. If restricted to randomized-controlled clinical trials, fewer beneficiaries would have access to it than originally planned for, so costs to the program — and to taxpayers — would be lower.
What’s Next: There aren't any policies in place that put downward pressure on launch prices, notably the launch prices of drugs with limited clinical evidence. Drugs are launching at higher prices each year, particularly for specialty products, which are becoming a larger percentage of the pharma pipeline and, in turn, drug spending. Once launched, drug list prices continue to escalate well above inflation year-over-year, while clinical efficacy stays the same.
Prescription drug spending is rising and expected to grow faster than most other major health care goods and services by the end of the next decade. One in four Americans say they or a family member could not fill a prescription on account of the price.
“Congress needs to consider a range of solutions to rein in drug spending — and one is pay for what works,” said AV's Mark Miller, executive vice president of health care.
Related: AV's Mark Miller breaks down for Axios the implications for taxpayers and Medicare beneficiary premiums following CMS’ proposed coverage for the embattled Alzheimer’s drug aduhelm.
Student Success Programs
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
By Torie Ludwin, communications manager
What happens when you start a study on student support — and a pandemic hits? That’s exactly what happened to MDRC with their evaluation of the SUCCESS program. (It stands for Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success).
What's Happening: The SUCCESS program provides support for full-time students in the form of monthly coaching sessions and financial incentives. It's also data-driven: Student participation and progress are tracked to identify areas for improvement. Enrollment in MDRC's study on the program's effectiveness began just as the pandemic arrived; the evaluators nimbly moved the program online. Nearly two years later, the early findings are now available.
Why It Matters: The study, still operating despite unforeseen circumstances, is able to offer a window into how student support works during a historic moment. And it comes at a time when the Biden Administration is proposing to invest in evidence-based college completion and student success programs with the College Completion Fund. Should it be funded, it could provide SUCCESS and other new models with further evaluation, support, and development.
What’s Next: In March 2022, MDRC will share early implementation lessons relevant to similar programs and highlight the experiences of students in SUCCESS programs, which are now operating in 13 colleges across five states.
Related: MDRC’s podcast interviews the students and coaches involved in SUCCESS, giving voice to their experiences with the program as the study on it progresses.
Understanding the Dual-Eligible Consumer Experience
Improving care for the 12.2 million people simultaneously enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid —the so called “dual-eligible” population — presents a key opportunity for policymakers who care about government spending and improving care delivery for vulnerable populations alike.
Related: This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published the draft Medicare Advantage rule that codifies greater access to integrated programs and seeks to improve care delivery for individuals dually covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
What We're Reading
The Department of Justice announced this week an expansion of earned time credits under the bipartisan First Step Act. It’s an important step toward shrinking our nationwide system of mass incarceration, which keeps too many people in prison for too long with no benefit to public safety. Read our full statement.
The New York Times illustrates the political and economic hurdles to downsizing our nation’s prison footprint in this sobering piece on the small community of Susanville, California, which stands to lose its local employer as the state reduces its incarcerated population. (free link for our readers)
In this harrowing but essential read, The Washington Post tells the stories of 13 young lives lost to our nation’s gun violence epidemic. “Who they were matters just as much as how they died.” (free link for our readers)
Related: From The Trace, “It’s Official: Gun Deaths Hit an All-Time High in 2020.” The Atlantic looks at whether an increase in gun sales helped drive the spike in homicides.
The New York Times continues its excellent coverage of violence at Rikers Island with video footage depicting “fight night” and gang rule (free link for our readers), and Dr. Rachael Bedard, a Rikers physician and justice activist, provides additional insight in this very frank Twitter thread.
New York Mayor Eric Adams intends to reverse efforts to end solitary confinement in New York despite calls for reform after trans woman Layleen Polanco's death, The 19th* reports.
“There is nothing tough on crime about putting poor people in jail because they can’t afford the debt heaped upon them by courts.” Debtors’ prisons are alive and well in the United States via the use of cash bail and ever-increasing fines and fees that keep poor people stuck in an inescapable cycle of poverty, writes Tony Messenger in the Washington Post.(free link for our readers)
New Jersey’s governor signs legislationeliminating certain juvenile justice fines, fees, and costs, easing the burden on families and helping to curb the cycle of poverty.
Read this inspiring story about a Washington, D.C. power couple who turned a devastating diagnosis into a force for good.
This ProPublica story on the HeartWare heart pump, which the government paid millions to implant in patients even after it was shown to not meet federal standards, shows why we need to address the breakdown in regulating medical devices.
Hospital compliance with the price transparency rule has been mixed a year into the new federal requirements. The administration has issued warning letters but no fines — despite recent action to strengthen enforcement penalties for noncompliance, Fierce Healthcare reports.
Related:Research from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School also highlights these issues and spotty uptake.
Inside Health Policy reports that the Biden Administration is reaffirming the Affordable Care Act’s requirement of contraceptive coverage as potential violations are under investigation. “It’s the law: Patients are supposed to have coverage for the birth control that works best for them — without paying extra and without jumping through unnecessary hoops,” says Senate Health Chair Patty Murray (D-WA).
Contemporary OBGYN News reports on a study showing that provider bias in contraceptive counseling can negatively impact a patient’s access or choice of contraceptives. “Although contraceptive preferences do differ across racial and ethnic groups, the clinician’s attitude that ‘it’s nothing’ to use hormonal contraception suggests a lack of understanding in regard to structural factors that may influence BIPOC patients.”
The New York Times takes a closer look at how mathematically derived mapmaking can reveal the extent of gerrymandering, and makes a case for independent commissions. “You can pick half a dozen different parameters, and on every single one of them, you're seeing progress in states that have independent commissions,” says Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard University.
Why Virginia has some of the fairest district maps in the country, from AV grantee Sam Wang of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
As a founder of The Texas Tribune, Evan Smith showed the world how nonprofit journalism can work. Now he is stepping down from the news organization after 13 years to hand the reins to someone else. (Fun fact: I did an internship at Texas Monthly during Smith's tenure there. He was lovely to work with and always made time for the interns.) I wish him all the best on whatever is next.
What We're Watching
“I think in a lot of ways if we can understand what has happened in South Carolina, it will be a lens to understand a whole host of racial issues across the country,” says geographer Janae Davis at the start of “On These Grounds,” a 2021 documentary from Represent Justice now streaming on Amazon Prime. She describes South Carolina as a “thick place” in geographic terms, one with layer upon layer of history where “something huge happened” — something you can feel.
This history is the backdrop for the film’s deep examination of an incident at Columbia, South Carolina’s Spring Valley High School in October 2015, when a video of 16-year-old Black student Shakara being slammed to the ground by white school police officer Ben Fields quickly went viral. Witness and fellow student Niya, 18, spoke out. For that, she was arrested and sent to jail — “real jail,” she recalls — and charged with “disturbing school.” So was Shakara.
The film raises questions about the overall presence of police in our schools, how officers are trained to engage with youth, and the troubling origins of a law like “disturbing schools.” It presents a range of viewpoints, including from Fields himself and activist Vivian Anderson, who sit down together for a difficult and revealing conversation about what constitutes a crime and the system-wide issues that can lead to such a violent outcome.
As Davis points out, “Schools are a microcosm of what we see in our world.” With school-based policing being the fastest growing area of law enforcement, what happens in classrooms across the country deserves our undivided attention.
What We're Listening To
AV’s Evan Mintz and DeRay McKesson, host of “Pod Save the People” and leader of Campaign Zero, join City Cast podcast host Lisa Gray for a discussion on gunshot detection technology. It’s a system of outdoor sensors that aim to identify the source of firearm discharges and notify law enforcement. The Houston City Council recently voted to approve its expansion with one lone holdout vote, Councilmember Letitia Plummer, who worries it will disproportionately impact communities of color. Does the technology really work, and should cities be spending millions on it? Listen to the conversation here.
Save the Date
There is still time this weekend to catch a live-stream of the Broadway show “Clyde’s,” about a group of formerly incarcerated restaurant workers claiming their second chance. It stars Uzo Aduba of “Orange is the New Black” and Ron Cephas Jones of “This is Us,” and a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Represent Justice.
On January 27, the North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships will the workshop “Using Randomized Controlled Trials in North Carolina to Build Evidence for Effective Policy and Practice.” The session can be joined through this link from 9-10:15 a.m. ET. Can’t make it? The recorded session will be available here.
Some Final Inspiration
Poet and author Regie Gibson delivers a powerful reflection on the state of American democracy with his original poem, “An Open Letter to the America that Will Be,” in this video from Unite America.
The intersecting lives of Sidney Poitier and Martin Luther King Jr., via Slate.
I am in the age group that parked myself in front of the television for ABC’s TGIF and “Full House,” and my daughter has enjoyed the show’s reboot. So I was touched by this heartfelt tribute from Jimmy Kimmel to “America's Dad” Bob Saget. “He had something funny to say about everything and nothing bad to say about anyone. Never.”
See photographs of the rare snowy owl that has visited our nation’s capital in recent days, perching on landmarks and wowing onlookers.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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