Thursday, September 19, 2013

Classmate of President Obama is Fighting to Reform America’s Prison Systems

                                              Authored by Dr. Lachin Hatemi                                                   

       David Singleton is the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC), a non-profit law firm working to reform and improve the Ohio’s criminal justice system.  Singleton was President Obama’s classmate at Harvard Law School’s class of 1991.  His wife was also classmates with Michelle Obama at the same law school. The Singletons remained close to the Obama family over the years; they even hosted a fundraiser in Cincinnati for the Obama’s 2004 US Senate Campaign.

Being a Harvard Law School alumnus, Singleton could easily have a lucrative career as partner in a prestigious law firm. He instead found his calling in public advocacy for some of the most disadvantaged and despised members of society:  people caught up in the criminal justice system.

Under Singleton’s leadership, OJPC has striven to make Ohio’s criminal justice systems more fair, intelligent, and redemptive.  In 2003, OJPC brought a landmark class action lawsuit which over a nine-year period reformed health care for Ohio prisoners.  Over the years, OJPC has represented prisoners who have suffered violence and sexual assault at the hands of correctional staff, and has successfully fought for prisoners seeking to exercise their religious rights behind bars, including access to religious meals.

OJPC is also working to end capital punishment in Ohio.  In 2012, Singleton and his staff halted the execution of Abdul Awkal, a seriously mentally ill man who came within fourteen hours of being put to death.  Since then, OJPC has used the case to call for an end to the death penalty in Ohio.  (To watch Singleton discussing the Awkal case, click here and enter OJPC for the password).

In 2011, Singleton and his staff also handled the high-profile case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron mother who was convicted of two felonies and jailed for sending her two daughters to a suburban school district where they did not reside.  Ms. Williams-Bolar’s conviction quickly became a national story that raised issues of educational equity and selective prosecution.  OJPC got involved in the case after Ms. Williams-Bolar’s conviction and helped persuade Governor Kasich to reduce the convictions to misdemeanors.  (To watch a clip of Singleton discussing Ms. Williams-Bolar’s case on the Dr. Phil Show, click here; Dr. Phil clip at 3:30).

Not only is OJPC a defender of rights for the over 50,000 state inmates of Ohio, but it has also successfully championed reforms for the 1.9 million Ohioans in the community who have criminal records. From getting individual records expunged to constitutionally challenging overbroad job restrictions, Singleton and his team has stood up for this large yet marginalized part of our society. Last year, OJPC got state legislation passed that created Certificates of Qualification for Employment – a new, creative legal mechanism for by-passing many barriers to employment.  Advocates in many other states are looking to what OJPC achieved in Ohio for reform ideas.

Also an assistant professor at NKU Chase College of law, Singleton is doing God’s work, one client at a time. We simply cannot transform people with criminal records into productive citizens, if we deny them employment based on crimes they committed in the past.  Reformation of the Ohio’s criminal justice system remains vital to break the cycle of poverty within the black community. We should all thank David Singleton and his staff for their hard work.  To make a tax-deductible donation to support OJPC’s important work, click here.

Lachin Hatemi is a physician located in Buffalo, New York. His interests include Human rights, patient’s rights racial equality and interfaith dialogue. You can reach Lachin at 

Lachin Hatemi
Lachin Hatemi

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