Category: Poverty

Dollar Banknotes, Handcuffs And Judge Gavel On Wood TableThe Atlantic magazine published an article on July 5, 2016 highlighting the growing problems in Louisiana with legal financial obligations (LFOs) and their effect on poor defendants and the recently incarcerated. Former prisoners usually have a hard time finding a stable income post incarceration and LFOs often require former prisoners to pay thousands of dollars upon release. The average amount in the state of Washington is $1,347, with interest rates that make the debt increase over time. One woman the article mentions owed $33,000 upon her release from prison, and after making minimum payments for 13 years owed $72,000. This is an extreme example, but for the poor — who are the most commonly imprisoned on the socioeconomic scale — any amount can quickly become overwhelming and cause them to face more jail time.

The relationship between the poor and prison is one that has always existed, but one that has become more of a problem in the United States in the recent decades. A 2015 report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) found that our current welfare and criminal justice system actually hurts the poor more than other demographics and in many cases lands them in prison. Their conclusion is that the poor and minority populations in the United States are profiled and arrested at unjust levels. This is not a groundbreaking conclusion, but their findings show some of the extent of the current problem. The problems exist all over the system and pervade different aspects of society from school discipline to Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws.
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The current debate surrounding overcriminalization and juvenile incarceration is often centered around the male prison population. The debate increasingly overlooks the problems that face young girls caught in the prison pipeline to juvenile detention. New data in the past several years has shown that the prison pipeline for girls often includes a pattern of sexual abuse that is not present in cases involving male delinquents.

A 2015 report published by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality found that girls in juvenile detention have a high likelihood of being sexual and physical abuse victims. The reports summarizes new data on the ‘abuse to prison pipeline’ present in the female juvenile justice system. The report found that there is systemic criminalization of victimized girls, often disproportionately girls from minority populations.

Sexual violence against girls is a modern American tragedy, and this sexual abuse is a primary predictor today of a girl’s entrance into a juvenile detention center. Girls that were victims of sex trafficking are often arrested on prostitution charges and put in detention centers to be punished instead of being helped to overcome the trauma of the sex trafficking industry. Ethnic minority girls are increasingly being incarcerated as a result.
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Blog author: abradley
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
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juvenile_500x279In early June 2016, Matthew Bergman, 15, allegedly admitted to police that he killed his aunt and stabbed his mother in Davidson County, Tennessee near Nashville. When teens commit crimes in the suburbs or in urban areas, experts are ambivalent about what to with them because of the long-term consequences of youth incarceration. Low income communities get hit the hardest.

Since the 1980s juvenile incarceration rates have increased steadily creating a phenomenon often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” There are many reasons for the increased numbers of incarcerated youths and there are often implications for juvenile delinquents as they become adults. It is no secret that those imprisoned in their teens have a higher likelihood of spending time in prison at some later point in their lives. The Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University published an article titled “The Devastating, Long-Lasting Costs of Juvenile Incarceration” examined the long-lasting effects of juvenile imprisonment and the problems surrounding the current system.
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The brokenness of America’s criminal justice system is not just an urban issue. Working class defendants in small towns across America are vulnerable to system that does not protect them from government negligence.

For example, New York’s state legislature approved new indigent defense measures last week that finished an almost decade long battle over statewide indigent defense problems. The case began with a 2007 lawsuit by the NY Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several indigent defendants (Hurrell-Harring et al. v. State of New York). The Hurrell-Harring case was settled in 2014, but only brought indigent defense reform to 5 of the 57 counties in New York. The New York state senate unanimously approved to extend the reforms statewide and will take effect once it is signed by Governor Cuomo. The new measures will take the burden of paying for indigent defense services off counties and place them entirely on the state. The bill has received praise from around the state because it will help many counties provide better services for indigent defense in the future.

New York, like many other states, does not have a statewide system of indigent defense. In New York, each county provides the resources for indigent defense which results in some of the poorest counties falling far short of providing just trials for defendants. If the quality of defense differs from one county to another the system would seem to be providing adequate defense to some indigents. Before Hurrell-Harring, a 2006 New York State Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services report found that, “nothing short of major, far-reaching, reform can ensure that New York meets its constitutional and statutory obligations to provide quality representation to every indigent person accused of a crime or other offense.”
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Over the past decade media coverage of the problems surrounding indigent defense has been increasing. For example, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently suing the state of Utah for failing to uphold that 6th Amendment which now provides opportunities for government provided criminal defense. The ACLU is claiming that Utah fell short of its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire one. While the merits of the case have yet to be properly sorted out, what is true is that public defenders offices are under much needed scrutiny.

With the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision back in 2013 a flurry of articles were published that highlighted some of the injustices in the public defense system that the Gideon verdict created. The Gideon verdict required states to provide defense attorneys, especially for the poor.

In 2013, a New York Times article by Lincoln Caplan on the anniversary of the Gideon decision summarized several of current problems around the United States regarding public defense. The article highlighted the problems with meeting the requirements of Gideon at the state level where 95 percent of America’s criminal trials take place. The best programs in the United States still struggle to meet the high number of cases that require public defenders. Caplan’s article highlights the Miami public defender’s office which handles far above the American Bar Association’s recommendation of 150 cases per year for a attorney. The demand in Miami has reached 500 cases a year, and has far outpaced the funding for indigent defense. The important distinction the author makes in this article is that not only is financing of public defense an issue, but the general attitude towards the poor the system has created. It is an attitude that Caplan and others describe as “contempt.” (more…)

sintaxcan-300x189Philadelphia may like to think of itself as the “city of brotherly love,” but its latest tax increase is not so friendly to the poor.

Last week the city council passed a regressive soda tax proposal that will levy 1.5 cents per liquid ounce on distributors. According to Quartz, the tax will apply to regular and diet sodas, as well as other drinks with added sugar, such as Gatorade, lemonades, and iced teas.

This tax on sugary drinks is what is often called a “sin tax.” This is an excise tax that is specifically intended to target certain goods deemed harmful to society but that we don’t want (or can’t) ban completely, such as tobacco or alcohol. The idea is that by adding or increasing the tax, it increases the overall price of the good, thereby lowering consumer demand.

Sin taxes are a form of sumptuary law, a law that attempts to regulate permitted consumption of particular goods and services. Throughout history sumptuary laws have been used to reinforce social hierarchies or class-based discrimination. Normally this would be done by prohibiting certain social classes from being able to purchase a good, like the 16th-century French law that banned anyone but princes from wearing velvet. But modern sin taxes try to express the same types of social disapproval in more subtle ways.
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public+defenderSince the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) every state has developed a system of public defense. The decision guaranteed that those accused of felony offenses are entitled to a lawyer under the rights outlined in the 6th Amendment, which include, the right to a jury trial, a public trial, and pertaining to Gideon, “to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” In the wake of the Gideon decision each state was required to develop a system of public defenders to represent those who did not have a legal counsel, and especially those who could not afford a lawyer. Because of low funding for public defense, and the increasing number of cases filling courtrooms, more states are requiring defendants to pay a fee for their assigned defender—whether they are found guilty or not.

An April 2016 New York Times article Fordham University Law professor John Pfaff, highlights more weaknesses in the public defense world and in the odd funding mechanism. Forty-three states now require defendants to pay for a public defender, even though the only reason they have a public defender in the first place is because they cannot afford a lawyer. The Times article highlights the current policy in South Dakota where a defendant is required to pay $92 dollars an hour regardless of the verdict. The result of this policy is that the defendant might have to pay hundreds of dollars a day to be proven innocent for a crime for which he or she was mistakenly arrested.
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