Category: Public Policy

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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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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publicdefenderThe Atlantic published an article by Dylan Walsh about the growing fight in many states for the right to legal counsel. This article focuses on the state of Louisiana, and looks specifically the Concordia Parish along the Mississippi river. Like many poor, rural areas of the country the Concordia Parish suffers from drug problems and the local courts see a high volume of cases involving illegal substances. The district’s chief public defender’s office handles around 3,300 cases per year, three times what the state recommends. Therein lies the problem.

The spiraling problem in the arena of public defense is the growing number of cases and the parallel need for more lawyers and more funds to pay them. One example given in the Louisiana case claims that some lawyers were being paid $1,000 for 100 cases, or just $10 per case. With this level of income, public defenders in his parishes often need more than one job to cover costs and cannot live on their salary as a lawyer. In one parish, the office stopped representing some accused of certain misdemeanors because of financial needs and understaffing. Walsh quotes the Louisiana Public Defender Board (that oversees each district office) which predicts the “systemic failure in the public-defense system” this summer. The failure began months ago when New Orleans public defenders office announced it would begin refusing certain cases, even serious felonies involving murder and rape.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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large-animalThis past weekend a child fell into pit with a gorilla. To protect the child, the animal had to be killed, a tragic but necessary outcome. The reaction to the news, though, has been unbalanced and excessive. While no one (that I’ve seen) thinks it would be better for the child to have died than the ape be killed, hundreds of thousands of people have expressed their outrage on social media.

In many ways, this likely reflects the distorted values of our society. But the grief and anger also reveal a natural, in some cases Biblical, concern for the welfare of animals.

Although Christians are, according to God, more valuable than animals (Matthew 10:31), we do have a responsibility to care other creatures. Philosopher Douglas Groothuis even argues that “ordinary Christians can be pastors to animals.” He offers several “principles for how Christians can show pastoral concern to animals, whether or not they interact with them regularly and directly.”
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CEI
By now, readers should be aware of the campaign waged against the Competitive Enterprise Institute led by Al Gore and a cadre of attorneys generals with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the top of the rogues’ gallery. The subpoena goes so far as to demand CEI produce “all documents or communications concerning research, advocacy, strategy, reports, studies, reviews or public opinions regarding Climate Change sent or received from” such specifically named think tanks as the Acton Institute, The Heartland Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as well as industry organizations the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Oil & Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute.

It’s the latest volley from the left – including religious shareholder activists’ often successful efforts to force corporations withdraw financial support and cede membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council – to stifle any whiff of opposition when it comes to the hypothetical, manmade catastrophic climate-change theory. ALEC, in fact, joins Acton and many other groups named in the subpoena, and leaders from these organizations have joined CEI in a strongly worded full-page advertisement that appeared in the New York Times last week:

This abuse of power is unacceptable. It is unlawful. And it is un-American.

Regardless of one’s views on climate change, every American should reject the use of government power to harass or silence those who hold differing opinions. This intimidation campaign sets a dangerous precedent and threatens the rights of anyone who disagrees with the government’s position – whether it’s vaccines, GMOs, or any other politically charged issue. Law enforcement officials should never use their powers to silence participants in political debates.

For those who haven’t been shocked out of complacency by this latest, blatant abuse of politically empowered legal authority marshaled in an effort to shut down free speech and exchange of scientific public policy, allow your writer to recap briefly. U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker – one member of Gore and Schneiderman’s lawyerly goon squad, which also includes AGs from California, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State – issued a subpoena to CEI in late March. (more…)

Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.