Acton Institute Powerblog

Is Shifting The Justice Reform Burden Better?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Free weekly Acton Newsletter

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.”

St. Lawrence County’s public defender, Steven G. Ballan, told New York’s Watertown Daily Times that, “the measure should lead to more equitable indigent defense around the state and provide some fiscal relief for poor counties because the costs will spread over the entire state.” The bill will save local taxpayers money and help counties provide the same quality of defense for indigents. The article further quoted Mr. Ballan saying, “There’s a large disparity now between what indigent defense services are offered in wealthy counties compared with poorer counties…public defenders in some more affluent counties have lower case loads and have funds to hire support staff including investigators, social workers, caseworkers and substance abuse counselors.” This problem in New York is the same as it is across the U.S.; the richer the area, the more likely defendants will receive a better defense.

Without a proper defense and the proper resources to decided cases, many cases in the poorest counties suffer from a lack of proper information about a criminal case. This leads to a higher chance of conviction for innocent defendants and a higher chance of acquittal for those that are actually guilty. With the new measures approved and taking effect over the next seven years, New York’s new system will allow for counties to receive the same funding and provide the same quality of defense for those that need public counsel.

Here’s the big problem: is shifting the burden to counties necessarily any better?

Enjoy the article?

Click below to view our latest and most popular posts!

Read More

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.

Comments