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Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

Placed within the context of the euphoria around the election of President Obama as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Alexander’s first book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" argues that while on the surface it seems like racial subordination is no longer entrenched in the law books, the truth is Jim Crow laws have simply been redesigned and appropriated by the criminal justice system.

Some shocking stats. One in every eight black men in their twenties are in prison or jail on any given day. There are more African Americans who are in jail, prison, probation or parole today, than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reacts against the dominant narrative of racial justice which says that while there is still a way to go, America has come a long way from it’s history of racial discrimination, and instead explains the way that the system works to exercise a contemporary form of racial control, a process that continues long after the individuals are officially released out of the system. From Chapter 5 of the book-

The first stage is the roundup [when] vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color... Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not. Once convicted... virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system. The final stage... often [has] a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. [Parolees] will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In Alexander’s opinion, far from living in a post-racial utopia, the last few decades have seen the United States move towards a "color-coded caste system" where minority groups are targeted, maligned and marginalized by the criminal justice system. She attributes this increase in the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past thirty years to draconian laws that have been constructed to wage "The War on Drugs", a battle waged against low-income communities of color, even though research consistently counters the claim that any one racial community uses and sells illegal drugs more than any other.

It’s a moment to contemplate race and class in today’s America. To go beyond the illusion that all is well to a striking reminder that racial injustice is still deeply entrenched in the country. According to Alexander, nothing short of an informed and agitated movement will put an end to this perpetuation of racial inequality in the guise of enforcing justice.

Originally posted to Lets Breakthrough on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:25 PM PST.

Poll

Does the criminal justice system unfairly target communities of color?

66%88 votes
20%27 votes
12%17 votes

| 132 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  I personally don't have a problem (5+ / 0-)

      with felons losing their ability to vote but it's also not one of the issues that is keeping me up at night.

      With that said, you hit the nail on the head regarding the War on Drugs.  Eliminate this costly, ineffective war, put the drug trade in the hands of heavily regulated non-profit agencies where the "profits" of the drug trade are poured back into drug education and drug rehab, and the amount of people going into our "corrections" system will dramatically lower.

      Of course, if this where done you would need to decide where the drugs would be sold.  One argument would be to place the dispensaries and drug rehab centers in the areas where there is greater unemployment and greater need for the jobs.  The other argument would be that you don't want to make it easier for people to get drugs in poorer communities.

      Regardless, it would be nice to debate the merits of where to place the dispensaries because that would mean the end to the WOD is nearing.

      We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

      by theotherside on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:58:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is a selective case of whose drugs of (12+ / 0-)

        choice are illegal and how severe the penalties. So it is definitely slanted to give whites drug choices the okay. No one wants to see a 20 yr old college student go to prison for 10 to 20 for experimenting... well as long as he is white.

        Every thing you drink, smoke or eat that alters you perceptions or your body functions or your behavior could be called a drug. Morning coffee anyone? Nightcap, beer at the game, aunt mabels anti-depressants, Joes antibiotics, pain pills, sugar, ... It is very prim to judge others choices.

        Do you know that it is a well known fact in psychology that many who use drugs of any stripe are merely self medicating some traumatic events... See the number of Viet Nam vets suffering. We will soon see the Bush wars vets unleashing another wave of pain for all to see.

        We lock up so many people for self injury because we purse-lipped DO NOT approve. At a cost of $30k to 100K. So many that we allow rapists, child molestors and murders to go free... Our courts are swamped by drug cases so that plea bargaining is rife and locks up many innocents.

        So much money wasted when we could give our society better uses even in the area of substance abuse... To start we could actually use the money to give vets the help they need or give the impoverished education to see a better way to make a living... or just rehab.

        If you look at the numbers of those incarcerated they are far and above the actual in population ratios of minorities (especially blacks)

        Fear is the Mind Killer

        by boophus on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 01:32:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Policing matters, too. (9+ / 0-)

          In my city, poor black neighborhoods are positively overrun with police presence, about 85% of it focused on drug cases.  People get stopped and searched for pretty much nothing.  In my work I've interview lots and lots of people who just handed over their drugs because a police officer asked if they 'had anything illegal on them.'  It's perfectly legal on the cop's part---they're just taking advantage of the fact that most people instinctively do what an officer tells them to do.  
          Shockingly, I've never been asked that questioned by law enforcement, what with being white and all.

          •  Re: drugs, here's the sickest part (12+ / 0-)

            Every time they do the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, it shows that the population of illegal drug users breaks down along racial lines in proportion to the population as a whole. That being the case, the racial breakdown of people in prison for illegal drug use should be proportional to the racial breakdown of the population as a whole.

            Yet according to the Sentencing Project, well over 50% of prisoners sentenced for illegal drug use are black, and over 20% are Hispanic. About 10% are white.

            Lots of factors go into that disparity, but racism is an awfully big part of it.

            Thwarting Republicans since 1978.

            by wiscmass on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:33:44 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Very few people go to jail for drug use (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              erush1345

              or for possession of small quantities.

              You go to jail for selling drugs or for having enough to indicate that you may be a dealer.

              Since most low level drug dealers make very little money and the work is dangerous it is hardly surprising that people who do this are disproportionately poor, disadvantaged, and minority.

              •  I forget the numbers right off hand but I think (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                wiscmass, Nada Lemming

                about half the arrests in this country are for drug related offenses (about 800k?) and of those the vast majority are for possession.

                To be sure, this doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to jail but they a) do spend time in jail as they are processed and many of them do plea out and do jail time.  In addition, in three strike states you can do 20 years for stealing a pizza and just as long for possessing a joint (I believe).

                We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

                by theotherside on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 04:40:45 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Not to mention... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  pinkomommy

                  ...that even in small amounts, certain drugs will get you prison time. There's a very good reason why, for instance, people have spent so many years focusing on the difference in sentencing guidelines for possession of crack vs. possession of powder cocaine.

                  Thwarting Republicans since 1978.

                  by wiscmass on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 05:06:44 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  The federal sentencing guidelines... (0+ / 0-)

                ...are very clear -- for a first offense for even the mildest illegal drug, you can get up to six months. And if you have enough priors, jail time can be mandatory.

                Thwarting Republicans since 1978.

                by wiscmass on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 05:14:24 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Bullshit (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                enough already, pinkomommy

                Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

                That's what you would like to believe, because it seems so heinous, but you are wrong, for any number of reasons.
                25% of people in Colorado prisons are there for parole violations for coming up dirty in a ua for drugs or alcohol.
                Since drugs are criminal rather than a health problem, people must raise upwards of $300 / day to maintain a heroin habit that should cost about $3 / day, causing a vast proportion of burglary and other property crimes. Maybe 60% of all property crimes are drug related, at least in the big cities.
                There are people doing LIFE for minor drug crimes on three strikes.
                There are more arrests for marijuana than all violent crimes combined. It is a fantasy to believe that some of these 800,000 people are not getting prison sentences, especially on second arrests.

                "How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity." William S Burroughs

                by shmuelman on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 05:56:10 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  It's not just this topic. (0+ / 0-)

                  This asshole is wrong on everything.  Take a quick glance at his comments, which are all so astoundingly ass backwards and based on horribly simplistic false narratives.  It's hard to believe he could be as blindly clueless and uninformed as his comments suggest.  My guess is that he has an agenda and it involves skewing facts, planting confusion, and most importantly, working to keep the perception of "moderate middle ground" as far to the right as possible. He's an insult.

                  "Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." Robert F. Kennedy

                  by enough already on Wed Feb 10, 2010 at 03:26:11 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  You would think that if he took the trouble (0+ / 0-)

                    to read and post on DKos, he would wake up a bit. As Dr. Einstein said "only the universe and stupidity are infinite, and I have my doubts about the universe."

                    "How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity." William S Burroughs

                    by shmuelman on Thu Feb 11, 2010 at 01:56:44 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

      •  Do you have any idea just how many "felonies" (4+ / 0-)

        are status crimes?  That is, they are felonies merely because of something like a zero tolerance policy toward certain types of drugs, or because a person is being convicted of an otherwise petty crime for the third time.  Here's an example:  a couple of years ago I defended a guy who was charged with the felony of knowingly driving on a suspended license after having been convicted at least once before of knowingly driving on a suspended license.  Now, this guy was a knucklehead - no doubt about it - but it turned out upon my digging into his record that he'd been charged with and convicted of failing to have his car inspected and for lack of a property tax decal some 12 years before.  He never paid the tickets.  In many states, including Virginia, if you fail to pay traffic or even other court fines or even child support or non-traffic related judgments arising out of lawsuits or tax collections, etc., etc. (you get the picture) then your license is suspended.  Once it's suspended you have to pay the fine AND the reinstatement fee AND possibly other fees in order to have your license reinstated.  

        So here was this guy who'd simply not paid tickets.  His license was suspended.  He was stopped for a minor traffic infraction a couple of years later and charged with driving while suspended.  Unable to afford a lawyer and without funds to retain one, he ended up convicted of the DOS. He was stopped for another minor infraction a couple of years later, found to be KNOWINGLY driving on a suspended license and sentenced to some jail time.  He lost his job and couldn't find another one after he got out.  He now had a number of suspensions based on his earlier failures to pay tickets and was also being suspended for knowingly driving on a suspended license.  After being caught once more and having yet another suspension placed on him, he was then caught AGAIN, and this time was charged with and convicted of the FELONY of driving with a suspended license.  NONE of his license suspensions were due to any kind of dangerous or impaired driving.  They were ALL related first to his failure to pay fines, and then to his failure to pay all his fines and costs for the suspended driving charges.  He was, in short, trapped in a cycle of suspended driving charges because he needed to work, so he would drive, but he never made enough money to pay the now thousands of dollars he owed for his previous cases.  

        This convicted felon cannot vote.  

        Okay, like I said, a knucklehead - but a FELON?  What about this man's record means he should never again be allowed to vote?  He's guilty of nothing more than poor judgment and economic poverty.  Our system is chock full of people like this guy, people who end up convicted of felonies because they couldn't pay the money they owed to stop the operation of statutes such as the ones this man violated.

        Don't even get me started on the way the exercise of police and prosecutorial discretion operates to prevent some who richly deserve it from being convicted of felonies, while others who are deemed to be too oppositional or too obstreperous or too trashy get charged with and convicted of felonies which those who are prosecuting them wouldn't dream of charging against other more "acceptable" people.

        •  It is amazing how little traction (0+ / 0-)

          diaries about the prison / law enforcement / prosecution industry gets on DailyKos. It is shocking to read how many people think it is ok for the police to brutalize someone for sassing off, arguing, running etc.
          Our system of justice is fucked, and I regret not having gone to law school. I may quit my job and just do it, because I have found when you go toe to toe with the DA, they tend to back off when the charge is bullshit and they know it.

          "How I hate those who are dedicated to producing conformity." William S Burroughs

          by shmuelman on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 06:01:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  People have to remember that prosecutors (0+ / 0-)

            are often ambitious young lawyers who want to build resumes or are career prosecutors who truly believe in what they're doing (meaning they can be a bit over-certain of their own rectitude) and they enjoy the competition.  Competitors like to win.  It's hard to tell a prosecutor that he's got a crappy case because he is emotionally predisposed toward accepting the veracity of the police and crediting any complaint that's made it as far as a criminal charge.  One of my biggest complaints is that the police will sometimes decide to charge a person because they can't figure out who's at fault and so they arrest some or all of the people involved trusting that the prosecutors will sort out the garbage cases from the regular ones.

            Unfortunately, I've had prosecutors tell me that there MUST have been something to the charge because otherwise the cops wouldn't have charged the defendant.  So we have a two elements of the system, each one too certain that the other one is getting things right.

    •  Can't believe that anyone voted no (6+ / 0-)

      in that poll.

      "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

      by Denise Oliver Velez on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 03:11:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  tipped and rec'ed gladly nt (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JoanMar, ThisIsMyTime, soothsayer99
  •  New? 30-40 Years Ago We Began to Switch (11+ / 0-)

    from mostly-white to mostly-minority incarceration.

    Last report I heard on it was that the crime ratios hadn't changed much. Mostly just the incarcerations.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:29:04 PM PST

    •  And whose fault is it that maybe (0+ / 0-)

      they just made bad choices and chose to commit crime?

      •  Drugs are an example. (11+ / 0-)

        Crack v. coke, black use v, white use, big setnence differential.  Many white people arre not arrested for drug use and many black folks are.  No one is saying that murder is okay, but the rpsions are not full of murderers.

        It is a complex thing but when 1 in 8 black men are inmprisoned, something big is going on and it is not just "bad choices" by people.

        Asking the question is not wrong, but being open to the complexity and possibility that this is an aspect of instiutionalized racism is essential to naswering the question you asked.

        What is going on that makes black men more unemployed and more likely to be in prison at soem time in their lives?

        Starting in the 70s, America turned its back on inner cites and it has reaped what it has sowed.  As a society, we can afford this.  As people, we cannot let others suffer.

        "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

        by TomP on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:51:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TomP, erush1345

          With drugs I support allowing first-time nonviolent offenders the opportunity to go treatment and diversionary programs that expunge their records if they successfully complete them and stay out of further trouble.

          •  But many AAs end up in (5+ / 0-)

            prison.  What you may prefer is not what happens.

            Note that it is black men.  What about black men has scared white society since even during slavery?

            "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

            by TomP on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:55:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I think it might be economical in some respects (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              TomP

              Maybe white defendants are more likely to afford better lawyers than get them better plea bargains than Black defendants.

              •  No, there's definitely cases of clear racism. (6+ / 0-)

                There's a Supreme Court case from the 90s where 100% of arrests for crack cocaine in LA were African American, despite the fact that the majority of crack users were white.

                Snarka Snarka Snarka!

                by Hunter Huxley on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:59:44 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Yes, that's part of it, (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Predictor, pinkomommy

                but many of the economic differences are influenced by historical racism and institutionalized racism.

                I'm not saying all differences.  Some life impacts are choices, of course, but soemtimes choices are contrained by various factors.  

                The majority of poor AA folks in inner cities work hard and do not break laws.  7 of 8 black men do not end up in prison and many of them grow up poor and face racism.  They make different choices, yes.  

                But the racism plays some role.  It's complex.  Poverty and internalized self hatred sometimes can damage people and influence poor choices.  Lead poisoning as babies affects impulse control later in life, and lead poisoning is often in old homes and affects minorities.  A lot of factors.  But racism is clearly a direct and indirect influence on this.

                "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

                by TomP on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 01:01:47 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Well that's why I strongly support (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  debedb, TomP, erush1345

                  headstart, funding for schools, and programs to direct children away from violent crime. Once they commit a violent crime, though, my sympathy ends.

                  •  I'm glad you support those things. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Greg in TN, Predictor

                    Many people in prison did not commit violent crimes.  The war on drugs, for example.

                    Crime in inner cities is often against black folks.  No one is defending violent crime.

                    But even with violent crime, we need to look at why it's happening and do what we can to prevent.  It  helps both the perpetrator and the victim if a violent crime does not happen.  

                    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

                    by TomP on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 01:05:59 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  I practically FORCED my son (5+ / 0-)

          to enter the U.S. Army when he was 17 years old, so the cops wouldn't get him.  He was in Kosovo, and was in the 82nd Airborne.  He made it through jump school.  He cannot find work now, and he is going on 28 years old.  I am frightened for him.

          He used to walk down the street on his way home from high school and be harassed by the local police because, after all, more than two black guys walking together is considered a gang.

          F-- all that.  It's time this came to light.

          "Life's a bitch and then you die; that's why we get high Cause you never know when you're gonna go" -- Nas & AZ the Visualizer

          by avamontez on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 01:45:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  made bad choices, chose to commit crime? (6+ / 0-)

        And whose fault is it that maybe they just made bad choices and chose to commit crime?

        African-Americans are 6 times more likely to go to prison than Caucasian-Americans.

        In your mind, does this indicate that 6 times more African-Americans "made bad choices and chose to commit crime"? How do you explain this discrepancy?

        "Any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange ... including a public option" President Obama, 7.18.09

        by efraker on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:52:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  oceanstar17 has NEVER broken the law. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Deoliver47, pinkomommy, soothsayer99

        </snark>



        I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.

        by ben masel on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 03:11:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Don't all felons, regardless of color, lose (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Raven, VClib, blackjackal, erush1345

    voting right as stated by their respective state? I would think this is a socio-economic issue, not a race issue.

    Did you know republicans were stupid and evil? - Bill O'Riley Yes, Bill, yes we did.

    by psilocynic on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:29:44 PM PST

  •  There is a disparity in sentancing, otherwise (9+ / 0-)

    Governor's would not put executions on hold until they could study the problem further. If you have white skin in this country, whether you have money or not, you get a lighter sentance. It's been proven in studies.

    "Looks like we got ourselves a Reader" - Bill Hicks

    by blueoregon on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:43:36 PM PST

  •  Crime rates are dropping durring recession.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pantherq

    right now.

    This is somewhat off the subject, but I assume this means that incarcerations, of all races are dropping right now.

    Anyone have any ideas, or know of any informed explanations, of this phenomenon.

    •  No money to catch them (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP

      no money to keep them.

    •  No more money for MORE prisons and MORE (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes

      Arrests and MORE prosections to get the undesriable off the street. You know the undesirable who have thier behavior more closely watched then thier white fellow citizens.

      Besides the establishment probably figures with unemployment so high that more would appreciate being locked up where they have food and shelter and at least minimal health care. And we great NITS have more people locked up per capita than even some Dictatorships.

      Even the privatize it and turn prisons into workcamps folks are not fighting for profitting off of captive labor and charging inmates for food and shelter.

      Fear is the Mind Killer

      by boophus on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 01:58:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  incarceration rates have nothing to do with crime (5+ / 0-)

      they have to do with $$$$$ and politcis and racism

      crime has been decling for the past 15 years while the prison population exploded

      "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

      by soothsayer99 on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:15:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Soothsayer, you basically undercut (0+ / 0-)

        your own argument.  The theory you apparently oppose would say that if you get tough on crime, expand (or actually carry out) sentences, end the revolving door on our prison system (ie have the prison population explode) then crime would decline because crime is typically committed by a small group of people.  Hence, locking them up for longer periods of time would reduce crime.

        Your pointing out that "crime has been decling (sp) for the past 15 years while prison population exploded" is EXACTLY the point that those you oppose make.

        Just sayin'.....

        We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

        by theotherside on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:50:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  When I think of the "business" (12+ / 0-)

    of incarcerating people, the privatization of some prison systems including juvenile facilities, the rampant inmate abuse including of juveniles, and the political power which small communities obtain by counting their forced residents in the census, I have no choice but to take your thesis very seriously.  I've thought this for years.

    Tipped and rec'd.

    climate.gov---POTUS' New Science-Based Climate Change Agency

    by GN1927 on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:48:07 PM PST

  •  Why the slam on Public Defenders? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, VClib, TomP, pinkomommy, isabelle hayes

    Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not.

    That is a pretty serious charge; basically, that the public defenders' offices (everywhere? in certain states/cities?) are coercing their clients to plead guilty.  The public defenders I've met are conscientious and like any governmental agency, they could all probably use a lot more in the way of resources, but to suggest that they're violating one of the most basic ethical rules is pretty shady.

    •  Good catch on the hyperbole n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Darmok, soothsayer99

      climate.gov---POTUS' New Science-Based Climate Change Agency

      by GN1927 on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 12:54:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Most public defenders are overwhlemed, have (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib, vcthree

      too many cases, and just can't fully represent their clients as well as they should. Most criminal cases, though, go to plea bargains since the overwhelming amount of defendants are guilty.

    •  The fundamental problem with Public Defenders (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raincrow, soothsayer99

      is that they work for the State. So their paychecks, and thus their interests, are aligned with the prosecution, who works for the same side they do.

      Not everybody will act accordingly, but the structural problem remains.

      Short of using public funds to pay private-sector defense attorneys, rather than having public defenders who are government employees, I can't think of a way around this basic conflict of interests.

      In the unlikely even that I am ever accused of a crime, i will do whatever I can to hire my own lawyer. My odds of being acquitted go way, way up with just that simple change.

      There's a reason that every criminal defendant who can afford it uses a private sector lawyer. Because it's the second smartest thing you can do, right after "don't talk to the cops".

      --Shannon

      "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
      "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

      by Leftie Gunner on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:09:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry, but that's overly simplistic (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        isabelle hayes

        Unless there is some hint that public defenders' offices are told that their money depends on how few clients are released (or something similar), you are way, way off base.  Judges also are paid by the government, so I guess by your reasoning, the whole system is inherently corrupt.  I'm not aware of a single instance where the public defenders financial well-being is tied in any way to making sure that defendants end up behind bars.

        Whether someone can pay for a lawyer - and probably, more importantly, pay the costs to investigate, pay experts, etc. - and have a better chance of being acquited - that's a different question.  But, the idea that a defendant with a public defender doesn't even get "meaningful representation," that's an unfair charge.

        •  I never said (0+ / 0-)

          "doesn't get meaningful representation". I did say "is much more likely to be convicted", which is true.

          And no, a specific quid pro quo is not needed. What I'm talking about is alignment of interests. Maybe a system where public defenders are paid based on how many clients they get acquittals for would help. All I know is, my odds are improved by my representative's pay being based on their performance on my behalf. And that scenario does not obtain in any public defense system of which I'm aware.

          Not that the situation you describe would surprise me. Even if it's not expressly stated, I would not be shocked to learn that there's a correlation between promotion rates and conviction rates in many public defense systems. And the basic issue is still there. The State's interest is to maximize the number of convictions. As public defenders are employees of the State, some level of conflict is therefore inevitable.

          He who pays the piper calls the tune, and all that.

          --Shannon

          "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." -- Emiliano Zapata Salazar
          "Dissent is patriotic. Blind obedience is treason." --me

          by Leftie Gunner on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:45:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If you pay a private lawyer (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pinkomommy, isabelle hayes

            You pay whether they get you off or not.  So, the idea that:

            All I know is, my odds are improved by my representative's pay being based on their performance on my behalf

            isn't quite right.  Maybe a private lawyer doesn't get many clients without a decent rate of success, but it's not like civil law, where the plaintiff's lawyer doesn't get paid until s/he wins a judgment for the plaintiff.  It's also a fantasy that private lawyers get everyone off; most of their clients probably end up with plea deals as well and the only one who has made any money in the process is the defense lawyer.

            Also, the "meaningful representation" is a statement made in a quote in the diary - that's what I commented on and you're in that discussion.  Hence my reference back to it.

            But, more to the point, I challenge you to find a single study or legal commenter who suggests that public defenders have a conflict of interest because they're government employees.  Again, by the same standard, all judges would be similiarly conflicted.  I really think you have a very basic misunderstanding about the conflicts issue as it relates to salary in this instance.  The public defenders office doesn't have to "answer to" the executive in the same way that a private lawyer has to answer to his or her client.

          •  there's no question a correlation (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Hunter Huxley

            in prosecutors' offices between promotion and conviction rates

        •  The best public defenders (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hunter Huxley, soothsayer99

          have a caseload many times that of a good private attorney, and less resources, ie staff, budget for expert witnesses, so that they're forced to triage their clients, mounting a meaningful defense only for the most egregious cases.



          I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.

          by ben masel on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 03:16:09 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Come to Tennessee, spend some time in court (0+ / 0-)

      Our PDs and private attorneys assigned to indigent defendants are a disgrace, perhaps in no small measure because the judge in the case has the final say on matters of compensation (TN might be the last state in which PDs are not independent of the judiciary). Despite statutory and settled case law, they are allowed to behave as guardians rather than agents, and are tacitly allowed to conspire with judges and/or prosecutors to have a defendant jailed without due process if s/he disagrees with the way her/his defense is being "conducted."

      The PD for a former coworker, whose life (along with that of his daughter) has been all but completely destroyed by Tennessee's grossly deficient in-justice system, actually said -- in open court for all to hear, just after a pretrial hearing had been adjourned -- that there was no way he would make the (non-frivolous and supported by statute/case law) procedural arguments my coworker demanded because, after this case, he'll still have to work with the judge, prosecutor, cops, etc., and doesn't want to piss them off.

      A conscientious PD? I figure the odds are better that I'll see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, at least in my state.

      •  Pulaski County, TN (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raincrow, pinkomommy, soothsayer99

        My daughter was charged w simple possession of marijuana following a traffic stop. Since she'd explicitly refused permission for a search, handing the officer one of my "Notice to Law enforcement Officers: I do not consent to a search" cards, the Public Defender was actually quite excited to go to trial, hoping to discredit this cop's perjurious testimony in future cases.  He was disappointed when the prosecution moved to dismiss.



        I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.

        by ben masel on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 03:23:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greg in TN, pantherq

    Tipped and rec'd - thanks for spotlighting this.

  •  It isn't just the public defenders (4+ / 0-)

    it is the prosecutors and this "zero tolerance" and 3 strikes and you're out nonsense. So to look tough on crime you have to look tough on crime. Draconian and diabolical in its brilliance. Who cares if peoples lives are wrecked. Who cares if communities are destroyed. Who cares if we pay too much for crimianl just us.

    Police the continuing enforcers of "Jim Crow". While they don't do anything in my community to "protect and serve". It's like paying to be oppressed. Oh yeah we are.

    •  you are so right. (3+ / 0-)

      Sentencing ranges, especially for drug crimes, are obscene.  Add to that our hideous bond system and defendants are in a notably shitty bargaining position when it comes to deciding whether to go to trial or not.  When offered a lengthy probation term (which often means 'prison later') on a reduced charge that gets you out of jail it's hard to resist when your alternative is wait a long damn time for a trial where you'll be facing non-probatable prison time if you lose.

  •  Uh... I don't know if you noticed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, blindyone, soothsayer99

    but the criminal justice system is the old Jim Crow too.

  •  grest diary great book -- YES (4+ / 0-)

    the criminaljustice system is thenew jim crroe

    well actually the old jim crow too -- has been a major tool for upholding white supremacy since the Civil War

    "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

    by soothsayer99 on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:10:45 PM PST

  •  I agree. Return the vote to felons (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, soothsayer99

    and end compulsory and draconian sentencing for drug crimes. The effect of these things on black Americans is unforgivable. Whether the particulars are overtly racist, the net result clearly indicates a cynical willingness to subjugate black citizens.

    There is however another factor. The loss of economic justice has led to the crimes that are so conveniently punished to the detriment of the black community.

    Black Americans have made progress in this country only when immigration rates have been low. From 1960 to 2000 the employment rate for black men with less than a high school diploma decreased from 89% to 56% (see diary). George Borjas, a Harvard labor economist, attributes 40% of that increase in unemployment to immigration. It adds substantially to the problems resulting from structural changes in the economy. Economic empowerment is the best antidote to racism, and probably the only effective one.

  •  Restore voting rights when sentence served (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blindyone

    If we the people consider criminal sentencing suitably calibrated, nobody should have any heartburn about automatically restoring a felon's right to vote as soon as s/he has fully served her/his sentence and completed probation.

    If more former felons could vote, perhaps our criminal in-justice system -- jail and prison conditions, judges, public defenders, prosecutors, sheriffs, chiefs of police, the whole mess -- would be held to higher standards than is currently the case.

  •  It's a matter of deprivation under cover of law. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Boreal Ecologist, ThisIsMyTime

    Only stupid people go to prison for taking what doesn't belong to them.  Smart one use the law to deprive others of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    They do it under cover of law and behind the veil of money.

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 02:39:41 PM PST

  •  A major part of the problem: elected judges (0+ / 0-)

    IMO. And in S D O'Connor's opinion, too.

    http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu/...

    Also, immunity laws that are far too broad, protecting prosecutors who flat out LIE to grand juries to secure indictments, and judges who behave outrageously.

  •  Answer to poll: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JoanMar, ThisIsMyTime, soothsayer99

    Of course it does. Even when the cops are black, and the judge is black in a black neighborhood: the SYSTEM is designed to unfairly target people who don't have political power, or economic power, or some 'special connector' that absolves them of guilt [usually to the white community].

    America was, has been and is extremely race driven in every aspect of the justice system, from the cops on the beat, to the public defenders [and lack thereof], to prosecutors, judges - all of it.

    Every single step of the process.

    Some places are remarkably worse than others, but having an obvious hue to your skin color or obvious ethnicity in the US immediately puts the potential defendant at a disadvantage in all but a few limited number of cases.

    Air America listeners, check this out

    by shpilk on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 04:19:45 PM PST

    •  I totally agree with that assesment. I have heard (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JoanMar, soothsayer99, OHknighty

      that for years but not seen much progress. In fact the system has gotten worse when the number of AA folks in prison has increased to represent 50% of the prison population.  What can be done to correct it? Where do you start? Who is working on it in the House if there is anyone doing to correct the Jim Crow of the 21 Century? I know Jim Webb has been working on prison reform but all is in MUTE now.

      ...We have many more issues that bind us together than separate us!

      by ThisIsMyTime on Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 05:56:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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