Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Overloaded Public Defense Systems Result in More Prison Time, Less Justice - Justice Policy Institute Report

New report from Justice Policy Institute : Public defense systems in U.S. have too many cases, too little time, too few resources

The report identifies 5 ways poor quality public defense increases incarceration

1. more pretrial detention for people who do not need it;
2. increased pressure to plead guilty;
3. wrongful convictions and other errors;
4. excessive and inappropriate sentences that fail to take into account the unique circumstances of the case; and
5. increased barriers to successful reentry into the community.

Recommendations from the report include:

  • Integrate a holistic and community-based approach to public defense. Community-based and holistic approaches to defense can help address the root causes of justice system involvement and prevent future involvement by treating the whole client. This can improve public safety, save money on corrections and have a positive impact on people and communities.
  • Collect better data and conduct more empirical evaluations on the impact of public defense systems on people, communities and criminal justice. Rigorous research and data collection on all justice policies and practices, but especially public defense, can help policymakers make informed decisions on policies that impact public defense.
  • Involve public defenders and affected communities in the policymaking process. As people who are directly involved with the laws and policies in a state or locality, defenders are in the unique position of being able to offer insight on the impact these policies have on people, on their law offices, and on the justice system. As such, defenders should be actively engaged in the policymaking process for criminal justice policies as equal partners in the justice system.
  • Actively seek out the voices and perspectives of people who have used defender services to gain a better understanding of the realities of various systems and the implications for people. Nobody knows better the impact of criminal justice policies and practices than people who are involved in the justice system. Involving people directly impacted by the justice system will provide crucial information on making better and more effective and just policies.

Full Report
Press Release