Monday, January 28, 2013

Must Watch Short Video - 'True Believers in Justice'

NY Times Op-Doc VIdeo and Op-Ed - True Belivers in Justice

A new documentary "Gideon's Army" about three young public defenders and the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now called "Gideon's Promise) premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival last week. 

The above link takes you to an excellent short video about one of the public defenders and an editorial by the filmmaker, Dawn Porter.

I was horrified by what I learned about the criminal justice system. Innocent people, in prison for months or years, sometimes plead guilty to get out of jail; onerous sentences are too often given for minor crimes; people can lose civil rights, like the right to vote, as a result of criminal convictions. In America, a felony conviction can be a lifelong sentence because of this multitude of collateral consequences.

I also saw what a difference it made to have lawyers like Travis fighting hard for poor people’s rights. I saw him tell clients and their families that they were facing long sentences, outrageous bail terms or prison. But I saw him deliver even the worst news with compassion, and I saw him fight for every client. He’s inspired me to judge less and listen more, to try to put myself in the position of people who face a terribly structured system that often provides justice to neither the victim nor the accused. Thanks to Travis and the other young lawyers I met on this journey, I can proudly say I’m a “true believer” in their cause.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Listen to Advocate Blog posts on Itunes

You can now subscribe to an ITunes podcast download here to get an audio version of blog posts.   The audio is generated through a computer service called podcastomatic. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Free Online Toolkit Aims to Inform Lawyers Who Work With Traumatized Youth

Research shows that most young people entering the juvenile or adult justice system have been exposed to violence and other traumatic events, and often they have experienced trauma multiple times. Research also shows that the greater the degree of exposure, the more likely the child will suffer physically, socially and emotionally, says Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law.

These factors led to the creation of a free toolkit, available online and intended for use by the justice system. The toolkit, titled “Identifying Polyvictimization and Trauma Among Court-Involved Children and Youth: A Checklist and Resource Guide for Attorneys and Other Court-Appointed Advocates,” is designed to make legal representation of children in delinquency, dependency (abuse/neglect) and other cases more focused on addressing the victimization a child client has experienced, and on how that client has been affected by multiple traumas, Davidson says.

Lawyers can use the toolkit’s checklist to identify and better understand what violence and other distress their child clients have experienced, he says. The checklist provides a vehicle to help lawyers determine whether the youth they represent has one of more than 20 adverse symptoms that may indicate their client is suffering from severe traumatic stress.

“If their client has traumatic stress, there is a flowchart to help the lawyer understand what trauma-informed referrals and services the child may need,” Davidson says.

Accompanying the toolkit is the issue brief “Victimization and Trauma Experienced by Children and Youth: Implications for Legal Advocates.” Among the topics the document covers are: understanding the symptoms of traumatic stress; the role of legal advocates, judges and court staff; screening instruments for identifying past trauma and exposure to violence; descriptions of relevant state and local initiatives; and considerations related to developing a trauma-informed legal practice.

The tools stand to benefit lawyers and their child clients, Davidson explains. “Many children and youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems have experienced or witnessed violence or other traumatic events and suffered the fear of ongoing exposure to harm,” he says. “Trauma-informed care and evidence-based mental health treatments are a crucial part of recovery. These tools were developed to increase awareness of these issues among the legal profession, especially court-appointed lawyers for children in juvenile and family courts.”

Davidson encouraged development of the documents and facilitated support for them through the Safe Start Center, a program funded by the Department of Justice. The final products represent a partnership between the ABA, Safe Start, Child and Family Policy Associates and the Chadwick Center for Children and Families.

“I hope that these documents will be widely disseminated and utilized, so that we will truly have trauma-informed legal advocacy for vulnerable children and youth across the country,” Davidson says.

Source ABA Now

Monday, January 7, 2013

KY. criminal system is breaking budget - Lexington H-L Op-Ed by Ernie Lewis

KY. criminal system is breaking budget

University of Kentucky law professor Robert Lawson, an expert on this state's criminal justice system, summed up our current situation:

"We have seized every opportunity for three decades to make punishments harsher on criminals. We have elevated an untold number of misdemeanors to felonies, have pushed sentences higher through reclassification of crimes and the enactment of a wide assortment of penalty enhancements, and have eliminated parole for a long and ever-expanding list of serious offense."

Yet, Kentucky has an acute need for significant additional resources. These needs include meeting our pension obligations, funding our educational and judicial systems and Medicaid.

A source of money not yet considered is in our correctional system.

Kentucky spends almost $500 million per year to incarcerate and supervise more than 22,000 inmates and over 41,444 persons on probation and parole.

The state spends an additional $244 million on house misdemeanants and pretrial detainees.

Over 19,000 persons in Kentucky are presently housed in our jails, including over 8,000 incarcerated for a felony offense.

Almost 2 percent of the Kentucky population is in prison, jail, or on probation or parole.

To handle this growing population, we have increased spending by four times since 1990 without increasing public safety.

The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers believes we can find additional resources by cutting corrections costs.

In 1980, Kentucky incarcerated only 3,723 inmates and spent only $28.7 million.

In 1990, Kentucky incarcerated 8,824 and spent $129.1 million.

By 2000, Kentucky incarcerated 15,444 and spent $273.9 million.

Today, we spend almost $500 million.

What if Kentucky set a goal to return to 2000 levels of incarceration and spending, or even 1990 levels?

Could we do so without compromising public safety? Remember that, at present, our crime rate is no better today than it was in 1970.

KACDL believes we can pass reasonable legislation that would decrease prison costs while at the same time protecting public safety.

Harvard University sociologist Bruce Western has stated that increased incarceration accounts for only about 10 percent of the drop in crime rates, while William Spelman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, believes that the figure is closer to 25 percent.

There are commonsensical ways to spend less while maintaining public safety. Some or all of the following should be considered:

• Reclassify nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors.

• Reduce the number of people sentenced to prison without consideration for parole until they have served 85 percent of their time.

• Reform persistent felony offender laws. We now have 4,098 persons in prison on the Persistent Felony Offender law, up from only 79 in 1980.

As of 2011, we had incarcerated 7,792 persistent felony offenders and violent offenders at a cost of $169,193,925.

• Replace the death penalty with a life without parole sentence.

Kentucky has executed only one person involuntarily since 1976 when the modern death penalty was passed, and it is immensely costly. It can be replaced with life without parole sentence that can be used to house safely those who have committed the most aggravated crimes.

• Fund the public defender system. A fully funded public defender system is vital to ensure that only those persons who are guilty of the crime charged are placed into jail or prison.

An excellent public defender system is a cost-effective way to hold down the costs of incarceration.

• Raise the theft limit to $1,000. A person can be imprisoned for five years at a cost of over $20,000 per year for shoplifting an item worth $500 or more.

Is it reasonable for our taxpayers to spend $100,000 to warehouse a person who steals a set of golf clubs?

• Decriminalize nonsupport. Kentucky also houses many persons in our jails and prisons who fail to pay child support. Once they are imprisoned, their families are often placed into the welfare system.

We have better things to do with hundreds of millions of dollars than warehouse our citizens. As we are scouring our budget for additional resources, let's not forget this obvious choice.