April 15, 2009
Constitution Project Study IDs Flaws in Public Defense System
The American legal system guarantees "equal justice under law." Those words, carved in stone on the facade of the Supreme Court, are a constitutional promise that everyone will have the same opportunity for justice.
But a new report by the bipartisan Constitution Project says the United States has broken that promise for poor people accused of crimes. The report is the most in-depth study of indigent defense in decades.
The Gideon Decision
In a hallway of a law firm in downtown Washington, a copy of a handwritten petition hangs framed on the wall. It's two pages, side by side. A stamp at the top says: "January 8, 1962, Office of the Clerk, Supreme Court." A signature at the bottom says, "Clarence Earl Gideon."
On Tuesday morning, Abe Krash stood looking at the petition, remembering a case that he worked on more than 45 years ago. "This eventually led to the opinion and decision by the Supreme Court in the Gideon case," he said.
Abe Krash was a young attorney on the case. It's now considered one of the most important decisions of the 20th century. As Krash describes it, the ruling "held that every person in this country who is tried on a criminal charge is entitled to the assistance of a lawyer, regardless of his financial condition. If he's too poor to hire a lawyer, he's entitled to have one appointed for him by the government."
The Gideon decision helped establish the system of public defenders across the country. Krash returned to his old law firm Tuesday for the release of the report on the state of that system.
'A Basic Constitutional Right'
"It does not paint a pretty picture," said Tim Lewis, one of the report's authors.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
April 09, 2008
A Personal Story of the Daily Battle Against Recidivism
From latimes.com: t happened again at a Taco Bell. The old way of thinking, the criminal voice, wouldn't shut up inside the head of Ken Layton.
"Yeah, take out that punk kid, beat the crap out of him, show that pimply faced idiot he ain't nothin' and you're still Folsom Kenny Layton."
He was standing in line at the fast-food joint, behind an overwhelmed woman with an unruly child. She was complaining about her order, and the kid behind the counter kept putting her down. "He was rude," Layton said. "Sarcastic."
Layton, 64, had been out of prison for 20 years. And yet the old thinking was back, a twisted moral code that he wrote in childhood, refined over decades behind bars and enforced throughout early adulthood, no matter who got hurt.
For many ex-cons, this is the kind of moment that can precede a crime and, ultimately, a return to prison. A 2002 Justice Department study that tracked prisoners released in 15 states found two-thirds of them were rearrested within three years for a felony or serious misdemeanor. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in a 2006 report, tracked inmates for two years after their release and found a recidivism rate of 38% after one year. After two years, 51% of released California prisoners were back behind bars.
Layton knows why: prison thinking, convict thinking, criminal thinking.
In his case, it was still there, decades after his last crime. But as he drove down the street with his wife, Layton adjusted. Within a few blocks, he'd found a way to stifle Folsom Kenny.
Layton's ability to defuse his anger is a rare skill for an ex-con, but it doesn't have to be. Experts think helping criminals understand how their thought processes are connected to the crimes they commit is more than just a touchy-feely exercise. It can reduce recidivism. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
October 29, 2007
US Davis Begins The Guantanamo Testimonials Project
Pursuant to its mission, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA) launched, in Fall 2005, a long term research project to assess the effects of the U.S. war on terror on human rights in the Americas.
Whether invoked as the rationale for the "extraordinary rendition" of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria or as the basis for the suppression of indigenous movements in South America, the war on terror has had significant effects on human rights in the Americas. But nowhere have these effects been greater than at the detention facilities of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Consequently, it seemed appropriate to begin our project by looking into the human rights situation at these facilities.
We begin our endeavor with The Guantánamo Testimonials Project.
The goal of this project is to gather testimonies of prisoner abuse in
Guantánamo, organize them by the source of the testimonies given and by
the type of the abuse alleged, and post these testimonies on this site
even as we gather them. The strength of these testimonies is
considerable. Based on them, a number of distinguished individuals and
organizations have called for the closure of Guantánamo.
At CSHRA we take no position as to whether the Guantánamo prisoners are guilty or innocent. Yet we recognize that these individuals are, in either case, entitled to a set of fundamental rights (a) as individuals held during an armed conflict, (b) as prisoners in general and (c) as ordinary human beings.
August 28, 2007
Up to 1/3 of Urban Children My Have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
From sfgate.com: Countless children in San Francisco's toughest neighborhoods experience murder, violence and trauma - an often unavoidable consequence of living in an urban war zone.
The violence, layers of it overlapping year after year, can eventually take up residence in the children's minds. Like combat veterans, they develop post-traumatic stress disorder - the soldier's sickness.
As many as one-third of children living in our country's violent urban neighborhoods have PTSD, according to recent research and the country's top child trauma experts - nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq.
Los Angeles Unified officials conduct annual surveys, finding similar rates of PTSD within the schools in that city's most violent neighborhoods. Implementing a group treatment program, one developed by the district, has come in fits and starts, however.
In the Bay Area and across the country, meanwhile, PTSD in these urban children is generally undiagnosed, untreated and almost completely off the radar for policymakers and education officials.
A Stanford University researcher, however, believes schools should be on the front lines when it comes to recognizing and treating children with symptoms of PTSD, and has identified Visitacion Valley Middle School as the ideal place to test a therapy involving 17 one-on-one sessions with a trained counselor.
"We have to pay a lot more attention to this," said Dr. Victor Carrion, director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program. "PTSD basically feeds on avoidance. The more you avoid it, the worse it gets."
But Carrion lacks ongoing funding and said the study has stalled despite a waiting list of students at the school. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
July 16, 2006
U.S. Lacks Information For Studying Crime
From washingtonpost.com: New national FBI statistics show violent crime increased in 2005 -- the first jump in 14 years. For a public accustomed to the annual reassurance that the nation is becoming safer, this news is troubling. Does it signal another epidemic of violence, rivaling the worst of the 1980s? Or is it just a blip in a long trend toward safer streets? It's a situation easy to politicize but hard to explain.
For those who study crime, the answer is simple: We don't know. Even though information costs are dropping quickly, criminal justice data are harder than ever to find. Key sources, such as those tracking drug use patterns or describing each criminal incident, have been discontinued or underutilized.
This sorrowful and potentially dangerous lack of information aside, available data do allow some informed speculation. The statistics are straightforward: Murder and aggravated assault increased significantly between 2004 and 2005, particularly in middle- and large-size urban areas. Importantly, crime was down in the largest cities, the smallest cities, and rural areas. Property crimes also generally declined, as did rape. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
June 01, 2006
Fighting to Save the Fading Right to Counsel
2004 American Bar Association Report states:
[T]housands of persons are processed in America's courts every year either with no lawyer at all or with a lawyer who does not have the time, resources, or in some cases the inclination to provide effective representation. All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring. The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exists in practice for countless people across the United States.
In states such as Montana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there are reports of indigent clients spending from 5 to 13 months in prison before recieving a single contact from an attorney. Once a defendant finally meets with an attorney, the report states that many plead guilty within minutes or hours of the first meeting. For example, in Quitman County, Mississippi, 42% of the indigent defense cases were resolved by a guilty plea on the first day the part-time contract defender met the client.
While many turn a blind eye to the deprivation of counsel in such cases, New Orleans Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. has decided to fight for the Right to Counsel by granting petitions to free prisoners facing serious charges without counsel.
(Source: "Gideon's Silence", Loyola LA CrimProf Alexandra Natapoff) Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
February 17, 2005
No one is Above Suspicion: Identity Theft Victims Usually Know Perpetrator
A recent report states that approximately 50 percent of identity theft victims are ripped off by a friend, neighbor or family member rather than a stranger, and the usual method is with paper documents rather than a computer. Information here; report here.