Pair gather stories from across the country to create a feature film.
When the U.S. Department of Justice released a stinging investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court in April of 2012, juvenile justice advocates around the nation took notice. The charges were damning — systematic violation of the due process rights of children and and failure to offer equal protection to African American children.
Independent filmmakers Joann Self Selvidge and Sarah Fleming took notice, too. During the course of the last few years, the pair have met with children, family members and advocates involved with the juvenile justice system to record their stories. Self Selvidge and Fleming have also partnered with the National Juvenile Defenders Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center to broaden the scope of their work beyond Memphis.
“Through eliciting personal narratives, the filmmakers also hope to illustrate the school to prison pipeline, which criminalizes bad behavior at school and disproportionately affects black students, a group that is nearly 3.5 times more likely to be arrested at school than their white peers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.” – High Ground News
Read the full story of their journey to raise awareness about the juvenile justice system in the online publication, High Ground News:
“If you are poor, your lawyer is often overworked and grossly underfunded” via The Commercial Appeal
This week, a task force appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to examine indigent defense, specifically how the defense of poor people is funded, released its findings. The task force has met and conducted listening tours for the past 16 months.
Tennessee has a hybrid system in which Public Defender office’s handle the vast majority of counsel for the poor. Private attorneys are appointed to cases these offices cannot take, such as a case with co-defendants and one person is represented by the public defender.
“Based on the task force report, I’m hopeful Tennessee will finally establish reasonable workload controls that ensure we can meet the minimum ethical obligations that all lawyers owe their clients.” – Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush
Raise the rate of private attorneys appointed to represent the poor from $40-50/hour to $75-125/hour. Currently, Tennessee’s compensation rate is among the lowest in the country.
Eliminate the caps on how much time can be spent on an appointed case.
Develop a training and certification process for new lawyers, to ensure standardization of skills
Creation of a commission to oversee all appointed counsel, including the defense of children.
We look forward to seeing the legislation that will come from this report and are hopeful it will lead to every Tennessean, regardless of income, receiving a zealous defense in our criminal justice system.
Join our office and defenders across the country as we recognize the lawyers, investigators, social workers, mediation specialists, law clerks, paralegals and support staff who fight on behalf of their clients every day.
The Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender are powered by more than 80 lawyers and 40 support staff and managers. Sounds like a huge staff. Until you realize those attorneys represent 35 thousand people a year. Many of our lawyers have caseloads more than twice that recommended by the U.S. Justice Department. Try protecting someone’s constitutional rights when you have 900 cases.
Some of the best trained lawyers from some of the best law schools in the country work in our office. We either need more of them or if you ask us, we’d rather have a smaller, smarter and more humane criminal justice system – one that points people toward more productive lives instead of setting them up for a quick return to jail.
For nearly a century — the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has provided zealous counsel to tens of thousands of people. We are proud of this tradition and are dedicated to building upon it. You can watch this video about the incredible story that sparked the founding of the 3rd oldest public defense system in the country.
During this Public Defense Week our office and defenders across the country in collaboration with the National Association for Public Defense are sharing stories and statistics to honor the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963) the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defender offices across the country. Go to these hashtags on Facebook and Twitter #CelebratePublicDefense #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales
We need lawmakers, community leaders and all of our neighbors to support the work of our public defenders and staff. We need you to fight policies that decimate neighborhoods and put scores of people, disproportionately people of color, in cages. We need people like you to fight these policies that negatively affect their lives and those of their loved ones long after they’ve completed their sentences.
Here’s what you can do to support public defenders and their clients: