Public Defenders Join to Focus on Implicit Bias and Racial Injustice

Each day this week, defenders across the country honor Public Defense Week by looking at an issue that affects our clients.

Public Defenders are on the front lines of today’s greatest civil rights struggles. Race permeates every aspect of our criminal justice system. Even computer algorithms used in risk assessments are known to be programmed with racial biases. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police are three times as likely to search the cars of stopped black drivers than stopped white drivers. Black drivers are also more likely to be pulled over and less likely to receive a reason for being stopped.
 
People of color are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated: one out of every twenty-nine black adult women and men are currently incarcerated compared with only one out of every 194 whites men and women. When incarcerated, people of color continue to be discriminated against. In fact, an investigation into New York State Prisons showed that black inmates were punished at significantly higher rates than white inmates, and are sent to solitary confinement more often and for longer
 
Most U.S. states restrict the voting rights of citizens convicted of crimes. Since black Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, voter disenfranchisement has a disproportionate effect on the black population.
 
Every day, public defenders work to mitigate racial inequity in the system. But they can’t do it alone. Support public defense and reform of the criminal justice of system at the local, state and federal level.
 
This week, help us as we join defenders across the country, in collaboration with National Association for Public Defense to raise awareness as we celebrate Public Defense Week March 13-18. Follow the hashtags #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales #CelebratePublicDefense on Facebook and Twitter and share. Each day, we’ll focus on a vital issue facing public defenders and staff, but most importantly, our clients. The week will culminate on Saturday, March 18th as we celebrate the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963) the Supreme Court decision that established public defense systems across the country.
 
And all this year – we’ll be celebrating the 100th year of public defense in Shelby County. Watch this video to see the amazing story of how the case of a black man, wrongly accused of killing a white woman, sparked the creation of the 3rd old public defense system in the country. 
 
RESOURCES ABOUT IMPLICIT BIAS/RACIAL INEQUITY IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM:
 
 
The Impact of Implicit Racial Bias on the Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion | Seattle University Law Review  
 Making space here. 

Read with Us in the JustCity Book Club

stevenson
Bryan Stevenson, Author

“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.”

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

We have long admired the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. So when we read his new book, ‘Just Mercy,’ we did not expect to be even more moved by the difficult path he has chosen: challenging the death penalty, prison sentences for children and the incarceration of those with mental illness.

We also did not think we could be more outraged by the brokenness of the criminal justice system, until reading Stevenson’s moving account of the men, women and children he has stood beside during his decades-long struggle for justice.

But most importantly, we did not expect to feel such hope — to see that with great personal sacrifice and perseverance, one person can and has changed the system.

That’s why we invite you to read ‘Just Mercy’ with us and then have a discussion about the important work being done by Bryan Stevenson at Equal Justice Initiative, public defenders in Memphis and advocates around the country. Pick up a copy at Burke’s Book Store or at The Booksellers at Laurelwood and sign up at the link below to have your book club considered.

We’ll choose one book club each month. An attorney from the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender will join your club to answer questions about the criminal justice system that Stevenson explores in Just Mercy and discuss what we can all do to make Memphis a more just community.

 

Just Mercy Cover

 

Sign Up for the JustCity Book Club Here!

TN Justice Reform Task Force Criticized for Lack of Defense Attorneys, Minorities

Screenshot 2014-08-27 12.53.21In today’s Commercial Appeal: A story examining the makeup of a new Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism.

A media release from the State of Tennessee acknowledges that the state’s sentencing structure has not been changed in more than two decades.  Tennessee joins a number of states re-examining outdated sentencing laws, but today’s story in the Commercial Appeal reveals that some are concerned about which groups are not adequately represented in this reform effort.

The story, by reporter Samantha Bryson, looks at both the racial disparity on the task force and the lack of perspective from an important justice reform voice — defense attorneys.

Only one person on the committee, Cannon County Public Defender Gerald Melton, currently works at the defense side of the table. Police chiefs, judges, sheriffs and district attorneys account for 18 of its members, who serve alongside other lawmakers and a victim’s rights advocate. There appear to be no ex-offenders or advocacy groups for ex-offenders represented. The group is also about 90 percent white and overwhelmingly Republican, in a state where 44 percent of its 30,349 inmates are black.” –  ‘Haslam’s Sentencing Reforms Committee is Short on Defense Attorneys,” The Commercial Appeal.

You can read the complete article here. (Paywall)
Click here to read an editorial by prominent Memphis defense attorney, Michael Working.
You can also click here to see the list of those serving on the task force.