The Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender have played a vital role in our community since 1917. That’s when we were established as just the third public defense system in the U.S. Our history is long and storied, but if you want to quickly learn about the direction our office has taken in the last few years — here are a few stories to show you what we mean when we call for “Justice for a New Generation.”
“Just Busted” – Cover story for the Memphis Flyer (February 2012)
Memphis Flyer reporter Chris Davis earned a Society of Professional Journalists award for this story about how our country’s war on drugs and a chronically underfunded public defense system have created a class of citizens burdened by criminal convictions… and the damage that follows. But there is hope, and Chief Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush outlines his vision for a leveraging a poor person’s contact with the criminal justice system into a shot at a better life.
“Memphis Public Defenders Join Movement to Reform Indigent Defense” – Feature story in the Commercial Appeal (August 2012)
This story in Memphis metro daily, the Commercial Appeal, focused on our office’s participation in the PD Corps, an effort to draw top law school graduates into the field of public defense and provide them with training in client-centered lawyering. The arrival of these PD Corps fellows marked our office’s commitment to providing training and a framework for young attorneys to join a national movement aimed at reforming our country’s indigent defense system. The program has now been renamed Gideon’s Promise and is featured in an HBO documentary released in the summer of 2013, Gideon’s Army.
“The Promise of Gideon: 50 years later, public defenders struggle to make good” – Cover story of Memphis Lawyer (March 2013)
In this cover story for the Memphis Bar Association’s monthly magazine, we tell you the dramatic story that launched the creation of our office in 1917, a brief history of the landmark decision that would establish the right to counsel for indigent clients and why the promise of that decision… goes unrealized.
“Southwest Community College Player Wins in and on Court.” – Front page article in the Commercial Appeal (March 2013)
A former attorney and graduate of Harvard Law School, the Commercial Appeal’s award-winning sports columnist, Geoff Calkins, told his editors he didn’t intend this article to push into the 1,000 word count, but the story was too incredible and the main figure, one of our clients, too likable. The public defender featured in this article, Kamilah Turner, said she wanted her client’s story to be told so that he could further clear his name and move onto the dream he had before his brush with the law… the dream of playing basketball at a Division I college.
“Shelby County Public Defenders Win Grant for Training.” – blog post in the Memphis Business Journal (August 2013)
Our office was one of six chosen in 2013 to receive a grant from the Bronx Defenders for technical assistance and training. The six-month partnership allows public defense systems to advance holistic defense efforts. In July 2103, a team of Shelby County defenders traveled to the Bronx to see their client-centered practice firsthand.
“Behind the Headlines: Part II Reform of Mandatory Minimum Sentences.” – public affairs show on WKNO-TV (September 2013)
Chief Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush appeared on WKNO’s “Behind the Headlines” to address the significant criminal justice reforms recently proposed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The reforms included avoiding charges with mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses at the federal level.
Holder also took on racial disparities in our criminal justice system and prison overcrowding. This marks the most significant shift in U.S. sentencing reform since the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
On WKNO, Bush voiced hope that this shift at the federal level will ripple down to the state and local level.
“David Waters: Incarcerated Until Proven Guilty.” — B1 story in the Commercial Appeal (May 2014)
Story written by award-winning journalist David Waters about the extraordinary amount of time many criminal defendants endure behind bars awaiting trial, and how, often, people plead guilty — to avoid the jail wait to prove innocence. Waters shadowed assistant Shelby County Public Defender Ben Rush during a typical day of meeting with client after client in the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center.
“Los Angeles County Looks at How to Handle Mentally Ill Inmates in Jail.” — The LA Daily News (July 2014)
Faced with $1.7 billion dollar in jail expansion costs, Los Angeles County is looking at programs across the country to find more efficient and effective ways to deal with those with mental illness. Leaders are looking at programs like our office’s Jericho Project, a jail diversion program that has successfully found more caring and productive alternatives for those with serious and persistent mental illness.