Public Defenders Join Across the Country to Honor Gideon Legacy

Each day this week we highlight a vital issue our public defenders and clients face. Today, we look at excessive bail, fines and fees.

Every day public defenders fight to help clients avoid burdensome fines that trap them in the cycle of poverty. The system of fee collection targets those who can least afford it. Our clients are the 56.3% of Americans who have less than $1,000 in their checking and savings accounts combined and the 63% of Americans who don’t have enough to cover a $500 emergency. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch once said that excessive bail, fines and fees, “amount to nothing less than the criminalization of poverty.”
 
Public Defenders fight mass incarceration with each case starting with their bail applications. Three-fifths of the people in jail are there because they are too poor to post bail. People held in jail awaiting trial are likely to lose family, jobs, and are more likely to get a prison sentence if convicted and more likely to re-offend. We spend $85/inmate/day or $38 million in total per day, or $14 billion annually to jail people who are waiting to resolve their criminal cases
 
Debtors’ prisons are real. Public Defenders are fighting them.
 
Join us this week as we #CelebratePublicDefense in the week leading up to the Supreme Court decision Gideon v Wainwright (1963). Each day, our office and defenders across the country in collaboration with National Association for Public Defense will highlight a vital issue that affects our office and our clients. Today, we look at excessive bail, fines and fees.
 
Follow these hashtags on Twitter to read more from our office and more around the country #TippingtheScales #DefendGideon #CelebratePublicDefense
 
See what is happening in Memphis and across Tennessee to change this system:
 
 
 

Shelby County Public Defender Chairs ACE Awareness Board

ACE Awareness Foundation an effort to help parents, caregivers limit or prevent a child’s chronic exposure to trauma

Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush has been named the new chair of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Awareness Foundation board.

“As the public defender, I see daily the consequences of adverse childhood experiences in the lives of the thousands of children bumping up against juvenile court,” said Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender.

 

“In fact, 93% of youth in detention have survived repeated trauma. This strong correlation between trauma and contact with juvenile court is undeniable and something that we, as parents and as community, cannot afford to ignore.”

Bush has served on the ACEs Task Force since it was founded in 2014. The task force launched the ACE Awareness Foundation. Since then, the foundation has created two Universal Parenting Places (UPPs) which provide any parent who walks through their doors with counseling and information involving family-related issues or concerns. In July, ACEs also opened the “Warm Line” — a free, live telephone line that connects parents with trained professionals who provide parenting guidance and support.

“We’ve known for many years about the link between early childhood traumas and future justice system involvement,” said Bush. “What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that toxic stress experienced during childhood is crippling to a child in ways far beyond problems at school or an encounter with the justice system.”

For his first public outreach as ACE Awareness Foundation board chair, Bush appeared on the Commercial Appeal’s ‘Talk, Memphis’ podcast hosted by journalist David Waters.

“It’s about fundamental fairness. Which is really what our work at the public defender’s office is about. We are appointed to represent individuals that can’t afford counsel, because I believe everyone deserves a fair shake. The Constitution requires it,” said Bush on the podcast. “But if you take that same idea, certainly every kid born in this community should have a fair shake and a healthy life – to live a healthy and whole life.”

“I can tell you, if we get this right about reducing and preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences, we can begin to talk about reducing the size of our criminal justice system, right-sizing our juvenile justice system and the savings that could come from that could very well fund anything we need to do in public education.” 

You can listen to the entire podcast here

Learn more about the work the ACE Awareness Foundation is doing to increase knowledge among policy makers, state and local leaders and citizens about the effects and causes of toxic stress in this piece that aired in April of 2016 on PBS Newshour.  You can watch the entire segment here.

Check out the ACE Awareness Foundation website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Tennessee Voting Restoration Law Among Most Confusing in U.S.

In March, the Florida Supreme Court could approve a 2018 ballot measure that would restore voting rights to 1.5 million residents who cannot vote because of past felony convictions. A quarter of the state’s black citizens cannot vote without a pardon from the governor. Florida is one of only three states that permanently strips the right to vote from anyone convicted of a felony.

Fourteen states plus D.C. automatically restore voting rights once a person is released from incarceration.

Tennessee is not among the best. Nor is it among the worst. But its rights restoration laws have earned a problematic distinction — they are among the most confusing.

complex-voting-restoration-w-frameThis can discourage people from even applying or can deny voting to those whose rights are legally restored, because confusing laws also confuse election officials.

Read about Florida’s regressive voting rights laws here. You can also look at disenfranchisement laws across the country on this interactive map created by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

Check out Just City’s Legislative Agenda for Tennessee’s upcoming legislative session.  It includes automatic expungement, which would help smooth the path for voting rights restoration.