Public Defenders Walk (Bus) in Clients’ Shoes

Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Kelly Pretzer wanted to know what it’s like for her clients in the Mental Health Specialty Court to get to mandated treatments, especially for the vast majority of indigent clients who do not have access to their own transportation. So, Kelly organized a trip through Memphis on Memphis Area Transit Authority to sites where clients are mandated treatment through Shelby County Drug, Mental Health and Veterans Courts. Twelve lawyers with bus passes went to centers for mental health treatment and drug testing, a residential recovery facility, the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Memphis Mental Health Institute.

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Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Kelly Pretzer wanted to know what it’s like for her clients in the Mental Health Specialty Court to get to mandated treatments, especially for the vast majority of indigent clients who do not have access to their own transportation. So, Kelly organized a trip through Memphis on Memphis Area Transit Authority to sites where clients are mandated treatment through Shelby County Drug, Mental Health and Veterans Courts. Twelve lawyers with bus passes went to centers for mental health treatment and drug testing, a residential recovery facility, the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Memphis Mental Health Institute.

The lawyers were divided into groups to simulate what a client from each treatment court might experience on a day when making three appointments. Navigating the bus system was challenging, even with the printed out maps and careful planning by Kelly and her colleague Chelsea Kapes. Groups were often late for appointments (one group was even an hour late!). The lawyers spent far less time riding on the hot buses, than they did walking in between spots, walking from the bus stop to the sites and waiting at bus shelters. Plus there was a great deal of uncertainty about whether we were at the right stop — most stops were not numbered and provided no maps.

The bright spots of the day were at the treatment facilities– such as the Judicare Inpatient Drug Recovery Center, where we met Mimi, the friendly German Shepard who lives there.

Stats for the average route to three locations: 7 buses, 1.5 miles of walking and an hour of waiting.

The hope is that this experience helps our lawyers advocate better for clients receiving treatments — so that they know more about where facilities are located, what’s offered and how long it takes to get to various appointments.

A columnist with the Commercial Appeal rode along with us:  Attorneys Ride Bus in Clients’ Shoes.

You can learn more about the challenges faced by poor people who must rely on public transportation in this article by The Atlantichttps://www.theatlantic.com/…/stranded-how-americas…/393419/

And this piece recently published in the The Commercial Appeal about the perils of being without a car in Memphis: http://www.commercialappeal.com/…/weathersbee-pe…/100812326/

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