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New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter, a former police officer, ruled that seven people awaiting trial in jail without adequate legal defense must be released. The law is clear. The U.S. Supreme Court, in their 1963 case Gideon v Wainwright, ruled that everyone who is accused of a crime has a Constitutional right to a lawyer at the state’s expense if they cannot afford one.
Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the country, no longer provides public defenders to all its people accused of crimes; within months, over half its public defender offices are expected to become insolvent. “It’s a nightmare,” according to James Dixon, the chief Louisiana Public Defender. “You have people in jail that don’t have lawyers. It’s that basic.” The meltdown of the Louisiana public defender system makes it criminal to call it a justice system.
California prisoners, who suspended their 2013 hunger strike, the largest such strike in history, after two legislative leaders promised bills addressing the strikers' demands, are now opposing one of those bills. Sen. Loni Hancock's Senate Bill 892 would give prison regulations on “gang validation” and the new step-down program the force of law. And it would leave California with the largest population of prisoners in solitary confinement of any country in the world or state in the United States at enormous cost to the taxpayers.
On Wednesday, March 5, the full U.S. Senate failed on a procedural vote to support the nomination of Debo Adegbile to be the next assistant attorney general for civil rights. According to an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Adegbile’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal when he headed the NAACP LDF is reason enough to derail his nomination.
Solitary confinement does little or nothing to promote public safety or prison safety. It is not only harmful but unnecessary and incredibly costly. Violence levels plummeted by 70 percent of previous levels when the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections reduced the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement by 85 percent.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a conviction obtained by San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe and published its reason – racially discriminatory jury selection – stating: “overwhelming evidence indicating that the prosecutor [Wagstaffe] ... acted with discriminatory intent when he struck M.C. [an African-American juror].”