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!

Posted in #SeeJustice, Death Penalty, Justice Reform, Juvenile Justice, Mass Incarceration, Outreach, Poverty, Public Defender's Office

7 Numbers That Made Memphis Better in 2014

SeeJustice FlagWe hear a lot about injustice today in the form of continuing racial tensions, worsening economic inequality and a dysfunctional criminal justice system. At the start of 2014, these discussions were largely limited to non-profit, government and community organizations who work with those affected, and among those facing these challenges in poor and mostly minority communities.

But by the end of 2014, discussions and debates about injustice are no longer pushed to the margins — this issue is now part of our social media feeds, news stories, community meetings, and family get togethers.  We may not agree on solutions or causes, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to say we live in a country that gives everyone a fair shake.

As a tumultuous year comes to a close — we take note of a few things in Memphis that give us hope. Take a quick look, by the numbers, at efforts in our city that remind us:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

PLACEHOLDER PLACEHOLDER

Screenshot 2014-12-23 10.42.19FRESH STARTS. 

Each day, thousands of Memphians are trying to get a job or a professional license — but can’t.  One major obstacle is a criminal record, which is often a major barrier to employment long after the sentence has expired. Tennessee has narrow expungement laws that can help, but even in the few instances in which someone qualifies, applying for an expungement can require legal guidance, paperwork and hundreds of dollars in filing fees.  In 2014, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office assisted with paperwork and paid filing fees for 15 people seeking expungement or citizenship right’s restoration. Find out more about the Clean Slate Fund established through a Memphis Bar Foundation grant.

 

Screenshot 2014-12-22 14.19.39

DIVERSIONS.

In 2014, the Jericho Project diverted 97 people battling mental illness and/or addiction from incarceration. Since its inception, nearly 60% of those participating in Jericho have successfully completed their recovery plans; they have also avoided further contact with the criminal justice system. You can learn more about the Jericho Project here.

Screenshot 2014-12-22 15.31.03

 

JOBS.

Advance Memphis was founded in 1999 to bring economic revitalization to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Since then, the people of the 38126 community have partnered with this non-profit to build an impressive record. In 2014 alone, 132 people found employment after gaining job and life skills training through Advance Memphis. Read about Advance Memphis here.

 

Screenshot 2014-12-23 10.44.38

HOMES.

The Community Alliance for the Homeless (CAFTH)  reports that 635 Memphians left homelessness for permanent housing in 2014! These impressive gains were made possible by a network of providers throughout the greater Memphis area. These efforts were coordinated through CAFTH, a private, non-profit entity that provides planning, technical assistance, and service coordination to public and private agencies working to end homelessness in Memphis and Shelby County. Learn about The Community Alliance for the Homeless here.

 

Screenshot 2014-12-23 11.16.29

 CONSULTS.

On the second Saturday morning of each month, you’ll find civil and criminal lawyers from firms big and small gathered at the Memphis Public Library. It’s the Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS)/Memphis Bar Association (MBA) Saturday Legal Clinic where anyone who needs free legal advice can get it.  In 2014, lawyers volunteering with the MALS/MBA Saturday Legal Clinic served 908 people! Click here to find out more about the MALS/MBA Saturday Legal Clinic.

 

Lifeline

 CLEARED LOTS.

Lifeline to Success is a non-profit that uses training and community service to provide those returning from incarceration some of the tools they need to have a more productive life. People accepted into the training must begin taking classes 6 months before being released.  After their release, they immediately begin training with Lifeline. The program also runs the highly respected Blight Patrol — people returning from incarceration are put to work clearing blighted lots in Frayser. The result — the Blight Patrol provides a much needed service in a community littered with vacant properties and those doing the work find purpose in helping the community.  In 2014, 89 ex-offenders participated in Lifeline to Success and cleared 3,500 lots in Memphis! You can learn more about Lifeline to Success here.

PL.

Screenshot 2014-12-23 14.49.13

 

BURRITOS. 

If you see a group of cyclists handing out small, shiny, tinfoil packages around Memphis — you may have spotted the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry.  Each Wednesday evening and Saturday morning, volunteers gather to first roll nutritious burritos and put together supplemental packets for those in need (e.g. bug spray in the summer, coats and gloves in the winter). Then they ride through the city distributing these packets to those experiencing homelessness and anyone who is hungry and in need. By serving approximately 300 people each week, The Urban Bicycle Food Ministry estimates it has rolled more than 20,000 burritos in 2014! Read about the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry here.

____________________________________________________________________

These seven groups are but a snapshot of the organizations doing good and difficult work in Memphis and Shelby County. These efforts bring hope to those who have none and help clear a path for Memphians who continue to face barriers in our social, civic and criminal justice systems. In 2015, consider supporting these and other organizations that work to bring more equity and access to justice in our community. And when you read about other good and just work being done — share it with us on social media using #SeeJustice

Here’s to a more just Memphis in 2015!

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Posted in #SeeJustice, Justice Partners, Poverty, Public Defender's Office, Public Defenders, Reentry

Shelby County Public Defenders Named 2014 Memphis Bar Foundation Fellows

2014 Memphis Bar FoundationEach has served indigent clients in the Memphis area for more than two decades — now assistant Shelby County Public Defenders Jack Green and James Etta Rayford have been named Fellows of the Memphis Bar Foundation.  Green and Rayford were recognized at a November event in Downtown Memphis.

Green has been a public defender for 26 years and is a supervising attorney for the office. Currently, he serves as the Director of Performance Metrics for the public defender’s office. Green collects case data that help manage attorney workloads.

He is also the head of the Justice System Administration, which tracks client movement through the criminal justice system, monitors progress and identifies delays.

Rayford has practiced public defense for the past 24 years. Most recently, she joined the Juvenile Defender Unit, a highly-specialized division of the Shelby County Public Defender’s office which represents children in juvenile court.  Rayford chose to serve on the new unit soon after it was established in 2013. The new defender unit was developed to help meet the agreement between Shelby County government, Shelby County Juvenile Court and the Department of Justice.

After the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ found due process and equal protection violations at Juvenile Court, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office was called upon to provide attorneys for the defense of children and to supervise the defense function of Shelby County’s juvenile justice system.

Members of the Memphis Bar Foundation elect fellows based on ethics and professionalism.  Eligible nominees must have practiced law at least 10 years. The Memphis Bar Foundation is the charitable arm of the Memphis Bar Association.

Posted in Justice Partners, Juvenile Justice, Media Release, Public Defender's Office, Public Defenders

New Report Shows Outdated System Failing Lawyers, Indigent Clients in Tennnessee

tba-logoAnyone facing criminal charges that could result in imprisonment has the right to an attorney — if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed and paid for by the government. That right was established in 1963 by the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright.

But a study just released by the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) reveals that fewer private attorneys say they are willing to accept this work, because the pay is too low and paperwork too burdensome.

That’s bad news for communities across Tennessee, because it results in fewer private attorneys willing to accept appointed cases. In turn, those attorneys still willing to accept cases may have even less time to spend on appointed cases as a result of the burden of additional clients. In addition, some appointed attorneys may be unwilling to spend adequate time on a case for which there will be inadequate compensation. Of course, the person facing criminal charges bears most of the burden in a system like this as poor advocacy results in more time spent awaiting disposition, longer sentences and more wrongful convictions.

A 2013 study released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) ties compensation to fair representation: “The attorney’s right to fair compensation and the defendant’s rights are ‘inextricably linked’ and ‘[t]he relationship between an attorney’s compensation and the quality of his or her representation cannot be ignored.'”

appointed compensationIn Shelby County, appointed counsel are more often than not, public defenders.  In fact, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office handles more than 35,000 cases each year. But in cases of conflict (for example, when two defendants are jointly charged with a crime or the victim in the case was a former client of the public defender) a judge may appoint a private attorney to defend an indigent client.

Private attorneys in the Memphis area are also appointed in the majority of the cases involving children, as the Shelby County Public Defender’s new, specially-trained Juvenile Defender Unit only has the capacity to handle a portion of the approximately 4,000 children facing delinquency charges in Juvenile Court each year. In a poor, urban community like Shelby County, a healthy appointed counsel system is a critical part of the criminal justice system.

The TBA report reveals an appointed counsel system in Tennessee that is far from healthy. The TBA is currently working to raise the compensation rate from the current $40 per out-of-court hour for non-capital cases, $75 per hour for out-of-court on non-capital cases. The rate has not changed since 1994 and according to the TBA, this makes Tennessee court-appointed attorneys among the lowest paid in the country.

A national study of compensation for appointed counsel shows that Tennessee is among the states paying at the bottom end of the fee scale.

“The average rate of compensation for felony cases in the 30 states that have established a statewide compensation rate is less than $65 an hour with some states paying as little as $40 an hour” — from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) study Rationing Justice: The Underfunding of Assigned Counsel Systems

 

Screenshot 2014-11-19 16.40.03

Bar graph from TBA.org

Not only are Tennessee appointed counsel paid at an unusually low rate — lawyers in the survey also cited state-mandated limits on the total fee that are too low to provide adequate counsel.  The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Rule 13, which contains the rules for appointed counsel, caps maximum compensation on most non-capital cases at $500-$1,500, depending on the type of offense.  Nearly 60% of the survey respondents reported that they “frequently” or “always” reached the compensation cap.

In addition to limited compensation for their legal work, respondents to the TBA survey reported spending an unreasonable amount of time preparing and submitting their fee claims to the state — some as much as 5 hours on compensation paperwork and submission.  In fact, more than 75% of the attorneys admitted that they had not even bothered submitting claims for payment, because it took too much time to file.

Given the low fee and administrative burden, it’s not surprising that one-third of the survey respondents said they have stopped taking appointed cases. A vast majority of that group said it was directly related to low compensation.

The TBA will be using the results of this study to continue to push for changes to Rule 13, and how private, appointed counsel is compensated.

Full reports here: 

You can read the results of the TBA survey here.

Click here to read the TN Supreme Court’s Rule 13, which sets the rate for appointed counsel.

Find the entire NACDL report “Rationing Justice:The Underfunding of Assigned Counsel Systems” by clicking here.

CORRECTION: The original post stated that non-capital case rate was a blanket $40 per hour. The actual rate is $40 per hour for out of court, trial preparation and $50 per hour for in-court work. 

Posted in Funding Public Defense, Justice Reform

Shelby County Public Defender Represents West Tennessee on State Board

Eric Elms

Eric Elms, Assistant Shelby County Public Defender

Assistant Shelby County Public Defender, Eric Elms, has been selected as a West Tennessee representative for the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL).

Elms was chosen for his work as a lawyer in Shelby County’s Drug Court for the past 12 years and his efforts to promote the local Memphis chapter of TACDL.

TACDL is a non-profit organization that provides education, training and support to the lawyers representing people accused of crime. The association also advocates fair and effective criminal justice in the courts and legislature.

“The experience and insight gained from his work with the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office will benefit the defense bar across the state,” said Suanne Bone, Executive Director of TACDL. “We look forward to Eric’s service and the engagement of all the Public Defenders in Shelby County.”

Elms will serve a 3-year term on the board. He joins fellow assistant Shelby County Public Defender, Kamilah Turner, who is serving her third year on the TACDL Board of Directors.

You can read more about the work of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office on JustCity.org

Eric Elms Media Release PDF

 

Posted in Media Release, Public Defender's Office, Public Defenders

Shelby County Public Defender Addresses Journalists on National Panel

Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender

Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender

Earlier this month, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush spoke to journalists from across the country at City University New York.  Bush was an invited panelist for the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice symposium entitled “Kids, Crime and Justice” held in New York City.

The symposium was designed to help journalists apply research and best practices to reporting on juvenile justice issues.  Bush was one of twenty presenters invited to New York to address reporters from print, broadcast and online. These twenty-five journalists were selected for a Tow Foundation fellowship based on their interest in covering juvenile justice related stories.

Bush was invited to discuss research involving early brain development in children and the traumatic effects of poverty and exposure to violence and abuse. He was also asked to address how these factors can and should influence treatment and sentencing.

The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office was required to supervise juvenile defense by the 2012 Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Justice and Shelby County.  A new, specially-trained unit of the public defender’s office began taking cases in Juvenile Court early this year. This marked the first time the public defender has been responsible for juvenile defense since the 1970s.

Screenshot 2014-10-16 01.03.38You can read more about the conference in this article from The Crime Report or by following #KidsCrimeJustice on Twitter.

You can also listen to Bush discuss the challenges and opportunities surrounding juvenile justice in Shelby County in this NPR report that aired in September.

 

Posted in #SeeJustice, Justice Partners, Justice Reform, Juvenile Justice, Media, Poverty, Public Defender's Office, Stephen Bush, Stephen C. Bush

JustCity Roundtable: Public Defenders as Reformers in the Wake of Ferguson

Less than a week after the recent unrest began in Ferguson, Missouri, a determined group of young public defenders released a scathing white paper that exposed the widespread unfairness and oppressive nature of the municipal courts in St. Louis County. In the days since, much has been made of a system that disproportionately burdens poor people of color with fines, costs and fees and has likely contributed to continuing protests in the St. Louis area.

Arch City Defenders Flyer #ferguson

Join us after work in Memphis’ first maker space at Forge Memphis as we interview Thomas Harvey about his work on this issue and some of the reforms that are underway.

We only have 50 seats available — so RSVP with this Eventbrite!

The Arch City Defenders opened for business five years ago when each of its three founding attorneys still had day jobs. Their mission was to serve the homeless community in St. Louis, many of whom were struggling under unrealistic financial burdens imposed by the now-infamous municipal court systems of St. Louis County. This unique, non-profit law firm has grown into several employees and now occupies its founders full-time in a client-centered practice funded by contracts with local governments, grants and donations. They are a 501(c)(3) organization.

When ACD released the white paper in August, they found themselves in the national spotlight. The paper details the gross inequities of the more than 80 municipal court systems in St. Louis County that collect fines and fees from the area’s poorest residents. Some of these municipalities depend on this revenue to fund as much as half of their operations including police departments.  As a result of this eye-opening research and years of work in these courts, the attorneys of the Arch City Defenders have been featured by Newsweek, NBC, NPR, MSNBC, Huffington Post and the paper has led to reforms within some of the municipal governments, including Ferguson.

This JustCity Roundtable is hosted by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office with generous support from Forge Memphis and the Assisi Foundation. The Roundtable is an occasional gathering of community leaders interested in leveraging the best ideas in criminal justice to improve our city.

Read more stories of justice on JustCity.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @DefendShelbyCo

To learn more about the Arch City Defenders, click this link.  To read the white paper, click here. To find out how the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has worked to combat similar issues in Memphis, read this JustCity.org blog post about the innovative Street Court program.

RSVP with Eventbrite! 

 

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in #SeeJustice, Justice Partners, Justice Reform, Outreach, Poverty, Public Defender's Office
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