ABC news is reporting on our local crisis, as well as the financial problems facing public defenders in Kentucky and Minnesota.
Defense attorneys tend to get a bad rap from the angry public. Public defenders, at least in my own experience, tend to get somewhat more respect, at least so far as comments on our personal integrity goes. (Although I always field questions about "how can I do that for a living?") Oddly enough, stick a traffic ticket in someone's hand and they can't wait to treat a public defender like the local librarian - "Can you help me with this or that/What can I do/What should I say to the judge?" Can you imagine, dear reader, if instead of a traffic ticket's fines you were looking at a portion of your life in jail, plus all the attendant costs that entails?
The really odd thing about the situation, odd because no one is really talking about it, is that we're looking at a failure of leadership in this country. Bad choices (more war/less taxes/less social programs) lead to bad economies. Bad economies lead to (in our secular and materialistic society) incredible social pressures. Those pressures lead to crimes. The legislatures try to curb crimes by criminalizing more and more activity and stiffening the penalty. That leads to more and more arrests, which leads to more and more defendants. It's a vicious cycle that has resulted in the US being the world's leading jailer of its people. The bottom line is that the upper crust in the country can't keep taking financially, and we can't keep holding onto puritanical laws.
If, as a people, we're serious about controlling crime, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy, hunger, and the host of social ills we face, we need to strengthen our communities, create work, fund projects, better educate our children (and our neighbors' children), and jettison our conspicuously-consuming attitude in favor of a more creatively engaged and tolerant interaction with our fellow citizens. All that takes time, money, and (perhaps most difficult for us and thus also the most demeritorius) simple hard thought about who we are and what we want to accomplish as a culture.
In the meantime, we'll be sending out heavily armed police officers to arrest our young people for smoking the occasional joint. And our politicians will keep saying that we need to tighten our belts, suck up budget cuts, let our kids go without teachers and our accused (that's potentially you, dear reader, your children) twist in the wind without a legal counselor who can spend a proper amount of time on their cases.