Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Unique... but not really

We've mentioned this before but every time it comes up, it's worth contemplating how truly stupid this is.
Louisiana funds its public defenders in a way that no other state in the country does. The bulk of the public defenders funding comes from court fees assessed on defendants when they plead guilty or lose a case.

Most of these fees come from people admitting to traffic violations. And far fewer traffic tickets are being written in Louisiana than just a few years ago.

Local law enforcement is also steering more people toward community service and drug rehabilitation programs, instead of going through the court system. Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton said he supports these diversion programs, but it means less money for his office.
Fewer traffic violations. Small time drug offenses being steered away from the punitive criminal track.  These are desirable outcomes. They shouldn't doom the system.

Also, it may be a unique way for a state to fund its public defenders' offices. But similar perverse incentives show up in criminal justice throughout the country.  It was one of the key issues leading to the unrest in Ferguson, MO and, in turn, the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the report noted, from 2012 to 2014 African Americans accounted for “85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.” Tickets mean money for the city — in 2013, municipal court fines were Ferguson’s second highest source, the bulk of which were leveled against African Americans.

“Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” the report stated. “This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community.”
So.. not optimal there, or here, or in a lot of places, actually.  So, in a very narrow Louisiana specific sense, some offices have a budget problem. But, in a wider sense, the whole system has a moral corruption problem.

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