My colleague Steven Scarborough writes this week about the launch of a new AV portfolio, Public Defense:
All of us have been told — thanks to the ubiquitous and decades-long syndication of “Law and Order” episodes — that what happens once someone is charged with a crime is that they talk to a lawyer. And if they can’t afford one, a public defender is assigned to their case. For too many people, though, the right to counsel guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment is just a television fantasy.
That was the case for Rudy Rivera, who spent nearly a year in solitary confinement in a federal private prison without counsel and awaiting an initial appearance before a judge. In some places, people accused of a crime must pay a public defender application fee that can range to $400 — the criminal justice equivalent of a poll tax.
For those who do get access to a public defender, their representation is often lacking. It’s hard to imagine the impossible situation most public defenders are placed in. They’re given too much to do with little support and chronically underfunded budgets. Their excessively large caseloads prevent them from properly attending to each client, there’s little training, and the system rewards rapidly processing cases over ensuring justice is achieved.
We’ve known for decades that our public defender systems need a serious overhaul, but there’s been little in the way of widescale reform.
This week, Arnold Ventures announced the launch of a new public defense portfolio, which you can read more about below, to expand access to quality and independent public defenders. This is an issue that goes to the core of our democracy and constitution. A system where only those with the means to hire a lawyer get a vigorous defense in court doesn’t correspond with the principles of equal protection under the law and due process taught in high school civics classes.
Properly valuing the work of public defenders wouldn’t just improve the lives of their clients, it would also benefit the wider criminal justice reform movement. Of all the people in a courtroom, they are the only ones who are specifically tasked with serving the defendant. As one of our grantees in this area, Jon Rapping of Gideon’s Promise, explained to me, “The most reform-minded judges and the most progressive prosecutors can't act on their most progressive instincts if they don't know anything about the human beings their decisions affect. This is only possible through public defenders, who are positioned to learn and tell those stories.”
— Steven Scarborough, Communications Manager
The Power of Public Defense
The case of Kenneth Humphrey, above, is a prime example of the power people hold when they have quality attorneys, like public defender Anita Nabha, representing them. Learn more about his landmark case.
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
In theory, everyone in the United States has a right to counsel when charged with a crime. In reality, public defense attorneys are routinely overworked and under-resourced — especially in comparison to their counterparts in prosecutors’ offices. That’s why Arnold Ventures is expanding efforts across the nation to improve access to counsel, quality of counsel, and independence of public defenders' offices.
“I think it’s significant that the right to counsel is articulated in our Bill of Rights,” said Rebecca Silber, AV's director of criminal justice. “It is fundamental to a legitimate criminal justice system that people who are prosecuted by the state have a lawyer to represent them to fight off those charges. When we fail to do that, our system is not functional, and it’s fundamentally against our values of justice and due process and fairness.”
What’s Happening: All too often our criminal justice system focuses more like a criminal process system. Defendants are sped through courts, their cases given little attention, and plea deals are extracted in a way that works to perpetuate racial disparities and expand mass incarceration.
“I say this with great reluctance, because I’ve been practicing law for 55 years and I’m proud of my profession, it’s a noble profession, but we have failed miserably. All of us,” said Stephen Hanlon, who has spent 50 years advocating for better public defense. “Not just public defenders, but judges, lawyers, bar disciplinary boards, state supreme courts, trial courts. We have become the principal facilitators of mass incarceration.”
Halon has been conducting state-by-state studies to help determine just how public defenders are overloaded with cases, and how court systems can better ensure that people received adequate counsel.
What’s Next: Local jurisdictions have been expanding their public defender offices to meet the challenge of the moment. Harris County — which includes the city of Houston — has built a robust public defense office that not only provides attorneys for people who can’t afford one, but also holistic services such as drug treatment, mental health, and housing. Alex Bunin, Harris County’s chief public defender, says those services are important to address the underlying problems that land people in court in the first place and stop the cycles of poverty that keep people entangled with the criminal justice system.
Related: Read three Q&As with people working on the ground to transform public defense to better serve clients and advance reform.
Bronx Defenders' holistic defense model is achieving better outcomes for clients and saving the public money. Read more.
Gideon’s Promise is working to ensure public defenders practice client-centered values. Read more.
The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University is conducting qualitative and quantitative research on the earliest stages of the criminal process. Read more.
The Unsung Heroes
of Drug Pricing Reform
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
While Congress remains locked in a high-profile debate about proposals to lower drug prices, a groundswell of legislative progress happened at the state level this year aimed at making prescription medications more affordable and accessible.
What's Happening: In 2021 alone, 20 states enacted 43 drug pricing laws, ranging from establishing prescription drug affordability boards (PDABs), limiting patients’ out-of-pocket insulin costs, regulating pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and requiring transparency from entities throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain.
In a new three-part analysis, my colleague Kirk Williamson examines the state successes amid growing demands by constituents for lower drug prices.
Why it Matters: The state progress is a powerful example of state lawmakers taking bold action, even amid stiff resistance from the pharmaceutical companies that flooded states with lobbying and advertising blitzes to thwart legislation. (They were not successful.) These efforts also align closely with the Biden administration’s drug pricing plan that calls on Congress to deliver bold and meaningful reforms that extend beyond state borders.
Bottom Line: “This year saw impressive gains in harnessing state power to control prescription drug prices. In 2022 and the years to come, state advocacy groups and policy makers will achieve new breakthroughs,” said AV’s Mark Miller, executive vice president of health care. “The health and well-being of the American people, and the fiscal solvency of state governments demand nothing less.”
Related:AARP offers personal stories about the human costs of high drug prices.
Related:Politifact debunks an ad that aims to derail Medicare drug price negotiations that would lower the cost of prescription drugs for Americans.
Police Reform Continues,
Even as Senate Fails
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
A much-anticipated police reform bill has come to a dead stop in the Senate after negotiations broke down between Democrats and Republicans. The murder of George Floyd and the killing of Breonna Taylor at the hands of those charged with protecting them invigorated a nationwide call for reform, but much-needed and widely supported policies were unable to bridge the partisan divide. However, bipartisan action for accountable and transparent policing is still progressing at the state level, and the White House is using executive authority to incentivize reform.
What’s Happening: Even as Congress stalls out, states like Illinois, Washington, and Maryland have passed their own significant police reform bills. North Carolina also recently passed bipartisan legislation signed by Gov. Roy Cooper. And we’re also seeing the White House implement changes to federal law enforcement agencies, such as recent restrictions on the use of chokeholds and no-knock entries.
What’s Next: More states need to catch up to the new high bar in police accountability. To help local lawmakers reach this standard, the Policing Project at NYU School of Law has crafted model legislation on issues ranging from use of force to data collection and transparency, to decertification of officers who commit misconduct. So far this year, the National Conference of State Legislatures database on policing reform has tracked nearly 2,400 proposed bills and executive orders.
Meanwhile, the executive branch can use its own authority through Department of Justice grants and federal monitors to promote accountability and transparency in the 18,000 various policing agencies across the country. The White House can also use its direct control over federal law enforcement agencies to enact further reform policies that will hold agents accountable for bad behavior while also setting an example for local police.
Total compensation in 2020 for Big Pharma CEOs who are lobbying against proposals to lower the prices of prescription drugs for Americans, according to a new data set released by Patients For Affordable Drugs Now in response to this letter from pharmaceutical executives to Congress.
Average CEO compensation in 2020 was $12.5 million, or 185 times that of the average American household.
“This is a level of depravity and inhumanity that is really shocking,” Corey Stoughton of the Legal Aid Society tells New York Magazine about the deteriorating situation on Rikers Island. She discusses what she’s heard from her clients, the skyrocketing population, and the state and city response to the crisis. Dive Deeper: The Center for Court Innovation offers a roadmap for closing the notorious jail.
Related: The hearing of a homeless man accused of stealing blankets illustrates how prosecutors and judges keep trying to send people to the notorious Rikers Island jail, The Intercept reports.
Related: Slate’s Marry Harris talks to New York Times reporter Jan Ransom about the worsening conditions at Rikers in this visceral episode of the “What Next” podcast. “Everyone I talk to says it’s never been this bad.”
There’s a “shameful” willful ignorance in our nation’s lack of solid research and data on America’s gun violence epidemic, argues Bloomberg’s Editorial Board as it calls for “objective research that can shed light on shared goals.” Here’s a place to start: A new report shows closing the gun violence information gap will require a federal investment of $600 million over five years.
Another example of the devastating effects of solitary confinement: Mental illness exacerbated while in isolation landed a group of men incarcerated in Illinois an additional 842 years behind bars, collectively, WBEZ reports.
The Atlantic asks: Should we be thinking about the data released in the FBI’s “Uniform Crime Report” for 2020 as a violence wave rather than a crime wave? “The rise in violence in 2020 appears to be almost entirely a rise in gun violence, rather than a more general increase in all forms of crime,” Princeton sociologist Patrick Sharkey says. Also, here is a good thread from RAND’s Andrew Morral on this wake-up call on firearms violence.
Sheriff’s deputies in California’s Antelope Valley are disproportionately citing Black teens, often for minor infractions, reports ProPublica in this explosive piece. “They’re turning the principal’s office into the police station.”
A Texas man’s COVID testing cost more than a Tesla, Kaiser Health News reports. “People are going to charge what they think they can get away with.”
Route-Fifty examines how the opioid crisis plays out differently in communities across the U.S., looking at new research that highlights which communities are most at risk for opioid overdose deaths and in need of services.
In a new report, the Coalition to Expand Contraceptive Access offers recommendations on research to support contraceptive access, health care delivery infrastructure, and innovation.
A groundbreaking paper in Brookings from Lesley Turner and Cody Christensen shows how community colleges might improve outcomes and strengthen equity by expanding access to programs of study that result in better earnings and loan repayment, like nursing.
Children today will experience more extreme heatwaves and climate disasters than their grandparents, The Guardian reports. My colleague Walter Katz has a good thread on what this means for public safety.
I have written in this newsletter before about legal icon Pauli Murray, and this weekend I’ll be watching the documentary that explores their extraordinary life and contributions to the civil rights and gender equality movements. “My Name is Pauli Murray” dropped today on Amazon. It’s directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, who learned about Murray — poet, author, priest, professor, California's first Black deputy attorney general, and co-founder of the National Organization for Women — while making their award-winning documentary “RBG.” (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg credited Murray in a 1971 women's rights brief.) Learn more about Murray and the film in this IndieWire review and this Strict Scrutiny podcast discussion.
The founders of the 19th*, Amanda Zamora and Emily Ramshaw, talk to the Crosscut Talks podcast about their nonprofit newsroom and its focus on gender politics and policy. The 19th* puts out some of the most compelling stories in journalism today, many of which you have seen in this newsletter. They discuss the impetus of their idea for a gender-focused news organization, lessons they have learned in the first year, and the future of journalism.
My colleague Evan Mintz recently wrote about the debunked story of a San Diego sheriff’s deputy allegedly overdosing on fentanyl and how such flawed reporting perpetuates bad policing. But this was not a one-off: The narrative of police around the country claiming to overdose on fentanyl merely from handling the drug has been around for years. The Politics of Everything podcast goes deep on the phenomenon in a discussion that explores the real-world consequences of such narratives to both people who use drugs and the officers who face real-world dangers every day.
As my boss says, if dogs aren’t your thing, this won’t make sense to you. But she’s a dog-mom to a redbone coonhound and a Plott hound, so this Guiness Book of World Records news was the unexpected joy she needed this week.
If you have not seen this viral video of a Florida hero trapping an alligator in a trash can, stop what you’re doing and watch it now. I am in awe.
The Higher Education team seeks grant applications to build the evidence base on effective student support strategies for students enrolled in online postsecondary programs, either fully-online or in hybrid modalities. Respondents can read the RFP; school or program letters of interest are welcomed until Oct. 11.
The Complex Care team is funding research into how to improve the systems that deliver care to a population of more than 12 million people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Learn more here.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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