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September 10, 2015

Notable passages showing Bill Otis sometimes agrees with criminal defense perspectives

I make Crime & Consequences a daily read because all the blog's contributors consistently make forceful and interesting points about crime and punishment.  Though I disagree with some perspectives (and especially some of the rhetorical flourishes) expressed at C&C, I especially appreciate efforts made by the C&C commentators to be thoughtful and forthright in expressing their views.  And, especially because I sometimes use this space to take on contentions made by Bill Otis, a few passages in a couple of recent posts have made me eager to spotlight Bill's embrace of positions (and funding commitments) typically associated with criminal defense attorneys rather than prosecutors.

For one example, on the topic of offender rehabilitation, Bill a few weeks ago had this post titled "Rehab Flops" noting this recent study about programming that made significant investment in employment-focused prisoner re-entry programs but resulted in "program group members [being] no less likely to have been convicted of a crime or incarcerated than control group members."  In reaction, Bill made these notable points (with my emphasis added):

First, genuine rehabilitation cannot come from a government program. It has to come from the inmate's heart. Once he decides he wants to change the way he deals with the world, he has a chance. Until then, he doesn't. The government is simply not wise enough to know how to make the fundamental change true rehabilitation requires, and I (for one) wouldn't want a government powerful enough to try.

Second, we should nonetheless increase our spending on rehab. The chances are low but the stakes are high. Almost every prisoner returns to civil society.  For his sake and for ours, every effort should be made to give him the best shot we can, even knowing the chances are poor.

For another example, on the topic of defense representation, Bill yesterday had this this post titled "Shocking Report: Defense Lawyers Find that Defense Lawyers Should Get More Money" noting the new NACDL report on federal indigent criminal defense discussed here.  Notwithstanding the snarky title of his post, Bill added this commentary that should warm the hearts of the authors of this report:

How to put an honest assessment of this "report?"  It's true.
 
Sorry to disappoint those waiting for the acid to be poured, but indigent defense counsel actually do deserve better pay and more resources.  (So do federal prosecutors, but that's another post).
 
I was an AUSA for 18 years, and it was my experience that federal defenders are underpaid for the quality of work they do.  They may be significantly underpaid....
 
Temperament varied quite a bit.  Some were there to insure the client got his rights protected and the government got put to its proof.  Some were there because they thought of the client as the Little Guy, the man who never had much of a chance in life.  Some were there because they had been fighting with authority figures since fifth grade.  And some were there because they thought you, the prosecutor, were a poorly disguised Nazi, and were happy to let you know it in every single court appearance.
 
Still, for whatever the attitude, the quality of representation ranged from plainly adequate to outstanding. They put in long hours.  In private practice, they would have made much more.
 
There is an unpleasant truth that we, as taxpayers, need to understand:  Justice isn't cheap.  This applies to the death penalty, incarceration, (attempts at) rehabilitation, and salaries for prosecutors and defenders.  If you want quality, sooner or later you have to pay for it.
 
The NACDL is right.  It's time to increase the compensation of defense lawyers.   

September 10, 2015 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

Comments

The difficulty is that American's don't want justice--they want whatever it takes to make the problem go away so they can get on with what they perceive to be more important things in life, like hooking up with people on Ashely Madison.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 10, 2015 11:09:49 AM

Rehabilitation is quackery.

By law, in Pennsylvania, public defenders must have the same salary as equivalent prosecutors.

Biggest problem for both? They are at will employees and too easily bullied by their political hack bosses.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 10, 2015 1:06:05 PM

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