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March 11, 2023

Highlighting notable new Inquest essays looking "Beyond Gideon"

I continue to struggle to find time to keep up with all the commentaries posted at Inquest.  As regular readers know from my prior postings, Inquest bills itself as "a decarceral brainstorm," and it keeps churning out a wide array of essays on a wide array of criminal justice topics.  For example, a few weeks ago, a new essay by Jared Mollenkof focused on a new local prosecutor: " A Prosecutor’s Decarceral Potential: A new Minneapolis-area county attorney won’t end mass incarceration. But she has the chance to cause less harm and promote healing."

Capturing my attention this morning is a new Inquest series titled "Beyond Gideon," which is described as a "collection of essays examining how — or whether — public defenders can meaningfully contribute to the end of mass incarceration."  Here is part of how the series is set up here:

In the struggle against the harms of the carceral state, Inquest recognizes the limits of the public defense system — and of other actors in the criminal legal system.  Yet we also recognize that public defenders, by being among the closest to the people and communities harmed by mass incarceration, have a valuable role in working toward a world without it.  By running for office, advocating for decarceral legislation, and getting the attention of the Supreme Court, public defenders can — and do — fight for change.

Beyond Gideon is our attempt to broaden this lens.  In this series, we address questions about the role of public defense in challenging mass incarceration, and the conversations required to move that work forward.

We open with a reading list of archival essays examining how public defenders fit in the current system.  Over the next two weeks, in recognition of the sixtieth anniversary of the Gideon ruling, we will add a five-part series of new essays from people invested in thinking through the role of public defenders in bringing about a decarceral future.

There are two new essays already now available on the Inquest site, and here are the titles and links:

By Premal Dharia, "Gideon Turns Sixty: The Court’s decision must not preempt questions about the role public defenders can play in ending mass incarceration."

By Alexis Hoag-Fordjour, "Choice of Counsel: People assigned a public defender are the only ones deprived of the right to choose their lawyer.  This often intersects disastrously with racial bias."

March 11, 2023 at 12:29 PM | Permalink


1. We don't have mass incarceration. The claim that we do is a point-blank lie.

2. Such incarceration as we have has been going down for at least eight years (as, in an amazing coincidence, crime has been going up).

3. The best way by far to reduce incarceration is for people thinking about committing crime to think again and desist. That, of course, is the one thing the authors don't mention, because it's never the criminal's fault, it's only everyone else's fault.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 11, 2023 1:21:54 PM

There's the Bill I missed so much. Hi Bill.

That said, "Choice of Counsel" was a stunningly racist post. The premise is that black defendants should not only be entitled to competent counsel, but choice of counsel of their own race, as black defendants shouldn't be forced to suffer competent representation by a white lawyer with inherent white bias.

Posted by: shg | Mar 11, 2023 3:56:46 PM

shg --

Might I ask which of my three points you think is incorrect, and why?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 11, 2023 4:05:48 PM

shg --

Still, now that you're here where posting links is permitted, I think you might largely agree with my take on the cyrpto-fascist shouting down of a federal circuit judge at my alma mater, Stanford Law School, two days ago.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 11, 2023 4:29:57 PM

Bill, I think one thing we on the "protect innocent victims from the predation of thugs" side need to do is internalize people's natural revulsion against stiff sentences that may or may not be deserved. There's always the siren song (parroted often by people who should know better) of the be nice crowd. We need to view a prison bed as a scarce resource that should be used appropriately. We need to constantly update people that many criminals do what they do for a living. That risk allocation is a thing and that we cannot trust judges to issue appropriate sentences.

These siren-song musicians prey on the low-information of the average citizen (who, you know, is getting up every day and putting food on the table) and the average citizen's good heart.

Many many defendants have records as long as my arm. And that means that they were not dealt with appropriately in previous cases. Dr. Petit can tell you that.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 14, 2023 12:22:51 PM

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