Over the past decade, there has been an increased public awareness that sex trafficking survivors are being arrested and prosecuted for prostitution. Accordingly, many jurisdictions have opened specialty courts for these survivors. This is progress, but in the grand scheme of things, we have only scratched the surface of the problem.
On July 6, Jeffrey Epstein was arrested and taken into federal custody on multiple sex trafficking charges. In some ways, the Epstein saga runs the risk of reinforcing dangerous stereotypes about human trafficking in the US: If we expect all trafficking victims to be blond haired, blue eyed girls under the age of 18, we will overlook the vast majority of survivors. Survivors of human trafficking (meaning both labor and sex trafficking) are migrant laborers, restaurant workers, and housekeepers. They are men, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming. They are all ages and all races. And their stories are complex.
Last month, California congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act. If passed, the bill would create a $250 million grant program aiming to establish workload limits for public defenders and pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors. The bill would also authorize $5 million to provide training to public defenders.
In 2014, Tracey Jones celebrated ten years working at the same daycare center. There is no question that Tracey is meant to work with children. Walk down Courtlandt Avenue with her, and you will hear kids yelling, “Hi, Miss Tracey!” When she hears the greeting, she stops what she’s doing and opens her arms. She scoops them up, remembers their names, the last time she babysat them, and in a few cases, the last time she babysat their parents.
Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow: “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”
February is Black History Month. It’s a time for everyone to reflect on the legacy of progress that black leaders have left throughout history in the fight for liberation, equitable treatment, and empowerment. It is also a time for white allies to examine what they could be doing better to interrupt their own racism and that of others, what it means to support black leadership, and how our nation’s policies continue to oppress black lives. And indeed, it is a time for white allies to heed Alexander’s call to re-examine the role of the criminal legal system in society.
When you think of the West Bank, your first thought is likely not the right to counsel. Some people are surprised to hear that Palestine has a self-sufficient legal system at all, let alone a constitutionally-mandated right to an attorney for all criminally accused. Ensuring access to legal representation is critical to protecting due process, human rights, and justice, especially in historically tumultuous places like the West Bank. Institutionalizing constitutional protections as the Palestinian legal system develops and changes will ensure that best practices are embedded into its very foundation.
This March, the Right to Counsel National Campaign (R2C) has embraced the 55th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright as an opportunity to reflect on what quality public defense looks like, the impact it has on individual clients’ lives, and the work that needs to be done to fully realize the intent of the Gideon decision.
“No touching!” the corrections officer yelled at me, pointing at my outstretched hand as I sat down in the attorney interview room across from my client Raphael. “Oh right, sorry!” I snatched my hand away quickly. In my first year as a public defender, I had a hard time “un-learning” my natural instincts about how human interaction should work. On this occasion, I was meeting with Raphael at Rikers Island to interview him for a letter I was writing to the judge about why she should give Raphael a shorter jail sentence for his heroin possession case than the DA was recommending. Continue reading “Revolutionary Empathy”
Last month, I traveled with my staff to lead a three-day site visit in a Missouri district located about two hours northeast of Kansas City. Driving past acres of amber waves of grains, I was drawn to the rural landscape. I was delighted by murals dotting the town of Chillicothe, immortalizing their claim as “The Home of Sliced Bread,” and I marveled at Linn County’s turn-of-the-century courthouse. As an outsider in a community that was so different from my own, I couldn’t help but reflect on the vast and rich diversity of our country.