The right to an attorney is a fundamental principle which has been guaranteed to American citizens through the Bill of Rights. The denying of the right to counsel is not only unconstitutional, but immoral.
Most Americans know of their right to an attorney from TV and movies. The iconic line of the Miranda Rights is always spoken by officers. “You have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided to you.” Characters of fiction are readily given these rights so it’s hard to imagine that real people are being denied this right in the state of Louisiana.
What's to blame for this? Insolvency. The state of Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the United States, is currently in a financial crisis. Budgets have been slashed all over the state in the past few years, leaving the Louisiana legal system in shambles.
According to many in Louisiana, the source of this problem is the dangerous budgets that were passed by former governor and former Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. Jindal gained media attention when he ascended to the governorship at the tender age of 36. He would spearhead an economic policy which would give historic tax cuts to businesses. With not enough state revenue to pay for the tax cuts, Louisiana is currently in a debt crisis, and its citizens are paying the price.
Twenty-four of 42 local Louisiana public defender's offices will be forced to close in the coming months. These offices serve the over 250,000 people that are arrested in Louisiana each year. This unconscionable act has brought a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the Orleans Public Defenders office.
The sorry state of the Louisiana justice system has gained the ire of respected legal minds from all over the country including Cardozo Law Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, who was quoted as saying in a Louisiana court, "To call this a 'justice system' is really a misnomer.”
Prisons are big business in the United States. For-profit prisons have increased over the years and they need inmates in order to stay in business. For private prisons each inmate is worth $24.39 a day, and according to State records a disproportionate number of those inmates are Black.
This isn't just a problem for adults. Juvenile African-Americans made up about 80 percent of the juvenile arrests in the state during the 2013-2014 school year. If the prison business comes at a cost, African-Americans are paying the price.
(Photo: 2/Doug Berry/Ocean/Corbis)