In response to a New York Times editorial on delays in Bronx courts, Thomas Giovanni weighs in with a letter to the editor, urging legislators to invest in public defenders, reclassify petty offenses and to end mass incarceration.
To the Editor:
The crisis facing the Bronx County Courthouse is a symptom of a deeper ailment: the failure of harsh “tough on crime” policies that have led to the mass incarceration of millions of people, disproportionately from poor African-American and Latino communities.
In 1963, when the Supreme Court expanded the right to counsel in Gideon v. Wainwright, there were 217,000 people in prison. Today, our country incarcerates about 2.3 million people. The criminal justice system, and specifically indigent defense, has not been financed to keep pace with this explosive growth.
The country should invest in courts and public defenders to protect the right of both crime victims and the accused to a speedy and fair trial. We should also analyze criminal laws to determine which petty offenses can be reclassified or removed without affecting public safety. Ending mass incarceration is the only way to fix a justice system stretched far beyond capacity.
New York, April 22, 2013
The writer is director of the Community-Oriented Defender Network at the Brennan Center for Justice.