A recent investigation by The Marshall Project and Politico has cast light on a counter-intuitive trend among small-government conservative state lawmakers. Many deep-red states have been successful at reforming their public defender systems. We should probably say, “moderately successful”—that counts as progress in the notoriously unequal world of public defense.
In 1963, the Supreme Court decision Gideon v Wainwright mandated that states supply poor defendants with free counsel in accordance with the sixth amendment. However, the Court and the rest of the federal government have never fully funded this mandate, leaving it up to often cash-strapped and politically unmotivated states and counties.
The investigation, led by Marshall Project journalist Alysia Santo, focuses on the work of David Carroll, a long-time public defense reform advocate and head of the Sixth Amendment Center. He and other have been working with conservative, often hard-right, state lawmakers to reform public defense systems around the country. Their work highlights a paradox—public defense, with its attendant racial disparities, is often seen as a liberal cause and a classic case of big government spending, but it is red states that have gone the farthest in actually reforming their own systems.
KBOO reporter Sam Bouman spoke to Alysia Santo this afternoon for more.