More Than Just Poor

More Than Just Poor

I listened to the podcast of Broken Justice as they talked about how the justice system in failing for indigent people. As the 6th amendment goes, everyone has the right to a speedy trial and an attorney if you cannot afford one but that is just the opposite of what is going on in this country. Many indigent citizens are sitting in jail for days, months, weeks, and some cases years just waiting for trial simply because they cannot afford bail. Public defenders are working their hardest to try to get these people out of jail and to see their day in court but the public defenders are so back up on work they do not have the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to the cases. A lot of this backup is due to underfunding; Missouri is 49/50 according to reports of funding and is the one of the highest for incarceration rates. Of all felony charges public defenders handle 82% nation wide and in Missouri they handled 93%. Not enough lawyers and public defenders as Missouri had 380 workers handling 75,000 cases.

In the podcast some of the discriminations and inequality not just in Missouri, but also all over the country is how the indigent go through trial. District attorneys, prosecutors, and even those who are able to hire their own lawyer are treated differently than the indigent. In the podcast they had mentioned that you can sometimes and it is rare, that you could get your bail reduced for those who cant afford bail but the catch is, you need a lawyer for that. Therefore, coming back to the point of these people not having money to do that in the first place and not wanting to sit in jail waiting for a public defender and their day in court. In addition, some of the inequality comes in the courtroom as well. In my reading of the “Michigan Law Review Indigent” defense article that in the case of Cronic v. United States the defense attorney only had 25 days to prepare and the prosecution of U.S attorney already had 4.5 years preparing for this (Samantha Jaffe, 2017). The difference in the amount of time each side has to prepare wasn’t even close and is sad that in a fair statement, Cronic was already on the losing side from the beginning. Some people of the court don’t care either as in chapter three of Edelman’s book “Not a Crime to be Poor,” he states that Steinberg and Feige know that in some states judges have the option of setting a personal recognizance bond or an arrangement involving the signing of a promissory note rather than paying cash up front but they do not use that option (Edelman, 2017).

In class we have talked about the chronic underfunding that is going on that plays a huge role in failure of the indigent defense system. There are so many laws in place that seem to keep them in a constant cycle of debt. In the “Court Fees Create ‘Endless Cycle of Debt’ for poor” report shows that collection fees and interest that keeps accruing are trapping some defendants in an endless cycle of debt (The Crime Report, 2016). In chapter three of Edelman’s book is all about money bail and tells about the problems it creates and some solutions that aren’t really doing any good. New York wants to spend $18 million annually to triple the number of defendants under pretrial supervision instead of being in jail. This may seem like a good idea and had high praise but Steinberg and Feige said, “the proposal is a combination of expensive and unnecessary hurdles for the accused to jump over, with failure resulting in incarceration” (Edelman, 2017).

The event that happened in this podcast that shows just how bad the system works was a 21 year old, African American male was convicted of killing two men. His name is Ricky Kidd, he had a rock solid alibi, multiple people said he did not do it, and Ricky said he knew who did it and told his public defender and the police but after all of that he was still convicted, serving four life sentences with no chance of parole. After spending 23 years in jail he was finally exonerated and let out of jail but still faces many challenges coming back into the public. Sadly events like theses ones aren’t isolated events there are tons of other people just like Ricky. For example Kaleif Browder who was locked up for three years awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. Kaleif bail was set way to high for what he could afford and would not accept a plea deal for a crime he did not commit, while awaiting his trial he was abused by other inmates and guards and spend 2/3 years in solitary confinement and when he finally got out he tried to put his life back together but ended up committing suicide (Edelman, 2017).

I think others should listen to this broken justice podcast because you get to have a look into some people’s real lives and see the struggle that they are going through because I’m sure many other just like myself were not aware of these things going on and how bad is it. With such severe underfunding the indigent defense system needs help more of the attention that is brought up the more change that is going to happen. Just like the women who was cleaning herself up and found herself in over $11,000 in debt to the court system when wrote about in the New York Times Tulsa was embarrassed and dropped all charges (Edelman, 2017). Instead of making laws trying to hide and get rid of indigent people only making situations worse lawmakers should be trying to help them get back on there feet then many problems would be solved.


By: Rachel Garris




Broken Justice, Triage, 2020 NewHour Productions LLC.



Jaffe, S. (2017) Michigan Law Review Indigent defense article


The Crime Report. (2016). Court Fees Create ‘Endless Cycle of Debt’ for Poor



Edelman, P. (2017). Not a Crime to Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America. New York.

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