Mandatory sentencing system that has been practiced since 1987 is widely discussed today because its ineffectiveness is becoming more and more obvious in the context of the latest research and legislation’s transformations. Inadequate punishments result in the defendant’s need to seek for the attorney, and when the client cannot afford a private attorney, public defenders are needed. Most of low-income Americans and ethnic minorities cannot pay for own attorney, that is why they ask public defenders for help, though this help is not always effective and adequate. This paper is aimed to discuss this mandatory sentencing policy’s as well as public defenders policy’s limitations and to offer the solutions based on the street-level-bureaucrat vision. The best solution is to increase investment in public defense system and to improve legislation regarding mandatory sentences.
Contemporary researchers face ridiculousness of mandatory sentencing because they do not allow considering important circumstances of the case and making appropriate decisions accordingly. For instance, according to mandatory sentencing policy minimum regarding drug offences, the weight and the type of drug determines the punishment and does not allow the judge taking into account the offender’s role in the crime. There is a variety of cases, when two participants of the crime took different roles in it: one of them was low-offender, other was high-offender. They received equal sentences despite differences in the degree of participation, though there are cases when low-offender was given more years of sentencing that high-offender. In addition, mandatory sentencing destroys the line between those, who are involved in crime for the first time as low-offenders and those, whose criminal activity is long and damaging. It means that criminal justice system ignores individual’s participation of degree, making it impossible to reach fair punishment for all the participants of the crime. It witnesses the crisis of criminal justice system because it is not capable of being just. In turn, it leads to distrust of people who are involved in it, as they understand how absurd mandatory system is. Moreover, this leads to public’s disbelief in rationality, fairness and effectiveness of power authorities and institutions that support mandatory sentencing. People witness negative consequences of mandatory policy and feel impotent to stand on their position, as the voice of rationality and utility is completely ignored when it comes to mandatory sentencing.
Mandatory sentencing is a remain of old policies that are not supported today: previous laws were aimed to make people afraid of punishment to disturb them from involving in illegal activities. Instead of exploring the true reasons of criminal behaviors and offences, the policy makers tried to make people be afraid of own laws that are strict and unfair. However, current criminal policy trends demonstrate shift to new approach to criminal behaviors, which means that the strategy directed on punishment and fear is recognized to be ineffective. More and more specialists of different fields of criminal justice face that orientation on punishment served previous ideology that attempted to repress people to set law and order. However, in fact, establishing mandatory sentences criminal justice system represses itself because overcrowded prisons make the issue of mandatory sentences not only judicial and political, but also financial. For example, mandatory sentencing ignores the principle of cost- effectiveness. As a result of this policy, the taxpayers’ money are spent on maintenance and building of prisons. Another aspect of mandatory sentencing is that much human resources are lost, because young people have to sit in jail instead of making money. There is a variety of stories, in which it is obvious that the punishment via incarceration breaks families and spoils individual’s entire life, giving them no chances to equal employment and education. Thus, those who pass through incarceration are marginalized and disturb from normal social life. These people are usually involved in other criminal behaviors further, because they are not given opportunities to live and earn legally. They become socially passive, unwilling to be active citizens and losing their trust to criminal justice and the entire judicial system. Thus, mandatory sentencing is a remain of old ideology that is disapproved today, therefore, mandatory approach should be removed from current progressive criminal policy strategies.
Public defense system is criminal justice policy, based on the 6th Amendment: “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense”.
According the Constitution, this policy is aimed to provide assistance to those, who cannot afford hiring the private attorney, which means to provide equal access to justice. However, when it comes to implementation of this policy, many problems regarding cost- effectiveness and utility occur. For instance, in 2011 it was reported that the public defenders have too many cases and too little time, they are not paid enough and they do not reach positive results. This report states that “73 percent of county-based public defender offices lacked the requisite number of attorneys to meet caseload standards; 23 percent of these offices had less than half of the necessary attorneys to meet caseload standards”. The result of such implementation is shortage of resources and lack of quality defense, which means that people do not receive protection, guaranteed by the 6th Amendment, mentioned above. To improve the situation, the government should increase investment in this policy, because those, who try to save money on the costs of citizens’ defense usually get incarceration, loss of human resources and lack of opportunities to build healthy communities.
For instance, Tina Peng is a public defender, who claims that he has no opportunity to provide her clients with quality conceal. The problem is that statewide budget cut resulted in a million-dollar deficit that broke the public defenders from the Orleans. The staff witnesses increased caseloads, hiring freeze and unpaid weeks. She claims the following: “our office represents 85% of the people charged with crimes in Orleans Parish but has an annual budget about a third the size of the district attorney’s”. According to above-mentioned national standards, public defenders should not take more than 150 felony cases per hear, however, Peng has doubled that in 2014. Though the U.S. is less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. population accounts for 25% of the world’s prison population. The statistics witnesses that in 2007 public defenders received around 5,5 million cases because from 60% to 90% of criminal defendants cannot afford the private attorney. I think that it is worth agreeing with Peng’s position on the significance of public defenders’ appropriate budgeting: it will solve problems regarding incarceration expenses, fair treatment to disenfranchised citizens and to push back the issues of police misconduct.
The consequence of unwise criminal justice system is that public offender must spend more hours at work, take more clients, lack time to work with the clients, which results in disability to provide quality investigation that leads to the client’s suffering. Due to limited visitation hours, it is almost impossible to see the clients before the court. Once Peng’s co-worker had so many cases, that he could not open new client’s case for a month, when the court’s date approached. The case simply and the judge released the client, however the client could not see his newborn baby because the attorney did not look at the case for a month. This is the example of how ineffective public defense system makes people suffer.
It is worth viewing these issues from street-level bureaucrat perspective, though the holistic understanding demands viewing the problems from the position of both the citizens and power authorities. For instance, when it comes to the mandatory sentences, the police officer who reported the crime that is currently discussed at the court understands that sentencing without consideration of the offender’s role is ridiculous. However, the police officer can do nothing to help, as the law must be obeyed. Thus, bottom-up perspective of the mandatory sentencing and public defense issue is stating that there is lack of sources for the street-level bureaucrat. However, on the other hand, police officer may use his discretion and ignore the fact that crime has occurred, but it is illegal activity. The public defender as a street-level bureaucrat lacks opportunity to implement the principles of equality and justice because the public defender has no competencies to make changes to legislation.
Another problem, associated with public defense policy is that the system does not work because the defenders are overloaded with cases, but the accused individuals would not have to look for a lawyer in criminal cases if the punishments were adequate. There is tight connection between two above-mentioned policies: they are the periods of the cycle, which may be called a waste of time and money. For example, low-offenders who are involved in illegal drugs activity would not be incarcerated without mandatory sentencing lows, which are making them seek for the public defender to avoid ridiculous sentences. But public defenders are overloaded with cases, which means that they have no opportunity to make throughout investigations, therefore, some cases are lost and innocent people come to jail. Thus, street-level bureaucrat faces lack of integrated approach or principle, which could provide effectiveness and fairness of criminal justice system.
For example, Tracy Velazquez agrees that American public’s defense system should be provided with more sources: when we fail to invest in quality defense, we pay greater costs down the road – the costs of more incarceration, less public safety and fewer resources to build healthier communities. Many people serve longer and unnecessary sentences, but they would not have to do it if they received timely and quality protection. Tracy Velezquez adds that for every $1 we spend on public defense, we are currently spending nearly $14 on corrections.
Current public defense system does not fit initial standards and recommendations regarding the quantity of the lawyers and the quantity of the cases they get. According to the national standards, public defenders should handle less than 150 felony, 200 mental health, 200 juvenile, 400 misdemeanor or 25 appeals per year. However, only 12 percent of American public defender offices do not have enough lawyers to meet these standards. Around 60% of public defend offices either have no authority to refuse from excessive cases, or have no caseload limits.
Though American people are guaranteed with a right to counsel, they have no adequate and quality counsel. Kate Taylor, for example, calls the number of cases that must be handled by public defenders is unrealistic, unfair and leading to disaster that makes a fair trial impossible. Nevertheless, there are public defense offices such as the D.C. Public Defender Services and the Bronx Defenders, that apply innovative strategies to improve the quality and quantity indexes of public defense. This proves that public defense systems may be successful, therefore, local and federal governments should take into account the experience of above-mentioned institutions to ensure justice and improve services’ effectiveness.
Essentially, it is the best way to increase budgeting of public defense field, but it is not easy to reach it. Therefore, some minor changes that could sufficiently improve the quality of defense should be considered. For example, to make it easier for attorneys to communicate with the clients, who are in jail, the visiting policies of jails should be reviewed and transformed. As the public defenders spend much time to rich the witnesses to investigate the case, social workers may be hired to assist the,. For instance, public defenders could same much time if their assistance could reach some witnesses, discuss the dates of meetings and collect some data. The punishments regarding incarceration of mentally ill people or people with drug addiction should also be improved.
In conclusion, current situation of mandatory sentencing policy and public defense system is rather problematic. These policies are ineffective and ridiculous, as they result in people’s suffering and waste of money. The solutions offered in this paper are directed on re-directing the expenses from prisons’ maintenance to public defenders’ offices. Some minor transformations that could contribute to situation’s improvement are connected with making visiting laws more flexible, as well as with hiring social workers who would assist public defenders. Though current policies are ineffective and inadequate, power authorities should follow successful institutions, such as Bronx’ office to improve client’s service.
Though many professionals in the fields of criminal justice, law, social work, politics and economics are currently involved in criminal justice system improvements, I think that I am also able to contribute to justice in the U.S. despite little experience. Studies gave me opportunity to explore a variety of disciplines, related to criminal justice, so theoretical background will help me to weight the arguments during decision making and to apply this knowledge in daily practice. I am inspired by what I have already seen in the Dearborn Police Department, and I am looking forward to discovering new aspects of my profession. I am sure that the criminal justice system may benefit from my interests in professional self-improvement, as I am willing to work as hard as I can to make life in this city better, even if it sounds naïve. People who have been working in the Police Departments for many years treat daily duties as a routine, however, this ‘routine’ seems to me to be full of adventures, chances and impressions. I am a responsible person that has enough patience and enthusiasm to make the criminal justice system better day by day via offering quality service and reliable protection to our citizens.