This week in Davenport we held a tea with guest Steven Bright who is an advocate of Criminal Justice reform in the South.
During this tea he affirmed that courts of profit cannot also be courts of justice, often certain courts operate without lawyers even. He recounted many stories of the cases he worked with including one of a man who burned leaves in his yard, was arrested, and fined $500. This man was allowed to pay installments because he couldn’t pay full lump sum but, had to be on probation during that time. A private probation facility costs $40 per month and when Bright found him he owed over $600 on a $500 fine.
Many of the people Bright is fighting for stay in jail for weeks at a time because they lack access to lawyers. Some offered release only for a guilty plea.
Another case Bright worked on was about a women’s husband who died because she was held in jail without a conviction and couldn’t drive him to dialysis. The system is the punishment in some cases. In hers, her conviction was thrown out but only after she missed her husband’s funeral.
95% of all prosecutors in the country are white men. The discretionary decisions after the arrest may lead to the accused receiving the death penalty and the demographics of the prosecutors creates an inherent bias in the use of the death penalty. This is why certain counties can have super high rates of death penalty charges compared to others.
Counties like Harrison county Texas (Houston) have more death penalty charges than any other county in the states. There’s a lethal combination of an aggressive prosecutor’s office and a terrible public defendant’s office.
Rows of black men are often paraded into the Courthouse and told at the same time to plead guilty. Bright is quoted as saying, “It’s like a slave ship has been parked outside the courthouse. People are being processed like hamburgers at McDonalds”
Bright gave lasting advice that “Our lives are not our own. They belong to people that need us desperately.”