Saving by Investing in Civil Legal Aid

Kara is a single parent with two children. She works full-time, but still makes less than $1,500 each month. Kara’s boyfriend Jay, the father of one of Kara’s two children, lives with her, but does not always contribute to the household. In addition, he’s physically abusive to the family cat and to Kara. After the most recent incident where Jay pushed Kara into the wall and grabbed her arm so hard he left a bruise, Kara wants him to leave. And she wants a restraining order. But knowing who to call and where to go—and, most of all, how to pay for services she’ll need—is overwhelming her. If Kara lives in a state that invests in civil legal aid, she’ll have no problem finding resources and will be able to have a lawyer represent her—at little to no cost to her—at any court hearing she needs to get a domestic violence injunction.

While Kara’s story is merely illustrative—though many people experience circumstances like Kara’s every day—its larger point is important. Civil legal aid is a combination of services and resources that helps Americans of all backgrounds—including those who face the toughest legal challenges: children, veterans, seniors, ill or disabled people, and victims of domestic violence—to effectively navigate the justice system. Civil legal aid helps ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of one’s ability to pay. It provides access to legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Civil legal aid makes it easier to access information through court forms; legal assistance or representation; and legal self-help centers. Civil legal aid also helps streamline the court system and cuts down on court and other public costs. When we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we close with “justice for all.” We need civil legal aid to ensure that the very principle our founders envisioned remains alive: justice for all, not the few who can afford it.

Our state has had a rocky history of funding civil legal aid programs. While the state did begin such funding, of late, that funding has since dropped precipitously. In 2007, for the first time in Wisconsin history, the legislature included nearly $2 million in the state budget for civil legal aid. In 2009, the funding was increased to just over $2.5 million. But in 2011, the funding was eliminated completely from the state budget. From 2012-2015, Wisconsin was one of just three states that did not provide any funding for civil legal aid for low income people. (The other two are Florida and Idaho.) (more…)

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Juvenile Court or Adult? New Research on the Consequences of the Decision

Juvenile courts were invented at the end of the nineteenth century and spread rapidly across the U.S. Proponents argued that juvenile offenders were more readily rehabilitated than adults, and should be handled through a different court system that focused on treatment and spared offenders the permanent stigma of a criminal conviction. By the 1990s, though, attitudes toward juvenile offenders had grown more pessimistic and punitive. Although juvenile courts were not eliminated, most states adopted reforms that either reduced the maximum age for juvenile court jurisdiction or facilitated the transfer of some juveniles to adult court.

More recently, the pendulum of public opinion has begun to swing back in favor of juvenile courts. Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all expanded the jurisdiction of their juvenile courts. There has also been a push in Wisconsin to raise the age of majority and keep some seventeen-year olds in juvenile court. A few states are even considering raising the age of majority to twenty-one.

Two intriguing new articles explore some of the social consequences of channeling more young offenders into juvenile court.   (more…)

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Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence

black_lives_matter_sign_-_minneapolis_protest_22632545857Amanda Seligman is a Visiting Fellow in Law and Public Policy at Marquette University Law School.

How does racially-tinged police violence toward civilians affect city residents’ willingness to summon aid in an emergency? A study in the October 2016 American Sociological Review asks what happened to the number of 911 calls after the public revelation that off-duty white Milwaukee police officers beat Frank Jude in 2004. In “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community,” Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk find that in the year after the initial publicity around the beating, Milwaukee residents placed 22,000 fewer 911 calls than might have been expected, resulting in a total of 110,000 calls. Although white neighborhoods saw a spike in 911 calls and then a long but shallow dip, the loss of calls was especially pronounced in black neighborhoods. The authors found no such loss of calls reporting traffic accidents.

Desmond et al.’s 911 study received extensive mass media coverage. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote about the study in The Atlantic, and the New York Times’sThe Upshot” column reported the findings. The study was the subject of two articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one reporting on the findings and one offering responses from District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. Two of the authors, Desmond and Papachristos, also published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times commenting on the significance of their research. A small host of other reports suggest broad interest in the study’s implications in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread coverage of police shootings of African American civilians.

Sociologist Desmond is one of our most thoughtful observers of the cultural significance of the 911 emergency call system. In Evicted, his 2015 ethnographic study of housing and poverty in Milwaukee, Desmond observed how victims of domestic violence put themselves at risk for losing their homes if they call the police too often. (more…)

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Author Says Urban Progress Requires “Durable” Policy

A few phrases provide a taste of the serious serving of thoughts about urban centers in America offered by Patrick Sharkey, a sociology professor at New York University, at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday.

“Multi-generational cumulative exposure.” Sharkey is author of the book, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, and is working currently on issues related to violence and low-income communities. A key to his findings is that the problems facing people who live in poor, predominantly minority areas have built up for generations and show themselves in multiple serious ways, including the educational success and future prospects of children.

“A durable urban policy agenda.” Sharkey said that one thing that has shown positive results is sustained effort to help people with housing, jobs, education, and other matters – with the emphasis on the word “sustained.” So many initiatives are launched and then dropped, he said. He said he doesn’t see durable policy coming from the federal government. The waning of such efforts after the late 1960s is one of the main reasons progress in closing racial gaps stopped, he said. But durable efforts have been undertaken on more local levels, and that gives him some cause for optimism. (more…)

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MVLC Receives Two Awards for Service to Low-Income People

Through efforts such as the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic (MVLC), “we are chipping away at poverty by bringing greater access to justice,” says Angela Schultz, Marquette Law School’s assistant dean for public service.

The documentable record of the clinic in providing thousands of low-income people with access to legal help earned honors at two events this week.

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presented a “Treasures of the Church” award to the clinic in recognition of the success of the Mobile Legal Clinic, which was launched in 2014 as a joint project of Marquette LMobileLegalClinic-noblueaw School, the Milwaukee Bar Association, and Milwaukee County. The recognition came as part of Archbishop’s Lenten Luncheon. The Treasures of the Church awards recognize those who have shown steadfast commitment in response to the needs of poor people.

On Thursday, the United Community Center, a large social service and education provider on the south side, recognized the MVLC as its “group volunteer of the year.” (more…)

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