LEGAL CARE FOR ALL
We must establish legal care insurance for all, covering the expense of personal criminal and civil legal representation. None of our rights is secure if we do not have equal opportunity to defend them. And our legal standing must never depend upon how much wealth we have.
Our constitution entitles us to representation when we face criminal prosecutions, yet public defenders and court appointed lawyers do not receive sufficient resources nor enough time with their clients to provide a fair defense. Even worse, our constitution offers no guarantee of representation in civil cases, which are equally crucial. Unable to afford civil representation, persons of lesser means cannot protect themselves in court against sexual harassment, discrimination, and employer retaliations, nor receive equal treatment in civil property and family disputes. Instituting a legal care system, modeled on a single-payer health care system, is the only way everyone can be truly equal before the law.
Following the Medicare for All template, public legal care would require no copays or deductibles and give individuals freedom to choose any available legal representative they prefer. Legal costs can be kept affordable because our government will have the united power to negotiate reasonable fees for criminal and civil representation, just as the healthcare system can negotiate affordable rates for medical treatment.
Further Measures to Stop Money from Conditioning Our Legal Standing and Fostering Mass Incarceration
Money should never condition our standing in the legal process. If it does, we are not all equal before the law.
Cash bail leaves poor people in jail because they lack the funds to buy their way out. It also puts poor people in a position where they have to go into debt to Bail Bonds companies in order to fund their release. If accused individuals are fairly determined to be at risk to destroy evidence, intimidate witnesses, and commit further crimes, they should not be offered bail. Anyone who is not such a danger, should not be held in jail on account of how much money they have. This is why cash bail should be abolished.
Similarly, all probation services that charge service fees to their "clients" should be abolished. Nor should fees be levied on defendants and litigants for any part of court procedures, nor should people in jail or prison be required to pay fees for the services they receive. All such fees prey upon the poor and have proliferated to support the explosion of incarceration that the War on Drugs and draconian mandatory sentencing laws have helped foster. Despite injunctions against debtors prison, our courts are throwing people into prison for non-payment of such fees. No one should have to serve time for failure to pay fees, nor should we allow the levying of such fees in the first place, which only deepen the economic deprivation of those who fill our jails and prisons, who are disprportionally people of color.
For-profit prisons and for-profit probation services should be abolished. They both have business plans that encourage putting more and more people into prison and keeping them in the correction system as long as possible, while offering them as little as possible so long as it serves profit maximization.
Finally, we need to abolish plea bargaining, which is the fast track to mass incarceration. Ninety-five percent of all criminal defendants plead guilty in plea bargains that deprive them of a proper investigation of the facts of their case in court. Other nations do not allow for pleas of any sort. Every indicted person automatically receives a full trial. We should do the same and eliminate pleas and the scourge of plea bargaining, which railroads the poor, and disporportionate numbers of people of color, into prison.
These measures will counteract may of the policies that have accelerated mass incarceration. By offering guaranteed jobs at fair wages, the Federal Job Guarantee will help turn off the school to prison pipeline and put the brakes on recidivism. More, however, is needed to empty our jails of non-violent offenders. One key step is ending the war on drugs by decriminalizing all personal use of drugs and treating that use as a medical issue. Government dispensaries can provide addicts with controlled amounts of the drugs to which they are hooked, while offering free counseling and medical aid. In this way, the illegal drug trade can be put out of business without increasing incarceration.