Sunday, August 29, 2010

Criminal Justice: New Orleans Style

Here's a great article from City Business. I've spoken with the Orleans Public Defender office and they also mentioned to me the power of the bond industry as a political block.

See below.

Bail system puts court costs on backs of poor

POSTED: 09:15 AM Friday, August 20, 2010
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans criminal justice system, critics charge, is funded on the backs of the poor who are processed by the tens of thousands each year and used as raw material to keep the insatiable machine churning.
Money generated from bail posted by defendants, the majority of whom are poor, black and charged with non-violent offenses, drives the enterprise, said Michael Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice nonprofit based in New York. He’s encouraging New Orleans to adopt a pretrial release program that largely takes bond decisions out of judges’ hands.
Often times it seems as if there is no rhyme or reason to the bond process, said Derwyn Bunton, Orleans Parish chief public defender. Depending on who is overseeing first appearances, bond for marijuana possession can range between $500 and $25,000, he said.
The current system helps fund the courts and keeps the bail bonds industry flush with cash and criminal defense attorneys consistently busy. The ripple effect provides judges with overflowing campaign coffers. With so many hands in the jar, attempts to reform the system have been met with stiff opposition.

Need Advice

Ok, so how do I post something in a way that allows only part of the post to show, and then you click on the title and can read the rest?

Instant Run-off Voting

So, I was at the Rising Tide 5 conference for bloggers and citizen journalists yesterday at The Howlin Wolf. There were a number of good panels, one of which dealt with politics. The panelists started talking about past elections and how the entrance of some candidates ends up altering the election. We've seen this numerous times (think Nader and Gore in 2000), and as I pay attention to the upcoming congressional elections some national bloggers (like Talking Points Memo) are point out potential third-party spoiler alerts all over the U.S. It makes me think, is this how democracy is supposed to work?

What happens is that a person wins an election, which is supposed to mean that s/he is the most liked by the voters, because votes are split between his/her opponents. This means that, for example, if one republican is running against a democrat and a third-party (say the green party), and 65% of the voters either vote for the green or democrat (who presumably would both disagree with much much of the republican platform), the republican can win with receiving 45% of the vote. On the surface this might sound ok, but it means that 65% of voters didn't want the republican. In essence, the republican snuck his or her way in. Is this how it's supposed to work? As I thought about this more, I thought of a grading system where voters get to rank their choices. Lets say there are 5 different people running for major or governor, a voting system where we rank in order of preference, the candidates we want. With five candidates we could rank them 1-5, our first choice would receive 5 points, our second 4, our third 3, and so on. I think a system like this would allow elections to better represent the voice of the citizens.

There's already a movement to change voting systems that is picking up steam. It's called Instant Run-Off voting and is somewhat similar to the model I offered above. I posted a couple links below that better explain this option. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. I understand implementation will be hard, though some cities have done it (sometimes because of court order). I'm more concerned with developing a sound model, we can discuss implementation once we know what we want and why.

Check out these links: