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Michigan legal activists push for improved indigent defense

Ken Mayer

A state commission heard testimony today that inadequate legal representation for poor defendants results in wrongful convictions and unfair sentences. Commissioners were also told that failing to invest in indigent defense costs taxpayers money.

Peter Cunningham is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice. He said the poor economy is no excuse for failing to fix the system.

We can’t jettison our constitutional responsibilities based on the hard economic times we face, and a lot of these reforms that we’re talking about may end up saving money in the long run in terms of not holding people who are wrongly convicted, in terms of reduced recidivism,” said Cunningham 

David Carroll is a researcher with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. He said states that spend the least on indigent defense have the highest prison costs.

“And so, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study to make that link, but it tends to be if you’re not investing money on the front side, there are huge costs on the back side,” Carroll said.

Michigan ranks fourth in the nation in per capita corrections spending – while only three state spend less on indigent defense.

Carroll also says children in the juvenile justice system are among those most likely to suffer from not getting to see a lawyer in a timely fashion.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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