McCrory’s prison system boss confirms flaws of government on the cheap, need for new resources


N.C. Commissioner of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, W. David Guice

It’s not the most riveting 20 minutes of TV you’ll ever watch, but if you’d like to see a plainspoken, common sense explanation of why North Carolinians desperately need to invest more in public structures and services and reject the notion that the problems of government can be solved via an unceasing regimen of tax and spending cuts, check out this past weekend’s edition of WRAL’s On the Record news show featuring the McCrory administration’s Commissioner of Prisons and Juvenile Justice David Guice.

As Guice, to his great credit, explains repeatedly, North Carolina desperately needs a lot more money for prisons, guards, mental health treatment and higher employee pay as well as a general philosophical shift in which we reject the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach to corrections that hardline conservatives of both political parties have imposed upon North Carolina in recent decades.

In many ways, Guice’s comments echo the recent pleas of the state’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin who has repeatedly  called for dramatic increases to the state courts budget.

Let’s hope that lawmakers pay attention to Guice’s insightful assessments and that the Guv starts appointing more and more people like him throughout his administration.


Drunken lawyers, missing Supreme Court plaintiffs, and high-cost punishment

justice2What can you do with a drunken lawyer?  Last night Georgia executed Robert Wayne Holsey,  a man of questionable intellectual capacity convicted for killing a sheriff’s deputy in 1995 — despite the fact that his court-appointed lawyer failed miserably in his defense and admitted to drinking up to a quart of vodka in the evenings while trying the case.

Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project discusses the sad truth in response to his own question — “What Can You Do With a Drunken Lawyer” — that very few defendants get a new trial due to their attorney’s incapacity.

Says Armstrong:

One reason is the test that courts use to evaluate such claims. A defendant must show not only that his lawyer was incompetent, but that the trial’s outcome would likely have been different had the attorney been more capable (and sober). This second prong has been used to defeat so many claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that some practitioners consider the whole exercise virtually pointless. One attorney put it this way: “We just simply put a mirror under the lawyer’s nose, and if it clouds up, that’s effective assistance of counsel.”

You can send a kid to Harvard for what it cost to keep him incarcerated.  Also at the Marshall Project is a report out by the Justice Policy Institute on the costs of jailing youth offenders entitled “Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration.”

“We could send a [juvenile justice youth] to Harvard for [what we pay for incarceration] and we don’t get very good outcomes,” one state family service director said in the report.

The price tag for confinement  in North Carolina, according to the report? Up to $437.67 per day for one juvenile — or $39,390 for three months; $78,781 for six months; and $159,750 for a year.

The mysterious case of Bobby Chen.  In early November, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by a man — acting as his own attorney — who had sued the city of Baltimore for allegedly razing his row house to hide damage caused by the city’s demolition of a house next door.  As the Wall Street Journal reports here, Bobby Chen asked the court to address his inability to get court extensions of time because of difficulties serving papers on city officials.

Mr. Chen filed his petition to the Supreme Court in March. Parts of it were hand written. His grammar was often incorrect. And he made a motion to submit the case without paying the court’s $300 filing fee because he said he had virtually no money. Despite incredibly long odds, his appeal caught the court’s eye. The justices announced on Nov. 7 that they would hear Mr. Chen’s case.

The problem now? Nobody can find Mr. Chen — who has until Dec. 22 to file his opening brief.



Shortsighted policies, funding cuts fuel school-to-prison pipeline

Public News Service has a good story on its website this morning that highlights a newly released report from the folks at Action for Children NC entitled “From Push Out to Lock Up: North Carolina’s Accelerated School-to-Prison Pipeline”:

“Discipline practices at some public school systems in North Carolina are preparing students for prison instead of a profession, according to a report released Wednesday by Action for Children North Carolina.

The problem stems from a trend for school systems to involve the juvenile justice system, even for the most mundane discipline problems, instead of dealing with the problem internally, according to Deborah Bryan, the organization’s president and CEO.

‘School districts are strapped,’ she says. ‘They’re short-staffed already, so it is a challenge already for them to deal with some of these discipline behaviors.’ Read more


Children’s advocate responds to demise of Juvenile Justice Department

This was just released by the good folks at the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children:

For Immediate Release                                                                                                 

Juvenile Justice consolidation could have negative consequences for youth

RALEIGH – On Tuesday, 9/10, the Department of Public Safety announced the consolidation of the Divisions of Juvenile Justice and Adult Corrections into a single division, raising questions about the Department’s ability to focus on the unique needs of youth. Read more


New juvenile justice data are an indicator of a broader truth

The Winston-Salem Journal posted an editorial this morning that follows up on an encouraging story in Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend about juvenile crime.

As the Journal notes in describing the state’s successful move away from the “lock ’em up” approach favored in years gone by:

“The change took children out of prison-like environments and put them into therapeutic centers with educational opportunities and counseling on how to handle the problems that life throws at us. In short, we stopped being hell-bent on punishing youth, first and foremost, an approach that often simply turned rookie criminals into more efficient criminals. In its place, the state implemented a rescue plan, a program by that concentrated on the potential next generation of adult criminals. State services were used to intervene, rescuing these children before they were lost for good.”

Put simply, state officials have begun to move in the direction of constructing a service system that pays attention. Read more