Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Something Inside Of That Man Is Broken

With Sunday's column, Peter Bronson has finally jumped the shark. He's gone from merely being a conservative who often misses the point to revealing himself to be a man who displays a total lack of human empathy and whose venom towards people who he can't--or won't--understand is worthy of our condemnation.

Apparently, Bronson spent a few hours following Lou Strigari, the Hamilton County Public Defender, while Mr. Strigari handled felony arraignments for his office's incarcerated clients. Bronson's conclusion? Take a look:
Contrary to what you hear from people who talk a lot about injustice, these guys belong behind bars and they know it.

Keep in mind that Bronson is writing here about pretrial detainees--that is, individuals whose guilt has not yet been established. Moreover, I'm not sure which inmates Bronson talked to, but certainly not any of my clients. I've yet to sit down in the Justice Center or Queensgate (or any other jail, for that matter) and have a client say to me, "Mr. Caster, thanks for coming, but you know what? I belong in here." Instead, my clients--even the ones who acknowledge their guilt--are worried about how to take of their families, about how to change their lives so they're not back in the justice system again after they finish paying for the mistake they've just made, or about that their future will look like if they have to serve time in prison.

What makes Bronson's judgment particularly reprehensible is that he was around inmates and corrections officers long enough to find out that some of the people he met need help. Again, from Bronson's own poison pen:

The jails would be nearly empty without mental illness and drugs. The guards agree that two-thirds of the prisoners have mental health issues, and 75 percent arrive under the influence of something.

(Emphasis mine.) I'm not sure if those numbers are really accurate (they're obviously anecdotal and rough estimates). But for Bronson to write that "these guys belong behind bars" while at the same time acknowledging that the majority of them suffer from mental health issues seems beyond comprehension. Is that what "compassionate conservativism" is about? Incarcerating people who need treatment? I don't understand how to reconcile those two excerpts from Bronson's piece.

This is a difficult week for attorneys who provide indigent defense in Hamilton County. Everyone involved knew that the system wasn't perfect. But reading the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association's hundred-plus page assessment of the provision of legal services here and how much it differs from a lot of places around the country makes me want to go back to bed, pull up the covers, and not come out until the system is fixed. (I certainly don't agree with each of NLADA's findings and recommendations, but overall, they get more right than they get wrong. And remember: the report isn't done by a bunch of nosy outsiders who should have minded their own business; the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners requested and paid for this assessment.) But as tough as it is to read the NLADA's report, it's even harder to read Bronson's hatred of all things--and people--that aren't suburban and just like him.

Griff: sorry about this. I know it's your job to beat on Bronson, but I couldn't hold back on this one.

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