It occurred to me that the way that Voices for Civil Justice has responded to the recent Justice Department Report on Ferguson provides an opportunity to see how our access community is gaining in sophistication and effectiveness.
Those who are in the Justice Voices Network recently were invited to assist in developing the media follow-up strategy following the Report, with a focus on the role of legal aid (broadly defined) in protecting those subject to what might be called the “debtors’ prison railroad”, the process by which in jurisdictions such as Ferguson, courts use civil judgments or unpaid court fees to trigger warrants which result in incarceration because of inability to pay — a concept well familiar to Dickens, but not to those who take the Constitution seriously.
The idea is that legal aid programs will tell Voices of their efforts in this area, and that Voices will help the media find the stories and ideas in which the public will be interested. Here is part of the solicitation e-mail:
. . . [w]e know Ferguson isn’t the only place where people go to prison for being poor. We want to tell that story and how civil legal aid is involved.
So if your program, or a program you know of, is working on these issues, please reach out to us. We are interested in the full range of responses, including personal stories, new or pending legislation, creative collaboration with the courts branch – in general, any successful programs that are tackling the problem. Data showing prevalence and impact are a big plus.
The contact information on how to share this information, and also a link to join the JusticeVoices network, is here.
Sometimes, people have felt that the access to justice strategy for legal aid has tended to push aside the anti-poverty strategy. I think this activity shows how untrue this can be. Why, and how to integrate the two approaches, is a fascinating question. I suspect that the key is understanding what the public as a whole thinks is an appropriate anti-poverty and anti-inequality strategy.