Thursday, March 19, 2009

Defending Those in Need

Earlier this week I sat down with Rhode Island's Chief Public Defender for an interview, for Street Sights. Think Raising the Bar, but for real. Needless to say, the work at the Office of the Public Defender is tough. They're flooded with cases, understaffed and suffering from budget cuts, but still plugging away at truly honorable work. Their job is to "pursue fairness and justice in the law" by providing counsel and "quality representation for the indigent" (those in need). Am I the only one bothered by the word indigent? For some reason it sounds dated & derogatory. Regardless.

I sat for an hour talking to Chief Public Defender, John Hardiman, about his office, about his love of his work, and about the social ills that lead people to commit crimes. He described his commitment to the belief that if his office--a staff of 91--addresses the client's social needs with better referrals to social services, as opposed to only addressing their case, then they will see a reduction in repeat offenses.

My visit was to find out about their new Homeless Project--a project you'll hear about in the April issue of Street Sights. I left the office with admiration for John Hardiman and for the 40+ lawyers who chose to work for humans, protecting their rights, instead of for a firm or a corporation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed by for hard work that actualizes what our society has chosen as its constitution. What inspires me the most is the ease with which people pursue these careers. For these advocates, it's obvious that we have to help people who are disadvantaged by racism or classism, or their upbringing, when it includes instability or violence. This is one state office where workers are absolutely compelled and driven by what they see--people suffering injustices.

...Today, at a luncheon, I heard a professor and community leader give a surprising, but well-supported argument for the solution to the problem of homelessness, based on a new understanding of its causes. If I can find the time, I will post about it tomorrow.