Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Yorker Article by Malcolm Gladwell On "To Kill A Mockingbird" And My Thoughts On California's Prison System

One of my favorite legal movies is "To Kill A Mockingbird" based on the great novel by Harper Lee who grew up in Alabama. One of my favorite writers is Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink" and other interesting books. In the latest "New Yorker," Malcolm Gladwell writes about Atticus Finch and the limits of Southern liberalism. This politics meets prose article is well worth reading.

If you recall, the lead character Atticus Finch was played by Gregory Peck. Finch defended Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of what in nineteen-thirties Alabama was the gravest of sins, the rape of a white woman. In the years since, Finch has become a role model for the legal profession. Gladwell's article discusses James (Big Jim) Folsom, governor of Alabama in the 1950s and explains why Finch's politics is closer to Jim Folsom’s side of the race question than he is to the civil-rights activists who were arriving in the South as Harper Lee wrote her novel.

For the New Yorker article, go to:

Attorney Commentary: Although criminal defense is only a part of our practice, one of the reasons we remain dedicated to it is that we see the issues in the justice system in the United States, the prison industry that has arisen and the lives that can get thrown away in the "fight against crime." Most of our clients have never been charged before, have often broken government program rules and regulations (that are man made and were never something that Moses brought down from the Mount), and risk having their careers and lives ruined without an aggressive defense and commitment to seeking justice.

I believe that in the future, we will look back on the present justice and prison system and wonder how it could have ever existed. Unfortunately, it is a more socially acceptable cause to promote the equality of man than to support the humane treatment of those accused of or convicted of crimes and urge that youthful and first time offenders be given an opportunity to overcome their offenses.

Most of our clients and their families, after experiencing first-hand the criminal justice system, become committed to changing it and cannot believe it operates in the way that it does. The saddest part is when we're in court and they see the scores of poor, minority defendants who do not have private counsel or the resources for investigation whose cases are on a treadmill and who often do not get true "justice."

The current prison system is a breeding ground for recidivism and the local county jails (which are racially segregated and in racial wars) are terrible and unsafe. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal just issued a groundbreaking and scathing 184 page opinion that is startling in parts about California's prison system. A copy of the opinion can be found here:

The panel of federal judges said state officials had failed to comply with previous orders to fix the prison health care system and reduce crowding. The opinion ordered the California prison system on Tuesday to reduce its inmate population of 150,000 by 40,000 — roughly 27 percent — within two years. The judges said that reducing prison crowding in California was the only way to change what they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week. If that death were one of your relatives, what would you do to change the prison system?

For those who think that dying in prison is a just punishment for those who have committed a crime, I recommend thinking like Atticus Finch. Put yourself in the skin of that person or their family. I can think of young adults who had an auto accident while drinking that caused the injury or death of someone else. If that young man were your son or nephew and had to go to prison for 4 years for an offense, would you want him treated so poorly that he risked death?

I can think of young adults we've represented who hacked into a computer system for "fun" and have great futures ahead of them after they pay their debt to society. Should part of their punishment be placed in a gang-infested prison where there are race riots and where a serious medical problem will be ignored?
There are people in our society who should not be in the streets based on the crimes they have committed. Those individuals should be incarcerated. But only after receiving proper legal representation and a fair trial and then should be incarcerated in a humane condition so we are not breeding sociapaths and criminals for life. These are not the vast majority of people in our country's prisons and jails.

For example, the majority of offenders in prisons are for drug-related offenses. How many families have faced addiction issues? If you have resources, there are treatment programs -- but if you don't the treatment center is state prison. I also believe that the high percentage of minorities and the poor in prisons show why justice and prison reform should also be an equal rights and civil rights issue.

This is one of the many reasons I am on the Board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and support strongly its tireless work on improving the criminal justice system in the United States. For those interested in learning more about the NACDL's work on behalf of the criminal justice system, go to:

Any questions or comments should be directed to: at 213-233-2260. Tracy Green is a principal at Green and Associates in Los Angeles, California. They focus their practice on the representation of individuals, licensed professionals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. The firm's website is at:


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