Critics say the nation’s public defender system is in crisis. Through a series of landmark decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has established the right of an indigent defendant to an attorney. Roughly 80 to 85 percent of all criminal defendants in state courts, where most crimes are prosecuted, are indigent and represented by some kind of public counsel at an annual cost to states and counties of more than $3.5 billion. But many public defense lawyers and researchers argue that much more needs to be spent because too many indigent defense systems are in crisis. “We have public defender systems in the country where one public defender will handle 1,000 cases in a year,” says one expert in the field. In addition to funding, deficiencies in the system are blamed on excessive caseloads and a high turnover of underpaid lawyers.
By Barbara Mantel
Cost of the Iraq War
The fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq hit just as economic news in the United States turned bleak. Unemployment is growing, the home foreclosure crisis continues and the economy is either in recession or close to it. Against this backdrop, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and a federal budget expert published a book linking the economic downturn to the war in Iraq – whose eventual, total cost they calculated at $3 trillion – and maybe even more. President George W. Bush dismisses the linkage argument, arguing that the war creates employment and that Iraq war spending amounts to only a “modest fraction” of the U.S. economy. But even Republican lawmakers have been asking why taxpayers are funding the rebuilding of oil-rich Iraq while it reaps billions in record-high oil prices. For its part, the administration says Iraq is starting to bear more of the reconstruction costs.
By Peter Katel
Child advocates say a growing epidemic of “cyber bullying” – the use of computers, cell phones, social-networking sites and other technology to threaten or humiliate others – is putting young people at risk, sometimes with deadly consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled “electronic aggression” an “emerging public-health problem.” Court precedents on school discipline and students’ First Amendment rights provide limited guidance to educators grappling with the emerging world of cyber communication, especially transmissions originating off school grounds. Nonetheless, many states and school districts are taking strong steps aimed at curbing cyber abuse. In Congress, bills to provide new funding for online-safety programs have been introduced, but conflicts have arisen over how federal money for such efforts should be spent.
By Thomas J. Billitteri
Posted by CQ Press on 4/17/2008 04:49:00 PM