If it’s true that a society’s degree of civilization can be judged by entering its prisons, Dostoyevsky, then maybe we should pay equal attention to how facile a society makes it to fill those same prisons. It is well-documented by now that the United States is the global leader in incarcerating its own citizens. This has not always been so. It’s actually a relatively recent accomplishment, with the past four decades featuring a sevenfold percentage increase in our incarcerated population. If the first tentative steps to a solution involve recognition of a problem, then definite strides have been made in unmasking this desultory picture. But less often stated is what role governmental opposition to indigent defense, both subtle and open, has played in this toxic development.
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