It took me a week to swallow Ethan Bronner’s piece in the New York Times, “Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty
Promise for Poor,” on March 16. The punchline: everybody has a constitutional right to a lawyer in the US since 1963 (bless the sixties) in criminal courts, but Gideon v. Wainwright does not guarantee this right in civil matters. Hence, there are a bunch of folks in Georgia (the State that Bronner gathers his evidence from) who end up in jail for cases as varied as foreclosure, job loss, spousal abuse and custody, for lack of proper representation; like Bill Jerome Presley, no criminal record, who spent 17 months in jail for failing to pay… $2,700 in child support. Mr Presley lost his job in the recession, could not pay child support, was sent to jail and brought back to court shackled to be sent back to jail again, cause, I guess, the judge could not understand why Presley had not saved enough in jail to come up with the child support money; or Russel Davis, Navy veteran with post traumatic stress disorder, also jailed for failing to pay child support.
Like the other guy, I can’t but lament the dire political times we are in, when debt is made a national priority by the republican aisle in Congress. Were this not the case, perhaps more public money would flow into family justice – among others- and lawyers would be provided to poor folks who cannot afford their services. But it’s only part of the problem. Poor folks – mostly poor non- custodial fathers – would not be facing jail in the first place if not for those imbecile family laws – obviously in Georgia, but in New York State too, as readers of this blog know- that bloomed in the wake of the dismantlement of “the welfare system as we knew it.” The free-market feminist underpinnings of these laws was that idleness is an incentive to more idleness. Stop subsidizing idleness and everybody will lift oneself up out of poverty. And if that does not happen, at least family courts will make sure the bastards pay child support. As for the right to see their kids, they have the market.
Poverty breeds crime, as the proverb says. Nowadays, it sure breeds jail time irrespective of crime. That’s the upshot of these brillant legislative changes.
The funny thing, at least for New Yorkers, is that city’s ads against teen pregnancy are covering these days the subway trains and bus stops. This campaign has been highly criticized, and rightfully so. The gist of it: poor,
black, latina, female teen, don’t get pregnant. The campaign did not forget any cliché: on one of these ads, one can read “chances are he won’t stay with you.” You know, men. Irresponsible deadbeats.
Every time I am in the train and I see the whipping children of Bloomberg’s ads, I have popping up in my mind a poster with a man, race indifferent, casually dressed, and the slogan: “Dude, if you cannot foresee 21 years of uninterrupted employment, beat it. Don’t have kids. You may end up in jail if you don’t pay child support.”
And below the picture of this fellow: “And if you are not happy with it, take it to Congress, or wherever you have to, to the street or on cranes.”