Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced $6.7 million in grant money for the often underfunded and understaffed work of representing defendents of low income in court. This is one of Holder's latest reform moves as he continues to attempt to upend the criminal justice system that has led to mass incarceration, particularly of black and Latino men and women.
"Everyone accused of a serious crime has the right to legal representation - even if she or he cannot afford it," said Attorney General Holder by press statement today.
"These awards, in conjunction with other efforts we're making to strengthen indigent defense, will fortify our public defender system and help us to meet our constitutional and moral obligation to administer a justice system that matches its demands for accountability with a commitment to fair, due process for poor defendants," said Associate Attorney General Tony West.
Holder has often publicly lamented that the justice system is undermined by all of the budget cuts the federal government has suffered lately. The sequestration ax earlier this year took a huge chunk of the Justice Department's budget. In a Washington Post op-ed in August he wrote that "draconian cuts have forced layoffs, furloughs ... and personnel reductions through attrition. Across the country, these cuts threaten the integrity of our criminal justice system and impede the ability of our dedicated professionals to ensure due process, provide fair outcomes and guarantee the constitutionally protected rights of every criminal defendant."
The Justice Department took another hard hit during the government shutdown, when it had to furlough over 70 percent of its staff in its Civil Rights division.
Meanwhile, Holder, who has hedged that his last days as AG may be near (though probably not anytime soon) has made criminal justice reform and ending over-incarceration a priority in the second term of the Obama administration. In similar news, former Newark mayor Cory Booker, who will be a sworn in as a U.S. Senator tomorrow, has said that he will push for new criminal justice legislation, specifically around ending private prisons and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, petty drug dealers. Amanda Terkel reported at The Huffington Post that Holder has already taken a liking to Booker's ideas.