OUR ADVOCACY EFFORTS TO CHANGE THE WAYS COURT OPERATE, FROM COURT RULES AND FORMS TO TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND GUIDANCE
CELL PHONES IN COURT#accesstojustice
Not being allowed to bring cell phones into courts presents a huge barrier to non-attorney's access to justice.
Particularly with respect to low-income and unrepresented clients, access to a cellphone in court can assist litigants with: (i) getting to and from court and subsequent appointments, (ii) gathering and presenting evidence, (iii) managing life’s logistics, especially when court runs longer than expected, and (iv) connecting to legal and non-legal resources, e.g. legal self-help websites and language translation apps.
So we submitted this petition signed by over 160 non-attorneys in support of a court rule amendment to allow cell phones.
Research in criminology indicates positive influence of supportive, rehabilitative (vs punitive/public safety) demeanor and approach on completion of court supervision and lower recidivism. Our statistics in our Street Outreach Court Detroit and Functional Sentencing projects bear similar findings.
So we looked at data from 3 circuits courts and found that officers with psychology or social work backgrounds have lower probationer violation rates.
We are hoping this study prompts the Michigan Department of Corrections to conduct a statewide study so that hiring policies going forward capitalize on the societal benefits of supportive, rehabilitative approaches to probation.
FORMS UPDATE RE Ability to Pay#criminaljustice
Although the Michigan Supreme Court had amended its Court Rules in 2016 to require an ability to pay assessment before jailing someone for not paying fines and costs, none of the court-approved forms had been changed to advise defendants accordingly.
So we asked the Michigan Supreme Court to change its forms. They agreed with and implemented most of our recommendations.
Require courts to develop local resource forms#landlord-tenant
Landlord tenant cases move fast. Most often cases are resolved at the first appearance. The summons to tenants has resources, but they are not always locally relevant and is not given in an actionable format.
We asked the Michigan Supreme Court for a court rule to require each district court to develop its own summons, one responsive to its residents. We had substantial support from other advocates and district court judges.
Unfortunately, the SCAO declined to pursue our request, relying on its funding of Michigan Legal Help website to serve as the depository of information statewide, despite the fact that impoverished people often lack access to computers and the internet.
TESTIMONEY RE Ability to Pay COURT RULE#criminaljustice
Even though it was long-established constitutional law, Michigan district courts had been jailing folks even though they were too poor to pay.
We dutifully wrote our comment letter supporting the amendments and a petition from dozens of our clients and soup kitchen patrons. But we knew that that wasn't enough. Instead, we brought our clients Dennis, Lesia, and Mecca up to Lansing to testify as to their personal experiences before pay-or-stay judges. Their testimony was powerful. Click on the picture above to see it.