ExtraLegal Needs Assessments

August 26, 2011

Vernon Parish ExtraLegal Needs Assessment

The Louisiana Public Defender Board, Louisiana Justice Coalition and the Vernon Parish Public Defenders' Office (30th Judicial District) released the recent "ExtraLegal Needs Assessment" of the incarcerated, pre-trial, public defender-appointed population at Vernon Parish Jail. Interviews of willing prisoners took place March 22-23, 2011.

Nationally and locally, there is a growing awareness that policy-makers' reliance on incarceration as the only tool to be "tough on crime" has proven a hugely expensive and ultimately unsuccessful. The Department of Corrections reported that recidivism rates in Louisiana are over 49%. The inability of prison to address many of the underlying social service issues that are directly related to crime mental illness, homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, illiteracy, and others means that prisoners usually return to their communities with fewer resources and options than before. Not surprisingly, they often cycle back into the system.

Public defenders see this first-hand and are often at the forefront of efforts to do things differently. Even as public defenders struggle for adequate resources to provide the constitutional right to counsel, they often end up representing the same people over and over.

The ExtraLegal Needs Assessment is designed to illuminate some of the problems facing poor persons who are appointed representation by the local Public Defenders' Office. Highlights from the Vernon Parish ExtraLegal Needs Assessment include:

■ 28% of interviewed prisoners reported being homeless at least once in their lives

■ 35% of interviewed prisoners reported being addicted to drugs or alcohol

■ 35% of interviewed prisoners reported being diagnosed with a mental illness or personality disorder

■ 34% of interviewed prisoners reported incidents (singular or repeated) of physical abuse

■ 23% of interviewed prisoners reported having been in the foster care system as a child

■ 40% of interviewed prisoners reported that they did not complete high school; 33% of interviewed prisoners reported being in special education classes

■ 49% of interviewed prisoners reported that they were working at the time of arrest; 37% of interviewed prisoners were employed at a full-time position

■ 58% of interviewed prisoners had children (57% of male prisoners and 63% of women prisoners)

■ 77% of interviewed prisoners had been incarcerated on previous charges; 44% of interviewed prisoners reported that they had been previously represented by the 30th JDC Public Defenders' Office.

The Louisiana Justice Coalition (LJC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the constitutional right to counsel and ensure the respect and dignity of each practitioner and every client by improving the delivery of public defense services and creating a receptive climate for positive change. Their website is www.lajusticecoalition.org

More information about the Louisiana Public Defender Board and the Vernon Parish Public Defenders' Office is available on the LPDB website. You can read the full report HERE

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