- 62 – Fighting for Justice and Reform on the Front Lines in the Battle Against Wrongful Convictions
62 – Fighting for Justice and Reform on the Front Lines in the Battle Against Wrongful Convictions
Chantá Parker is an attorney, strategist, and criminal defense expert who is transforming the criminal justice system from the inside. She recently moved to Detroit, assuming the role of Managing Director of the Wayne County Neighborhood Defense Service (NDS), an organization that has pioneered a holistic, client-oriented model in addressing problems plaguing public defense.
In this installment of Open Mike: Rewind, Chantá explains the origins of the NDS, how they were selected to help Detroit, and deconstructs their methodology of deploying resources and support their clients would otherwise lack access to. She also provides a newcomer’s perspective on the efficacy of Wayne County’s criminal justice processes and details the unique issues facing People of Color in our local communities.
Topical and inspiring, this episode is a must-watch! Check it out, only on Open Mike: Rewind.
Show Notes[0:03] Introducing today’s guest, Chantá Parker, the Managing Director of Neighborhood Defender Service. [1:15] Hi, there! It’s so nice to meet you, welcome to the show. Chantá, your name keeps coming up in our episodes. What you’re doing in Wayne County is really remarkable. Can you give me a brief description of your background? [3:28] As an attorney, many of these wrongful convictions stem from bad defense attorneys… But Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS) is different type of public defender service. Can you tell us what NDS is about, how you’re different, and what kind of work you do in Detroit? [7:09] Was there a Wayne County Public Defender’s office before you came in? [08:44] 30% of the cases NDS has been assigned have been dismissed early on because they have an adequate amount of team members who can proactively intervene before things escalate. [8:56] You mentioned statistics… are there any statistics you can point to that show how much good NDS is doing? [09:34] 74-75% of their clients in Detroit are Black folks. Areas where eviction rates are highest are where most of their clients come from. Every zip code in the county is also represented. [10:12] Watch our Open Mike interview featuring the Disruptors from The Bail project in Detroit. [11:01] If someone doesn’t get out on bail, they’re statistically 92% likely to plead, as opposed to 50% if they do get out on bail. [13:12] NDS got over 200 people released on bail in the early days of COVID-19, due to overcrowding risks in the system. [14:24] People are given a very low bail but still can’t pay it. Many people are sitting in jail, not because they’re a danger to public safety, but because they’re poor. People shouldn’t be punished for being poor. [15:01] How good of a job is the Bail Project doing at publicizing their services? [16:16] Michigan Liberation also assists with bailouts; it’s a community of people against mass incarcerations who advocate for those who can’t use their voices. [17:16] Who is training the other 75% of Wayne County cases that NDS doesn’t take? [20:19] Public defenders needs to be aware of possibly corrupt or biased officials. We also need to acknowledge and deal with the deeply embedded racist structures that affect the criminal justice system, as well as our society as whole. Policing in America originated from slave patrol. The residual effect of Jim Crow Laws have helped define the way the system operates. The War on Drugs targeted the Black community. This context is pivotal in understanding why many Black people are treated the way they are in the justice system. [22:20] What kind of services are needed? What do people in Wayne County need to help with inequity? [24:22] Seeing clients as people rather than a case to process is imperative in resolving many of the ailments afflicting the criminal justice system. NDS is trying to be an example of how public defense should holistically operate.
[24:45] What level of oversight is there over the other 75% of career defense attorneys? How do we ensure that they’re providing good defense and not just trying to make a living and force plea deals? [26:16] NDS offers free training to lawyers looking to get into public defense. [27:02] Do judges still appoint attorneys to represent defendants? Or is it now a non-biased system? [28:25] Are you seeing judges select attorneys who don’t push as hard, and “scratch each other’s backs?” What are you seeing out there, are you getting any grief because you’re trying to improve the system? [31:15] This is an old system; it will take time to change. [31:49] Are you trying more cases than your predecessors in Wayne County? [33:12] 50% of NDS staff are women, and almost 50% are People of Color. [33:32] Are criminal courts open in person now? [35:16] You mentioned police misconduct, and you know Detroit has a history with federal oversight and lots of allegations of a variety of crimes. What is your impression of the cases you’ve seen, and the degree of honesty you feel the Detroit Police Department operates with? Do you have an opinion yet, or is the jury still out? [37:05] Getting involve in a case early helps defendants have a fighting chance against law enforcement, prosecutors, and the tremendous amount of resources they have coming against one person. On Juneteenth, 2020, NDS launched a community intake practice to represent people within the community who qualify, even before they’re arrested. So, if someone in the community gets word that the police are looking for them, or they suspect they’re going to be charged with the felony, they can call the NDS office, Monday – Friday, 10:30 am – 4:30 am and speak with a lawyer who assesses their eligibility and then reaches out to a law enforcement officer to find out what’s going on. This way they can arrange a safe surrender and avoid any deadly outcomes, in addition to start investigating the case to bolster their chances of a just outcome. [39:58] Contact Chantá at (313) 474-3200 or through the NDS website. [40:19] Chantá, it was phenomenal talking to you, keep up the good work. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about this! Thank you so much. [40:44] If you liked this episode and know someone who needs to see it, comment, like, share, and subscribe! Thank you for watching this episode of the Open Mike!