WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued the following statement Thursday responding to revelations that the Trump administration has shuttered the Office for Access to Justice, a critical office within the U.S. Department of Justice that provided legal services to indigent defendants:
“Once again, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is turning his back on the most vulnerable Americans and abdicating his responsibility as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer. In shuttering the doors of the Justice Department’s Access to Justice Office, Attorney General Sessions is making crystal clear that his Justice Department has no interest in establishing justice for the poor. Such a move in no way allows the Department to fulfill its stated mission ‘to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.’
“The criminalization of poverty, a phenomenon that disproportionately impacts African Americans and Latinos, is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law condemns Sessions’s latest action, and remains steadfast in our work to combat the unconstitutional incarceration of poor defendants whose rights remain under attack by a Justice Department that continues to fail them.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Criminal Justice Project seeks to end mass incarceration and make the ideal of “equal justice under law” a reality, particularly for marginalized communities that are disproportionately minority and poor. In recent months, the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners achieved a significant victory in a landmark lawsuit challenging a debtors’ prison scheme run by the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in Louisiana. Through separate litigation shut down the practice of jailing people in Sherwood, Arkansas who cannot afford to pay court fines and fees imposed simply for bouncing a check.