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Utilize holistic defense in the justice system

By Cory Biggs

The Arkansas legal community should work to employ a fairly new concept in legal circles called holistic defense, the goal of which is to more directly combine the legal work of traditional public defenders' offices with improved access to social services — drug rehab, mental health counseling/therapy, educational/vocational training, etc. — that address the issues that send indigent citizens into the justice system. The idea was pioneered by a New York non-profit called The Bronx Defenders, whose model focuses on teams of lawyers, social workers, probation officers and others working, often side by side, with clients from arrest to the conclusion of legal proceedings to ensure that all needs of the client are met. In Arkansas, there are a lot of groups — from drug courts to veteran support organizations to social services — that are working toward the same goal, but not under the same roof. In a holistic justice system, a defendant could, for instance, get legal support in one room and meet with a drug or workforce counselor in another, instead of being referred from one agency to another and so on, possibly missing an important link along the way due to scheduling or transportation problems.

Other holistic defense programs have been set up through a combination of private attorneys working pro bono with students from legal clinics or through public defenders' offices. Regardless of the organizational structure, embracing the practice is sure to help us turn the corner on lowering the rate of recidivism.

Cory Biggs is executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. Biggs researched holistic defense in partnership with the Arkansas attorney general's office for his capstone project at the Clinton School for Public Service.

Rethink the Arkansas Highway Commission

By Tim McKuin

Change the name of the Arkansas Highway Commission to the Arkansas Transportation Commission. Then send every commissioner, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department director, and their families on a month-long, all-expenses-paid, first-class worldwide learning expedition. First, they should visit the Netherlands for a week to see how simple changes in infrastructure design can allow bikes to play a significant role in the transportation network. Then send them to France to ride the trains for a week, both the high speed TGV and the more traditional lines that crisscross the country. Next, take them to South America to experience true Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Colombia. Finally, the expedition should conclude its trip with a weeklong stay in Vancouver, British Columbia, to relax in a place that proves that cities can absolutely thrive with no freeways.

Such a trip, if it leads to real change back on the ground in Arkansas, will be much cheaper for the people of this great state than just continuing with business as usual. It's time for our tax dollars to go toward building real choice and resiliency into our statewide transportation system instead of just leveraging billions of dollars of debt to continue building and expanding roads that we can't afford to maintain. Cars and highways will always play a significant part in our transportation system, but it's foolish to lock us into that one mode for all of our trips when it's cheaper, healthier, better for our economy and just more enjoyable to make walkable, bikeable places that are also served by convenient public transportation. The leaders at the newly renamed Arkansas Transportation Commission should focus on increasing freedom and choice rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Tim McKuin is co-author of the blog MoveArkansas (movearkansas.blogspot.com).

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