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Legal Services Funding Cut

In 1974 Richard Nixon created the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The purpose of the LSC was to make grants to agencies and groups around the country which provided legal services to the poor: welfare recipients, prisoners, public housing tenants, aliens, farm workers, etc. In recent years Republicans have worked hard to eliminate the LSC because public interest attorneys have in the past successfully represented their clients, who tend not to be very popular with the ruling class in this country.

On April 26, 1996, president Clinton signed into law the 1996 budget for the Department of Justice. In addition to a big cut, from $400 million last year to $278 million this year, the remaining funds now have so many strings attached that people who need but cannot afford legal services won't get them.

The portions relevant to prisoners are that from now on no agency who wants to get any federal LSC funds can represent any prisoners, at all. In addition to that class actions are prohibited, anything to do with abortion, statutes or government action cannot be challenged and a lot more. The implications and effects of this will be felt by anyone too poor to afford legal representation who needs protection from either government or corporate actions. The interesting thing is that the law was duly signed and passed with little notice by the corporate media.

In conjunction with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) which drastically restricts the compensation available to attorneys who take on prison civil rights litigation, this law effectively prohibits most public interest attorneys, who in the past have represented prisoners in class action suits challenging conditions of confinement, from doing prison litigation. In effect and intent this will put public interest legal agencies out of the prison litigation business, which leaves prisoners out of court.

As a response to this law many legal aid groups have split into different agencies that would not be affected by this law so they can still provide legal services to prisoners, migrant workers, etc. However, the loss of funding is still significant, and few agencies will be able to provide anything close to the legal services (which were never much to begin with) previously provided to prisoners.

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