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July 27, 2011

New JPI report on overburdened of US public defender systems

Coverfinal-full As detailed in this press release,the Justice Policy Institute has today released a new report titled "System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense."  According to the press release, this report details that "public defense systems across the country are overburdened, and considers how the busting-at-the-seams systems affect state and county budgets, the lives of those behind bars, the impact on their families, and the challenges of re-entering communities after serving time."  Here is more from the press release:

According to the report, 73 percent of county-based public defender offices lacked the requisite number of attorneys to meet caseload standards; 23 percent of these offices had less than half of the necessary attorneys to meet caseload standards. With an increasing overload of cases, lack of quality defense and a shortage of resources, the report argues, justice is not being served and the wellbeing of millions of people is at stake....

“More resources must be devoted to our nation’s public defense systems. When we fail to invest in quality defense, we pay greater costs down the road -- the costs of more incarceration, less public safety and fewer resources to build healthier communities.  A lack of investments on the front end is creating significant costs in terms of incarceration and the lost contributions of those negatively affected; ultimately taxpayers bear the burden,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). “People who, with appropriately resourced counsel, would not serve prison or jail time are disproportionately serving longer, unnecessary sentences: For every $1 we spend on public defense, we are currently spending nearly $14 on corrections. We need to make smarter investments that will keep us safe and not empty our wallets.”

National standards recommend that public defenders handle no more than 150 felony, 400 misdemeanor, 200 juvenile, 200 mental health, or 25 appeals per year. Only 12 percent of county public defender offices with more than 5,000 cases per year had enough lawyers to meet caseload standards.  Nearly 60 percent of county-based public defender offices do not have caseload limits or the authority to refuse cases due to excessive caseloads.  This lack of authority is particularly evident in larger offices with higher caseloads.

July 27, 2011 at 12:29 PM | Permalink


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It's amazing that national "experts" and studies have even indicated that a state pd can handle 150 cases. To me the problem starts there, where the discussion is already slanted in favor of incompetency. 150 felony cases alone is absurd. No human being can competently handle 150 cases at any time. It's hard enough w/ numbers in the 60-80s and I moved offices to get it down into the 40s on average, to be even then, more manageable.

Posted by: Fed PD | Jul 27, 2011 12:55:03 PM

they just need to wait till more people wise up to the failure of the american justice system and DEMAND their legal right to a DAY IN COURT in front of a JUDGE AND JURY!

then we can watch the whole thing go BOOM!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 27, 2011 11:54:00 PM

Their website appears to be down. I guess the massive public demand for yet another report stating what has been obvious for decades must have overwhelmed their server.

On the one hand, I understand it is important to keep highlighting this issue, even if, or perhaps specifically because, legislatures, law enforcement, courts, and the public for the most part have stubbornly refused to address it. On the other hand, my snap reaction is that if we took the grants and foundation funds devoted to these f--ing endless, impotent reports and put them toward public defense, at least that would be a start.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 29, 2011 1:15:51 PM

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