Public Defender Funding Shortages Are Hurting Representation of Criminal Defendants Everywhere

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that public defenders throughout the country are struggling with inadequate funding, and the shortage of resources for indigent defense raises concerns about the quality and adequacy of legal representation for defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. LBN has made several reports on public defender funding, including this one from July 17, 2015. The situation in New Orleans provides an example of what is happening in other cities across the country.

New Orleans has struggled with high crime rates for decades. Armed robberies have been on the rise in the crescent city. FBI statistics indicate a national murder rate of 11 murders for every 100,000 people. In Chicago, Donley notes, the rate is 15 per 100,000. In New Orleans, the rate is 40 per 100,000. And that homicide rate in New Orleans is actually going down.

The budget problems that face public defenders has an effect on what happens to the criminals, Donley says. It is no secret that a majority of those charged with crimes are indigent within the guidelines that qualify someone to receive free representation by a public defender. In Louisiana, about 90% of all defendants qualify for a public defender. The New Orleans public defenders recently received a budget of $1.2 million. That represents an increase of $150,000 from the previous year. More revenue is always good.

However, there are still not enough public defenders to go around. That means, Donley says, that there is a long waiting list of defendants who need legal representation. The defenders’ office says it needs at least $2 million just to handle its caseload. Colin Reingold, a New Orleans defender, says that people who are arrested will have to sit in jail longer before they get lawyers, and that makes it harder for them to access programs that could help them get straight again.

Donley points out that the situation in New Orleans is not unique. Public defender programs across the country are experiencing tight budgets that make it difficult to keep up with the demand for free legal representation.

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