Thousands of indigent inmates are confined to jail in Harris County, Texas, for long periods without being convicted, costing taxpayers about $24 million each year, reports the Houston Chronicle. The cost includes his jail room and board as well as his lawyers’ bills. More than 100 private attorneys were assigned by judges to represent inmates who could not afford a lawyer in felony cases in 2008. Sixty of them received more than $100,000.
Yet, no one in Harris County is centrally assigned to oversee those attorneys or monitor their caseloads or complaints. None of the lawyers are routinely required to document the hours or provide details on how much they worked on each case. As the county studies how to launch its first-ever limited public defender’s office, such details raise questions about whether the current patchwork defense system fails the poor by allowing hundreds of people accused of crimes to languish in jail.