Funding shortfalls, excessive caseloads, and other problems are combining to mean that many criminal defense systems for the poor across the U.S. “are truly failing,” the non-profit advocacy group The Constitution Project said today. Reporting on a national survey by a blue-ribbon committee, the organization said that, “Not only does this failure deny justice to the poor, it adds costs to the entire justice system.” The group recommends 22 reforms.
The report says that state and local governments must deal with increased jail expenses, retrials, lawsuits, and a lack of public confidence in the justice system. If funding is curtailed further during the fiscal crisis, “the risk of convicting innocent persons will be greater than ever,” the report declares. The Constitution Project urges the federal government to set up an “independent, adequately funded National Center for Defense Services” to help states. The organization also wants states to assess the quality of their legal services for the poor and recommend systemic improvements.