High Public Defender Caseloads Called Worse Than In BJS Study


The problem of excessive caseloads of public defenders nationwide is “much worse” than portrayed in data from 2007 reported last week by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, says the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. BJS said that 15 of 19 state public defender systems were operating beyond nationally recognized workload standard. The BJS report on states can be found here http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/spdp07.pdf and a companion BJS report on county and local public defender offices here http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/clpdo07.pdf

The state report counts new assignments per attorney per year, while national standards are based on every case worked in a given year (pending cases plusnew assignments). The survey divided the total number of new cases by the total number of attorneys in an office, including management & supervising attorneys without regard to whether they actually carried a full caseload. In 2007, most of the nation had yet to experience severe financial difficulties. Rhode Island had the highest reported workload of any state-based public defender system, with a caseload of 391 per attorney (42 percent above the standard of 275_. BJS concluded that state public defenders had only an estimated 67 percent of the staff they need to meet accepted workload guidelines. Iowa, according to the BJS workload formula, has the greatest need, with only 31 percent of the attorney staff necessary to meet national caseload standards. State public defender offices had fewer investigators per attorney than required under national standards. Median starting salary for entry-level attorneys was only $46,000.

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