The overburdening of U.S. public defense systems can result in more and longer prison sentences, says the advocacy group Justice Policy Institute in a report issued today. The institute says 73 percent of county-based public defender offices lack the requisite number of attorneys to meet caseload standards; 23 percent of these offices had fewer than half of the necessary attorneys. With an increasing overload of cases, lack of quality defense, and a shortage of resources, the report argues, justice is not being served.
The study examines why public defenders do not have enough time to conduct thorough investigations, or meet with and provide quality representation for their clients – many of whom are low-income earners and people of color – contributing to disparities in the justice system. 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 those 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.
Click here to read the report.