Massachusetts must increase salaries for public defenders and prosecutors, some of whom qualify as the working poor, to assure that the rights of the innocent are protected and the guilty are justly imprisoned, says a Massachusetts Bar Association study reported by the Boston Globe. Massachusetts ranks last nationally in salaries paid to public defenders through the Committee for Public Counsel Services and county prosecutors often are the lowest-paid person in a courtroom, finishing behind custodial workers. The study was conducted by the association's Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation. “The unvarnished truth is the compensation is so poor that it drives these lawyers away from the criminal justice system or into the ranks of the working poor,'' the panel found. “Massachusetts prides itself as a national leader in most fields, including the law. But in compensation of criminal justice lawyers, it ranks dead last.''
The committee called for an immediate boost in the starting salaries for assistant district attorneys, public defenders, and assistant attorneys general to $55,000 a year. It also called for budgets for those agencies to be boosted by 20 percent to give current staff members a pay hike. Currently, assistant district attorneys start at $37,500 and public defenders at $40,000. Martin Healy of the bar association said many public defenders and prosecutors work second jobs. “The vast majority of criminal justice attorneys are supplementing their income through second jobs, and many of those jobs are in the hospitality industry,” Healy said. “They are working as bartenders, as waiters, and waitresses. They are not living an extravagant lifestyle.''