The Public Defender Deficit

It’s a real problem:

In 2007, the last time the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed the nation’s indigent defense services, there were 957 public defender offices employing 15,000 full-time staff. These offices handled about 80 percent of the country’s criminal cases, on a combined budget of $2.3 billion. In that same year, 2,330 state prosecutor offices employed 78,000 full-time staff. Their budgets were falling, but with a total of $5.8 billion in the kitty, their means far outstripped that of their defender colleagues.

Faced with a larger and better-funded prosecution regime, defenders can’t keep up. … It should come as no surprise, then, that you’re more likely to wind up in jail if represented by a taxpayer-financed lawyer than by one you hire yourself.