Last night, speaking at the a conference of the American Council of Chief Defenders, Attorney General Eric Holder urged a resumed dialogue on the issue of indigent defense and applauded the Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee report, “Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of our Constitutional Right to Counsel.” The Attorney General said, “The Constitution Project has done excellent work in describing the state of indigent defense in its report, Justice Denied. As the report pointed out, many jurisdictions have made great progress in their public defense systems in recent years, but wholesale improvements remain elusive.”
Mr. Holder highlighted the nation’s indigent defense crisis by noting the large resource disparity between public defender programs and other justice system programs. He announced that the Department of Justice would renew its commitment to improving the indigent defense system and that the guiding principle would be “that justice shall be done.” To fulfill this promise, the Department will ensure that the voices of public defenders are heard, collect meaningful data on public defense programs, and host a national conference on issues surrounding indigent defense.
At the same conference, Laurie Robinson, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs at the Justice Department, also expressed her commitment to working with the indigent defense community to improve the system. While noting that the problems of the indigent defense system are longstanding and “static,” Ms. Robinson, a former member of the Constitution Project’s Board of Directors, cited “Justice Denied” for also demonstrating “that offices across the country are doing some very innovative and creative things to ensure that their clients are well-represented.”
The Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee released its comprehensive report in April. It details the endemic and systemic failures of the indigent defense system and recommends twenty-two specific and urgently needed reforms to fix them.