TCP Backs Increased Funding for Federal Defenders Program

The Constitution Project is backing a Congressional request for an additional $25 million in funding for federal public defenders. In an April 29 letter to the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriation’s Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, TCP President Virginia Sloan noted the additional funding would go toward vital hiring of social workers, information technology, and investigative support, as well as helping to restore the authorized rate level for private attorneys appointed as public defenders that was cut during the 2013 sequestration.

“To ensure justice, our adversarial system requires that both sides—prosecution and defense—be represented by lawyers who have a sufficient amount of independence, resources, training, and time to devote to the case,” Sloan wrote.

She noted that the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs has requested $4.2 billion for FY2017. However, only 3.3 percent was reserved for indigent defense, which is aimed at state indigent defense services. At the federal level, the 2013 sequestration resulted in deep cuts to the federal public defenders’ budget and required significant layoffs, 15-20 day furloughs, and the complete elimination of defender training. Congress routinely allocates funding for federal prosecutors and new programming and equipment without a similar and equal allocation for federal defenders, she said.

TCP’s letter to appropriators supports an earlier Congressional request for additional funding for federal public defenders spearheaded by Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.).

“By providing an additional $25 million for federal indigent defense, you will help improve case outcomes and judicial fairness and efficiency, while also reducing risk of recidivism and saving money in the federal criminal justice system for the highest cost offenders. Our criminal justice system and our society demand no less,” Sloan wrote.

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