Cops, Courts and Fire Government

PA Governor Proposes Additional Funding For Indigent Defense

The governor is proposing putting $10 million for indigent defense.

File photo.

As part of an effort to provide legal representation for the state’s poorest defendants, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced a $10 million allocation for indigent defense as part of his 2024-2025 budget proposal.

On Monday, the Democratic governor and other officials held a press conference following the first meeting of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Indigent Defense Advisory Committee.

Shapiro, who has supported more funding and support for law enforcement during his time in office, highlighting the state’s ongoing commitment to enhancing equity within its criminal justice system, one of the nation’s largest.

Pennsylvania, which until 2023 was one of the last states to not offer state funding for indigent defense, has taken strides to fix the gap, according to the governor.

The state made headlines last year when Shapiro secured $7.5 million for indigent defense that put money toward making sure that public defenders were equipped to represent those unable to afford legal services.

The governor, the former attorney general of the state, emphasized the critical need for sustained support for public defenders.

“We need to do more to build equity in our criminal justice system, but it’s critically important that we start here – with sustained, dedicated funding for public defenders. The time to invest is right now. That’s why my budget invests another $10 million in our public defenders this year to ensure that everyone has a fair shot – and that both sides have an adequate opportunity to present a strong case in court,” said Shapiro.

The funding aims to enhance the resources available to public defenders. The additional $10 million proposed by Shapiro is intended to further strengthen the capacity of these defenders to provide competent legal representation, Shapiro and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis said.

Davis, chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, echoed Shapiro’s statements, emphasizing the administration’s commitment to fairness and equality in the justice system.

The Indigent Defense Advisory Committee, established under a law signed by Shapiro last year, is tasked with expanding support for public defenders through the new Indigent Defense Grant Program.

The committee’s responsibilities include proposing standards for indigent defense, developing data reporting standards, establishing a defender training library, and identifying trends in the effectiveness of services. Its efforts are aimed at ensuring access to constitutionally required legal defense for both adult and juvenile indigent defendants.

Sara Jacobson, chair of the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee and executive director of the Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania, highlighted the impact of the state’s investment on the lives of 200,000 adult and juvenile cases processed annually through the criminal justice system.

Speaker Joanna McClinton, a Democrat and former public defender, praised the state’s initiative and called for continued investment and reforms to strengthen the justice system further.

In Bucks County, the Public Defender’s Office has a $5.3 million budget for 2024.

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