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Public Defense – Federal Initiatives

NACDL seeks to ensure adequate funding for state and federal public defender organizations and private appointed counsel. Recent budget cuts have devastated federal public defender organizations, and NACDL has persistently appealed to Congress and the federal judiciary to ensure that adequate funding is restored. Federal funding for state law enforcement must be balanced with public defense funding, and the federal government should take a leadership role in encouraging the states to comply with the 6th Amendment right to counsel.

Federal Public Defense Funding Crisis of 2013

In recent months NACDL has begun a campaign to restore funding to the Federal Public Defense System. Early in 2013 Congress failed to act in regards to the broad budget cuts to the Federal Public Defense System. As a result, many federal agencies found that they were unprepared to deal with the devastating effects of sequestration. Starting in April 2013, NACDL has held various events, conducted meetings, and disseminated press releases and articles in an effort to bring attention the federal public defense funding crisis. For more information on NACDL's efforts to combat the damage done by sequestration, click here.

Education Debt

In 2008 Congress passed the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act, which provides up to $10,000/year in student loan repayment assistance for public defenders and prosecutors who agree to stay in their jobs for three years.  The Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has helped the states implement this programs and has allocated the available funding (so far, less than the amount authorized for the program and needed to better address the problem) among the states based on population. Congress should fully fund this program, which increases retention of experienced public defenders and prosecutors and thereby improves the quality and efficiency of our criminal justice system.  The John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act, which has provided education debt relief for thousands of public defenders since its enactment in 2008, has received steadily decreasing funding levels ($10M in FY10, $8M in FY11, and $4M in FY12).  At present, the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress to keep the government funded until March 17, 2013, maintains the current $4 million funding.

Federal Assistance for State Systemic Reform

Senator Leahy has introduced the Gideon’s Promise Act (S. 597), which would encourage states to direct existing Federal funds received through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program toward improving the overall administration of justice, including the provision of public defense services. The bill also requires the Department of Justice to assist states that want support in developing an effective and efficient system of public defense, and it establishes a cause of action for the federal government to step in when states are systematically failing to provide constitutionally required representation.  This legislation was originally a part of the broader Justice For All Reauthorization Act Senator Leahy introduced last Congress, which would have reauthorized a wide range of programs originally enacted in 2004 intended to improve the quality of justice in the criminal justice system. Because of the important Gideon anniversary this year, Leahy decided to introduce this piece on its own and vowed to reintroduce the Justice For All Act reauthorization later this year.

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