June 20, 2024 11:07 pm
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For the first time, Pennsylvania will fund indigent defense

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Danielle Smith, Public News Service

Pennsylvania is taking a significant step this year by providing funding to counties for indigent legal defense for residents.

The passage of House Bill 1300 will provide $7.5 million for indigent defense services provided to people who cannot afford legal representation.

Sara Jacobson, executive director of the Public Defender Association of Pennsylvania, said the bill creates an indigent defense advisory committee and a grant program. She added the committee will set standards specific for public defense work and caseloads, and develop training initiatives.

“For counties that cannot meet the standards the committee sets, those counties can then apply to the grant fund to supplement — not replace, to supplement — the existing county funding,” Jacobson explained. “This should add more resources in public defender offices and improve the quality of public defense across Pennsylvania.”

Jacobson pointed out the committee is established within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and should be meeting in February, which is within 60 days of the signing of the bill. Once the committee puts the standards in place, then the grant money can flow to areas of greatest need.

Jacobson noted a report by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee on indigent defense funding and caseloads found vast funding differences across the current county-based system. The same report revealed 86% of criminal cases in Philadelphia involved a public defender.

“Even when they looked at the per capita spending, the largest per capita spending was $30.20 per person,” Jacobson emphasized. “The lowest was 10% of that $3.20 per capita, well below the national average.”

Jacobson added prior to the new law, each one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties were fully responsible for funding its own public defender offices, which led to disparities and limitations in funding. She confirmed last year, the Commonwealth provided more than $9 million to District Attorney offices in salary support alone.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.