Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Public-defense delivery systems nationwide are grossly inadequate. Public defenders are forced to handle caseloads that no one could effectively manage. They often have no funding for investigation or expert assistance. They aren’t adequately trained, and there is little to no oversight of their work. In many jurisdictions, the public-defense function is not sufficiently independent of the judiciary or the elected branches to allow for zealous representation. The result is an assembly line into prison, mostly for poor people of color, with little check on the reliability or fairness of the process. Innocent people are convicted, precious resources are wasted, and the legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system is undermined. This chapter suggests that effective reform is possible if policymakers address how public-defense delivery systems are structured, whether they are independent, the sources and amount of funding allocated to public defense, and the adequacy of training and oversight mechanisms.