Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $70,346)
The Project has three discrete goals: (a) to reduce the disincentive to career defense and prosecution that financially burdensome student loans pose for lawyers considering these careers; (b) to increase retention of defenders and prosecutors by providing financial assistance for repayment of student loans, as an offset to what are historically lower salaries than those for lawyers in private practice; and (c) to strike an equitable balance between these two priorities, giving due consideration to “least able to pay” while encouraging long-term service.
Since the inception of this program in 2010 the prosecutors and public defenders have seen no increases in criminal attorney staffing levels.
Strategy: The project invokes personalized outreach. Because Rhode Island is so small geographically, and implements criminal justice primarily through a single statewide prosecuting authority for felonies and a single statewide defender system, personal notification of repayment opportunities is possible to every eligible lawyer. There is a single law school which has pledged its full cooperation with outreach efforts.
A minor base award will be equitable distributed to each eligible defender and prosecutor beneficiary. Supplemental award guidelines will take into account “least ability to pay” by distributing some of the available funds in awards that will vary according to educational debt to household incomes ratio. An additional bonus award will also be distributed based on accumulated years of service as a defender or prosecutor in any jurisdiction.
In the past, all eligible applicants regardless of financial need have received some award. Because the funds to be distributed have been decreased so drastically, the SAA will likely eliminate from final award eligibility applicants whose ratio of educational debt to household income is below a threshold level, given the pool of applicants.
The SAA will give priority consideration to those individuals who have an ongoing John R. Justice Loan Repayment Program (JRJLRP) Service Agreement obligation at the time of selection. The SAA will only re-select individuals whom the SAA reasonably believes will continue to maintain their eligibility to receive JRJ benefits.