Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $142,145)
Many law school students must borrow heavily to finance their legal education, leaving them saddled with substantial debt when they graduate. According to bankrate.com, according to the American Bar Association, the average law school student graduates owing in excess of $165,000 in educational debt. In addition, more than 95% of students are forced to take out loans to attend law school. Thus, lawyers who might otherwise consider work as prosecutors or public defenders are often unwilling to accept or remain in these critically important positions because they need to find more lucrative private sector employment.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) seeks to assist full-time prosecutors and public defenders in repaying their education loans in order to encourage them to remain as prosecutors and defenders, rather than seek more lucrative private sector work. DCJS will work with existing prosecutor and public defender organizations to disseminate JRJ information to their attorneys and invite them to apply throughout the state. This ensures a fair distribution of funding based on geography, demographics, backgrounds, and experiences. Applicants will apply directly to DCJS, which will use a panel of reviewers to decide which applicants are to receive funding and make payments accordingly. Funds will be split and distributed equally between prosecutors and public defenders.
Prior to the availability of JRJ funding, the Commonwealth of Virginia had approximately 841 State prosecutors. There is no number available for public defenders for that time period. Also, we have not been able to track a definitive number for federal prosecutors or public defenders in the federal offices in Virginia for that time period. Currently, in Virginia, prosecutions in criminal cases are the responsibility of 120 locally elected Commonwealth’s Attorneys whose offices employ approximately 645 attorneys. The Virginia Indigent Defense Commission operates 28 public defender offices and 2 satellite offices across the state serving communities throughout the state. In addition, federal defender offices in Virginia’s Western District includes staff offices in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Abingdon while the Eastern Districts includes the Northern Virginia area, greater Richmond area, and Tidewater region.