One pressing challenge facing our criminal justice system today is the recruitment and retention of qualified prosecutors and public defenders, who serve everyday to ensure that our communities are protected, the rule of law is upheld, and the rights of the citizenry are safeguarded. Both prosecutor and public defender offices consistently find it difficult to attract and retain talented attorneys. Driven by educational debt, attorneys interested in public interest law often forego opportunities to work in these offices in order to seek more lucrative private sector positions. Attorney shortages in these offices can result in overworked attorneys handling unmanageable case loads, potentially affecting public safety, the administration of justice, and ultimately the public's confidence in our justice system.
Student loan debt is consistently cited as the overwhelming reason why many attorneys decline or leave positions as prosecutors and public defenders. The vast majority of law students borrow to finance their legal education and the rising costs have imposed staggering debt. Furthermore, public defender and prosecutor salaries have failed to keep pace with the escalating cost of education. As a result, talented lawyers who would otherwise consider a career in this critical public service are often unwilling to accept or remain in attorney positions as prosecutors or public defenders, creating real challenges for those offices in their quest to hire and retain capable attorneys.
Acknowledging this challenge, the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act (hereinafter referred to as the "Act"), codified at 42 U.S.C. §3797cc-21, and named for the late John Reid Justice of South Carolina, was enacted to encourage qualified attorneys to choose careers as prosecutors and public defenders and to continue in that service. The JRJ Grant Program (also referred to as the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program or JRJSLRP) provides loan repayment assistance for local, state, and federal public defenders and local and state prosecutors who commit to continued employment as public defenders and prosecutors. To administer this program, BJA will fund the designated JRJ administering agency for each of the 56 states and territories to serve eligible recipients and beneficiaries.
For each state and territory that is eligible for funding under the JRJ Grant Program, BJA will make awards to agencies designated by the Governor of those states or territories (or in the case of the District of Columbia, by the Mayor) to administer the JRJ Grant Program within the state or territory. These Governor designated agencies shall establish and maintain a statewide JRJ Grant Program consistent with the guidance contained in this document and the Act.