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What Policymakers Need To Know To Improve Public Defense Systems

NCJ Number
Tony Fabelo
Date Published
December 2001
10 pages
Publication Series
This paper establishes sets of questions to aid policymakers in assessing the value and effectiveness of their public defense systems.
Two major obstacles to improving public defense systems are the lack of data and lack of systemic policy analysis that State policymakers need to address the relevant issues regarding public defense. Examination of the limited literature in this area reveals the inadequacy of empirical research related to improving public defense systems. This paper proposes that policymakers and researchers develop a strategy for formulating relevant inquiries and then obtaining current data to assess the effectiveness of a State's public defense systems. Until a comprehensive body of knowledge is established and analyzed, reforms in public defense systems will continue to be difficult. The research should provide the knowledge to develop standards for providing quality public defense services; determine funding needed in a locality for a public defense system to meet agreed upon standards; monitor compliance with standards; design and measure performance to justify investments in public defense; and determine operational procedures that can be improved to increase performance. The research agenda should examine the structural characteristics of the public defense system first, i.e., those that make it independent, determine workload capacity, and examine how to organize and prepare for its work. Next, the research agenda must examine the quality of services provided, using notification time, access to counsel, and overall quality of representation. Finally, research must define and measure outcomes of public defender systems. Assessments must determine whether a given public defender system helps the judicial system process cases faster; provides better pretrial and sentencing alternatives; provides better coordination of support services; increases public confidence in the justice system; and decreases the errors that deny defendants' rights, without increasing public safety risks. This paper includes the "Ten Commandments of Public Defense Delivery Systems," developed by James Neuhard, Director of the Michigan Appellate Defender Office, and Scott Wallace, Director of the Defender Legal Services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. 12 sources for more information and 14 notes

Date Published: December 1, 2001