Kansas City Star Looks at Public Defender System

A series of articles that appeared in the Kansas City Star this week examine Missouri's public defender system, concluding that it is one of the worst in the nation. The Star's examination found a system plagued by lack of funding, dysfunction, high caseloads, and one that ultimately costs taxpayers for defendants languishing in jail while waiting for lawyers.

Missouri will spend $51.6 million on its public defender system compared to Iowa, with half of Missouri's population, spending $56 million. It's estimated to take another $30 million for the office to do its job properly. Then, there is the matter of pay. Public defenders' salaries begin at $47,000 and top out at $72,500, a fraction of what an attorney in private practice makes. Caseloads are another problem. The public defenders were assigned more than 75,000 cases in 2018, leaving some public defenders with a caseload of 200 or more. This affects the time and quality of legal representation they can give.  Defendants will often spend months behind bars waiting for a public defender; that's especially true in rural areas. In many instances, the prosecutor drops the charges against the person and the taxpayer foots the bill for incarceration.

Many reform advocates are calling on the legislature to make public defender reform a priority in the next legislative session.

November 25, 2019 - 11:36am
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