State and county governments have greatly increased spending on providing criminal legal defense for residents who cannot otherwise afford it, according to a new report from the Chicago-based American Bar Association's (ABA) Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID). The report also found that only 31 states provide more than half of those costs, while the remainder falls on counties.
In 1986, the first year in which indigent defense expenditure data for all 50 states was compiled, it was estimated that just under $1 billion, or $991,047,250, was spent on indigent defense services in the
U.S., according to SCLAID's "State, County and Local Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services: Fiscal Year 2008." By fiscal year 2008, the year covered by the report, spending had increased to nearly $5.3 billion. Despite the increase in spending, ABA says many indigent defense systems remain in crisis.
The report also found that only 23 states completely fund their indigent defense system. Another five states provide more than 85 percent of the state's indigent defense expenditures, and three states provide between 50 and 84 percent funding. Eighteen states have a mix of funding sources with less than 50 percent coming from the state, while in Pennsylvania, all funding for the programs comes from counties.
The Spangenberg Project at the George Mason University Center for Justice, Law and Society in Fairfax, Va., prepared the report, which is intended as a resource for legal practitioners, advocates, policymakers and others who wish to compare the funding and structure of indigent defense systems throughout the country.
Download "State, County and Local Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services."