Monday, August 5, 2019

Article: The Shocking Lack of Lawyers in Rural America

The Atlantic writes that "while cities are trying to reform their criminal-justice systems, smaller, more far-flung locales are struggling to provide basic services."

While it is well known that public defenders’ caseloads are untenably high in jurisdictions nationwide, prompting lawsuits, the situation is particularly dire in largely rural states such as Louisiana. These so-called legal deserts may have only one or two defense attorneys, who are usually near retirement with no one to take their place. In Mississippi, defendants routinely wait up to a year to even get assigned counsel. In Minnesota, counties can span hundreds of miles and court may sit only twice a month, requiring staff and lawyers to drive an hour each way.

Meanwhile,several counties in New York, including Schuyler County, "have been implementing the historic reforms to public criminal defense set forth in the 2014 Settlement Agreement in Hurrell-Harring v. The State of New York (Settlement) which received court approval in March 2015."

By ensuring counsel at every arraignment, utilizing uniform criteria and procedures for assessing financial eligibility for assignment of counsel, and taking steps to reduce attorney workloads, the Hurrell-Harring counties and providers have worked tirelessly for four years with the aid of $23.8 million in State funds annually to improve the quality of representation provided in criminal cases.

For more on Schuyler County's work to improve the quality of legal services for indigent defendants, click here.