The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Eve Brensike Primus now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:
The national conversation about criminal justice reform largely ignores the critical need for structural reforms in the provision of indigent defense. In most parts of the country, decisions about how to structure the provision of indigent defense are made at the local level, resulting in a fragmented patchwork of different indigent defense delivery systems. In most counties, if an indigent criminal defendant gets representation at all, it comes from assigned counsel or flat-fee contract lawyers rather than public defenders. In those assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems, the lawyers representing indigent defendants have financial incentives to get rid of assigned criminal cases as quickly as possible. Those incentives fuel mass incarceration, because the lawyers put less time into each case than their public defender counterparts and achieve poorer outcomes for their clients. Moreover, empirical research shows that assigned-counsel and flat-fee contract systems are economically more costly to the public fisc than public defender systems.
This Article collects data from across the country to show how prevalent assigned-counsel and contract systems remain, explains why arguments in favor of substantial reliance on the private bar to provide for indigent defense are outdated, argues that more states need to move toward state-structured public defender models, and explains how it is politically possible for stakeholders to get there.