Why Public Defense Funding Matters on the Local Level

OPD is facing a $1 million shortfall. The current budget crisis is brought about in part from underfunding and budget cuts by the state and in part from underfunding by the city in the form disparity with other criminal justice agents and the reliance on fines and fees.

But the budget crisis is brought about entirely as a result of an unstable, unreliable and inadequate user-pay regime of funding that makes it impossible to predict from year to year when the next extreme budget shortfall will occur. In the absence of sustainable funding by both the city and the state, we will continue to have a budget crisis every few years when funding by either entity inevitably falls short; the result of which are ultimately unhealthy for New Orleans' criminal justice system.

While the state may bear some funding responsibility, it's the city's responsibility to decide what its criminal justice policy is going to be, and if the city wants a public defense system that contributes to the goals of the city's criminal justice policy - reducing over-incarceration, connecting the poor and mentally ill with services and jobs, advocating for the rights of incarcerated people to receive services and treatment that will reduce recidivism - then it must play a part in funding public defense to promote those policy goals.

New Orleans can do better. New Orleans must do better if we are to continue the strides already made toward meaningful crminal justice reform.

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