Indigent Defense Systems Improvement

Indigent Defense / Public Defender Systems

Assisting in the reform and improvement of indigent defense systems across the country.

New!  The Missouri Project:  A Study of the Missouri Public Defender System and Attorney Workload Standards—Includes a National Blueprint for Future Workload Studies

Workload studies are a critical first step in improving public defender systems. This groundbreaking report not only documents the Missouri Project workload study, but also provides a National Blueprint for future studies.

National Indigent Defense Reform: The Solution is Multifaceted

The Focus Group Report summarizes the highlights of the wide–ranging discussion and innovative proposals for reform discussed during the Focus Group, divided into three broad topics. First, the report discusses front-end reforms such as reclassification and diversion, which help reduce the number of cases entering the system. Next, the report turns to the delivery of services, including the importance of standards and commissions, the central role of the private bar, and development of training. Third, the report considers the need for collaboration and cooperation with others within and outside the criminal justice system in order to achieve significant and sustainable reform.

Report National Indigent Defense Reform: The Solution is Multifaceted

ABA News Release
ABA President Laurel G. Bellows states that, "The ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants is pleased to join the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in presenting these valuable recommendations for solving the nation's indigent defense crisis. Every criminal defendant, whether rich or poor, deserves a qualified lawyer to defend against the state's charges. We hope that policymakers will consider our joint report, along with ABA guidelines, standards and other resources […] to make needed changes and fully implement the Supreme Court's Gideon decision."

ABA President Laurel Bellows News Release, January 8, 2013

NEW! Executive Summary and Recommendations


Executive Summary and Recommendations: Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense


Download the free PDF version.

Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense
by Professor Norman Lefstein

This publication has been sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. In a Foreword to the book, William Sessions, former Director of the FBI writes the following: "For all those committed to justice … this is a vital book by the nation's leading scholar on indigent defense systems. … [I]t is truly the first of its kind in a sorely understudied field."

View the Table of Contents


Download the free PDF version of the book
or order a hard copy from the ABA Web Store.

Recent Developments and Highlights

Using Data to Sustain and Improve Public Defense Programs

Data are important for all types of indigent defense programs – including assigned counsel and contract programs - in advocating for themselves and their clients, but this paper addresses the critical importance of good data to public defender organizations in particular. It will explain why data are so important, first, internally, in monitoring and allocating workload amongst staff, and second, externally, through persuasive budget preparation, analysis of case trends, in support of systemic litigation, and to be able to justify temporary declination of additional cases.
» Download the Report

An Update on State Efforts in Misdemeanor Reclassification, Penalty Reduction and Alternative Sentencing

The modification of minor misdemeanor offenses into infractions or non-jailable offenses has the potential to save states money that otherwise would be spent on litigation or expensive incarceration. Along with the Spangenberg Project, SCLAID offers an update to a 2008 issue paper on reclassification. The present report,which reviews recent and proposed legislative action, newspaper and media reports, previous studies and reports and interviews with experts, describes general trends of efforts in penalty reclassification,reduction and alternative sentencing methods, including diversion and specialty court programs. The Reclassification Report explains that states have seen varying levels of success in their reclassification,misdemeanor penalty reduction and alternative sentencing efforts.

State, County and Local Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services Report

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to all persons accused of a crime the right to counsel in their defense. The United States Supreme Court has clarified that the Sixth Amendment requires the government to make counsel available for persons accused of crime who cannot afford to hire an attorney. The right to appointed counsel applies to the federal government under the Sixth Amendment and to the states under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. States have responded to the Court's mandate by developing a variety of systems through which indigent defense services are provided.

The State, County and Local Expenditures for Indigent Defense Services Report provides a description of each state's indigent defense delivery system, the expenditures and the funding structure.

The State of Criminal JusticeThe State of Criminal Justice 2012

Authors from across the criminal justice field provide essays on topics ranging from white collar crime to international law to juvenile justice. This annual publication examines and reports on the major issues, trends and significant changes in the criminal justice system. As one of the cornerstones of the Section's work, the publication serves as an invaluable resource for policy-makers, academics, and students of the criminal justice system alike.