RI Public Defender’s Office Productive, but Overworked

RI Lawyers Weekly has the story on the RI Public Defenders who are overworked and underpaid:

Lawyers in the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office are among the most overworked in the nation, and the situation is not likely to improve anytime soon.

Confirming what those in the office already know firsthand, a study recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that Rhode Island’s public defender program falls outside the mainstream in many key areas including staffing, spending and caseload when compared to the other 21 state-run programs in the nation.

Based on data from 2007, the state’s program ranked lowest in the number of full-time attorneys on staff and near the bottom in the percentage of “judiciary and legal funds” spent on public defense.

The state made do that year with only 40 full-time attorneys, just above the staffing levels for Wyoming (38), Vermont (31) and North Dakota (10), and far below the top-ranked Maryland (508), New Jersey (458) and even Massachusetts (197). The median was 163 public defenders per state.

John J. Hardiman, head of the R.I. Public Defender’s Office, said he now has a total of 48 attorneys, though not all handle a full caseload because of other supervisory and administrative duties. It is only about two-thirds of the number he estimates is needed to properly manage the growing number of cases the office sees each year.

Click here to read the full text of the report.

Burnout risk

In 2007, the 40 public defenders saw 18,760 cases, nearly 2,000 more cases than the Massachusetts office handled that year. Nationally, the median was 72,740 cases per state.

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