JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Thousands of people in Missouri, according to the state’s Public Defender System, are waiting for attorneys to represent them.
The Public Defender System is asking for more than 3 million dollars to contract with private attorneys to help.
The head of Missouri’s Public Defender’s office went before the Missouri House Budget Committee and said based on one analysis, her office would need more than 300 new attorneys to adequately address the current need.
“We now have these waitlists where we can’t represent everyone,” said Mary Fox, director of the Missouri State Public Defender System.
Fox said approximately 6000 Missouri defendants are waiting for attorneys and some of them are sitting in jail. She’s asking the state for more money to hire six new public defenders to start, build a new office and outsource some cases to private attorneys.
“We need to be able to reduce our caseloads to affectively represent the folks that the sixth amendment requires representation for,” Fox said.
The backlog comes in part from a 2017 Missouri Supreme Court case that resulted in a public defender with a heavy caseload being disciplined for not adequately representing clients.
Fox said her office is also spending resources on cases where there’s clear evidence a defendant was innocent or needs mental health services instead of prison.
“I’m not saying don’t prosecute cases because a crime has occurred I’m saying do a thorough investigation before you make the decision to issue a case,” Fox said.
Fox also told lawmakers programs that are sending some defendants to rehabilitation programs instead of prison could help reduce costs.