Monday, July 22, 2013

The Costs of Austerity

We're several months into glorious results of our bipartisan consensus that we needed to make our economy worse on purpose. In addition to making our economy worse on purpose, it leads to fun things like this:
The public defender system hasn't just been stripped bare by sequestration, its bones have been chiseled away as well. There has been a 9 percent reduction in the roughly $1 billion budget for federal public defender's offices, while federal defenders in more than 20 states are planning to close offices. Careers have been ended and cases have been delayed. All of it has occurred in the name of deficit reduction -- and yet, for all the belt-tightening being demanded of the nation's public defenders, money is not actually being saved.

When federal public defenders aren’t able to take a case because of a conflict, or because their workload is too great, the job falls to private court-appointed attorneys known as Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys. Those lawyers are paid from the same pool of money as federal public defenders, but they cost much more and, according to some studies, are less effective.

To keep the budget from completely exploding, the Judicial Conference, a group of senior circuit judges that helps administer guidelines for the courts, could -- indeed, may have to -- reduce the rates paid to private attorneys, but that could mean fewer CJA lawyers would be willing to take up such cases. That, in turn, would result in the accused spending more time in prison waiting for trials -- only further driving up costs.

“It’s a situation where the federal government will wind up paying far more,” said A.J. Kramer, the top federal public defender in Washington, D.C.

It doesn't make any sense. But it wasn't supposed to. The $85 billion in sequestration cuts -- which included reductions to the federal public defender budget -- were designed to be so onerous that lawmakers would have no choice but to turn the whole thing off. Except they never did.
Once again, thanks to Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and President Obama deciding that cutting vital services to deal with an imaginary problem was a good idea. Heckuva Job.

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