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Public Defender Commission Wants More Reimbursement For Counties

Scales of Justice.

The Indiana Public Defender Commission wants to increase reimbursements to counties for indigent defense cases. Legislators are considering the issue during a summer study committee.

The Indiana Public Defender Commission sets standards for public defender training, caseloads and salaries. If counties abide by the rules, the commission will reimburse them for up to 40 percent of the costs of indigent felony cases.

But just more than half of the state’s counties qualify for reimbursement and, even then, Senior Staff Attorney Derrick Mason says there’s no way to ensure they meet the standards in misdemeanor cases.

“There’s no funding for misdemeanors in the state of Indiana and because there’s no funding, even though the commission exists there’s no oversight, there’s no enforcement,” Mason says.

The commission wants the state to start reimbursing counties who meet state standards for up to 50 percent of the costs of all indigent cases – including misdemeanors. Mason says it would give counties more of an incentive to keep caseloads in check.

Noble County Chief Public Defender Jim Abbs says he thinks all counties in the state should be required to abide by the state’s standards.

“And if we do that we address the two issues I’m talking to you about, caseload limits and appropriate salaries,” Abbs says.

The Indiana Public Defender Commission announced Wednesday the formation of the Indiana Task Force on Public Defense to explore the challenges the state’s system faces and come up with possible solutions. Its first meeting is scheduled for early September.

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