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Wednesday, May 17, 2000202/307-0703


WASHINGTON, DC - Two new reports on indigent defense systems are being released today by the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The first publication, Report of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense, presents the results of a two-day conference that was assembled in 1999 to address the issue of equal justice for all those charged with a criminal offense, especially those who cannot afford to pay the cost of representation. The second publication, Contracting for Indigent Defense Services: A Special Report, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), examines the major issues surrounding the planning, implementation, and use of contracting in indigent defense systems as an alternative to using assigned counsel programs or public defender offices. Indigent defense refers to the practice of providing attorneys to defendants who are too poor to hire them on their own.

"Studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of defendants charged with felonies in this country rely on a public defender or assigned counsel for legal representation," said Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General for OJP. "It is essential that all individuals charged with an offense receive fair and effective representation. These publications provide examples of how the criminal justice system can meet this goal."

Report of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense describes emerging issues in indigent defense since the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 Supreme Court case that obligated states to provide legal counsel to people accused of crime who were too poor to afford a lawyer. The report provides examples of public defenders working with justice system policymakers to build and strengthen innovative partnerships, as well as collaborative efforts to enhance the representation of criminal defendants. The unifying themes addressed in the symposium plenary sessions and workshops were:

Contracting for Indigent Defense Services: A Special Report, provides a history of indigent defense contracting in the United States, analyzes important judicial and legislative responses to indigent defense contracting, examines the best and worst features of contract systems now in operation and discusses national standards that govern indigent defense contracting. Additional resources for those seeking further information on contracting indigent defense services are also provided.

"Maintaining an effective indigent defense system is particularly challenging in today's environment of mounting caseloads and crowded dockets," said Nancy Gist, Director of BJA. "Justice system managers need to know that there are alternatives available for making the process manageable. Contracting indigent defense services, when done correctly, can be extremely productive."

Copies of Report of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense, as well as other information about OJP can be found on the OJP Web site at Copies of Contracting for Indigent Defense Services: A Special Report, as well as information about other BJA publications and programs are available through the BJA Website at and from the BJA Clearinghouse at 1-800/688-4252.

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For more information contact: Kristina Rose at 202/307-0466