Issues in Public Defense


The United States incarcerates more juveniles and at a higher rate than any other country in the world. While issues of public safety are argued to defend this stark reality, studies have shown that incarceration of juveniles increases the rate of future criminal behavior. This is because children who are incarcerated miss out on educational and social opportunities, thereby increasing their likelihood of recidivism. Kentucky recently confronted this reality head-on with Senate Bill 200 which provided for drastic changes to the juvenile code. Click on “INCARCERATION OF JUVENILES” for more information.


In Kentucky, the average public defender carries a caseload that far surpasses guidelines. This is a problem that Kentucky has confronted for decades, and there is no relief in sight. Too few attorneys, not enough money and too many clients all amount to a criminal justice system that is stacked against the indigent. This doesn’t only impact the public defender system and the clients, this also impacts jails that are consistently overcrowded, courtrooms and dockets that are packed, resulting in drastic cost to the counties and state. A fully funded Department of Public Advocacy would allow for caseload reduction across the state, and benefit all of the stakeholders in the criminal justice system while saving county and state money. Click on “CASELOAD CRISIS” for more information.


It has become clear to liberals and conservatives alike that the death penalty is massively expensive and yet results in few actual death verdicts or executions. At the same time, the process of seeking a death sentence or imposing a death sentence is riddled with deeply concerning issues. Kentucky should not proceed with the prosecution of death penalty cases or executions until the recommendations of the 2011 impartial, independent and comprehensive Kentucky-specific Audit are assured in every case. To do otherwise would cast significant doubt on our justice system and the propriety of imposing the ultimate punishment. We have a fundamental responsibility to avoid the possibility of making an unjust and irreversible mistake. Click on “THE DEATH PENALTY” for more information.


Although the crime rate has dropped since its peak in the 1980’s, incarceration has skyrocketed. As a result, incarceration costs to counties and the state continue to drain local and state resources beyond what is necessary to ensure public safety. Kentucky can safely protect the public while also reducing waste by following a 10-point plan that will result in substantial savings. Click on “OVER INCARCERATION” for more information.


Additional funding is needed to allow for increased compensation for private attorneys who are willing to take cases where a defendant has a constitutional right to conflict-free counsel and DPA’s local trial office is ethically prohibited from representation. The Kentucky Bar Association (KBA) and Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution on November 18, 2011 endorsing findings and recommendations that call for the Governor and the Kentucky General Assembly to improve the system for the representation of indigents in conflict cases, issued a press release and communicated this critical need to the Governor in a December 21, letter. Click on “CONFLICT CRISIS” to learn more.


Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts leads the nation in its innovative approaches to pretrial release, saving the state millions of dollars annually. Click on “PRETRIAL RELEASE” to learn more.


Nothing is more hurtful than a wrongful conviction. The innocent are punished while the guilty go free. The Kentucky Innocence Project is responsible for identifying and attacking wrongful convictions, leading to the exoneration of innocent clients throughout the Commonwealth. Click on “KENTUCKY INNOCENCE PROJECT AND WRONGFUL CONVICTION” to learn more.


Kentucky’s Alternative Sentencing Workers tailor alternatives to incarceration for those who have committed nonviolent offenses and are in need of drug treatment or other community-based services, saving the state thousands of dollars per clients and helping them to become productive members of the community. Click on “ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION” to learn more.