KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – How much does your county spend on public defense?
In Pennsylvania’s scattershot system, funding varies widely depending on where you live.
In the interactive map above, you can toggle between how much county public defender offices had to spend per adult criminal case, or by their budget per capita. Both use 2015 data.
On the low end of both metrics, you’ll find Fayette County, the place whereCrystal Weimer was wrongfully convicted for a murder she didn’t commit, and then jailed for nearly 12 years.
Also on near the bottom, you’ll find Blair County, where public defenders carry much higher adult criminal caseloads compared to the state average. There, defenders say private funding earmarked for drug policing and prosecution has them feeling completely overmatched.
As part of a our months long investigation into public defense in Pennsylvania, we spotlighted stories in those two counties.
But the effects at the local level are largely a product of state policy, or lack thereof.
Pennsylvania is an outlier nationally when it comes to public defense — as the only state without state funding or oversight.
Despite charges that this means the state isn’t living up to its Sixth Amendment obligation, Pa. lawmakers haven’t made reform a priority.
Statewide caseload data for our series came from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Most individual public defender offices in the state do not track their own case statistics. The few that do keep tabs use the numbers when they advocate to county commissioners for added funding.
The majority of offices, though, seem too overwhelmed to carve out the time needed to develop a tracking system.
A note on the caseload data: most counties also have responsibilities beyond adult criminal cases; however, very few could tell us how many of these other matters they handled in 2015.