Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced that the SFY 2017-18 Budget includes a six year plan to increase the state's investment in public defense legal services to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to quality representation.
"This investment reaffirms the Assembly Majority's commitment to making sure that the justice system serves all New Yorkers, regardless of where they live or what they earn," said Heastie. "We have a responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of New Yorkers and a moral obligation to relieve public defenders of heavy workloads that compromise the quality of representation they deliver."
Under the proposal, over the next six years the state will gradually increase its investment in improving the quality of public defense services according to a plan developed by the Office of Indigent Legal Services. The plan will ensure defendants have counsel at arraignment, establish new caseload standards so that attorneys can devote sufficient time and attention to each case, and ensure that attorneys receive effective training and have the necessary qualifications and experience. When fully implemented in 2023, the state's investment will increase funding to counties and New York City through the Office of Indigent Legal Services by approximately $250 million annually.
Under the current structure, the quality and effectiveness of public defense services varies widely from county to county often depending on the availability of funding. This legislation will help New York live up to the promise of fair and effective representation for defendants unable to afford counsel and help to ensure that these critical services are provided consistently statewide.
"This is a monumental day for advancing criminal justice reform in New York with the adoption of Raise the Age and improvements to the Indigent Legal Services," said Assemblymember Patricia Fahy. "I could not be more proud to see so much of the Justice Equality Act I sponsored two years ago included in this budget to improve quality and provide mandate relief to all counties. This is 50 years overdue and I thank the extraordinary leadership of Speaker Heastie, Assemblymember Lentol, and countless advocates for true justice reform."
"For far too long, New Yorkers have paid the price for inadequate and underfunded indigent legal services," said Assemblymember Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee. "This legislation and funding will help relieve public defenders of their heavy workloads and in turn, help individuals get the quality public defense legal services they deserve."