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Significant Public Defender Shortage

May 13, 2024

Paul Heaton
Paul Heaton

The Quattrone Center’s Prof. Paul Heaton has found that statewide, public defenders are experiencing a substantial personnel shortfall. 

A new report by Paul Heaton, Professor of Law and Academic Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, and featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer has found that there are only 850 public defenders employed in Pennsylvania, which needs about 1,200.

The report, “Gideon’s Promise Versus Gideon’s Reality: Resource Shortfalls in Pennsylvania Public Defense,” states that 60 of the state’s 66 counties with public defenders (91%) have criminal attorney staffing levels below current standards. 

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Pennsylvania has an insufficient number of public defenders in nearly every county, according to a new report from a University of Pennsylvania law professor, hampering the state’s ability to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide adequate representation for criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.

Paul Heaton, the report’s author, analyzed nearly one million criminal court dockets covering a six-year period and concluded that there should be about 1,200 public defenders employed in county courthouses across the state. But there are only about 850 public defenders currently working, Heaton found — a shortfall of about 30%. And some form of deficit exists nearly everywhere, Heaton found, with just six of the state’s 66 public defenders’ offices employing enough lawyers to adequately cover a typical annual caseload.

Montgomery, Bucks, and Delaware Counties are among those with notable staffing shortages, the report said, although many of the most disproportionately under-resourced counties are in central and northern Pennsylvania.

“I expected in general there to be a shortfall,” Heaton said in an interview. “One of the big questions I had, though, is whether we’d find that basically everywhere.”

Read the full piece at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Read the full report.