Proponents warn that the cuts could bring an already overloaded system to the breaking point.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has revealed its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will start on July 1, 2020. In it, he calls on lawmakers to cut the funds available to state defense lawyers by more than $ 3 million – and to increase the funds available to prosecutors by about the same amount.

More than $ 2 million of the expected savings would come from freezing positions that have been vacant since January 2019 – in other words, to ensure there are no incoming public defenders, to give current public defenders some level of relief To provide.

Georgia lawmakers have long been reluctant to adequately fund public defense agencies, proponents say, and are bringing the institution to the brink of crisis. “The Public Defender Council has been under pretty constant pressure to cut costs when those cuts are already to the bone,” said Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. “We see a system that is being reduced to such an extent that constitutionally required representation is simply no longer offered.”

Kemp’s proposal would also reduce the amounts paid to lawyers the state contracts with when a public defender has a dispute. The exercise Stalk from a 2013 opinion in which the Georgia Supreme Court reiterated that public defense lawyers could not represent co-defendants with detrimental interests – for example, if two individuals charged with the same crime accuse the other of having committed it.

The $ 3 million cut is independent of the more than $ 1.2 million public defender funding cuts recommended by the Governor for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. Almost all of these savings in the changed budget could also be attributed to a freeze when filling open positions.

On the other side of the ledger, Kemp’s 2021 fiscal year proposal would add $ 2 million to “hiring and retaining district attorneys” and $ 1.2 million to hiring a dozen new district attorneys to serve in the juvenile courts provide in Georgia. The legislators will Kemp’s budget in a Series of hearings in Atlanta this week.

Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin, the attracted attention Regarding the cuts on Twitter, in an interview with The Appeal, the idea of ​​cutting contract funds was described as “quite remarkable”. “The idea that overstretched public defender budgets are cut while we offer more of our budget to recruit and retain prosecutors, and it looks like it [on a] 1-for-1 [basis]- These decisions reflect some sort of categorical preference for strengthening law enforcement at the expense of defense, ”he said. “Historically, and at the present moment, this is just not the kind of compensation the criminal justice system needs.”

In a presentation to the legislature on Tuesday, Kemp highlighted its proposed cut of around 1,200 currently vacant jobs as an efficient method of cutting spending. according to to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Budgeting before showing costs needs to be cut doesn’t require drastic cuts in other agency activities,” he said.

McLaurin disagreed with Kemp’s formulation of the problem. He said the government might believe that “if overworked public defenders somehow get it working … it means we can freeze vacancies and act as if it were normal.” But “the reality on the ground just isn’t that,” he said.

In a statement to The Appeal, Georgia Budget & Policy Institute analyst Danny Kanso warned that hiring freezes and wage cuts could result in longer waiting times for anyone in need of government-funded services. “Some of these agencies already have high turnover rates. It is not clear how they can leave vacancies, ”he wrote. “The question is what are the consequences for the Georgians?”

Totonchi added that short-term savings could prove expensive in the long run if judges find that the quality of representation provided by the state’s public defenders falls below a constitutionally mandated quality threshold.

“In the past, the consequences of expensive and protracted litigation were when Georgia failed to provide the necessary resources for public defenders,” she said. “I believe that if these cuts are implemented, our state will undoubtedly have to face them in court.”