Defender Association Supports ACLU-PA’s Indigent Defense Lawsuit

PHILADELPHIA–The Defender Association of Philadelphia supports ACLU-PA’s lawsuit against Pennsylvania for inadequate state funding for indigent defense. In Gideon v Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that every individual is entitled to legal counsel in court, regardless of ability to pay. But many public defender offices are so underfunded that they can’t provide proper legal representation. This isn’t just about money—it’s about justice and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, gets the constitutionally required effective representation.


We appreciate Governor Josh Shapiro’s leadership in adding a $7.5 million line item for public defense in the state budget. It’s a positive step, but public defender offices still rely almost entirely on county funding. This creates a system where the quality of defense varies widely depending on where you live, leading to unequal justice.


Underfunded public defender offices struggle with overwhelming caseloads and insufficient resources, making it nearly impossible to meet the constitutional mandate for effective counsel. This not only harms those accused of crimes but also erodes trust in our justice system. ACLU-PA’s lawsuit aims to change this by pushing for statewide reform and adequate funding for all public defender offices.

We urge Pennsylvania to act now and ensure that every public defender office in the Commonwealth has the resources needed to provide effective representation. We need a justice system that works for every Pennsylvania citizen.


# # #

Defender Association Response to Kensington “Sweep”

PHILADELPHIA–“The Defender Association fully realizes that immediate action is needed to address the conditions in Kensington. But the City’s May 8 “sweep” of homeless people signals a return to draconian and ineffective crime and drug policies. We are also troubled by the lack of communication we have received from the city in advance of these actions. This information vacuum is particularly concerning as it potentially compromises our ability to serve our clients.


“To be sure, the Defender Association and the Parker Administration have very different policy perspectives. We have long believed that it’s a bad idea to rely on the criminal legal system to solve a public health crisis. The unintended harms of the planned “jail vs. treatment” strategy outweigh any derived benefits for people in addiction. The city’s action’s also threaten to overwhelm the court and jail system, and will likely shift the current problem to other neighborhoods that haven’t been receiving the same amount of attention.


“Despite our efforts to be included in the discussions around Kensington, the Defender Association has received little information about the city’s plans. This is troubling because our office represents a significant percentage of adult men and women from Kensington. From 2017 to 2022 we provided services for nearly 12,000 clients from this neighborhood. Getting timely details about upcoming plans is critical for preparing our attorneys and social workers to serve what will undoubtedly be an uptick in cases stemming from the increased law enforcement activity.


“We can discuss and debate policy. But there’s no question that anyone arrested for a crime–in Kensington or elsewhere–has a right to legal counsel. As the city’s public defender, we feel it is incumbent upon the city to include our office in any discussion that relies so heavily on our justice system.”


“As we work toward solutions that will benefit everyone impacted by the activities in Kensington, the Defender Association looks forward to a more open dialogue with city officials and stakeholders.”


# # #

Defender Statement on PA Legislature’s Passage of Criminal Justice Bills

PHILADELPHIA—“On December 13, the PA Legislature passed justice system reform bills that represent significant and positive steps toward criminal justice reform. We celebrate these milestones as victories for justice system-involved Pennsylvanians. At the same time, lawmakers also passed legislation that doesn’t go far enough, or, in some cases represent setbacks in our efforts to create a justice system that works for everyone.    


“For the first time, the state budget includes funding for public defender offices across the Commonwealth. This is a major budget provision that removes Pennsylvania’s distinction of being the only state that doesn’t provide funding for indigent defense.   


“The Defender Association is particularly thrilled about the passage of HB 689 (Clean Slate Expansion). Entanglement with the criminal justice system justice can create unnecessary lifelong obstacles to housing, career and job opportunities. HB 689 allows Pennsylvanians to seal felony records for most theft and drug convictions after 13 crime-free years. This is a major win for the thousands of people who’ve served their time and are working hard to build a better future for themselves and their families. 


“Unfortunately, while we’re appreciative of the amendments made to HB 838 (probation reform bill), the legislation still falls far short of what the Defender Association would want for the tens of thousands of clients we represent in cases related to probation violations.     


“We’re particularly concerned about the passage of SB 140, which allows the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes occurring ‘within a public transportation center,’ effectively eliminating local and duly elected District Attorneys from the equation. We also feel that the Legislature missed opportunities to make meaningful changes to the Commonwealth’s juvenile justice and medical parole laws.    


“While we certainly don’t support every bill that passed last night, the Defender Association appreciates the energy that is being focused on changes to Pennsylvania’s justice system. We remain committed to working with our community allies, and sharing what we learn from data and our clients’ experiences with our state legislators. Ultimately, we believe these conversations will lead to improved criminal justice reform legislation in the future.”     


# # #

Defender Statement in Support of HB1410

PHILADELPHIA–“Pennsylvania has archaic and overly punitive sentencing laws that have little positive impact on public safety in the Commonwealth. Like most aspects of our judicial system, the harshest impacts are felt by Pennsylvania’s Black and Brown incarcerated population.

“Our experience working in communities teaches us that returning citizens are an incredible resource and source of positive guidance for young people in our neighborhoods.
Right now there are around 2,000 commutation-eligible people serving time in Pennsylvania prisons, costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year. By requiring a simple majority of the board to commute sentences, HB1410 will give these citizens a much-needed second chance to show that they are far more valuable at home than behind prison walls.

“The Defender Association of Philadelphia urges the PA Legislature to pass HB1410, and brighten the future for incarcerated people and their families.”

# # #

Keisha Hudson on Court’s Dismissal of Irizarry Shooting Case

PHILADELPHIA—“Our (mostly Black and Brown) clients never get to present or argue a justification defense at a preliminary hearing. And they certainly do not get their cases dismissed based on a judge’s determination that there was a justification defense.


“Instead, our clients—all of whom are poor and almost exclusively Black and Brown people—have their cases held for trial, and they sit in jail for months awaiting their day in court. Going forward, certainly before this forum, Defender Association attorneys will be making the same arguments and demanding the same results.”


# # #


Keisha Hudson on Passing of JoAnne A. Epps


PHILADELPHIA–“The staff and Board of Directors of the Defender Association of Philadelphia are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Interim Temple University President JoAnne A. Epps.


“JoAnne was a past president and current member of the Defender’s Board of Directors. Even after being named Temple’s interim president, her commitment to the work of the Defender never wavered. She was a consistent and needed presence at every board meeting, and provided invaluable input that has helped us shape our policies, priorities and values.


“This is a devastating loss for the public defender community and our city. Though we, like the entire Temple University family, are emotionally reeling right now, our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and family at this extremely difficult time.”


# # #


Chief Defender on Shooting of Eddie Irizarry

PHILADELPHIA–“It’s a very sad fact that Eddie Irizarry should be alive today. It’s also true that we, as a city must come together to honestly and forcefully address the issue of shifting police narratives.

“This is an issue we, as public defenders deal with too often in the courtroom. When police officers give misleading accounts of their own actions, it not only undermines the integrity of our justice system, but also creates irrevocable harm to people on trial. If we want to have a serious conversation about public safety, then we need every stakeholder to honestly and transparently perform their duties.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Eddie Irizarry’s family and loved ones, and we join them in calling for answers and accountability from our justice system for this tragedy.”

# # #

Defender Statement on JJSC Ruling from Commonwealth Court

PHILADELPHIA–“The Defender Association of Philadelphia applauds the Commonwealth Court ruling ordering the state to intervene to ease the overcrowding and mitigate the unhealthy and dangerous conditions at Philly’s Juvenile Justice Services Center (JJSC).

“For months, Defender’s leadership team and attorneys have been advocating—publicly, privately and every day in court—for a range of solutions that would address the overcrowding at the JJSC and ensure that these children received the care and supportive services they need. Although we’re waiting for the City and the Courts to reconvene our weekly meetings on JJSC, the Commonwealth’s suggestion that we haven’t been engaged in this conversation is factually inaccurate and insulting.

“To be sure, there are approaches we should be implementing to address the problem. Reexamining who should be detained; better use of existing technology (e.g. GPS monitors) and reporting centers; and working with local organizations to expand our pipeline of supportive services for children are all ideas we should explore on the local level. But this crisis also requires some intervention and a greater sense of collaboration from the Commonwealth. For example, just a slight, temporary adjustment to their staffing ratios (say, from 1:4 to 1:5) could go a long way to easing overcrowding at the JJSC.

“The JJSC is just the latest example of why simply warehousing young people is not an effective public safety tactic. In the short term, we’re straining city resources and putting children and staff at risk. In the long term, the family separation and life-threatening conditions of confinement are exposing our children to trauma that can last for a lifetime.”

Keisha Hudson on FY 2024 Budget

The Defender’s budget increase shows our City leaders understand the value of a well-funded public defenders office.

PHILADELPHIA–“On behalf of the staff and Board of Directors of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, I’d like to thank the Kenney Administration and City Council for proposing and passing a budget that includes a significant funding increase for our office.

“While our primary role is providing free legal counsel for those accused of crimes, we believe that connecting our clients to supportive services is the key to keeping them out of prison and on the path to brighter futures. To that end, the Defender Association will be putting the additional funds to good use. Most notably, we’ll be adding more social workers and attorneys to support our children and youth clients. The increase will also allow us to collaborate with Partners for Justice, whose advocates will work alongside our attorneys, connecting clients to healthcare, employment, housing and other needs.

“We appreciate the City of Philadelphia for recognizing that, when it comes to creating healthier, safer communities, a well-funded public defender is every bit as important as the investments we make in law enforcement and other areas of the justice system.”

# # #


Keisha Hudson on Gov. Shapiro’s Budget Proposal

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“Governor Shapiro’s proposal to invest $10 million in state funds to indigent defense is welcome news for public defenders, and the clients we represent across the Commonwealth.

“As the Governor pointed out in his budget address, ‘Pennsylvania is one of only two states in the nation that provides zero dollars for indigent defense. That’s not a list we want to be on.’

“The Defender Association of Philadelphia wholeheartedly agrees with the Governor on this. Even if this investment is made–and we truly hope the legislature approves this–it is far from the funding needed for Pennsylvania’s public defense system to be on truly firm footing. However, this investment represents an unprecedented acknowledgment of the importance of our collective work as public defenders.”

# # #


Follow us: @PhillyDefenders