State director says reduction in jail offenses would help

Sunday, February 26, 2006

With low salaries a major factor of the crisis facing the Missouri state public defender system, Gov. Matt Blunt's 4 percent salary raise for all state employees might help public defender retention.

But without significant increases that would add more public defenders to the field, Blunt's proposal won't be enough to stem the workload crisis, according to Cathy Kelly, director of training and communications for the agency.

"We either need more people or less cases," Kelly said.

But legislating for fewer cases is a possibility.

As public defenders must take on every case where the defendant cannot afford his or her own attorney and faces possible jail time, Kelly said reducing the number of crimes that have jail sentences could help.

In cases such as driving on a suspended license or writing a bad check, jail time is possible, but it's not usually imposed.

By eliminating jail time for some of those offenses, numerous cases could be freed up from the public defender's office, she said.

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