Indigent Defense

Georgia's Indigent Defense Program has been re-tooled to provide better legal defense for low income citizens, though some local governments are not so happy with the changes.

The new Indigent Defense Program could cost local governments big even though the state has promised to kick in more money. Starting in 2005, public defenders will represent Georgians who can not afford their own attorney, and 59 new public defenders positions will be created with the state picking up a major portion of the bill.

Joe Pritchard, Lowndes County Manager, says, "Should they fail to come up with that amount of money, the state has indicated the shortfall will again have to be made up by local governments to provide the service."

That's what has local governments concerned. The costly offices could be more expensive than the current system. Despite a possible increase in cost, activist for low income residents say the change is long overdue and public defenders will provide better legal defense for the poor.

Karen Costlo-Knowlan of 211 of South Georgia says, "The stories have been very discouraging. People have not gotten proper representation, it’s an obvious fact. It’s a welcome recognition of the problem, the potential to straighten out a system that really has had flaws is real exciting to us."

While the community activist are excited, local governmental managers say they wish they had more of a say in creating the new program since they may have to pay for a bulk of the cost.

Pritchard adds, "We felt at the local levels that they needed more input from the locals, more opportunity to discuss this and come up with a reasonable foundation and perhaps allow the system to grow."

According to state numbers, the new public defender system will cost Lowndes County nearly $150,000 more per year, and that's if the state can fund the program at its desired levels.

It’s going to be an interesting selection process, because the judges and the district attorneys will make the selections. Those are the same district attorneys that will eventually face the public defenders in court.