Case loads for public defenders remains high in light of budget cuts
PADUCAH — The latest Kentucky case load report shows public defenders were assigned almost 1,500 more cases in 2011 than in 2010.
The Public Defender Office in Paducah covers McCracken Livingston, Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton counties. When it comes to the numbers, directing attorney Chris McNeill said they're always high.
"Case load numbers in McCracken County have remained very heavy and solid through the years."
The entire state of Kentucky saw a rise in public defense cases for 2011, but McNeill said the offenses themselves are not the biggest problem. It's budget cuts.
"The budget cuts affect us by not allowing us to have as many lawyers as we should to cover all these counties. So, we just have to stretch and cover what we can."
The slashes have also cut down on the number of people who can benefit from a program that costs tax payers just $4,000 a year compared to the $27,000 it costs to put someone behind bars.
McNeill said, "Drug court works and it is a lot less expensive for the taxpayer. They get a lot more bang for their buck and I think that's the biggest issue probably that hits home right here."
There's a waiting list to get into the drug court program in McCracken County, though it's not an option for every offender.
According to McNeill, "Drug courts are typically designed for people with substance abuse problems. Drug courts are not for people who commit serious or violent crimes."
In the middle of shrinking budgets and growing case loads, McNeill said funding drug courts is an investment that helps addicts recover and saves taxpayer dollars.