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Shapiro Administration Launches First-Ever Grant Program to Support Indigent Defense Services in Pennsylvania

04/26/2024

Harrisburg, PA - Today, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s (PCCD) Indigent Defense Advisory Committee announced a new noncompetitive, formula-based grant program for improving indigent defense services, which provide legal representation for those who cannot afford it on their own. For the first time in Pennsylvania history, state funding has been appropriated to help ensure public defenders have the resources they need to provide constitutionally required legal defense for adult and juvenile ‘indigent’ defendants.

Until 2023, Pennsylvania was one of only two states in the country that did not provide state funding for indigent defense. Last year, Governor Shapiro secured $7.5 million in the 2023-24 budget as a historic investment of state funding for indigent defense services across the Commonwealth, fulfilling a promise he made to Pennsylvanians during his campaign. The 2024-25 state budget proposes a $2.5 million increase for indigent defense funding— a total of $10 million to be funded through PCCD. 

"Last year, for the first time, we came together to lose the shameful distinction of being one of just two states to invest zero state dollars in public defense and allocated sustainable funding to help meet the needs of public defenders and the poor defendants who rely on them. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Davis and the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee, we are working hard to drive that money out quickly, so counties can put it to work for poor defendants," said Governor Josh Shapiro. "We need to do more to build equity in our criminal justice system, but it's critically important that we start here - with sustained, dedicated funding for public defenders. The time to invest is right now. That's why my budget invests another $10 million in our public defenders this year to ensure that everyone has a fair shot - and that both sides have an adequate opportunity to present a strong case in court."

Since its inaugural meeting in February, the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee has worked quickly to get these critical funds out to Pennsylvania counties, collecting data from stakeholders and committee members on funding priorities and creating a funding framework and grant program to support local indigent defense services. During the data collection process, over three quarters of stakeholders surveyed by PCCD – including public defender offices, court-appointed and conflict counsel, and county court administrators – said that personnel-related costs were the most urgent funding need and priority.

“Pennsylvania public defenders are doing important work, but they’re often underpaid and overburdened with huge case loads,” said Lt. Gov. Austin Davis. “That’s why it’s crucial for the Commonwealth, for the first time, to step up and help shoulder the burden of funding indigent defense, so that every Pennsylvanian has access to justice.”

 The Indigent Defense Grant Program will provide grants to all Pennsylvania counties for the improvement of local indigent defense services aligned with initial standards approved by the Committee, with $6.75 million available in this first round of funding. The goal of this new grant program is to improve the capacity and effectiveness of indigent defense services in Pennsylvania through efforts to recruit and retain staff; improve data collection and reporting capacity; obtain necessary training, professional development, and technical assistance; and fill any other gaps identified by the county, in consultation with indigent defense service providers.  

All 67 Pennsylvania counties are eligible to apply with expectation that subawards be utilized to support the public defender office, non-profit corporations that serve as the county-wide provider of indigent defense services, and/or court-appointed counsel. Grant funding can be used for a variety of expenses to improve the provision of indigent defense services, including: 

  • Salaries and benefits for full- or part-time staff;
  • Efforts to recruit, promote, and/or retain staff;
  • Efforts to improve data collection and reporting capacity;
  • Training and professional development expenses for staff, including costs associated with consultants and/or travel;
  • Obtaining technical assistance to improve delivery of indigent defense services, including supports related to data collection/analysis/reporting, professional development, organizational development, etc.;
  • Travel/transportation expenses;
  • Supplies and equipment; and/or
  • Any other costs associated with gaps/needs identified by county, in consultation with those providing services, necessary to improve capacity and effectiveness.

Applications under this non-competitive solicitation are due through PCCD’s Egrants system by Thursday, May 23, 2024. Questions about the new grant program and/or the application process should be forwarded to RA-PCCD_ExecutiveOfc@pa.gov with “2023-24 Indigent Defense Grant Program” in the subject line. Applicants can find more information on funding requirements and how to apply on PCCD’s active funding announcements webpage.

Act 34 of 2023 established the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee within PCCD. The committee is tasked with a number of duties and responsibilities under the law, including the development of standards, training, and related professional development resources for attorneys representing indigent defendants; county- and state-level data collection and analysis; preparation of biennial reports; and the approval and disbursement of grants under the Indigent Defense Grant Program.

Visit the PCCD website to stay up to date on the latest news related to the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ali Gantz - algantz@pa.gov

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