KS public defender system faces crisis

The executive director of the Kansas board overseeing court-appointed defense in felony criminal cases says the state public defender system is in crisis.

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February 9, 2021 - 7:58 AM

TOPEKA — The executive director of the Kansas board overseeing court-appointed defense in felony criminal cases says the state public defender system is in crisis.

Issues with caseloads, staffing, pay parity and overall lack of infrastructure are weighing down public defenders, said Heather Cessna, executive director of the Kansas Board of Indigent Defense Services. These issues have been mounting for decades and have reached unmanageable levels, she said.

“One of the reasons why BIDS problems is not just BIDS problems is because 85% of the adult felony criminal cases in Kansas require appointed counsel,” Cessna said. “That has ripple effects throughout the entire criminal legal system if the public defenders and the public defense is not working properly.”

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