Director Rachel Rossi of the Justice Department’s Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) and staff from ATJ and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) met with national public defense organizations today at the Justice Department.

The organizations discussed an array of critical topics impacting adult and youth public defenders including challenges in securing federal funding and resources; research needs and data gaps; the need to promote policies that ensure early and continuous access to counsel and concerns about increasing caseloads and workloads that can lead to the constructive denial of counsel. 

ATJ is charged with planning, developing and coordinating the implementation of access to justice policy initiatives of high priority to the Justice Department and the Executive Branch, including in areas of criminal indigent defense. Today’s convening was held in furtherance of the ATJ’s commitment and mandate to regularly engage with the public defense community and to support indigent defense. It is part of the department’s continuing engagement with and support for the public defense community.

In March, the Justice Department celebrated 60 years since the Supreme Court decision recognizing the right to counsel in criminal cases, Gideon v. Wainwright, by launching a country-wide tour to hear from those on the ground doing the work of making the right to counsel a reality. High-level Justice Department officials joined ATJ in visits with public defenders, impacted communities and advocates across the United States to hear about barriers and announce a number of actions in response. These actions include:

  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s launch of a 100-day review of access to counsel in Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities;
  • OJP and ATJ’s issuance of a “Dear Colleague” letter encouraging states to use Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program funding to resource public defense
  • An ATJ partnership with the National Institute of Justice on a research project detailing the landscape of state public defender systems; and
  • The establishment of new attorney position in ATJ, filled by Senior Counsel Nikhil Ramnaney, dedicated to supporting, collaborating with, and engaging the state and local public defense community.

Updated June 20, 2023