Recent events in Boston reflect a problem that seems to be facing the nation on a larger scale as well, with accusations flying from both sides of the fence over whether each gets enough funding. State prosecutors in Massachusetts are throwing accusations that the state is spending way too much money to fund their district attorney and criminal defense attorney systems, citing statistics that suggest the state spends three times the amount of money on defense as it does on prosecution. Meanwhile, the criminal defense attorneys shot back and claim that those arguments are skewed, and that prosecutor access to policy investigators and resources more than makes up for any disparity between the two groups.
Prosecutors in Boston are petitioning lawmakers in Massachusetts to reallocated funding they see in the system. They describe spending by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the state department that funds the criminal defense attorney system) as being “broken” and “out of control.”
This dispute has seriously raised emotions in the state. During a recent press conference that was organized by district attorneys, there was actually a shouting match between the two sides. Each accused the other of twisting budget numbers to serve their own agendas.
The district attorneys claimed to get $92 million from the state, which had to be used to prosecute as many as 300,000 cases each year. They contrasted this with the $168 million that the state gives in funding for public defenders, who are only utilized in about 200,000 of those cases. Further, the prosecutors suggested that this gap is actually a dangerous waste of taxpayer money.
In some ways, it’s hard to argue with the numbers. The criminal defense attorney budget in the state was just $51 million only eight years ago. In addition, that division has overspent its budget every year for the past several years. This also follows the 2005 pay raise given to criminal defense attorneys after the defenders refused to sign a new service contract.
This dispute isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, either. Many lawmakers are wary of offending either side, and some consider it a political hot potato that no one seems to want to deal with.