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Wisconsin is 15th highest spender in nation on indigent defense

Wisconsin spent nearly $90 million in 2008 on defense attorneys for poor people, according to a new study from the American Bar Association.

The ABA report indicates that Wisconsin is the 15th highest spender in the nation, with more than $83 million in state money and $6 million in county money dedicated to indigent defense.

California spent the most, according to the study, with a total 2008 expenditure of $776.7 million. Florida was the second-highest, spending a reported $354 million on indigent defense in 2008.

According to the report, 93 percent of Wisconsin’s indigent defense spending is from state money.

Wisconsin is among five states where the state provides 85-99 percent of the money for indigent defense, the majority of it through the State Public Defender’s Office which handles approximately 150,000 cases annually, the report states.

There are 23 states where indigent defense is fully paid for by the state.

In recent years, the State Bar of Wisconsin and other legal service providers have pushed to increase the ability of poor people in the state to receive quality representation.

The Access to Justice Commission formed in 2009 and the bar allotted $300,000 for its initial operation. On June 8, the bar’s board of governors approved an $85,000 grant to pay for direct expenses and staff time during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

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