Do you think that indigent defense costs have exploded in Texas?
I'm told crime is down.
I'm told that probation numbers are down.
But why is indigent defense $220 million?
1. Crime is down, but per John Pfaff, prosecutors increased the number of convictions per arrest since 2001. See here and here.
2. So the number of cases increased even as crime declined.
3. With the increased number of cases came increased indigent defense costs.
4. Also, costs per case rose because of inflation as well as quality standards implemented in the 2001 law and by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission thereafter. This was necessary. Defense quality was and still is quite low.
Those are the basics.
So, criminal court caseloads have become disconnected from crime rates in a way that's counter-intuitive but which is a big driver of indigent defense costs. Through the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, people are being charged and convicted in low-level cases which, when Grits was a young man, would have been dismissed. These are local decisions by local actors, even if DAs and judges like to blame state government for their woes. As Grits wrote recently, arguments about exploding indigent defense costs ignore the much greater unfunded mandates those local actors impose on the state.