One pressing challenge facing our criminal justice system today is the retention of qualified prosecutors and public defenders, who serve everyday to ensure that our communities are protected, the rule of law is upheld, and the rights of the citizenry are safeguarded.
Both prosecutor and public
defender offices consistently find it difficult to attract and retain talented attorneys.
Driven by educational debt, attorneys interested in public interest law often forego opportunities to work in these offices in order to seek more lucrative private sector positions.
Attorney shortages in these offices can result in overworked attorneys handling unmanageable caseloads, potentially affecting public safety, the administration of justice, and ultimately the publics confidence in our justice system.Student loan debt is consistently cited as the overwhelming reason why attorneys decline or leave positions as prosecutors and public defenders.
The vast majority of law students borrow to finance their legal education and the rising costs have imposed staggering debt.
Furthermore, public defender and prosecutor salaries have failed to keep pace with the escalating cost of education.
As a result, talented lawyers are often unwilling to accept or remain in attorney positions as prosecutors or public defenders, creating real challenges for those offices in their quest to hire and retain capable attorneys.Acknowledging this challenge, Congress enacted the John R.
Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act (hereinafter referred to as the Act), codified at 42 U.S.C.
§3797cc-21, and named for the late John Reid Justice of South Carolina, to encourage qualified attorneys to choose careers as prosecutors and public defenders and to continue in that service.
The John R.
Justice (JRJ) Grant Program provides loan repayment assistance for local, state, and federal public defenders and local and state prosecutors who commit to continued employment as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years.
To administer this program, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) will award funds to each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to serve eligible recipients working within the states or Districts jurisdiction.