Public defender task force announces listening tour

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A task force that is studying the provision of indigent criminal defense services in Indiana will soon travel the state to gather public input on how those services can be improved.

The Task Force on Public Defense announced Wednesday it is launching a statewide listening tour to seek public comment on the inefficiencies in Indiana’s public defense services, first identified by a report from the Sixth Amendment Center. The 2016 report was critical of Indiana’s public defense system and found the state is not meeting its constitutionally-mandated duty to provide effective assistance of counsel to indigent clients.

The Indiana Public Defender Commission formed the 17-member task force – led by retired 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Tinder – in response to the Sixth Amendment Center report, and the group has spent the last several months gathering information about the provision of indigent defense in Indiana and surrounding states. The next phase in its work is the listening tour, which will kick off in Indianapolis on Feb. 9. The tour will then move to Fort Wayne on Feb. 15, Evansville on March 20, Clark County on March 22 and Valparaiso on March 27.

“Public input is a critical component to allow the Task Force to consider a wide array of views on how Indiana’s public defense system can be more effective in guaranteeing the constitutional rights of our residents,” task force chairman Mark Rutherford said in a statement.

The 17-member group plans to release a report this fall with recommendations for improving the state’s public defense system. The report will also address concerns on how to best provide counsel for parents of children in need of services, a problem that has become more poignant as a result of the ongoing opioid crisis. The task force is also examining the provision of legal assistance to juvenile delinquents.

Further information about the task force and the listening tour, including registration information, can be found here.

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