Wise: Government leaves holes funding many basic services

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, March 6, 2019

I completely agree with St. John Public Defender Richard Stricks, who says his office is badly and unconstitutionally underfunded.

And I totally support his efforts to convince the Legislature to boost his office’s budget — perhaps even to double what it receives now.
But I can’t support the current way that the Public Defender, or other justice system agencies, get funds.

A chunk of it comes from “court costs” that are added onto fines for even the most minor of offenses — sometimes more than doubling what people must pay.

There is a big problem with that.

Only guilty people pay fines and court costs, so the Public Defender’s Office has a vested interest in finding people guilty — the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be doing.

The fewer guilty pleas there are, the less court costs and the less money Mr. Stricks’ Office gets to defend poor people.

The state has never properly funded any of its three main responsibilities — education, health and justice.

We pay taxes to support every one of them but still have to dig into our own pockets because none of them can stand on its own.

— Russ Wise, LaPlace