BOSTON, Mass. /Massachusetts Newswire/ — Governor Deval Patrick today announced a proposal to eliminate the Commonwealth’s Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) system, replacing it with a newly created Department of Public Counsel Services, under the executive branch. The new department will transition away from representation by contracted Private Bar Advocates toward a network of salaried public defenders, saving taxpayers an estimated $45 million annually, and continuing the Administration’s efforts to ensure accountability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness across state government. “We need a better, more cost-effective system, and this proposal gets us that,” said Governor Patrick.

The Governor’s proposal would discontinue the use of privately contracted attorneys, or Private Bar Advocates, who bill at an hourly rate, and replace them with salaried public defenders. Over 3,000 contracted private bar advocates currently defend 90 percent of the Committee’s annual case load. This reliance on contracted employees who bill at an hourly rate comes at a significant cost to taxpayers.

By transitioning from Private Bar Advocates to a network of salaried public defenders, the Commonwealth will be able to ensure largely fixed costs for these services, and generate an estimated $45 million in savings annually.

The Governor’s proposal would also eliminate the CPCS board and make the body an independent executive branch agency. This reform will bring Massachusetts in line with 28 other states that currently administer the indigent criminal defense through an agency with executive branch oversight. Massachusetts is only one of six states that currently places its public defender agency in the judicial branch.

The new department would also be tasked with assuming responsibility for the indigency verification process, currently administered by the Probation Department, and tightening that process to ensure that only those who are income-eligible for free defense counsel receive those services. By increasing the controls of the eligibility determination and re-determination process, it is expected that the department’s case load will decrease and the fee collections from people deemed “able to contribute” to the assignment of their counsel will increase.

“In the face of the state’s new fiscal reality, we must change the way government does business to ensure we are stretching every taxpayer dollar as far as possible,” said Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez. “The Governor’s proposal for reforming our system for providing legal counsel to indigent defendants is an example of exactly the type of change we need to be making. This reform will result in greater accountability, program integrity and tens of millions in cost savings that will allow us to preserve indigent defense services and other critical programs and services throughout state government.”

Governor Patrick also announced today that his budget proposal will preserve, and in certain instances, boost funding for vital youth violence prevention programs. A top priority of the Patrick-Murray Administration’s second term, the Governor’s youth violence prevention plan will include recommendations from public safety officials, street workers, community advocates, parents, young people and a variety of other stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive solution to urban violence. The Governor’s budget proposal will recommend funding youth violence prevention programs at the following levels:

•Shannon Grants: $5.5 million; $1 million greater than fiscal year 2011 levels. Shannon Grants are anti-gang violence grants distributed to communities based on a formula that takes into consideration crime rates and youth demographics. Additionally, the Administration plans to include $2.5 million in supplemental funding in the fiscal year 2011 supplemental bill to be filed with House 1. This funding, which will be made available for an 18-month period, will allow for the Shannon Grant program to be funded at $8 million for fiscal year 2012.
•After School/Out of School Grants: $1.5 million; level funded from fiscal year 2011 levels. This program funds grants or subsidies for after school and out of school programs including tutoring, homework centers and athletics.
•Youth Violence Prevention Grants: $1.5 million; level funded from fiscal year 2011 levels. In a joint effort with the Department of Public Safety and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the Department of Public Health administers a competitive grant process for innovative and constructive ways to address youth violence in at-risk communities.
•Youth-at-Risk Matching Grants: $1.5 million; $200,000 greater than fiscal 2011 levels. Youth-at-Risk matching grants include funding for the Massachusetts Coalition of Boys and Girls Clubs, various YMCAs, YWCAs and other youth community centers. This $200,000 increase will be divided evenly between the Boys and Girls Club collaborative and YMCAs.