Oregon facing severe shortage of public defense attorneys

Oregon Supreme Court in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon needs about 1900 public defenders to ensure the constitutional rights of those in the criminal justice system, but the state has fewer than 600, a 69% deficit. That’s according to a new report by the American Bar Association. Advocates say the crisis is actually longstanding and has steadily worsened. The latest report echoes a 2019 report by the Sixth Amendment Center that found Oregon’s system for public defense was essentially unconstitutional. Advocates say all three branches of government are needed to address the crisis. Metro Public Defenders attorney Tristen Edwards represents indigent people accused of crimes. She says her clients are some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people, and she’s passionate about representing them. But even working six days a week — without taking on new cases — she can never do everything she needs to do. Edwards joins us to share her experience trying to keep up with day-to-day case loads, and about her restorative justice work to address systemic inequity.

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