TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — The Tippecanoe County Public Defender's Office is putting the blame on the drug epidemic for its soaring number of cases. To help curb the issue, nine new positions have been created.
However, the office said the new positions are just a Band-Aid to its caseload crisis.
The Public Defender's Office caseloads are increasing and they're expected to increase even more next year. Right now, the office is in its fourth quarter and already they have eight more cases currently than they did this time last year. There are still three weeks left in the quarter.
The Tippecanoe County Public Defender's Office says it's in a crisis. They have too many cases and not enough money or time to do their clients justice.
"The CHINS and TPR cases were just exploding and so was the budget," said Chief Deputy Public Defender Robert Little.
Because of the increasing caseloads, Public Defender Robert Little says they needed help. Currently, most child service cases are appointed to private counsel on an hourly rate.
"In the last couple of years the hourly rate increased up to $90 an hour plus caseloads have just increased for basically all of the courts," said Little.
In an attempt to cap the budget the county granted the office nine new positions. Out of those, six will be part-time positions for strictly child services cases.
"We're bound by commission guidelines as to how many cases each attorney can take over the course of a year. And we were in danger of losing our reimbursement," said Little.
He said a big cause for the increased caseloads is the drug epidemic that has a choking grip on our county. He said not only are the cases increasing, but they're also more complex.
"Substance abuse, opioid issue crisis and its mental health," said Little. "You're having to get mental health evaluations, substance abuse evaluations and try to line up services. It's not as simple as just drug possession, let's get probation or let's see how much community corrections time."
That's why they're also hiring on a full-time public defender and two part-time conflict public defenders.
"We asked for what we thought would put a Band-Aid on it for this coming budget year," said Little.
The six part-time positions have not been filled. However, a full-time public defender and two part-time conflict public defenders have been hired and they're expected to start at the beginning of the year.