Texas’ rural communities urgently need more prosecutors and public defense providers. On average, Texas’ most urban areas have 28 lawyers for every 100 criminal cases, but rural areas only have five. Many rural prosecutor’s offices cannot recruit and retain enough staff. The Constitution’s promise of equal justice for all remains unfulfilled. Rural Texans charged with misdemeanors are four times less likely to have a lawyer than urban defendants. In 2021, only 403 rural Texas lawyers accepted an appointment to represent an adult criminal defendant. In 65 rural counties, no lawyer accepted an appointment. And the problem is getting worse. Since 2015, Texas has lost one-quarter of its rural defense lawyers. Many of them retired and have not been replaced.
This policy brief outlines three solutions to recruit more criminal lawyers to serve rural Texans: Educational pipelines, financial incentives, and rural public defender offices. Rural Texans deserve the same constitutional protections as their urban and suburban counterparts. With strong recruitment strategies, targeted incentive programs, and new rural defender offices, Texas can green its criminal law deserts.
Metzger, P. R., Buetow, C., Meeks, K., Skiles, B., & Yu, J., Greening Criminal Legal Deserts in Rural Texas, Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center (October 2022)