How Wayne County Is Trying to Fix Broken Public Defense System

Wayne County’s Indigent Defense Services Department Director Robin Dillard-Russaw talks about why the current legal framework is failing those who need it most.

Wayne County is one of many places across the country taking steps to address big disparities in our criminal justice system. One of the things it hopes to tackle are the injustices associated with having access to adequate representation in court if you can’t afford an attorney on your own. The right to an attorney regardless of ability to pay is guaranteed under the Constitution. But the systems in place to make sure that happens often fail to meet the most basic standards of justice. That’s why last year, Wayne County established a new office meant to bolster public defense services. The county promises that the office will have a “dramatic impact on how indigent defense services and criminal justice overall will be administered in Wayne County.” 

“It matters that [indigent clients] have the same opportunities granted to them that other stakeholders have had.” –Robin Dillard-Russaw, Wayne County’s Indigent Defense Services Department   

Listen: Why Wayne County has a new office dedicated to bolstering public defense services.


Robin Dillard-Russaw is the director of Wayne County’s Indigent Defense Services Department. On the new department, Dillard-Russaw says she is feeling hopeful and optimistic about the potential that might come from the initiative. “Attorneys are grossly underfunded in Wayne County. They haven’t had any increase to their services since 1980s,” explains Dillard-Russaw, who adds this is why the new department marks an important turning point. 
“It’s a great day in Wayne County … the stakeholders like Executive Warren Evans and the commission are all in alignment to reform the system and it’s working out fantastically,” says Dillard-Russaw. “This has been a historically underfunded area of criminal justice … it doesn’t necessarily matter if someone is guilty or innocent, it matters that [indigent clients] have the same opportunities granted to them that other stakeholders have had,” she explains. 

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