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Today, public defenders face a crisis, Rapping said. He described them as overworked and underpaid in representing 80% or more of the people who pass through the criminal justice system.

“I firmly believe that as public defenders, our job is not to make our own definition of guilt or innocence or determine who’s worthy of a good defense and who’s not,” he said. “I believe all of us are. The protection we all expect is only as good as the protection we’re willing to afford everyone.”

He laments the current numbers of 2.2 million people in America’s jails and prisons, with nearly 7 million under some form of correctional control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he worries that people who are presumed innocent might contract the coronavirus while in jail waiting for a trial. He sometimes refers to the criminal justice system by a different name—the criminal legal system—because he questions whether it actually serves justice.

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