A shortage of public defenders in Portland , Oregon, has led courts to dismiss hundreds of criminal cases and delayed justice for scores of other victims whose cases have languished in a backlog for months.

Between February and December of this year, Multnomah County dismissed 300 cases because no public defender was available to represent the defendants, according to the Multnomah district attorney. More than 2,300 other hearings were “set over,” meaning a court delayed hearings in cases in which a public defender was not available but may be in the future.

In all, the district attorney’s office said , nearly 2,500 felony cases were affected this year by a lack of public defenders.

“The courts are put in the position of releasing defendants without prosecutors having so much as an opportunity to request bail or release conditions. And it’s not getting any better,” District Attorney Mike Schmidt said in a statement last month.

“This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable and their harm will go unaddressed,” Schmidt said. “It also sends a message to individuals who have committed a crime that there is no accountability while burning through scarce police and prosecutor resources. Every day that this crisis persists presents an urgent and continuing threat to public safety.”

A review this year by the American Bar Association found the state’s public defense system shockingly understaffed.

“Oregon has only 31% of the public defense attorneys it needs to handle its adult and juvenile caseloads,” the group noted in a report .

Oregon’s public defense system is unique in that the Office of Public Defense Services does not employ the attorneys who are appointed to low-income suspects. Instead, the state office signs contracts with private law firms that do public defense work — and far too few contracts presently exist.