Walking Out With Housing And A Job

Nobody becomes a public defender client by choice. 

As defenders, everyone we work with walks into our office trying to navigate the intersecting nightmares that accompany a criminal court matter, lost jobs, missing medication, unstable housing, and separation from family (just to name a few).

Our work, as legal professionals, is to try to make sure our client walks out of our office with their life as intact as possible. But our dream is to go vastly beyond the status quo, and help them walk out with their circumstances better.

When we founded PFJ, we weren’t sure if this was realistic. We knew that up to 90% of public defense clients are struggling with a crisis beyond the legal matter, usually in housing, transportation, employment, benefits, or healthcare. And our collaborative defense approach was designed to address these needs. Now that we’re six years in, we are beginning to see the results of what we’ve built.

First, collaborative defense service provision itself has been effective: on average, collaborative defense teams around the country are able to complete their clients’ stated goals about 70% of the time, with higher completion rates in service goals, such as those related to supporting family unification (77%), accessing healthcare (73%), assisting with family financial stability by opening bank accounts or seeking fee waivers (80%) and ensuring people are able to do the things a judge requires of them in their court case (87%). 

Service delivery is only the first step in an effective intervention, however; completed service goals must also lead to better outcomes for the people receiving support. This is why we’re so encouraged to see that in a recent sample of our cases, Advocates are able to drive meaningfully better outcomes for clients in some of their most challenging service areas

Homelessness, for example, is a national crisis—nowhere more than in California. But fully  60% of clients with a housing-related need who were supported by our Bay Area team were stably housed at the end of their case. 

This same team was able to secure even stronger results on employment: 68% of clients who received employment support were actually employed by the time their court case was closed. 

A full 75% of clients who received support accessing mental health or substance use treatment actually completed a program. 

And 80% of people who received support to access public assistance or healthcare coverage successfully enrolled in a new benefits program with their defender’s support.

This is the world we’re working towards: one where a person can walk into their public defender’s office with an open criminal case, no housing, no job, and in need of meaningful healthcare access, and walk out housed, employed, and getting the help they seek. This world is no longer speculative: our 2024 results show that defenders can do this. Which is why we expect collaborative defense to be the national standard of care in our field by 2030—because it works.

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Learn more about the impact of Partners for Justice in communities across the country.

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