Empowering Public Defenders Transforms The Legal System

In its current form, the American carceral system robs people of opportunity, tears families apart, and destabilizes entire communities. Unlike police, prisons, and prosecutors, public defenders are uniquely situated to empower those facing the criminal legal system, shrink the system itself by reducing incarceration, and transform our approach to public safety.

Expanding what public defenders can do improves outcomes for clients, builds trust in communities, and humanizes people in a system that traditionally neglects and harms them. Sometimes termed “holistic”, “client-centered”, “participatory”, or “collaborative”, attorneys are beginning to adopt styles of indigent defense that go beyond criminal law to address both the drivers and consequences of arrest. These approaches usually involve a collaborative team of lawyers, social workers, mental health professionals, and other support staff who work directly with clients, their families, and their communities to serve them in pursuit of their unique legal—and nonlegal—goals.

This approach uplifts clients’ lived experiences, giving them a voice in settings that have historically silenced them. And the research shows that it also improves outcomes by reducing incarceration and helping people access stability and opportunity, which makes our communities safer.

To read our full report, download the PDF below.

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What is the impact?

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

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