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.
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