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Improving Criminal Justice Systems Through Expanded Strategies and Innovative Collaborations: Report of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense

NCJ Number
Richard J. Wilson
Date Published
February 1999
176 pages
This report presents the outcomes of the National Symposium on Indigent Defense (held February 25-26, 1999), which was convened by the U.S. Justice Department to explore ways in which the leaders of indigent defense systems can effectively forge alliances, build and strengthen innovative partnerships, and otherwise collaborate in ways that enhance the representation of indigent criminal defendants.
In addition to defense attorneys, symposium participants included prosecutors, judges, and victim advocates, as well as legislators and representatives of key national organizations. In 1997 the Attorney General and officials of the Office of Justice Programs and the Bureau of Justice Assistance convened a focus group of 35 leaders of the indigent defense community and identified six areas in which the U.S. Department of Justice could play an effective role in promoting strong and stable indigent defense systems. The National Symposium on Indigent Defense was organized around these six issues: using the Justice Department's leadership role to call attention to the importance of quality indigent defense services; promoting independence in indigent defense structures; allocating resources equitably among indigent defense and other criminal justice system components; focusing on these challenges in the juvenile justice system; promoting standards for indigent defense programs; and building a capacity for computer technology in indigent defense. In addressing these issues, the unifying themes of the symposium were the necessity of maintaining core values, civility, respect, and trust, not only within indigent defense programs but in interactions with other components of the criminal justice system; the challenge of reconciling adversarial defense skills with the imperative of collaboration in a complex, increasingly interconnected system; the importance of increasing availability of affordable technology and interagency information sharing to make all agencies more efficient and effective; and the movement toward holistic defense services focused less on isolated episodes of legal representation and more on recidivism prevention and long-term improvement of clients' lives. Eighteen appendixes provide examples of effective indigent defense systems, a bibliography of key documents on indigent defense, resource organizations, and important studies of indigent defense issues.