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Public Defense Reform Since Gideon: Improving the Administration of Justice By Building On Our Successes and Learning From Our Failures: A Public Defense Leadership Focus Group

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2010
34 pages
This report provides a summary of focus group discussions held to review the successes and failures in the delivery of public defense services, and assess the lessons learned resulting in recommendations for the future.
On September 16, 2008, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), in collaboration with American University's Justice Programs Office of the School of Public Affairs, and pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), convened a focus group meeting of criminal justice leaders, including state and local public defenders, state and local assigned counsel leadership, prosecutors, judges, social workers, client leaders, academicians, and former directors of NLADA's Defender Legal Services division. The focus group brought to the forefront the issues faced by the indigent defense community. While there has been progress by the States in providing indigent defense services since Gideon, significant system-wide deficiencies still exist. The Public Defense Leadership Focus Group examined the lessons of the successful and failed reform effort in the years since Gideon and generated recommendations which, if implemented, would ensure that those who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney receive quality representation by well-trained, committed, and competent attorneys. Recent strategic initiatives that have shown promise and were launched by individual defender offices include: (1) the development of brief banks and databases; (2) using references to national standards in legislative advocacy and in setting caseloads; and (3) creation of bridge units for juveniles in the adult system and for those with mental health problems. The four sections presented in this report provide a summary of the focus group discussions, participant comments, and recommended next step. Appended list of focus group participants