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Evaluating the Effect of Holistic Indigent Defense Services on Case Outcomes: A Natural Experiment in the Bronx

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Awardee County
Los Angeles
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2013, $334,998)

This grant is funded under NIJs 2013 FY 2013 Research and Evaluation on Justice Systems: Investigator-Initiated program, which sought proposals for social and behavioral science research on and evaluations related to, justice systems topics relevant to State, local, tribal or Federal criminal and juvenile justice policy and practice. This award is a study of an innovative strategy of public defense called holistic defense. Holistic indigent defense is an approach that involves providing a defendant with a team of professionals who include civil attorneys, social workers, and investigators. With this team, the defense attempts to address the root causes of a defendants involvement in the criminal justice system. Research to date has not provided rigorous estimates of the causal effect of this approach on indigent defense. The purpose of this study is to conduct a retrospective quasi-experimental study that estimates the effect of holistic defense on case outcomes. The counsel assignment system in the Bronx, New York creates a natural experiment that affords an opportunity to assess whether particular defendants are exposed to holistic defense and the impact of holistic defense on case outcomes. Using data drawn from the case record database maintained by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the New York State Unified Court System Office of Court Research and data from the Bronx Defenders, the study will assemble a database of hundreds of thousands of cases represented by the Bronx Defenders and the Legal Aid Society attorneys. Using regression approaches and instrumental variable analysis, the study will 1) test the assumptions that defendants are randomly assigned to either holistic defense or legal aid, 2) examine the effect of holistic defense on a variety of case outcomes such as plea status, verdict, sentence length, and disposition length, and 3) estimate whether the holistic approach is effective for subgroups of offenses or defendants. Thirty structured qualitative interviews with Bronx Defender counsel and managers, Legal Aid lawyers and mangers, judges, clients, district attorneys and other knowledgeable criminal justice observers will be used to supplement the quantitative analysis and develop a logic model to explain the relationship between inputs and outcomes. The project has implications for criminal justice practice and policy including implications for the improvement of indigent defense systems and contributing to our understanding of the role of inter-counsel disparity in sentencing outcomes in the criminal justice system.ca/ncf
Date Created: September 12, 2013