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Examining the Effectiveness of Indigent Defense Team Services: A Multisite Evaluation of Holistic Defense in Practice

NCJ Number
Justice System Journal Dated: 2020
Date Published
February 2020
4 pages
Findings and methodology are presented for an evaluation of the effectiveness of indigent defense team services at three public defender offices.
The past 50 years has witnessed the ongoing development by public defenders of what it means to "provide the effective assistance of counsel" through strong legal advocacy. More recently, many practitioners contend that in addition to the defense attorney, professional support services, such as social workers, paralegals, and criminal investigators, are critical to effective assistance of counsel in indigent defense cases. The umbrella of what is called the holistic defense model covers the most developed concepts and practices of an integrated defense team. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) evaluated the implementation of holistic defense practices at three public defender offices: the Department of Public Advocacy in Bowling Green, Kentucky; the Hennepin County Public Defender in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Rhode Island Public Defender in Providence County, Rhode Island. In all offices, on-site interviews and surveys were conducted with attorneys, judges, social workers, investigators, and others with knowledge of practices at the site. Results from the evaluation clarify (1) how indigent defense providers have implemented the principles of holistic defense in practice, (2) how holistic defense practices vary among providers, and (3) what factors have facilitated or impeded implementation of holistic defense practices. A team-based approach to representation was most prevalent at Hennepin County and Rhode Island, where social workers, investigators, and attorneys worked closely together and perceived themselves to be part of a "defense team," while local constraints reduced the level of teamwork at Bowling Green. The findings make clear that each site approaches the practice of holistic defense differently, largely driven by local priorities and funding realities. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: February 1, 2020