Some of the content here is provided courtesy of our friends at the Center for Holistic Defense, a project of the Bronx Defenders.
The four pillars of holistic defense
1. Seamless access to legal and non-legal services that meet client needs;
2. Dynamic, interdisciplinary communication;
3. Advocates with an interdisciplinary skill set; and
4. A robust understanding of, and connection to, the community served.
Holistic defense combines aggressive legal advocacy with a broader recognition that for most poor people arrested and charged with a crime, the criminal case is not the only issue with which they struggle. The key insight of holistic defense is that to be truly effective advocates for our clients, we as defenders must broaden the scope of our work to include both the collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement as well as the underlying issues, both legal and non-legal, that have played a part in driving our clients into the criminal justice system in the first place.
What is holistic defense?
Holistic defense is a client-centered and interdisciplinary model of public defense that addresses the circumstances driving poor people into the criminal justice system and the consequences of that involvement by offering comprehensive legal representation, social work support, and advocacy for the client.
Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in a courtroom; Justice is what comes out of a courtroom.
How does the Public Defender's Office provide holistic defense?
Our trial and appellate attorneys develop an understanding of each of our clients' lives from the beginning of the case. We visit each and every client within a day of being appointed to the case. From that visit, our attorneys are trained to understand our clients' goals and needs, and arrange for assistance from other staff.
Our investigators go into the community and get to know the people in our clients' lives—friends, family, witnesses—to defend the case but also to put the situation in a larger context. Our attorneys frequently accompany investigators to develop personal relationships with the people involved and to gain a greater understanding into our clients' lives.
Our mitigation specialists are trained to understand our clients' stories and to present them to judge, jury, and prosecutor to place the charged offense within the context of the client's entire life.
Our social workers meet with clients and assist them with obtaining medical care, housing, treatment, government benefits, and other services with the goal of keeping the client from re-entering the criminal justice system.
Our immigration attorney consults with all of our non-citizen clients. The scope of our assistance goes beyond the mere consequences of the criminal conviction. In appropriate cases, we attempt to arrange for our clients to be represented at immigration court.