Black Public Defender Association

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The Black Public Defender Association aims to improve the quality of defense provided to low-income communities across the United States by creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders that identify with and are committed to the populations they serve.

BPDA Statement on Remarks Made by Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins

Rollins slams the public defense community in an effort to raise issues of race and privilege in the public defender offices.

Washington – The Black Public Defender Association issued the following statement today in response to Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins comments made during a live interview on WGBH-FM radio show. Rollins called public defenders “overwhelmingly privileged,” and chastised them for not returning client calls and complaining about being overworked.

“Reform-minded prosecutors do not have the standing or credibility to speak publicly on the plight of public defenders or Black, brown and poor people that have been disproportionately targeted by the unjust criminal legal system. As prosecutors their primary responsibility is to prosecute accused people, and this role should not be confused or conflated with the role of defenders. 

“While DA Rollins’ comments were problematic for several reasons, there are some systemic concerns that she raises about public defender offices that are worthy of discussion. We agree, systematic racism is prevalent in every part of the criminal legal system –even in public defender offices, and they need to do more to hire and promote black defenders to represent accused people who are often Black or Brown.

As Black public defenders, we know that public defender offices are grossly underfunded, and the lack of funding drives the injustices against our clients and the ability of defender offices to attract and to retain black defenders. And, without developed and supported Black advocates, defender offices will not be able to lead the charge against harmful biases and challenging cultural norms which will be necessary to beat back the behemoth that is the racist criminal legal system.” 

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The Black Public Defender Association aims to improve the quality of defense provided to low-income communities across the United States by creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders that identify with and are committed to the populations they serve.


Black Public Defenders Association Statement on Chicago Tribune Story on Bail Funds

Washington – The Black Public Defender Association issued the following statement in response to a recent Chicago Tribune story on Bail Funds:

“We’re deeply disturbed that two organizations that were created to level the playing field are under attack for helping Black and Brown people post bail.  Here again, another Willie Horton style fear mongering by tough-on-crime proponents who clearly don't care that ​access to money is used to unjustly keep ​Black and Brown people in jail. It is rare that questions are raised when a wealthy person is bailed out of jail by a family member, but when charities provide people without the means an opportunity to purchase their freedom, there is backlash.

It is irresponsible for the article to not also report that 91% of the people that the Chicago Community Bond Fund has paid bond ​for ​returned to court, and completed their case without being rearrested. News outlets should focus their attacks on the broken criminal legal system that has repeatedly and unsuccessfully used excessive punishment as its only means to achieve public safety.

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The Black Public Defender Association aims to improve the quality of defense provided to low-income communities across the United States by creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders that identify with and are committed to the populations they serve.


Black Public Defenders Association Statement on Bail Reform in New York

“Let’s call it what it is – classic fear-mongering by tough-on-crime proponents – who refuse to admit that ​money is used to unfairly keep ​Black and Brown people ​locked in cages.  It is the same tactic used across the nation to stop progressive criminal justice legislation ​aimed at ending mass incarceration. For decades, cash-bail criminalized poverty, destroyed lives and made New York's Black and Brown communities less safe. New York took the right step towards righting decades of wrongs​ by ​leading the charge to become a national model for progressive pre-trial ​justice ​reform​for ​states across the country. We strongly urge the New York legislature to protect the new pretrial ​justice ​reforms which combat race- and wealth-based pre-trial detention, keeping New York on the path towards a more fair and equitable criminal ​legal system.” 

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The Black Public Defender Association aims to improve the quality of defense provided to low-income communities across the United States by creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders that identify with and are committed to the populations they serve.


Black Public Defender Association 2019 Conference

For the inaugural Black Public Defender Association Conference, we had over 100 attendees! Topics covered ranged from the intensive cross-examination training to gaining the tools and ideas needed to address race in the courtroom. Conference attendees were able to discuss how to work with client communities and acknowledge their own privilege, as well as how to navigate workplace challenges as a public defender leader.

The creation of the Black Public Defender Association is based on the recognition that creating and maintaining a national network of skilled Black public defenders who identify with and come from the communities most disproportionally impacted by the criminal legal system is necessary to fight against and end mass incarceration. BPDA was created to provide a safe space for black public defenders to come to receive training, support, and encouragement to support excellence in public defense.

Our programming includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Training and professional support for Black attorneys and advocates to secure employment and advance in leadership at public defender offices;   
  2. Pipeline programming designed to promote awareness of, cultivate early interest in, and ensure access to the public defense profession for Black students;
  3. Continuing Legal Education and workshops designed to assist defenders in providing more culturally competent, client-centered representation; and  
  4. Community forums to promote dialogue and organizing around law-related issues that disproportionately affect Black communities.

While BPDA is focused and committed to addressing issues facing the black community, we are also committed to partnering with related social and racial justice organizations to fight for the liberation of all.

BPDA History

The unique experiences and challenges of black public defenders prompted Patrice James, a founding public defender of Still She Rises, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to reach out to April Frazier Camara, then Director of Defender Legal Services at the National Legal Aid Defender Association (NLADA) in the fall of 2017, to inquire about national organizations that provide support and training for black public defenders. Patrice’s inquiry prompted a long-overdue discussion at NLADA about the need to form an organization that would serve as a safe space, refuge, and training ground for black public defenders throughout the country. During initial discussions at NLADA, April learned from NLADA President and CEO Jo-Ann Wallace, the idea for this organization had been discussed for many years in the black defender community. Jo-Ann recognized the long-standing desire and need for such an organization and readily supported its creation under April’s leadership.

Click here to read more about our history.

BPDA Leadership

The Chair - April Frazier Camara

The Vice-Chair - Patrice James

The National Secretary - Brittany Mobley

Director(s) of Membership and Recruitment - Sylvia Smith and Porsha Venable

Director of Communications - Lauren Johnson

Director of Social Policy and Advocacy - Chiquisha Robinson

Director of Skills Based Training - Heather Pinckney 

Director(s) of Leadership and Professional Development - Lori James Townes and Keir Bradford-Grey

 

Please contact April Frazier Camara ([email protected]) if you have any questions or are interested in becoming a member.

Read our announcement here.