Defending Communities in Service - A New AmeriCorps VISTA Project through NLADA

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NLADA KNOWS THAT PUBLIC DEFENDERS NEED MORE RESOURCES.

Most of the people involved in the criminal justice system are living in poverty. As the average bail amount has doubled over the past 15 years, the number of people held in jail pretrial has jumped by nearly 130%, accounting for 99% of jail growth. In other words, more and more people exper­iencing poverty who are presumed innocent are nonetheless held in jails because they cannot afford to get out. Our best estimate is that public defenders represent about 80% of all criminal defendants. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the number of people accused and convicted of crimes has exploded, but funding for public defense has not kept pace, meaning that despite the Supreme Court’s mandate low income people are routinely denied their right to effective assistance of counsel. Defense attorneys can provide their clients with their first opportunity to exit the criminal justice system and their last line of defense against its harshest consequences. But to truly break the cycles of poverty and criminal justice system involvement, public defenders need to harness other resources and forms of expertise.
 
SO WE'VE CREATED A CUTTING EDGE PROJECT THAT WE THINK WILL HELP.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) has partnered with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) an innovative pilot project that will train AmeriCorps VISTA members in best practices in Community-Oriented Defense and place them in public defense agencies in order to put these principles into practice and establish systems for ongoing sustainability.  This AmeriCorps VISTA project allows NLADA, for the first time ever, to provide boots on the ground to in-need public defense offices in order to help offices modernize their approach to evidence-based practices, data management, and community partnerships.  Over the course of their 12-month term of service, eight AmeriCorps VISTA members will perform activities such as building community partnerships within their host communities and developing data systems and analysis methods to drive evidence-based practices by their host organizations.    
 
BECAUSE WE ENVISION A JUSTICE SYSTEM WHERE COMMUNITY ORIENTED DEFENSE PRACTICES ARE AVAILABLE TO EVERY PERSON.

The quality of justice in the United States should not depend on how much money a person has. NLADA leads a broad network of advocates on the frontlines to advance justice and expand opportunity for all by promoting excellence in the delivery of legal services for people who cannot afford counsel.  This AmeriCorps VISTA project provides NLADA with the opportunity to support a selection of communities directly while gathering data and piloting best practices to help communities on a national level.  The placement of AmeriCorps VISTA members will provide sites with short-term capacity in systems building and change management so that when the members complete their terms of service, the sites are supported by stronger internal data systems, by their new ability to advocate on their own behalf for indigent defense reform and improvement through the use of data and by leveraging their network of new community partners to provide better holistic services to their clients.