Cook County Starts Year Two

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Release Date: 
Friday, October 2, 2020

Dametrick and the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender are both back for year two as part of the NLADA AmeriCorps program. Read on to learn why the capacity building and partnerships are key to Cook County expanding holistic defense. 


The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender provides representation throughout various diverse neighborhoods, extending outside of Chicago into the south suburbs of Cook County. The neighborhoods encompassed within Cook County each have their own distinct identity and subset of issues that impact their community. The overarching issues that affect our office are client mistrust, red tape, lack of resources, legitimacy issues and our relationship with the Chicago Police Department. Due to the widespread nature of our office, ensuring that each individual office is realizing their full potential and is equipped with the tools to serve their clients in a meaningful way can often become a cumbersome task. 


In Cook County, 72% of the prison and jail population is African-American and that percentage has stagnated around that level even as criminal justice reform measures have been ramped up throughout the county. Fortunately, our office amongst other community stakeholders have been working diligently to reduce the jail population alongside reducing the disparity of African-Americans in the criminal justice system to better reflect the population at large.


Under the current Public Defender’s administration, our office recently began advocating for policy change under the supervision of two new positions , the Deputy of Policy and Strategic Planning and the Deputy of Community Engagement. I believe these two roles have been vital to not only the removal of some of the legislative obstacles Public Defenders in Cook County encounter, but also in showing communities that Public Defenders extend their support outside of the courtroom and continuously fight for equitable policies and outcomes. The offices in our county are working diligently to continue to rewrite the narrative and perception of public defenders, as well as developing new and existing community partnerships to facilitate change in the criminal justice system. 

The Public Defender’s office hosts a multitude of training seminars in which our attorneys are required to attend to ensure our attorneys and support staff are provided with tools to foster their professional development and, in turn, aiding clients to a higher degree. These seminars include critical information pertaining to trauma-informed care, which is crucial to holistic defense. Our office also does a fantastic job staying involved in the community and advocating for those within said communities. They do everything from attending community meetings, engaging with community members at community events, and connecting clients with additional services; however, to a somewhat limited degree, because of limited resources. Further, our office utilizes specialty courts, the Police Station Representation Unit, and restorative justice practices to move closer to providing holistic defense.

The main issue our office is facing is that our staff does not currently possess the capacity required to make some of the long-term changes or improvements we are seeking to create county-wide. Many of our divisions have high caseloads, inadequate funding, low number of support staff and struggle with accessible resources. However, the current administration has made huge gains in addressing these pertinent concerns and continues to come up with innovative solutions to the issues plaguing public defense, not only in Cook County, but nation-wide. Further, our partnerships with various criminal justice stakeholders has significantly increased our capacity to take on the work. As I begin my second year of the AmeriCorps NLADA program, I am focusing on resource development to address these capacity needs.