Strategies for fixing indigent defense

People talk about the crisis in indigent defense, or at least, people I talk to do. Indigent defense is the wonk-name for public defenders, the lawyers you get if you’re charged with a crime and can’t afford to hire a private attorney. Public defenders are, generally, overworked, underpaid, and steps away from burnout. Many are fighting a good fight, but have too many clients to really do them justice. Others are fighting a less good fight, because they’re overwhelmed or they don’t care, and their clients suffer.

The people I talk to who care about this, a lot, are public defenders, and poor people who depend on them. Those people are at the forefront of creative, innovative strategies for improving public defense in America. They’re exploring ways to take non-violent, low-level offenses out of the criminal system, making them ticketable infractions. They’re helping people avoid future involvement in the criminal justice system by addressing not just their legal needs but their life needs. And they’re bringing a community organizing ethos into the courtrooms.

I wrote about all those strategies in an article for the Investigative Reporting Workshop. It ran in August, but I was on vacation. So I’m posting it now. That’s how it goes sometimes.