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Public Defense

All individuals in the justice system should have access to quality and independent counsel at every stage of their criminal case.

Access to quality and independent counsel is essential for a fair criminal justice system and protecting the rights of justice-involved individuals. Many people who are arrested and jailed with a bail amount they cannot afford or without bail at all may wait weeks or months before they can consult with a lawyer. This is particularly harmful to Black and Brown defendants, who are more likely to be detained pretrial or to receive financial conditions of release. Public defenders are notoriously overburdened and under-resourced, which impacts the quality of counsel indigent defendants receive. Due to independence issues, prevailing professional culture, and lack of capacity, many defenders don’t use their position to pursue system-wide change. AV has identified the need for philanthropic capital to research and support improvement in access, quality, and independence of counsel.

Expanding and improving access to quality indigent defense will reduce the rates of unnecessary pretrial detention, improve individual, social, and communal outcomes for people charged with criminal offenses, and ensure that all defendants are afforded the protections guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. We are guided by the vision that a fair, just, and legitimate criminal justice system depends on full realization of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel which requires: (1) access to a lawyer at all stages of a case; (2) quality representation; and (3) independence of counsel.

80%
Proportion of people accused of crimes in the United States who rely on a public defender to protect their constitutional rights Source
73%
Proportion of public defenders offices that exceeded recommended caseload limits Source
24%
Reduction in length of prison sentences from holistic defense services in one county, compared to traditional defense services Source

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