Abstract:

Debates over mass incarceration emphasize policing, bail, and sentencing reform, but give little attention to indigent defense. This omission seems surprising, given that interactions with government-provided counsel critically shape the experience of the vast majority of criminal defendants. This neglect in part reflects our lack of evidence-based knowledge regarding indigent defense, making it difficult to identify effective reforms. One newer model gaining support is the holistic defense model, in which public defenders work in interdisciplinary teams to address both the immediate case and the underlying life circumstances–such as drug addiction, mental illness, or family or housing instability–that contribute to client contact with the criminal justice system. This holistic model contrasts with the traditional public defense model which emphasizes criminal representation and courtroom advocacy. Proponents contend holistic defense improves case outcomes and reduces recidivism by better addressing clients’ underlying needs, while critics argue that diverting resources and attention from criminal advocacy weakens results. Although widely embraced, there is no systematic evidence demonstrating the relative merits of the holistic approach. This Article offers the first large-scale, rigorous evaluation of the impact of holistic representation on criminal justice outcomes. In the Bronx, a holistic defense provider (the Bronx Defenders) and a traditional defender (the Legal Aid Society) operate side-by-side within the same court system, with case assignment determined quasi-randomly based on court shift timing. Using administrative data covering over half a million cases and a quasi-experimental research design, we estimate the causal effect of holistic representation on case outcomes and future offending. Holistic representation does not affect conviction rates, but it reduces the likelihood of a custodial sentence by 16% and expected sentence length by 24%. Over the ten-year study period, holistic representation in the Bronx resulted in nearly 1.1 million fewer days of custodial punishment. As of one year post-arraignment and beyond, holistic representation has neither a positive or adverse effect on criminal justice contacts. While holistic representation does not dramatically reduce recidivism, as some proponents have claimed, strengthening indigent defense apparently offers considerable potential to reduce incarceration without harming public safety. Indigent defense thus deserves a more prominent place in conversations about how to address mass incarceration, and future research should examine the effects of this promising model beyond the criminal justice system and in other jurisdictions.

Read more about the publication and access full article here.

SHARE

James M. Anderson

RAND Corporation

James Anderson is director of the Justice Policy Program and the Institute for Civil Justice, a Pardee RAND Graduate School professor, and a senior behavioral/social scientist at the RAND Corporation. Before joining RAND, he clerked for the Honorable Morton Greenberg of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and practiced law for 10 years. He received a J.D. from Yale Law School and a B.A. in ethics, politics, and economics from Yale University.

Maya Buenaventura

RAND Corporation

Maria Angela (Maya) Buenaventura is a Ph.D. candidate at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and an assistant policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

Paul Heaton

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Paul Heaton is a Senior Fellow and Academic Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice. Much of his research aims to apply methodological insights from economics to inform issues in legal and criminal justice policy. An expert on legal and regulatory program and policy evaluation, Dr. Heaton’s criminal justice work spans a wide range of areas, including measurement of impacts of criminal justice interventions; applications of cost-benefit analysis to CJ programs; and evaluations of the CJ implications of public policies related to controlled substances. His work on policing, courts, and drug offending has been widely cited by policymakers and the media. 

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.