Part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Innovation Suite of criminal justice programs, the Innovative Solutions in Public Defense Initiative (formerly known as the Smart Defense Initiative) combines the expertise of researchers and practitioners in building evidence-based, data-driven strategies to improve indigent defense delivery systems for maximum, sustained, and measurable impact.

Innovative Solutions in Public Defense
October 2017

In this issue:
  • Smart Defense Has a New Name!  The newly-rechristened Innovative Solutions in Public Defense Initiative is a featured component of BJA's Innovation Suite.
  • Alameda County Update and Site Visit.  The relocation of arraignments to the new courthouse in Dublin undermined defender efforts.
  • Westchester County Attorney Mentoring.  A year-long program to mentor attorneys in indigent defense best practices recently kicked off.
  • Contra Costa County Update.  The county's Misdemeanor Early Release Program shows progress in reducing failure-to-appear rates.
  • Wisconsin Site Visit.  Defenders demonstrate the impact of the Research, Analysis, and Mining Project as the program winds down.
  • Projects Featured at National Convenings.  Innovative Solutions in Public Defense takes the limelight at various trainings and conferences nationwide.
  • NLADA Selected as TTA Provider for BJA Sixth Amendment National Initiatives Solicitation.  A new grant will assist jurisdictions in building capacity for enhancing and securing Sixth Amendment rights.

The initiative known as the Bureau of Justice Assistance's (BJA) Smart Suite portfolio is getting a new name. The Smart Suite work represents a strategic approach that brings more science into criminal justice operations by leveraging innovative applications of analysis, technology, and evidence-based practices.  It includes the Smart Defense Initiative, which pairs researchers with practitioners to advance evidence-based, data-driven innovations to improve indigent defense systems. Now called the " Innovation Suite,"  the portfolio encompasses programs formerly known as:
  • Smart Pretrial;
  • Smart Policing;
  • Smart Supervision;
  • Smart Prosecution;
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN);
  • Second Chance Act Re-Entry Demonstration Programs;
  • Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI); and
  • Encouraging Innovation: Field Initiated Program.
Watch for new branding across these projects as the updated name comes into full use.  And from here on out, NLADA will refer to its training and technical assistance work under BJA grant 2015-AJ-BX-K043 as part of the "Innovative Solutions in Public Defense Initiative."

AlamedaAlameda County Undergoes Court Restructuring That Threatens Innovative Solutions in Public Defense Project
Piloting Public Defender Representation at Arraignment  

NLADA training and technical assistance (TTA) providers conducted the second of two routine site visits to Alameda County, California in early August 2017, and found a recent change in court processing threatening to derail gains made the Public Defender Office's (PDO) Innovative Solutions in Public Defense project.  
At the direction of the Alameda County Presiding Judge, in July 2017 all arraignments were centralized and held in the newly opened East County Hall of Justice, located in Dublin, a suburban town 23 miles from Oakland.  Previously arraignments were held at one of several county courthouses; whichever was closest to the inciting arrest.  By far most arraignments of PDO clients occurred in Oakland at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse.  The new East County court was first designed by the California Judicial Council in the 1990s, but the lengthy approvals and building process was only completed in 2017.  As soon as centralized arraignments began, it became apparent the court lacked proper specifications to effectively handle the large volume of cases. 
Difficulties from the Public Defender Office's perspective included a lack of adequate private meeting space for attorneys to interview clients before arraignment, delay getting initial discovery from the District Attorney's office across town, and difficulty even producing clients at the court by the Sheriff.  These system challenges affected the ability of the PDO to represent clients at their first appearance, and a number of defendants had to proceed without benefit of counsel.  After having the dubious distinction of being the only one of California's largest counties that did not provide counsel at arraignment, the sole focus of the Alameda County PDO's Innovative Solutions project is to provide public defender representation to clients at arraignment, and to document the effect of that representation.  The court reorganization directly threatened that initiative.
Public Defender Brendon Woods spearheaded a community campaign to call attention to the issues and to urge the Presiding Judge to return Oakland arraignments to the Oakland courthouse.  A key point in rallying the community was the inaccessibility of the Dublin court to family members, friends and loved ones of public defender clients, most of whom are from the Oakland area.  Eventually, the campaign paid off.  As of September 25, felony arraignments were returned to Oakland, greatly easing the difficulties plaguing the East County court.  While misdemeanor arraignments still remain there, far fewer misdemeanor than felony clients are detained, and clients can visit the PDO at its Oakland office. 
If you'd like to learn more about the relocation and return of the hearings, additional information can be found  here.
NLADA's site visit allowed the TTA team to see first-hand how changes in arraignment location contributed to disorganization and miscommunication among criminal justice stakeholders in the area. T he project team attributes these challenges to a lack of collaboration and discussion among state and county court officials, and other justice system stakeholders, during the change's planning process.  Notably, Alameda County does not have a criminal justice coordinating committee.
The site visit also brought the TTA and project teams together in-person to review recent research advances.  The PDO received a one-year, no-cost extension on its grant from BJA.  As the project enters its third year, significant challenges have been identified, addressed, and overcome.  Thanks in large part to a strong partnership with research partner Impact Justice, the project is positioned to finish with ample information and evidence to support the case for representation at arraignment.

Mentorship Training in Westchester County
Trudy Strassburger leads a "Train the Trainers" session for mentors
Westchester Indigent Defense Attorney Mentoring Begins in Westchester County, New York

A year-long, pilot mentoring program for private assigned counsel, developed with technical assistance from NLADA, is now underway in Westchester County, New York.  Modeled on a program developed by NLADA for the Texas Indigent Defense Commission in 2015, the program includes group trainings and structured, one-on-one mentoring.  Housed at the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County (LASW) Assigned Counsel Resource Center, the program was designed in collaboration with the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS) and the Westchester County Bar Association.  Starting small with a pilot group, the goal is to eventually foster a community of private attorneys who provide high quality, client-centered representation to their court-appointed clients in Westchester County.  Ideally, the model will be replicable in other New York counties by the ILS.

For this initial cohort, the supervisor of the Assigned Counsel Plan (ACP) at LASW developed a competitive  online application process and selected five mentors and ten mentees.  The practice focus is misdemeanors, as in Westchester County, Legal Aid Society staff attorneys handle felony cases, while assigned counsel handle misdemeanors and felony conflict cases.  The mentors are seasoned attorneys who attended two days of intensive "train the trainers" sessions where they received instruction in adult learning principles and techniques to help them impart their knowledge to mentees in a respectful, relevant fashion.  The mentors also created sessions to deliver at an initial week-long training session for the mentees.  Among other things, the initial week of training included sessions on client-centered representation, story-telling, effective client interviewing, bail applications, and mental health courts, and featured visits to the local jail and forensics lab.

Mentors will work one-on-one with mentees using a curriculum drawn from a core, twelve-module program that is individualized for each mentee's particular needs (see an example from Texas here). In addition to one-on-one mentoring, the mentors will hold bi-monthly group trainings for the full group on topics relating to local practice.  First up, for example, will be a session on assessing sufficiency of accusatory instruments, discovery, and motions practice.  CLE credit will be awarded for the trainings, which will be held at a local restaurant.  The informal setting is intentional, as developing community and connection is as much a goal of the project as is developing professional skills of mentees, who are solo practitioners.  
NLADA enlisted three experts to help with the Westchester County model.  Trudy Strassburger, Deputy Director of the Capital Area Defender Services (CAPDS) in Austin, Texas, adapted the train the trainer sessions and the week-long introductory training from mentoring programs she created for Travis County, Texas.  Andrea Marsh, Clinical Lecturer and Director of the Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program at the University of Texas Law School, adapted the twelve-module curriculum she first created for the Texas mentoring guide to New York practice.  Susan Saab Fortney, Professor & Associate Dean for Research at Texas A&M University School of Law, will evaluate the program.
Westchester County Mentorship Training Participants
The initial cohort of Westchester County, NY mentees and mentors, along with LASW program administrators and trainers

Contra-CostaContra Costa County Public Defender Office Seeks to Expand Misdemeanor Early Release Program

The Contra Costa County, California Public Defender Office's (CCPDO) Innovative Solutions in Public Defense project, the Misdemeanor Early Release Program (MERP), continues to make strong progress in reducing the number of Failure to Appear (FTA) warrants issued on cite-and-release cases.  Before the start of the program, which partners the CCPDO and the Richmond Police Department in west Contra Costa County, FTAs were issued in 52% of Richmond cite-and-release misdemeanor cases after the cited individuals missed their initial court appearance.  MERP has reduced the FTA rate by two-thirds to 17%.  A second city, Antioch, whose police department began teaming with CCPDO even before the BJA Innovative Solutions MERP grant was awarded in 2016, has seen a decline in FTA rate from  57 % to 27%.
Data show that in Richmond, of those people who did appear at their initial court appearance, almost half (47%) appeared as a direct result of the CCPDO's affirmative outreach program.  Under MERP, at the point of issuing citations, Richmond police also hand individuals a bright yellow card with information on how to contact the PDO before their initial court date.  In addition, police share information with the PDO on all cited cases that are filed for prosecution, which the PDO then uses to reach out to people, through letter and text message, prior to their initial court date.  Since the project launch in February 2017, CCPDO has served 449 people.  This represents a win all around: for the individuals who did not fail to show and were therefore not arrested on an FTA warrant; for the Richmond police department, whose officers did not have to serve warrants and process those arrested; and for the court and district attorney in not having to expend time and resources on FTA warrant arrest cases.
The program has been so successful that two other police departments are interested in joining in the MERP effort: the San Pablo Police Department in the west county area and the Concord Police Department in the central part of the county.  CCPDO has applied for grant funding under California's AB109 prison population reduction initiative to expand MERP into the central county area.  CCPDO, in partnership with the Concord Police Department, will be appearing before the county in the coming weeks to formally present its proposal.

WisconsinTTA Site Visit to Wisconsin's Research, Analysis, and Mining Project Coincides with Project Wrap

Kat Dellenbach (at podium) demonstrated graphs generated in the CCAP reports
Kat Dellenbach (at podium) demonstrating graphs generated in the CCAP reports

The Wisconsin State Public Defender, one of the five original Innovative Solutions in Public Defense grantees, completed its two-year Research, Analysis, and Mining Project (RAMP) on September 30, 2017.  On August 24-25, 2017, Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) provider Jack Cutrone made a second and final site visit with the RAMP team.  The TTA visit was timed to coincide with meetings of senior State Public Defender (SPD) legal and administrative staff from around the state, during which RAMP report products were officially unveiled.
By way of background, RAMP did not seek to create a new case management system (CMS) for the SPD.   Instead, RAMP's primary aim was to create a tool to generate reports of information from SPD's CMS that can be used for a wide variety of purposes.  An additional aim was to create a feed to integrate criminal case data from the Wisconsin court CMS, the Consolidated Court Automation Programs ( CCAP), with the SPD's data.  Merged together, the CCAP and SPD data provide a wealth of up-to-date information for SPD to mine.  The flexibility of the system will allow for the creation of additional reports as resources become available.  Another key phase of the project was creation of a new billing and case-tracking system for private attorneys who accept appointments under SPD's Assigned Counsel Program (ACP).  The new system allows SPD to better track activities engaged in by ACP attorneys. 
At the August staff meetings, Project Lead Kat Dellenbach provided training to both the Regional Office Administrators and to the Regional Attorney Managers on four new RAMP reports drawn from CCAP data.  Users are able to search for a particular judge or prosecutor as to a selected type of charge and get historical data on dispositions rendered and sentences imposed in those cases.  The information will be extremely valuable to SPD and ACP attorneys in counseling clients and seeking to negotiate on case dispositions.
RAMP team members, comprised of senior SPD staff, met monthly through the course of the two-year project and, among many other tasks, collectively developed a prioritized list of reports to be created.  RAMP programmers wrote code to generate the desired reports, all of which underwent extensive testing as they were completed.  The project also created detailed user guides for SPD trial and appellate divisions. 
During his site visit, Cutrone was able to discuss RAMP's impact with members of the RAMP team, project researchers from the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute, SPD Regional Office Administrators, and SPD Regional Attorney Managers.  SPD Trial Division Director and RAMP team member Jennifer Bias observed that the system was designed for ease of use, even for those such as herself who are not particularly computer-savvy.  The system's reporting tools allow SPD managers to determine, among other information, whether staff have met their target caseload; whether attorneys are filing appropriate motions; and whether attorneys are making use of available resources such as investigators, social workers and paralegals. This important information is now readily accessible at a few keystrokes, whereas previously it was impractical at best to gather such information. 
SPD Budget Director Martina Allen's focus will be using RAMP to assist in creating the agency's biennial budget and to respond to legislative inquiries such as costs per case.  The SPD Regional Office Administrators (ROAs) were highly enthusiastic about the system.  Among other duties, ROAs are responsible for finding ACP attorneys to take appointments in conflict situations.  This can be difficult in some of the more northern, rural areas of the states.  The system allows the ROAs to quickly determine which attorneys are qualified to take which kinds of cases and in which counties, and check their current appointment caseloads.  The system saves the hours of time ROAs previously spent in calling attorneys to see if they were able to take an appointment.

ConveningsInnovative Solutions in Public Defense Projects Featured at National Convenings

Word about several of the Innovative Solutions in Public Defense projects is spreading through recent and upcoming speaking opportunities to national audiences.  A key purpose for BJA's investment into the projects is to share examples and lessons learned around the nation and to spark replication of successful models.
  • In September, both the Wisconsin Reporting Analysis and Monitoring Project (RAMP) and the Texas A.C.T. Smart web portal project were featured at NLADA's Defender Research Consortium gathering in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Funded by the Open Society Foundations, this event brings together researchers, defenders, analysts, technologists, and others to discuss ways to increase and improve research about indigent defense systems.  A major focus was on how to assess "quality indigent defense."  In both Wisconsin and Texas, the Innovative Solutions projects entail putting "quality indicators" into place to assess indigent defense system performance. 
  • On November 2, the Contra Costa County Misdemeanor Early Representation Project (MERP) will be featured at BJA's Right to Counsel Campaign convening at the Office of Justice Programs in Washington, DC.  
  • Both MERP and the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy's Innovative Solutions project will be featured on November 15 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) in Philadelphia.  This will be the fourth consecutive year in which research and data in legal services for the indigent have been featured in a "conference within a conference," organized by the Indigent Defense Research Association, at ASC's annual meeting.
  • Finally, both RAMP and the Alameda County Public Defender Office's Innovative Solutions project will be featured December 7 at a panel during the NLADA Annual Conference in Washington, DC.

Sixth-AmendmentNLADA Selected as TTA Provider for BJA's Sixth Amendment National Initiatives Solicitation

NLADA is pleased to announce our selection as training and technical assistance provider for the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance's solicitation,  FY2017 BJA National Initiatives - Adjudications: Training and Technical Assistance to Support the Protection of Constitutional Rights Under the Sixth Amendment. The key objective of this initiative is to improve the understanding and the quality of public defense delivery services and to encourage practices that will support upholding the Sixth Amendment.
NLADA has been awarded one of two grants issued under Category II of the solicitation. This grant has the goal of assisting and building capacity of state and local governments, including defender systems, to support the adoption and implementation of targeted strategies to enhance the Sixth Amendment right to counsel as well as creating a platform to disseminate materials and practices around securing Sixth Amendment rights.
In addition, NLADA will serve as a supportive partner to the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), the winning recipient of the Category I grant, which focuses on delivering strategic planning services to state and local governments around Sixth Amendment issues. 

For more information, see our full  press release.

There will be a process for jurisdictions to apply for assistance through this grant.  Stay tuned for more details.

NLADA - National Legal Aid & Defender Association
Founded in 1911 and located in Washington DC, NLADA is America's oldest and largest non-profit association devoted to ensuring excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel. For over 100 years, NLADA has pioneered access to justice at the national, state and local level. 
BJA - Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice
This project was supported by grant number 2015-AJ-BX-K043 awarded to the National Legal Aid & Defender Association by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, United States Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions contained within this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs or Department of Justice or the National Legal Aid and Defender Association or the National Criminal Justice Association.