Holistic Defense is an innovative model of public defense, pioneered by The Bronx Defenders, that achieves better outcomes for clients, their families, and their communities. Holistic Defense combines aggressive legal advocacy with a broader recognition that for most poor people arrested and charged with a crime, the criminal case is not the only issue with which they struggle.
To be truly effective advocates for clients, attorneys must expand the scope of their representation to address both the collateral consequences and enmeshed penalties of court involvement, as well as the underlying issues that play a part in driving clients into the justice systems in the first place. Attorneys who have a more comprehensive understanding of their clients, their families, and their circumstances are able to provide holistic representation that achieves better case dispositions and better life outcomes.
Moreover, clients who receive support from a holistic and interdisciplinary team of legal and social support advocates are better equipped with the knowledge and resources to address the collateral consequences and enmeshed penalties associated with their court involvement. Working with their holistic team, clients are able to make truly informed decisions about how to proceed with their cases and are empowered with the resources and support to address the underlying issues and challenges in their lives. As a result, these clients fare better either while plea-bargaining or going to trial. Ultimately, getting to the root of these problems and by stabilizing lives, the practice of Holistic Defense reduces the likelihood of future criminal justice contact.
The following core principles outline the foundation of Holistic Defense:
❏ Seamless access to services that meet legal and social support needs
Holistic Defense begins with a commitment to addressing clients’ most pressing legal and social support needs. Because the universe of these needs will vary from community to community, a holistic defender office must begin by identifying the full range of client needs.
❏ Dynamic, interdisciplinary communication
What is fundamental to the practice of Holistic Defense is not so much that there is an interdisciplinary team, but that the team’s culture is one of open, frequent, and meaningful communication.
❏ Advocates with an interdisciplinary skill set
But beyond the zealous advocacy of the committed public defender, a holistic defender must be willing to develop and enhance a specific set of skills that is both client-centered and interdisciplinary.
❏ A robust understanding of, and connection to, the community served
This practice derives from the realization that the advocate who is better able to relate to her client because she has spent time in his neighborhood and with members of his community will be more likely to provide authentic and effective representation.