Holistic Defense is a new 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.
The key insight of Holistic Defense is that to be truly effective advocates for clients, defenders must broaden the scope of their representation to address both the collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement as well as the underlying issues that play a part in driving clients into the criminal justice system.
Representing clients holistically leads to better case dispositions, because lawyers with a more comprehensive understanding of their clients are more effective advocates. Moreover, clients who are beginning to address some of the underlying issues in their lives generally fare better either while plea-bargaining or going to trial. We secure more favorable case dispositions when clients are aware of the collateral consequences of their criminal case and are thus in a better position to make a truly informed choice about how to proceed. Ultimately, by stabilizing lives, the practice of Holistic Defense reduces the likelihood of future criminal justice contact.
While recognizing that holistic defense is practiced along a spectrum, the following core principles, or pillars, underlie and form the foundation of any successful holistic defense practice:
- Seamless access to legal and nonlegal services that meet client needs
- Dynamic, interdisciplinary communication
- Advocates with an interdisciplinary skill set
- A robust understanding of, and connection to, the community served