The Bronx Defenders provides innovative, holistic, and client-centered criminal defense, family defense, civil legal services, social work support and advocacy to indigent people of the Bronx. Today, our staff of over 250 represents 35,000 individuals each year and reaches hundreds more through outreach programs and community legal education. In the Bronx and beyond, The Bronx Defenders promotes justice in low-income communities by keeping families together.
We look beyond individual cases and use community education, leadership development, impact litigation, and legislative reform to challenge entrenched problems that drive individuals into the justice system. We operate on multiple levels: as a provider of Holistic Defense working one-on-one with clients and families; as a community resource; and as a force for systemic change advocating with policymakers. We seek partnerships with community-based providers and leverage their expertise to ensure that our clients’ expressed needs are addressed. We also rely upon our deep connections to community members to alert us to emerging trends that directly impact our clients’ well-being.
In September 1997, eight people met in front of a small storefront in the South Bronx to change the way low-income people were represented in the criminal justice system: a small, dedicated group of lawyers, a social worker, an office manager, a part-time investigator and a receptionist. Now, 15 years later, clients walking through our doors are met with a staff of nearly 200 advocates who remain as committed to public defense as ever. Our office is now comprised of criminal defense attorneys, family attorneys, social workers, housing attorneys, employment attorneys, immigration attorneys, benefits specialists, investigators, community organizers, team administrators and parent advocates.
The Bronx Defenders, like public defenders nationally, has seen how an arrest and criminal charge alone can have a devastating impact on a person’s life. In New York State, indicative of the rest of the nation, more than 1 in 3 people arrested are never convicted of any crime or offense, yet they suffer drastic collateral legal consequences from their arrest alone. This collateral damage, and the instability that results, can be far more devastating than any of the direct penalties that accompany the criminal conviction, so too can the associated social instability. Up to 40 percent of The Bronx Defenders’ clients have recently struggled with a substance abuse problem; 1 in 4 has recently been homeless; and half were unemployed at the time of the arrest. The time has come to use the principles of problem-solving advocacy in public defense. The time has come for Holistic Defense.