Reuters Legal: ABA urges criminal defense lawyers to embrace holistic approach

ALBANY, N.Y., Aug 7 (Reuters) – The American Bar Association is calling on criminal defense attorneys to take a holistic approach to representing clients in order to reduce recidivism.

The group’s House of Delegates on Monday approved a resolution that “urges” defense lawyers and defender groups to address clients’ “inter-related” criminal, civil and non-legal problems.

The resolution also encourages defense attorneys to offer re-entry services to clients in criminal cases and collaborate with civil practitioners and organizations, as well as social service program providers.

The resolution, which was co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, is not binding.

Currently many defendants are unaware of the far-reaching impact a conviction may have on job prospects, housing and family matters such as custody and child support, according to an ABA report accompanying the resolution.

“If formerly incarcerated persons cannot find work, shelter, or help, they are much more likely to be caught up in a recurring cycle of crime,” the report says.

About two-thirds of the 750,000 people released from prison in 2011 will likely commit new crimes and be arrested within three years, according to the report.

The ABA report calls on lawyers to thoroughly interview clients to identify issues that could lead to recidivism and to refer clients to non-legal groups that offer help.

The resolution also urges governments and foundations to increase funding for programs that address “clients’ inter-related criminal, civil and non-legal problems.”

Attorneys’ inability to address those needs, the report says, is mainly due to a lack of resources.

The report cites several defender organizations that take a successful “holistic” approach to representation, including four in New York — the Bronx Defenders, the Community Oriented Defender Network at New York University Law School, Youth Represent and the Legal Aid Society of New York City, which handles up to three-quarters of all criminal cases in the city.

By Dan Wiessner

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