Harvard Law Review: The Effects of Holistic Defense on Criminal Justice Outcomes

This Article offers the first large-scale, rigorous evaluation of the impact of holistic defense on criminal justice outcomes. In the Bronx, New York City, a holistic defense provider (The Bronx Defenders) and a traditional defender (the Legal Aid Society) operate side-by-side within the same court system, with case assignment determined quasi-randomly based on court shift timing.

Using administrative data covering over half a million cases and a quasi-experimental research design, we estimate the causal effect of holistic defense on case outcomes an future offending. Holistic defense does not affect conviction rates, but it reduces the likelihood of a custodial sentence by 16% and expected sentence length by 24%. Over the ten-year study period, holistic defense in the Bronx resulted in nearly 1.1 million fewer days of custodial punishment.

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