Riverfront Times: ArchCity Defenders – Meet the legal superheroes fighting for St. Louis’ downtrodden

Excerpt: “Five years ago Harvey and two law-school buddies — Michael-John Voss and John McAnnar — founded ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit with a mission to rescue those caught up in this legal morass. But more than just offering legal aid to the indigent, ArchCity Defenders works to help its clients improve their overall lives, be it securing housing, getting drug treatment or finding a job. It’s called “holistic advocacy,” and it’s a growing public-defense philosophy that’s getting a shot in St. Louis…

For the three SLU law students, seeing poor people get slapped with fines that inevitably snowballed into other problems made them want to do something. What or how wasn’t exactly clear.

Harvey says he got the basic concept for ArchCity Defenders the way most people find things these days. He did a quick Google search of what he wanted to do and came across the name Robin Steinberg.

Steinberg, a New York attorney, founded Bronx Defenders in 1997. Today it is considered the nation’s first holistic-defense organization and is part of the New York City public-defense system. If a criminal defendant in the Bronx qualifies for legal aid, they get an attorney from Bronx Defenders. With a large staff of attorneys and social workers (as well as relationships with social-services organizations throughout the city), the agency can then streamline the process of getting its clients the help they need and keep them out of jail for low-level offenses.

“This model doesn’t cost more per case than a defender here in New York that’s doing the work in a very traditional way,” Steinberg says. “It’s just a matter of how you allocate your money, where the resources go and how creative you become in terms of figuring out ways to harness the resources you need for your client.”

Without addressing those needs, whether it’s poverty, mental illness and addiction, or heavy-handed policing in poor areas, Steinberg says the cycle will continue and simply increase economic and societal costs.

“Public defenders are the least expensive part of the criminal-justice system. So if you’re looking at the system, in any jurisdiction, you need to look at the overreliance on jails and begin to look at alternatives to that,” says Steinberg.”

Read full article by author Ray Downs here.