Today it is #PublicDefenseDay and there’s a palpable energy in the air. With press from Nevada to New York and many points in between, this is a day to affirm the transformative services that public defenders provide for poor people, for indigent defendants, and for our common community.
Public Defense Day is an NAPD-supported initiative, but the concept and all of its energy comes from the thousands of public defense advocates-members who give this association life. For NAPD members, every day is public defense day, and each year, the members of the NAPD community collectively represent millions – yes, you read that right! – millions of poor people.
Imagine what a public defender sees? What they hear? What they experience standing beside their clients? Imagine the intellectual and emotional intelligence held within this association… All day, every day, with millions of clients and the ripple effect of relationships with client families, client communities, client service providers and others… so it’s rhetorical, but I want to ask:
Who knows as much about institutionalized racism than public defenders and their clients? Who knows as much about the challenges of being poor than public defenders and their clients? Who knows as much about the ways poor people are underserved in education, transportation, medical care, and other public services, and how that neglect leads to contact with the criminal justice system? Who knows as much about reentry and recidivism? Who knows as much about community programming, social services, and evidence-based practices as public defenders? Which schools are thriving and which are failing? Who knows better what works?
Public defenders and other public defense advocates represent individual clients but see a criminal justice system in a far broader view. Where that criminal justice system intersects with unaffordable housing, mediocre education, untreated medical needs, insufficient public programs and racial bias, public defenders often see the manifestation of all the systemic failures that plague poor people.
That intersection – as overwhelming as it almost always feels to a defender-advocate trying to help her client – is the source of the power of public defenders as community problem solvers.
Today is the first official, yes-hashtag-it!Public Defense Day. Around the country, public defenders are doing special things – meeting with policy-makers, engaging the media, celebrating their offices, colleagues and clients, wearing stickers to court, being feted by the private bar. We’ll try to archive the amazing scope of activities in this grassroots campaign over the next few weeks.
And then on Saturday, March 19th, the campaign will continue. Because for public defenders and public defense advocates, every day is public defense day. Every day, across our community and across the country and across those millions of clients, LOTS of very special things happen.
There are motion wins and trial wins. There is evidence turned over by the prosecutor. There are compassionate sentences from juries moved by the client’s story. There are reunified families – children who get their parents back and parents who get their children back. There are expungement clinics that give former clients a fresh start. There are community celebrations that build support networks. There are clients that complete drug court and celebrate sobriety, there are veterans who access their benefits, there are families that find housing, there are kids that avoid detention and get to go home and back to school. There are defenders who are featured and there is acknowledgment of public defender value. There are relationships with law schools, research, joint ventures with the community. There is money creatively raised to do the thing that needs to be done. There is innovation, resistance, late nights, early moments and a client you cannot get off your mind.
When we tell you that public defenders make justice happen, this is how they do it. In the courtroom. In the community. For one client. For all the clients.
Today we celebrate the privilege of being a public defender. Celebrate the power of what we’ve learned and the clients we represent. Celebrate the strength and progress of a justice community united by their values in this struggle.
Next year, on March 18th, 2017, with so many special things done and so many special things on the horizon, we’ll celebrate the right to counsel again. Next year it will be bigger. Next year it will be better. Next year more people will celebrate with us – defenders and supporters alike. But today is going to be great. It’s the first #PublicDefenseDay. It’s time.