On Saturday, October 20, 2018 public defense professionals from across the nation gathered in Baltimore to celebrate the fifth anniversary of NAPD.  As part of the celebration, NAPD gave its first “Defender of Justice Award” to the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.  This award recognizes the outstanding work of a public defense office or agency.  As a member of the committee that chose the recipient of the award I can tell you that there were numerous exceptional agencies to choose from but when it came time to make the decision, the choice was clear, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem was the standout. 

The following was heard by those in attendance at the celebration banquet when the award was presented and shows how deserving NDS is of the award – much of it taken from the mission and vision that NDS strives to achieve every day in representing its clients:

The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem opened its doors in 1990 to address some of the long-standing problems facing public defender providers. In contrast to traditional public defense practice, NDS clients are represented by a team that includes criminal and civil attorneys, social workers, investigators, paralegals, law school and social work interns, and pro bono attorneys. NDS deploys all of these resources in the aggressive defense of its clients. Additionally, through its innovative program, Pre-Arrest Services, NDS can begin representing a client before there has been any contact with law enforcement, allowing NDS to better protect client’s rights.

A core aspect of the NDS holistic approach to public defense is a commitment to search for the underlying issues that brings clients into contact with the criminal justice system, and providing comprehensive social service support to avoid or minimize future problems. When clients face collateral consequences with their employment, schooling, or in family, housing, or immigration court, NDS strives to help clients resolve those issues, either through direct representation or referrals to appropriate service providers.

NDS has also demonstrated a commitment to the community which it serves. The offices are located not by the courthouse, but in central Harlem, allowing it to establish meaningful relationships with clients and the members of their families who are also affected by their problems.

For 28 years NDS has remained committed to its core values of client-centered, community-based, holistic, early-entry, multi-forum, team defense. Additionally, a central part of the mission of NDS is to work to reform the criminal justice system through advocacy and to help bring NDS’ core values and commitment to excellence to defender systems throughout the U.S. and around the world. As such, NDS has been in the forefront of ongoing efforts to reform specialty courts, end over-criminalization, abolish the collateral damage of collateral consequences and eradicate structural racism from our U.S. system of justice; similarly, NDS has been increasingly called to work with jurisdictions throughout New York State, the United States and around the world on enhancing access to justice.