The Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC) Advisory Council has selected the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project, conceived and created by West Virginia Public Defender Services (WV PDS), as one of nine Rural Innovation Sites. These are the country’s most innovative rural justice programs which will serve as models for other communities. The RJC initiative will provide resources to enable other communities to replicate these Innovation Sites’ successes. The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project is an example of how rural innovation in holistic representation in indigent criminal defense can be successful, replicated, and expanded even across rural communities. 

The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project developed out of necessity when West Virginia’s substance use crisis was increasing and intertwined with criminal offenses. Simply addressing the criminal offenses was not addressing the needs of indigent defendants in communities across West Virginia, and linkage and navigation to substance use treatment was a skillset attorneys did not possess or have time to address. 

The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project utilizes the special training and skills of peer recovery coaches working in public defender corporations to intervene into the substance use needs of public defender clients at the earliest stage of the criminal legal process. Peer recovery coaches arrange for substance use treatment opportunities immediately upon a client's release from incarceration to reduce overdose risk and promote linkage to treatment. The peer recovery coaches are employed by the public defender corporations where they work and receive referrals from public defenders to ensure the attorneys can focus on the legal case while the recovery coaches can address the underlying root causes of their criminal offenses. Peer recovery coaches also follow up with clients at 6-, 12-, and 18-months after referral to offer clients ongoing support and encouragement for sustained recovery and successful reentry into the community. The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project was initially developed out of grant writing efforts, later resulting in positive outcomes and sustained funding for Public Defender Services to expand this project with the support of the Department of Administration in West Virginia’s Executive Branch.

Over the next three years, the RJC will work with the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project to create educational materials that it will feature in an online resource center. Thanks to funding from the State Justice Institute, the program will also offer visits to leaders from other communities and participate in regional conferences. 
For more information on Rural Justice Collaborative Innovation Sites, click here. For more information on the WV PDS Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project, click here.