This content was originally published in the introduction to the 2015 NAPD Annual Report.

NAPD grew out of a series of conversations that began in a room in Dayton, Ohio, in 2013.  We were 40 public defense advocates, each committed to working on behalf of poor clients in our communities across the country. That series of conversations grew into an idea to bring together a diverse public defender community, one often resistant to unification, to aid each other and to create one voice and vision to improve public defense in this country. In the wake of sobering reflections on the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, we seized on the idea that the strength of our numbers and our many perspectives and expertise could – and should – be harnessed to support the right to counsel and the broken systems designed to deliver it. Two years later, NAPD has grown into not just an association but a movement of 12,500 practitioners working in every state and territory fighting for justice for our clients.

NAPD’s broad membership allows us to support and tell the stories of public defenders and our clients in our fight on many fronts—some so fundamental as to be almost inconceivable. Public defenders fight for the right to see clients in jail and to have confidential conversations. We fight for the evidence that we are entitled to by law. We fight for the time and resources to provide our clients with the zealous representation they deserve. We fight for our clients’ dignity. We fight against judges who don’t care that, for poor people, a $500 bond is an insurmountable obstacle to freedom. Public defenders fight for an end to the cycle of fines and fees that keep our clients in jail. We fight to address the many collateral consequences—eviction, deportation, custody, access to employment, education and healthcare—of even minor involvement in the criminal justice system. We fight to bring schools, recreation centers, job training and economic opportunities to poor communities to help break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that often leads to involvement with the system. Public defenders fight to recognize the humanity of our clients caught up in a broken criminal justice system that ruins lives.

NAPD’s greatest strength is our unique, entirely peer-to-peer training programs, webinars and resource materials. Our 2015 Executive Leadership Institute at Valparaiso Law School trained 58 public defender leaders from 30 states, and over 120 mid-level leaders attended our 2016 Managers’ & Supervisors’ Institute in March. NAPD’s public defense library, MyGideon, is an indispensible collection of thousands of resources: articles, forums, webinars, manuals, checklists and portals. It represents the true collaborative power of an organization built by and for public defenders. Our ongoing challenge is to bring the power of collaboration to a unified message that reaches beyond our public defense community to bring reform to a criminal justice system that brutalizes our clients every day. I invite you to celebrate with us our considerable successes, and join us in the long battle ahead.