Prosecutors, judges, and court personnel are looking for new approaches to adjudicating offenders that will not only clear cases and decrease dockets, but also lower recidivism. Throughout the country, courts are recognizing that crimes involving violent and nonviolent offenders require a special effort to ensure that these offenders are held accountable, but returned to the community with the services and supervision they need to stop offending. Additionally, state and local prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges face the challenge of meeting increasing needs with limited resources. While local court personnel will decide how to meet those needs, BJA is committed to providing resources, tools, and support to help them test their ideas.
On December 3, 2013, OJP, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Innocence Project announced the release of the National Summit on Wrongful Convictions: Building a Systemic Approach to Prevent Wrongful Convictions report. The National Policy Summit on Wrongful Convictions gathered 75 subject matter experts from all key disciplines to address and examine the causes of and solutions to wrongful convictions across the entire spectrum of the justice system. The summit report includes 30 recommendations for making rightful arrests, correcting wrongful arrests, leveraging technology and forensic science, and re-examining closed cases. This report lays a foundation for required changes in investigative protocols, policies, training, supervision, and assessment.
- Full report
- Press release
- Washington Post article: Police chiefs lead effort to prevent wrongful convictions by altering investigative practices
Right to Counsel (Indigent Defense)
The U.S. Department of Justice established the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) in March 2010 to address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system. ATJ’s mission is to help the justice system efficiently deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status. The Initiative’s staff works within the Department of Justice (incluidng BJA), across federal agencies, and with state, local, and tribal justice system stakeholders to increase access to counsel and legal assistance and to improve the justice delivery systems that serve people who are unable to afford lawyers.
FY 2013 Funding: On October 30, 2013, Attorney General Holder announced a total of $6.7 million in grants to state and local criminal and civil legal services organizations across the country that provide legal defense services for the poor. These grants from OJP are part of the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to improve indigent defense, which is often underfunded and understaffed, and to support training, mentoring, technical assistance, leadership development, and research to enhance the effectiveness of adult, juvenile, and tribal indigent defense practices. Read the press release.
Current Efforts: Below are resources and activities BJA supports in the area of indigent defense:
- Bronx Defender Office (BDX) Center for Holistic Defense. Together BJA and BDX support public defender offices nationwide, replicating and mentoring Holistic Defense. Since 2009, nine offices have been awarded as mentoring sites. BXD has developed an assessment tool composed of four pillars of Holistic Defense to assist both small and large jurisdictions with implementation. BDX launched a documentary online about Holistic Defense in conjunction with live presentations, and the documentary will be integrated into BXD’s training and technical assistance (TTA). BXD developed and launched a law school curriculum in a full-time class with Columbia Law School.
- Answering Gideon’s Call: Strengthening Indigent Defense through Implementing the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System. In FY 2012, BJA awarded $1.2 million in grants to four agencies in Texas, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Each of the grantees partnered with a research organization in order to track outcomes. DOJ’s expectation is that investments in this grant program will not only pay dividends in the jurisdictions that received an award, but – through evaluation – will contribute more broadly to indigent defense knowledge and practice on approaches to improving the quality of indigent defense services.
- Training for Public Defenders. BJA's Capital Case Litigation Initiative program provides training on death penalty issues to prosecutors representing the public and to defense attorneys representing indigent defendants in state capital cases. Goals of the program include: increasing the number of capital litigation attorneys trained in capital case procedures and strategies and to improve the quality of legal representation provided to indigent defendants through innovative approaches.
- Defense Hiring and Loan Payment Grants. In 2010, with stimulus funding, OJP launched an Indigent Defense Hiring Project to reduce caseloads and improve the quality of representation available to indigent defendants. DOJ also provided seed money for a national fellowship program aimed at increasing the number of qualified public defense lawyers.
The John R. Justice (JRJ) Program, a student loan repayment program administered by BJA for qualified public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain in their post for at least 3 years, helps defender offices recruit and retain lawyers who work to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system. Over the last 3 years, the JRJ Program has reimbursed approximately $7 million toward student loans for state and local public defenders.
- Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. Since 2010, DOJ has identified indigent defense as one of several key priority areas for maximizing the effectiveness of JAG funding. BJA encourages states and State Administering Agencies (SAAs) to use JAG funds to support the vital needs of the indigent defense community and include indigent defense providers as part of their strategic planning partners. Current reporting indicates that there are 14 Recovery Act JAG subgrantees and 24 JAG subgrantees that identified funds allocated for indigent defense, for a total of approximately $2.2 million.
- “Strengthening Indigent Defense: Understanding State and Local Resources” Webinar. In collaboration with ATJ and the National Criminal Justice Association, BJA held this webinar in 2012, which showcased DOJ's efforts to encourage jurisdictions to bring all system stakeholders together, including defenders, and highlighted some of the state and federal resources available to the public defense community.
- “Measures For Justice” (MFJ) Initiative. MFG builds on Amy Bach’s book Ordinary Injustice, which is designed to identify and fix systemic problems in criminal trial courts across the U.S. MFJ, through its data council, has developed a Justice Index that contains about 50 indicator metrics, which cover the criminal process from first contact with law enforcement through post-conviction. Each metric indicator goes to enhance public safety and protect the constitutional rights of every defendant who enters the court system. Through this initiative, MFJ will collect data that will serve as "red flags," alerting everyone what is not working so that a public defender is not alone in calling out for better caseloads or services to protect his/her defendant. BJA is providing funding for the MFJ initiative to pilot the implementation of the Index in Milwaukee.
- BJA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC). Through NTTAC, BJA can provide technical assistance to jurisdictions to meet their constitutional obligation to provide adequate representation to indigent defendants. Services can include providing assistance to assess the overall effectiveness and efficiency of indigent defense systems, developing recommendations to assure that adequate and appropriate indigent defense services are provided consistently throughout the state to ensure constitutional adequacy, and determining the appropriate measures for evaluating a defender services program. At least three states will receive TTA assistance (Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah).
- Tribal Civil and Criminal Legal Assistance (TCCLA) Program. TCCLA provides grant funding that enhances and improves access to tribal justice systems; and that serves to strengthen and improve the representation of indigent respondents in civil causes of action and indigent defendants in criminal cases under the jurisdiction of Indian tribes. These services are also targeted to tribes that meet the federal poverty guidelines. In FY 2013, BJA made two awards for direct civil indigent services and three awards for direct criminal indigent services.
- American University (AU). AU is partnering with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) to conduct a nationwide self-assessment (GIDEONline) to evaluate the degree to which state and local indigent defense providers are achieving the standards incorporated into the ABA Ten Principles. This will produce the first national empirical assessment of the quality of indigent defense services, measuring progress and improvements. They will use the information gathered from this assessment to help create training products responsive to the needs in the field and also to help target their site-specific TA toward jurisdictions which demonstrate a combination of need and a capacity to implement reforms.
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). NACDL will identify jurisdictions for the delivery of targeted training sessions for public defenders and assigned counsel, meeting specific jurisdictional needs. NACDL will also meet other defense counsel training needs, such as regional trainings or "Bring Your Own Case" (BYOC) trainings. Finally, NACDL will use the innovative Delphi pilot project currently running in the Missouri State Public Defender and implement this methodology in approximately five new jurisdictions, enabling those systems to better manage their workload. The results from this project will contribute the knowledge base for performance measures for providing right to counsel for all individuals.
For another project, NACDL will replicate in three to five jurisdictions the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy's (DPA) success with its “Kentucky Pretrial Release Manual.” The Kentucky DPA widely distributed the maunal to the Kentucky defense bar, among others, in an effort to provide attorneys with the tools necessary to engage in effective bail advocacy. These efforts have achieved demonstrable results and have contributed to significant savings for Kentucky’s counties.
- Seattle University. Seattle University has a demonstrated history of providing intensive, site-specific TA which helps drive statewide systemic reforms. Seattle University and the Sixth Amendment Center (6AC) will provide immediate hands-on TTA to two states—Mississippi and Utah—which are uniquely positioned for substantive reform. In Mississippi, 6AC will perform survey and evaluation work to educate policymakers on the value of the ABA Ten Principles, aiding the unfunded, legislatively established Office the Public Defender. In Utah, 6AC will work with the Utah Judicial Council and the Study Committee on the Representation of Indigent Criminal Defendants, conducting objective, standards-based evaluation in ten representative counties. The standards developed from the evaluation will then be used to assess trial-level indigent defense services, resulting in recommendations to the state legislature on what Utah needs to do to meet their constitutional obligations under the Sixth Amendment.
- Gideon’s Promise. Gideon’s Promise partners with public defender offices to build a community of committed and passionate attorneys to drive indigent defense reform across America. Their comprehensive model for change emphasizes client-centered values, ongoing trial advocacy training, mentoring, leadership development, and community-building. In FY 2013, funding will support: (1) 30 new attorneys, including criminal defense attorneys working on tribal lands, in the 3-year Corp 101 program where new public defenders are given the training and support they need to become effective criminal defense attorneys; (2) trainer and leadership development through an innovative and interactive program geared toward public defender trainers and supervisors and a semi-annual Leadership Summit, where chief defenders receive leadership training while they collaborate and strategize about how to most effectively apply the techniques and philosophies of the Gideon’s Promise model to help foster change in their jurisdictions; and (3) the establishment of an advisory council that will produce and test at least 10 measures/indicators that will—for the first time—allow us to show the outcomes of providing effective assistance of counsel for all individuals. Gideon’s Promise will work closely with BJA and other appropriate BJA-funded grantees on developing the measures.
- San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. The San Francisco Public Defender’s office has recently begun an initiative to develop practitioner checklists to better guide its attorneys through key moments in a case that are both substantive and user-friendly. The initiative is founded in literature – Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto – that documents the value of checklists for complex and overworked systems, such as the legal system. The San Francisco Public Defender will create the first-ever local and nationally-applicable checklist system in partnership with the Center on Court Innovation to research and create a local and national model. The proposed checklist system would be adaptable by public defender offices and bar associations overseeing private court-appointed attorneys and will set a series of benchmarks detailing what is minimally required on an annual basis and provide resources so that each jurisdiction could ensure its attorneys are able to competently represent their clients, while avoiding costly errors.
Evaluation Information and Tools
BJA’s Center for Program Evaluation and Performance Management maintains a user-friendly online evaluation and performance measurement tool designed to assist state and local criminal justice planners, practitioners, State Administrati ve Agencies, researchers, and evaluators in: 1) conducting evaluations and performance measurement that will address the effectiveness and efficiency of their projects and 2) using evaluation information to improve program planning and implementation. Visit the Center for Program Evaluation and Performance Management site to learn more.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) — the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice — is dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice, particularly at the state and local levels. Access the NIJ site for further information and access to research materials.
OJP’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects, analyzes, publishes, and disseminates information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government. These data are critical to federal, state, and local policymakers in combating crime and ensuring that justice is both efficient and evenhanded. See the BJS site for access to data on a variety of topics.
The Events section of the BJA site contains information about upcoming and ongoing trainings and other events related to courts and other justice topics.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) offers training on the Principles of Forensic DNA for Officers of the Court. This is an online interactive resource tool to educate and assist prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in forensic DNA cases. The course consists of 15 modules and covers:
- The biology of DNA, including statistics and population genetics.
- DNA laboratories, quality assurance in testing, and understanding a laboratory report.
- Forensic databases.
- Victim issues.
- The presentation of DNA evidence at trial.
- Post-conviction DNA cases.
BJA provides training and technical assistance support to the Community Prosecution grantees through the National Center for Community Prosecution and the Center for Court Innovation.
The National Judicial College provides educational and professional development opportunities to more than 58,000 judges worldwide. BJA-sponsored courses include children as adults in court, bench skills for judges, health care and aging, disabilities and co-occurring disorders, and the role of families in the justice system.
For information on all BJA-sponsored training and technical assistance, visit to BJA's National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC).
- News and Info
- Related Resources
Pretrial Research Summaries: For statistical information, go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) web site.
Pretrial Research Summaries:
For statistical information, go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) web site.
Register now for the National Forum on Criminal Justice, occurring August 10-13, 2014, in Breckenridge, CO. This year's theme is "Integrating Research, Policy and Technology to Improve Safety." Register or view the agenda.
In partnership with BJA, the CSG Justice Center is seeking applicants for the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Collaboration Learning Sites Program. This program is designed to identify and highlight agencies from across the country with successful collaborations between the criminal justice and mental health systems in the areas of pretrial, community corrections, and court-based programs (e.g., mental health court) that are willing to share their expertise with the field. Applications are due July 11, 2014.
The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor (MOV) is the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer. Nominate an officer now through the online application system. The MOV nomination period is May 30-July 31, 2014.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has launched a new, searchable online document of current funding opportunities and new initiatives. The OJP Program Plan features the latest and most complete information regarding both competitive and noncompetitive grants, training and technical assistance, research, and other resources available to the justice community.
BJA and the National American Indian Court Judges Association have just released "An Overview of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Tribal Civil and Criminal Legal Assistance Program and Resources."
Reducing recidivism through the application of evidence-based practices was strongly emphasized at the recent American Parole and Probation Association’s annual training institute. BJA Deputy Director Kristen Mahoney and Council of State Governments Justice Center Policy Analyst Laura Zeliger facilitated a workshop on the successes of and principles behind BJA’s Smart Probation: Reducing Prison Populations, Saving Money, and Creating Safer Communities Program. During the presentation, practitioners from Wisconsin and California shared their strategies on how to apply conceptual principles to real-world situations.
2014 International Elder Law and Policy Conference
Dates: 7/10/2014 - 7/11/2014
Location: Chicago, IL
American Association of Law Libraries 2014 Annual Meeting and Conference
Dates: 7/12/2014 - 7/15/2014
Location: San Antonio, TX
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) 77th Annual Conference
Dates: 7/13/2014 - 7/16/2014
Location: Chicago, IL
National Association for Court Management 2014 Annual Conference
Dates: 7/13/2014 - 7/17/2014
Location: Scottsdale, AZ
Cybercop 101: Basic Data Recovery & Analysis (BDRA)
Dates: 7/14/2014 - 7/16/2014
Location: Frankfort, KY
- Promising (Multiple Studies) - Promising (Single Study)
Front-End Diversion Initiative
A preadjudication diversion program designed to divert juveniles with mental health needs away from the juvenile justice system through specialized supervision and case management.
Indigent Defense for Homicide Cases (Philadelphia, Penn.)
Indigent defense involves the constitutionally mandated free representation of individuals accused of crimes who are unable to afford private representation. Since 1993, every fifth murder case is sequentially assigned at the preliminary arraignment to be represented by attorneys from the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
Maine Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts
Court supervised, post-plea (but pre-final disposition) drug diversion programs that provide comprehensive community-based treatment services to juvenile offenders and their families.
Minneapolis Center for Victim-Offender Mediation
A restorative justice program that provides juvenile offenders and their victims the opportunity to meet face-to-face in the presence of a mediator to discuss the offense and establish a plan for the future.
Adolescent Diversion Project (Michigan State University)
A strengths-based, university-led program that diverts arrested youth from formal processing in the juvenile justice system and provides them with community-based services.
Center for Court Innovation
National Association of Drug Court Professionals/National Drug Court Institute
National District Attorney's Association (NDAA)
National Center for State Courts
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ): Access to Justice Initiative