These collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement last long beyond the resolution of cases in the criminal and family court systems and present significant obstacles to re-entry after incarceration. As the first advocates to meet with their clients at the start of criminal and family court proceedings, public defenders are uniquely positioned to intervene in the process that drives mass incarceration.
Our public defender system must offer a model of lawyering called “holistic defense.” As pioneered by The Bronx Defenders, this approach can play a crucial role in the effort to combat mass incarceration within a public health approach. The model provides advocacy within the criminal justice system and beyond, by offering follow-up services after incarceration to prevent re-arrest and re-incarceration.
This model of defense can help minimize the collateral consequences of incarceration. Even a brief incarceration can cause a life crisis– arrests and jail destabilize everyday life. In long-term cases, it can help clients overcome barriers to re-entry in their communities and to achieve stability with their families. Holistic defense offers a road forward in the movement to end mass incarceration.