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Indigent Defense Grants, Training and Technical Assistance

The Justice Department has been working to develop strategies, tools, and resources to help better understand and address the challenges to the effective provision of indigent defense.

The “Answering Gideon’s Call: Strengthening Indigent Defense through Implementing the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System” grants, issued by the Office of Justice Program’s (OJP)’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)  in 2012, helped defense systems test approaches to providing quality indigent defense services using the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System. Additional grants to improve public defense delivery systems were made by BJA in 2015, “Smart Defense Initiative: Improving Public Defense Delivery Systems,” building evidence-based, data-driven criminal justice strategies that combine the expertise of researchers and practitioners for maximum, sustained, and measurable impact.  Additionally, BJA’s 2013 “Answering Gideon’s Call: National Assistance to Improve the Effectiveness of Right to Counsel Services” grants enabled a national organization to help state and local jurisdictions improve the quality of representation of indigent defendants and provide technical assistance to the indigent defense bar using the ABA Ten Principles as a guide. BJA also funds the Capital Case Litigation Initiative, a program which provides training on death penalty issues to prosecutors and defense attorneys in state capital cases. The Wrongful Conviction Review Program helps organizations provide quality representation in post-conviction claims of innocence.  The John R. Justice Program, a student loan repayment program for public defenders and prosecutors who agree to remain in their post for at least three years, helps defender offices recruit and retain lawyers. BJA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center [external link] (NTTAC) is providing technical assistance to jurisdictions to meet their constitutional obligation to provide adequate representation to indigent defendants. BJA also continues to fund the Bronx Defender Office [external link] (BDX), which has created a technical assistance center to support public defender offices seeking to implement a holistic defense model. BJA’s Tribal Civil and Criminal Legal Assistance  (TCCLA) Initiative enhances and improves access to tribal justice systems, specifically targeting those tribes that meet the federal poverty guidelines.

OJP’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) supports a Juvenile Indigent Defense National Clearinghouse program. This program provides a broad range of activities to improve the overall level of systemic advocacy, improve the quality of representation of indigent juveniles, and ensure ongoing technical support to the juvenile indigent defense bar. OJJDP most recently issued a solicitation for the Juvenile Indigent Defense National Clearinghouse in 2013.  OJJDP also supports juvenile defense programs through the State Training and Assistance Center.

OJP’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is currently updating and enhancing the 2007 Census of Public Defender Offices, which will include data to be collected in 2014 on indigent defense system structure, caseloads, staffing, expenditures, and the use of standards and guidelines across the country.  The census for the first time will include data provided by contract attorneys and assigned counsel, in addition to public defender offices.
In January 2011, OJP’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office for Access to Justice co-hosted the Indigent Defense: International Perspectives and Research Needs workshop to identify both domestic and international best practices for representing low-income defendants and to devise a robust research agenda on criminal indigent defense in the United States. The Expert Working Group Report generated from the workshop helped inform NIJ’s Solicitation for Social Science Research on Indigent Defense, issued in 2012.  The grant program is funding three research projects that will contribute to indigent defense related policy and practice recommendations that should be easily accessible to practitioners and other stakeholders across the country.
Both NIJ and BJS have a number of investigator initiated grant and fellowship opportunities for which potential applicants can submit indigent defense related research as an eligible topic for research.  Some of the programs include: NIJ’s Research Practitioner Partnership Research Program; Dubois Fellowship and Graduate Research Fellowship Programs; Research and Evaluation on Justice Systems: Investigator Initiated Solicitation; Identifying the Highest Priority Criminal Justice Technology needs; Social Science Research on Forensic Science; and BJS’s Visiting Fellowship Program (forthcoming).
The Department of Justice hosted the National Symposium on Indigent Defense in 2010. The symposium was called to focus on the stagnation that has occurred in addressing this issue during the past several years. Following the symposium, the Attorney General launched the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) which works to improve the justice delivery systems that serve people who are unable to afford lawyers in both the criminal and civil justice system.

Working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services - Office of Tribal Justice Support, the ATJ has organized a series of free trial advocacy courses designed specifically for tribal courts.  This Tribal Court Trial Advocacy Training Program is designed to enhance the trial advocacy skills for tribal court defenders, prosecutors, and judges, and will allow tribes to exercise greater sovereignty in criminal justice matters that occur on their lands. 

For more information on Justice Department grants and other resources please refer to the Courts and Indigent Defense Providers Resource Guide.

Inclusive Criminal Justice System Planning

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (“JAG”), administered by the Office of Justice Program’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is the largest of the Justice Department’s grant programs.  In 2012 nearly $300 million was allocated to states and localities to support federal, state, local, and tribal governments in implementing innovative approaches in a wide range of criminal justice program areas.  Defenders, however, have not consistently been a part of state and local planning processes for allocating Byrne JAG funds, and have not consistently received a portion of these funds. Funds dedicated to indigent defense constitute only about 3 percent of all criminal justice expenditures in our nation’s largest localities.

The Justice Department’s Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) and BJA have been working to promote increased representation of the indigent defense community on state and local advisory committees responsible for allocating Byrne JAG and other criminal justice funds

Since 2010, indigent defense has been identified by the Justice Department as one of several key priority areas for maximizing the effectiveness of Byrne JAG funding. The 2012 Byrne JAG solicitation stated that the strategic planning process should include a variety of partners, including law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, indigent defense providers, victim advocates, and corrections officials. For the first time, it also required applicants to submit a program narrative that not only describes the strategic planning process, but also identifies the stakeholders currently participating in the process.

The Justice Department is working with the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) to survey State Administering Agencies (SAAs) to understand more about the strategic planning process. These efforts are intended to help support Byrne JAG recipients with strategic planning, allow the Department to better assess the extent to which states are engaged in strategic planning and whether the recommendation that these efforts include all criminal justice stakeholders, including indigent defense, is being followed.

The Justice Department and the NCJA are also conducting a series of webinars to highlight the DOJ’s ongoing work to encourage jurisdictions to bring together all system stakeholders in criminal justice planning conversations, and to showcase strategies for integrating  indigent defense and other functions into criminal justice resource planning.

Updated October 24, 2018