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Indigent Defense Research Opportunities

March 26, 2013
The following post appears courtesy of the National Institute of Justice. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) — the research, development and evaluation agency of the Justice Department — is bringing together social scientists and defense practitioners to find ways to crack the barriers to strong indigent defense systems. Because of the limited resources and gaps in infrastructure of many indigent defense systems, defense counsel often lag behind other justice system actors in using data and research to assess their own effectiveness, develop best practices and influence policy. To that end, NIJ research seeks to understand the persistent barriers to indigent defense and offer recommendations that may help solve those issues. This year, NIJ is launching three studies focused on indigent defense from its FY 2012 Social Science Research on Indigent Defense solicitation. The National Center for State Courts will evaluate the impact of “holistic defense” approaches that address a defendant’s underlying social needs. Using multiple methods, the study will explore how the principles of holistic defense are interpreted and implemented, the financial and organizational requisites for implementing a holistic defense program, and what benefits holistic defense provides to defendants, taxpayers and society.
  • Georgetown University will examine the factors that lead juveniles to waive their right to counsel. Through the study of 400 pairs of parents and youth of varying ages, the researchers will assess intellectual functioning, emotional symptoms, psychosocial maturity, and knowledge and beliefs about attorneys and the adjudication process.
  • The Vera Institute of Justice will study the challenges facing attorneys who represent indigent defendants with mental health disorders. Through a study of 250 pairs of attorneys and their clients, this research will identify resource constraints, ethical dilemmas, practical challenges and best practices that affect the ability of indigent defense attorneys to provide effective counsel that meets the needs of this group of defendants.
These studies will help clarify the barriers that indigent criminal defendants face in securing effective legal representation, as well as help identify ways to remove those hurdles. However, more needs to be done. In addition to the grants from the 2012 Social Science Research on Indigent Defense Solicitation, in fiscal year 2013, NIJ has released solicitations for research proposals and fellowship program applications. Indigent defense researchers are encouraged to submit applications for funding. See each of the individual solicitations for unique eligibility criteria and procedures for applying. We strongly encourage defense practitioners to partner with social scientists and submit applications for these opportunities. For more information visit NIJ.gov

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Updated April 7, 2017