The Courts See a Crime. These Lawyers See a Whole Life.

Pairing old-school defense with attention to real-life problems gets people out of jail.

Profile (New York)

Eli Hager
Marshall Project
November 12, 2018

Tags: Holistic Defense

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Society (New York City), Bronx Defenders


On any given day in this nation’s courtrooms, there’s a parade of defendants struggling with homelessness, mental illness or drug addiction.

That is the fundamental insight of “holistic defense,” a form of legal representation pioneered in the Bronx two decades ago. Using this method, public defender’s offices not only help clients with their court cases but also try to address the life circumstances that led them to commit crimes in the first place.

And according to one of the first ever large-scale, empirical studies of holistic defenders’ effectiveness, helping people with their life problems often gets them out of jail, too.