Answering Gideon’s Call Project

Funded by the United States Department of Justice
Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant Award 2012-DB-BX-0010
CPCS Improving Indigent Defense Delivery Systems

In accordance with current trends promoting the greater use of evidence-based practice in the criminal justice system, the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice recently funded several public defender agencies to take concrete steps towards improving the quality of indigent defense services. Among those funded, the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which serves as Massachusetts’ statewide public defender agency, partnered with the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) to complete a statewide strategic planning and capacity building project. The project was designed to combine the interdisciplinary expertise of public defenders regarding known best practices in indigent defense representation; researchers regarding the translation of best practice knowledge into quantifiable performance indicators; and technology experts regarding the needs of public defender management information systems.

Specifically, the current project sought to build capacity within four distinct indigent defense practice areas: (1) adult criminal defense; (2) juvenile delinquency proceedings; (3) child care and protection; and (4) mental health. For each practice area, the project pursued six goals:

  1. Identify and articulate best practices;
  2. Identify key performance indicators that correspond to the best practices;
  3. Assess the capacity of existing CPCS case tracking, case management, and other data collection systems to collect and report on the identified performance indicators;
  4. Craft a proposal for improving or replacing existing case tracking, case management and other data collection systems, as needed;
  5. Propose an evaluation plan for CPCS indigent defense delivery systems that takes into account the above findings, including both substantive need and practical feasibility; and
  6. Develop a case weighting system for the purpose of more accurately evaluating the capacity of an attorney to provide high-quality representation in each practice area (and also to provide high-quality representation for different case types within each area).

The project includes six specific products reflecting these six goals: two final documents respectively presenting best practices and performance measures; and four reports respectively addressing CPCS’ current data collection systems; recommendations for future systems; evaluation plans; and methods and findings from an original case weighting study. All products of this project are on file with the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Selected documents are also available at here for download.

Available for download are four reports:

Best Practices, Objectives, and Performance Indicators : In collaboration with the various divisions, the Gideon Project Team drafted performance indicators based on the best practices of each trial division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS). The document is presented in the form of reports and queries that provide insight into best practices.

Attorney Workload Assessment: Caseload analysis, including case weighting, is essential to providing and sustaining quality representation. The Gideon Project team used available data and methods to learn more about the workload of attorneys from the various trial practice areas.

Evaluation Proposal: This document lays out a blueprint for how CPCS can measure indigent defense system performance through the analysis of statistical indicators. It should be emphasized that, if there are occurrences of system performance failure, it does not mean that the failure is the fault of any particular individual. Individuals work within a system, and there are many factors that influence system outcomes that are beyond the control of a single person. Even more pertinent, system problems often require system-level solutions. The identification of these system problems, however, is a necessary first step.

Final Report Recommendations: The report consolidates the major methods, lessons, and recommendations from the six more in-depth products. The goal is to aid other indigent defense agencies in implementing their own self-assessment process. Moreover, we do not assume that other agencies will reach identical conclusions as CPCS. Rather, we assume that the current undertaking might provide a valuable model for other agencies interested in similar self-reflection.

Please contact Denise Simonini (dsim...@publiccounsel.net), Executive Assistant to the Chief Counsel, with any questions.