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Holistic Defense

New study by Paul Heaton and RAND finds holistic defense effective in reducing mass incarceration

A groundbreaking new study by researchers at RAND and the University of Pennsylvania Law School finds that by adopting an innovative holistic approach to defending poor clients in criminal cases, jurisdictions can significantly reduce incarceration and save taxpayer dollars, without harming public safety.

The study, “The Effects of Holistic Defense on Criminal Justice Outcomes,” to be published in the Harvard Law Review, examined over half a million cases in the Bronx over a 10-year period involving poor criminal defendants who received court-appointed lawyers. The study was authored by James Anderson and Mary Buenaventura of RAND, and Paul Heaton, Academic Director of Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at Penn Law.

Heaton and his co-authors compared holistic representation – wherein an interdisciplinary team that includes a lawyer working alongside other advocates such as a social worker, housing advocate, investigator, etc. addresses the wider needs of the client enmeshed in the criminal justice system – to the more traditional public defense model focused around criminal attorneys and criminal case advocacy. They found that the holistic approach reduced the likelihood of a prison sentence by 16 percent, and actual prison sentence length by 24 percent.

These impacts translated to big savings for taxpayers. Over the decade covered by the study, holistic representation of clients prevented more than one million days of incarceration, saving New York taxpayers an estimated $165 million. And despite an appreciably higher release rate, in a follow-up spanning up to ten years after case resolution, defendants who received holistic defense services were shown to commit no more crime than those incarcerated for longer periods.

Source: Penn Law

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