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EARLY INTERVENTION BY COUNSEL:
A MULTI-SITE EVALUATION OF COUNSEL AT FIRST APPEARANCE
The challenge of providing counsel at first appearance has become a priority not only in New York but also nationwide. In 2012, the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services (ILS) announced a competitive grant program, inviting county indigent defense providers to develop innovative strategies for increasing their capacities to provide representation at this critical early stage. In September 2014, the National Institute of Justice (DOJ) awarded a research grant to a partnership established between ILS and the University at Albany to investigate the efficacy of programs in six of those counties. (Award NIJ2014-IJ-CX-0027).
The project examines the impact of those six counties’ programs on case outcomes, criminal justice operations, and costs. The counties represent the diversity of upstate New York: they include rural and urban jurisdictions, and programs that provide representation through public defender as well as assigned counsel arrangements. The project explicitly recognizes that providers face differing constraints, needs, and opportunities, and therefore they devised strategies that best suit their communities.
The study is two-pronged. First, we are tracking and documenting the implementation of CAFA programs in the six counties. Court reform is famously difficult and good ideas often go astray. Because the six counties designed their own CAFA programs, they have the potential to prove to be exemplars of implementation; and to the extent implementation is successful, similarly situated counties may choose to emulate their plans. Second, we are assessing the impact of CAFA on costs and case outcomes: arraignment decisions, time spent by defendants in jail, early engagement of pretrial services, and dispositions.
The findings will be shared with defender organizations, judicial associations, state and local government, and academic as well as policy researchers, both within and outside of New York. It is our hope that this research will set the stage for better provision of counsel across the nation.