Fifty years after the United States Supreme Court recognized the right to counsel as "fundamental and necessary," across this country there remains grave systemic failure in providing competent counsel to those who need it most: the poor and disproportionately people of color. Like the poor people we represent, brave public defenders proudly stand by their clients and fight to defend their clients’ liberty, but they lack a voice. It is time for public defenders to become unified, unwavering, irrepressible clarions for justice. This country needs a clear and focused voice advocating for the right to counsel, appropriately resourced and independent indigent defense systems generally, and specifically for the men and women -- lawyers and non-lawyers -- fighting to protect the liberty of our clients.
The time is now for a national organization led by the men and women in the field who are singularly devoted to promoting the policies and ideals of strong and effective public defense services. While the federal government can bring pressure to bear upon states and counties, non-governmental organizations can provide funding to promote change through public information, education and lobbying, and states and local governments can undertake reform, those efforts must be directed by the experts in the field. The impetus for change must be the service providers themselves: public defenders; assigned counsel; mitigation specialists; social workers; investigators; sentencing advocates; IT; administrative support; trainers and educators; and other disciplines who dedicate their professional lives to preserving the right to counsel to assuming the responsibility as catalysts for change. These committed and fearless men and women must stop accepting the current status of indigent defense in this country and mobilize for a new direction and new policies... for a new day. Our vision of public defense includes defending the liberty of indigent people not only to be free from incarceration in prisons, but also to be free from incarceration in mental hospitals and from unwarranted intrusion by government into their families.
The time for action is now.
The time to coalesce around a new and unique organization for the sake of the right to counsel is now.
That organization is the National Association for Public Defense (NAPD). NAPD seeks the active participation in NAPD committee work of all who dedicate their professional efforts to this broad vision of public defense.