The Public Defense Project
About our project
The Public Defense Project team is partnering with Secure Justice, an IRS-registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, with the goal of working with/for public defenders and assessing the most critical gaps in their knowledge of data and emerging technologies. Public defenders are overworked and under-resourced, and the sheer amount of data in modern criminal cases has compounded this problem.
With this project, we outline the significant challenges that public defenders face when handling data and technology, identify opportunities for technical and political solutions, and describe constraints that technologists and privacy advocates should consider as they pursue solutions. We focus, in particular, on opportunities to improve surveillance data extraction and processing methods for public defenders, opportunities to expand case management and database management capabilities, and opportunities to explore data and resource sharing for public defenders within and between public defense offices.
The systemic issues we’ve surfaced through qualitative research go beyond the scope of what we can achieve within the timeframe of our capstone and so our final website focuses on the following goals to surface systemic problems that impede public defense work:
- Educate people and initiate civic movement in technologists and policy advocates
- Navigate viewers through the findings of The Public Defense Project, its key takeaways, potential solutions, and technology constraints that bind public defenders
- Share resources, policy advocacy concerns, and mechanisms to support the public defense community through their skills
Beyond technical efforts, we maintain that efforts to support public defenders through policy are just as, if not more, important. In 2019, the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense Act was introduced as a bill in Congress. The EQUAL Defense Act would have provided resources to public defenders, provided funding to reduce caseloads, and offered them greater training and support. While it did not pass, we believe that similar policy efforts to improve the working conditions of public defenders are necessary in order to defend low-income and marginalized peoples impacted by the criminal justice system.
In the future, we envision a collective that actively strengthens connections within the public defense community and its members — compensating community members for their knowledge, expertise, and time. Additionally, we hope that this network can facilitate members’ capacity to create their own solutions, which are flexible and customizable to accommodate their diverse working and learning styles.
We hope that potential solutions that arise on account of this work critically consider representation across all levels of their systems and consider how they might build trustworthy relationships. We urge technologists to be mindful and inclusive as they rethink system defaults. We hope technologists are cognizant of the power they hold to present information in a manner that is neutral and unbiased, to avoid manipulating the decision-making process through the technologies they design for information exchanges in vulnerable networks.