Advocacy Tools

The following section contains organizations, toolkits and recent quantitative reports and studies that may be relevant to your work. These reports cover a range of topics including the misdemeanor court system, the cost of under-resourcing public defenders and mass incarceration of the elderly.


Fifty years after the Supreme Court declared the right to counsel as fundamental and essential to a fair justice system, this right remains unfulfilled. To learn more about this right and ways you can get involved with organizations fighting to ensure its fair application,visit the resources listed below.
American Civil Liberties Union
American Council of Chief Defenders

The Brennan Center for Justice

The Constitution Project

Equal Justice Initiative

Gideon’s Promise

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Sixth Amendment Center

Chasing Gideon Lesson Plan

Designed for high school social studies and language arts teachers, Street Law’s Chasing Gideon lesson plan explores ways in which jurisdictions comply with the Gideon ruling that the state provide an attorney to people who have been charged with a serious crime and cannot afford to hire counsel.

Chasing Gideon Lesson Plan 

Gideon’s Army at Work Toolkit

This toolkit is designed to help advocates take maximum advantage of the film by planning screenings and facilitating discussions.

 Gideon’s Army at Work Toolkit

Defender Toolkit

This toolkit is for defenders looking for communications resources.
Public Defense Communications Toolkit 2013

Reports & Studies

Gideon at 50: Three Reforms to Revive the Right to Counsel

Thomas Giovanni and Roopal Patel, Brennan Center for Justice, April 2013

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to an attorney for criminal defendants who could not afford one. But that was 50 years ago. Our criminal justice system has grown dramatically since then — without the necessary funding for public defenders to keep up with growing caseloads and resource demands. Today, public defense offices are so overworked and underfunded that clients are not getting the legal defense they were guaranteed, further feeding our nation’s mass incarceration problem. In this report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Thomas Giovanni and Roopal Patel examine the numerous challenges public defenders face in providing legal representation to poor clients and propose three common sense solutions to ensure poor defendants get the legal representation they  need.

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National Committee on the Right to Counsel Resource Kit

The Constitution Project and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association

The Constitution Project and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association have brought together an extraordinary group of Americans – with experience as judges, prosecutors, defenders, victim advocates, law enforcers and policymakers – to examine whether poor defendants are being provided with competent, experienced lawyers who have the necessary resources to defend them and to create consensus recommendations for any necessary reforms.

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National Indigent Defense Reform: The Solution is Multifaceted

American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Air & Indigent Defense and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, January 2013

This report provides a blueprint for those who share a passion for improving America’s indigent defense systems. It is intended for all those who see the 50th anniversary of Gideon as an occasion to renew the commitment to the principle that every accused person in the United States must have access to effective counsel.

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Community-Oriented Defense: Start Now

Thomas Giovanni, Brennan Center for Justice, July 2012

This report examines the different ways public defender offices across the country are using the limited resources they are given to transform the indigent defense system. Offices attain more successful outcomes for individual people and entire communities when they can address the unique needs of their clients. This report highlights projects that public defender offices have implemented over the past year. The projects demonstrate that even by starting small, offices can lay the foundation for broader reforms of the indigent defense system.

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Smart Reform Is Possible: States Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Communities

American Civil Liberties Union, August 2011

This report documents bipartisan justice reform in six states – Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Ohio and Kentucky – and ongoing efforts in four more – California, Louisiana, Maryland and Indiana. Each state profile describes how and why lawmakers in states historically seen as “tough on crime” moved from escalating prison growth and costs to significant reforms that either have already or are projected to reduce the incarcerated population and save public funds. These profiles are intended to provide lawmakers and advocates with a practical “how to” guide to reform state prison systems.

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System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense

Justice Policy Institute, July 2011

This report argues that by not fully investing in public defense systems, states and counties are frequently choosing incarceration over justice, leading to increased costs now and in the future. With many states struggling with overwhelming criminal justice populations and incarceration costs, the need to address the chronic crisis of public defense is pressing. The report outlines holistic and community-based approaches to providing people with more effective public defense.

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Engaging Unlikely Allies to Achieve Criminal Justice Reform

The Constitution Project, July 2011

For several decades, the criminal justice reform effort has been dominated by a divisive debate between those labeled “tough on crime” and those labeled “soft on crime.” Fortunately, those labels have recently begun to dissipate, as some individuals who were previously viewed as “tough on crime” have begun to recognize the problems that plague the justice system and the urgent need for reforms in a wide variety of areas. The time is ripe for the criminal justice community to reach out to these unlikely allies, but traditional language, strategies and tactics may need to be modified to successfully engage these individuals.

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Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems: Portraits of Michigan’s Constitutional Crisis

American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Michigan Campaign for Justice, April 2011

This report documents nearly $13 million in wasted taxpayer dollars and decades in wasted time as it tells the stories of 13 people who were failed by Michigan’s network of county-based public defense systems. In each of these cases, flawed public defense systems prevented these individuals from obtaining the legal assistance they needed to refute the charges against them and prove their innocence. These are not stories about people being exonerated. Instead, these are stories about the importance of “getting it right.”

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Slamming the Courthouse Doors: Denial of Access to Justice and Remedy in America

American Civil Liberties Union, December 2010

Actions of the executive, federal legislative and judicial branches of the United States have seriously restricted access to justice for victims of civil liberties and human rights violations, limiting the availability of effective (or, in some cases, any) remedies for these violations. Weakened judicial oversight and attacks against plaintiffs’ and defendants’ standing, discovery rights and the courts’ jurisdiction are denying victims of human rights violations their day in court and protecting the responsible officials and corporations from litigation. This report provides an overview of this problem and recommendations for resolving it.

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Community Oriented Defense: Stronger Public Defenders

Melanca Clark and Emily Savner, Brennan Center for Justice, July 2010

In this report, the Brennan Center presents each of the Community Oriented Defender (COD) Ten Principles by highlighing profiles of defender programs that are putting the various Principles into action. Those cited are but a few of the many defender programs incorporating the COD Ten Principles today and represent just some of the many creative ways we hope defender programs will begin to integrate these Principles into their own work.

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Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Work Related To Excessive Workloads

American Bar Association, August 2009

These Guidelines are intended for the use of public defense programs and lawyers who provide the representation when they are confronted with too many persons to represent and are thus prevented from discharging their responsibilities under professional conduct rules. In addition, because these Guidelines contain important considerations for those responsible for indigent defense services, they should be valuable to a number of other audiences, including members of boards and commissions that oversee public defense representation, policymakers responsible for funding indigent defense and judges who are called upon to address the caseload concerns of those who provide public defense services. Since these Guidelines relate directly to the fair, impartial and effective administration of justice in our courts, they should also be of special interest to bar leaders, as well as to those in the legal profession and to the public.

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Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel

National Right to Counsel Committee, April 2009

The dual purposes of this report were to (1) examine, across the country, whether criminal defendants and juveniles charged with delinquency who are unable to retain their own lawyers receive adequate legal representation that is consistent with decisions of the Supreme Court and rules of the legal profession and (2) develop consensus recommendations for achieving lasting reforms of the indigent defense system.

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Minor Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America’s Broken Misdemeanor Courts

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, April 2009

The explosive growth of misdemeanor cases is placing a staggering burden on American courts. Defenders across the country are forced to carry impossible caseloads that leave too little time for clients to be properly represented. As a result, constitutional obligations are left unmet and taxpayers’ money is wasted. This report explains, in depth, these and other problems observed in misdemeanor courts and offers recommendations for reform.

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ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System

American Bar Association, February 2002

The Principles were created as a practical guide for governmental officials, policymakers and other parties who are charged with creating and funding new or improving existing public defense delivery systems. The Principles constitute the fundamental criteria necessary to design a system that provides effective, efficient, high quality, ethical, conflict-free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford an attorney.

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