Holistic Defense Social Work Unit
The Social Worker Unit is one of many units within the Office which support the Public Defender’s vision of providing holistic defense services to clients charged with felonies and juvenile petitions and is made up of four social workers in the adult system, one social worker in the juvenile department, and a part-time clinical supervisor.
Some of the work Public Defender Social Workers can help with includes:
- Making strong referrals to community-based social service agencies;
- Ensuring that clients' treatment needs are adequately addressed;
- Providing expertise to assist judges and attorneys in understanding clients' circumstances;
- Contributing to early release from jail by providing alternatives to incarceration; and
- Improving legal outcomes.
Many of our clients arrive at our doors in crisis. Facing felony charges is scary and overwhelming, particularly for first time offenders.
Our Social Workers meet clients where they are to best support them in reaching their potential.
Social Workers in the Public Defender's Office are essential in linking our clients to services throughout their criminal case and easing the transition from incarceration to living and working in the community. In their advocacy role, they highlight clients' life stories for the court in order to identify appropriate alternatives to incarceration, including addiction and mental health treatment programs.
We also serve clients in prison on life charges from convictions they received decades prior, creating reports documenting their childhood traumas, successes, and maturation through rehabilitative programming and services.
Each of our client’s stories are unique: some are young, first time offenders. Many suffer from addiction, mental health issues, racism, discrimination, and a lack of employment and housing opportunities. They are survivors of trauma and despite these challenges, we believe that they all have potential and that they are the experts on their lived experiences.
The Social Work Unit provides both therapeutic and legal support to our clients, helping pave the way for them to turn their lives around. Our goal is to humanize them in the context of the legal system. We tell their stories of growing up in foster care, growing up amongst community violence, insufficient academic support, and surviving a wide range of personal traumas. Whenever possible, we support them in finding their way by connecting them to case management services, job training programs, drug treatment, therapy, access to healthcare, and more. Additionally, we have run book drives for the Santa Rita Jail, distributed children’s clothing to parents in need, and referred COVID-19-exposed clients to Operation Comfort to safely quarantine.
The Unit collaborates with both internal and external partners. Through practicing holistic defense, we work closely with defense attorneys, client advocates, investigators, our Clean Slate Clinic, and the Immigration Unit to best support clients of the Public Defender’s Office. We also collaborate with a wide range of external partners, connecting clients to community-based support systems to address the root causes of a client’s case in preparation for their return to their families and community.
The Social Work Unit has run an MSW internship since 2016. We typically accept one to three second year students in either our adult and/or juvenile divisions, depending on that year’s capacity. Social work interns maintain a caseload, receive individual supervision, and have opportunities to do case presentations to the entire Social Work Unit.
If you have questions regarding an internship, please reach out to the Social Work Unit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.