With funding and support from the U.S Department of Justice, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) has partnered with the Urban Institute to examine the impact of social worker involvement in the public defense representation of adults facing criminal charges. The goal of the Social Worker Sentencing Project is to reduce incarceration rates by lowering prison sentences for specified felony defendants in favor of appropriate community alternatives, and decrease recidivism through the increased use of treatment and educational programs. To do so, the MIDC and the Urban Institute will engage in the following three steps:
1) Embed social workers to act as client advocates in two diverse Michigan indigent defense systems—a non-profit public defender office in Kent County (Grand Rapids) and a private assigned counsel system in Genesee County (Flint);
2) Assess SWSP implementation and effectiveness through intensive process and impact evaluation activities guided by an action research framework; and
3) Develop a program manual to increase practitioners’ knowledge of social workers as a resource for indigent defense, and to guide replication and enhance sustainability
The project will run from 2017 through 2019. The MIDC and the Urban Institute will collaborate with national experts with many decades of experience practicing, implementing, and measuring the effects of social work in indigent defense to guide program design, implementation, and evaluation. As the first effort to measure from a social science perspective the impact of social workers in trial-level criminal indigent defense in Michigan, the project aims to develop solutions that help improve the provision of indigent defense across the state and more broadly. The program will complement efforts already in place in Michigan like the pioneering partnerships of the Muskegon County Public Defender’s Office with social workers.
Read more about this project here.