Indigent defense – the “civil rights issue of our time”

Jon Rapping’s at it again.

Watch the founder of Gideon’s Promise, an organization that trains and supports public defenders, talk about how his young proteges are taking on what he calls the biggest civil rights issue of our time — ensuring that those who can’t afford an attorney get the representation they need to navigate the criminal justice system — in the above TEDx talk given in Atlanta in April.

Policy Watch first highlighted Rapping’s work back in 2013 when director Dawn Porter’s award-winning documentary, “Gideon’s Army” — about some of those young public defenders trying to make a difference in the South — aired as a feature film at Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Festival.

As we wrote at the time:

Those attorneys are part of a new wave of public defenders coming of age as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision guaranteeing poor people the right to counsel, Gideon v. Wainwright, turns 50.

They are burdened with caseloads numbering in the hundreds, grossly underpaid and laden with student loan debt and, in many circles, overlooked and unappreciated as the fine lawyers they’re becoming.

Yet they are undaunted. They are more committed than ever to the mission of Gideon and hell-bent on waking those in the criminal justice system who’ve been slumbering under the blanket of efficiency to the injustices they are fostering.

They’ve been radicalized, said Kevin Tully, the head of the Mecklenburg County public defender’s office.

“Many of them want to commit their life to this work; they see the meaning in the work itself, not in what’s in it for them in terms of a stepping stone. They have tremendous options to make money, and they’re choosing to do this, and the sacrifices they’re making financially are really astounding. Many of them are working second or third jobs. They do that for the privilege of being public defenders.”

Watch a clip from the movie “Gideon’s Army” below.




  1. Dave

    May 11, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Is anything ever simple when lawyers are involved?

  2. Art Rogers

    May 12, 2015 at 8:41 pm

    I hope there is room in this organization for an old ,soon to be Criminal Defense Investigator/Paralegal. “Put me in coach, I’m almost ready to play”.

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