The Intractability of Reform


The deficiencies that persist in the quality of the indigent defense system in New York City, as in other major cities in the United States, mainly result from the system’s primary goals, and not from bureaucratic process or the informal behavior of courtroom attorneys. These goals are alien to the needs of indigent criminal defendants. Thousands of defendants each year fail to receive effective assistance of counsel, and each year brings forth renewed calls for reform. Yet, defense of economically disadvantaged criminal defendants in New York has remained essentially unchanged since the turn of the century. That this system has persisted for over seventy years cannot be explained as a mere failure of method. The system must be understood as a success from the perspective of those who designed the system and now maintain it.

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