Atlanta City Council Approves Donation to Assist the Office of the Public Defender in Carrying Out Its Mission
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February 20, 2018
Atlanta City Council Approves Donation to Assist the Office of the Public Defender in Carrying Out its Mission
ATLANTA – The Atlanta City Council approved legislation Monday authorizing the city to accept a $120,000 donation to support the Office of the Public Defender.
The donation is being made by Virginia-Highland Church’s homeless outreach initiative, The River. The ministry began in 2015 and works with organizations around the city that provide innovative methods for helping to end the cycle of homelessness.
The funds will be used to provide holistic defense support to indigent clients, including the identification of social service needs such as health care, employment and education. The resources will also help with a new pretrial diversion program to keep chronically homeless individuals out of the criminal justice system and provide additional legal and social services to defendants to support their societal reintegration.
“This might be the first-ever collaboration between a church and the public defender’s office,” said Rev. Matt Laney, senior pastor at Virginia-Highland Church. “But Christian scripture teaches us to pay attention to the ‘least of these,’ and the public defender’s office does that every day. So, we are delighted to partner with them.”
District 6 City Councilmember Jennifer N. Ide, who represents the Virginia-Highland community, sponsored the legislation authorizing acceptance of the donation.
“As an attorney, I know the difficulties indigent defendants face within the criminal justice system, and often their violations are for misdemeanors,” Ide said. “What our public defender’s office provides is a program that addresses both the circumstances driving people into the justice system as well as the devastating consequences of that court involvement. I commend Virginia-Highland Church for their work in our community and for this generous contribution to our public defender’s office.”
The public defender’s office will receive $60,000 in funds in 2018 and another $60,000 next year after a program review.
“Virginia-Highland Church, through their homeless ministry program, The River, has been engaging in this very important work since 2015,” said Office of the Public Defender director Kenneth Days III. “The Office of the Public Defender is very appreciative and honored to serve as a collaborative partner and to strengthen resources toward our social services and outreach efforts.”
“Every day in the city of Atlanta, homeless people are arrested for unlawful conduct, such as sleeping outside, jaywalking and loitering, that is primarily driven by poverty, mental illness and drug addiction,” said David Gillespie, director of The River. “If these underlying conditions are not addressed, homeless people will remain homeless, and the quality of life for them and the communities where they live will stagnate. The public defender’s office embraces the need to assist clients holistically by linking them to social services in addition to helping them navigate the legal issues they face because of their immediate arrest. The partnership between The River and the Office of the Public Defender is happening at just the right time as the city begins to codify the signature-bond effort and increase the services afforded to people released on signature bonds.”
The donation comes as the Atlanta City Council recently approved ordinance 18-O-1045, which eliminates cash bonds to secure release from the City of Atlanta Detention Center following an arrest for violation of city ordinances, which includes nonviolent offenses.
In addition to providing legal counsel to indigent defendants in the Municipal Court of Atlanta, the Office of the Public Defender regularly conducts community outreach programming and provides referrals for housing, employment and substance-dependency treatment.
Each year, the Office of the Public Defender serves approximately 30,000 clients annually (36,000 this past year alone), with about 10 percent of whom fit the criteria of homeless or chronically homeless, according Days said.