Humanities Institute

Andrea Marsh: Holistic Indigent Defense in Texas

Andrea Marsh is currently senior counsel at the Texas Fair Defense Project (TFDP), a non-profit organization she founded in 2004. Dr. Marsh was a Community Sabbatical grantee in 2011-12, and conducted research on the ethics and implementation of holistic defense models.

Dr. Marsh recently took up a position as Clinical Lecturer and the Director of Pro Bono Programs in the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law at UT-Austin. However, she remains involved with two main TFDP projects that started with her research during the Community Sabbatical Fellowship.

“During my fellowship I starting to think about how the principles of holistic indigent defense could be adapted to the Texas system as it exists. A lot of fellowship time was spent doing research on what was happening in other states and thinking about what the core principles of holistic defense were,” Dr. Marsh stated.

“Part of the difficulty related to implementing the holistic defense model in Texas is that we don’t have institutional defender programs here. Primarily, the indigent defense system in Texas is based on using solo practitioners who take court appointments and provide representation on one case. A lot of the models for providing holistic indigent defense in other states depended on an institutional defender program that could then hire social workers, immigration consultants, housing or family lawyers, to provide more comprehensive services to their clients. It was hard to think about how to do that when you didn’t have an office.”    

In 2013, the TFDP was awarded a substantial grant by the Hogg Foundation, to look at the use of holistic mental health defense teams to represent juveniles with mental health issues who face criminal charges. These holistic defense teams, consisting of lawyers and social workers, have been shown to reduce recidivism rates in the adult defense system. TFDP will work with Texas counties to develop pilot programs to provide juveniles with holistic defense.

“Some numbers estimate that up to 70% of juveniles in the juvenile justice system have mental health diagnoses. In that population there is a great need that could possibly be met by partnering juveniles with social workers. We’re in the second year of that grant and hoping at least one county pilot project will come out of it,” Dr. Marsh said.

The second project that emerged after Dr. Marsh’s time as a Community Sabbatical grantee involves holistic defense for non-citizens, whose immigration status could be jeopardized by their criminal conviction. “We developed a proposal about how you can provide immigration consultations to criminal defense lawyers who represent non-citizens in criminal cases, even when they’re not in an institutional defender program,” Dr. Marsh said. “We’ve done a lot of work studying how those immigration consultations are provided in other states and what models work in decentralized indigent defense systems such as ours. We have a proposal about how to launch such a program in Texas and we are seeking funding for that.”

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