The Yolo County Public Defender’s Office and the Guarantee of Equal Access to Justice

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Tracie Olson speaks at the Vanguard Event, In Search of Gideon, in November 2017

Part Two in Celebration of National Public Defense Week, March 18-24, 2018

By Tracie Olson

Holistic defense

The Yolo County Public Defender’s Office’s practices holistic defense.  We look at the whole of our clients, including the reasons why they ended up in the criminal justice system in the first place.

We know incarceration alone rarely changes behavior.

We know criminality is not just the result of a client’s poor choices.

We also know the overwhelming majority of people who go to prison will be released.  It is therefore important to ascertain more than just whether a client is guilty of a certain crime, but to also provide meaningful ways to address criminality.

We seek to shed light on our clients’ strengths and redeeming qualities in the face of a system that seeks to label them simply as criminals as justification to diminish them as human beings.

In truth, our clients are survivors who seek to do better and to be more than who they currently are.

Social workers

Instrumental in our holistic defense model is our team of social workers.

From ensuring clients are released from jail with psychiatric medications in hand and an appointment with a psychiatrist scheduled, to developing release plans that include drug treatment and other care, to helping clients establish Medi-Cal and benefits, to providing clients with weather-appropriate clothing, our social workers engage relentlessly to prepare our clients for long term success.

Juvenile jurisdiction

The Yolo County Public Defender’s office works tirelessly not only for our adult clients, but for our youngest clients as well.

Science has found there are fundamental differences between the brains of juveniles and adults – especially in the region of the brain related to higher-order executive functions including impulse control, planning and risk avoidance.

There is broad recognition that juveniles are much more capable of change than adults, and their actions are less likely to be evidence of “irretrievably depraved character.”

With the passage of Proposition 57, which ended the practice of prosecutors making unilateral decisions over which juveniles would be prosecuted as adults, our juvenile unit has successfully increased opportunities for meaningful rehabilitation to our at-risk youths.

To be clear, Proposition 57 simply allows the defense to present the full story of each child to a judge so that decisions concerning the trajectory of that child’s future are based on all of the relevant information.  In this way, it ensures individualized justice for each minor.

In Proposition 57, the voters guaranteed a higher level of due process for minors. The voters should be proud because it would be the rare argument that less information is better.  No single entity should ever have sole power over the fate of our children.

Record Mitigation Clinic

At the back end of the process lies the opportunity to petition the court to reduce or clear convictions from criminal records if certain eligibility criteria are met.  To address the post-conviction needs of our clients, in 2013 we opened our Record Mitigation Clinic.

The clinic’s purpose is to support our clients’ successful reintegration into the community by opening doors to employment, education, state licensing and involvement in children’s schools.

Conclusion

Working in public defense is the best job in the world.

Every day there are reminders that what we do is invaluable.

As you contemplate the role of those that work in public defense, I ask you to think to yourselves, what’s a day of your life worth to you?  How about a month?  Or a year?

If you needed help and were without funds to retain counsel, wouldn’t you want a team of experts to be there for you in your time of need?

Tracie Olson is the Yolo County Public Defender 


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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