Defender Yvonne Smith Segars Launches
20 Life Skills Advocates Will Help Clients
“Public Defender clients are by definition indigent, and whenever and wherever poverty exists, there are problems related to basic needs, such as housing, health care and employment, that are not being met,” said Public Defender Segars, who applied for the federal grant to fund this program. “Unfortunately, community resources available to address our clients’ multifaceted needs are fragmented and often difficult to access.”
Under the CAP, 20 Life Skills Advocates (LSAs) are working at 15 regional offices around the state. Additional LSAs are in each of the largest OPD offices, including Essex, Union, Hudson, Passaic, and Mercer counties.
Under the supervision of a Deputy Public Defender and staff attorney liaisons, the LSAs provide the vital service of linking clients to key services, such as jobs, education and training programs, housing and substance abuse and mental health treatment.
The LSAs tailor individualized plans to meet the clients’ needs and abilities. “The assistance that these advocates provide increases the likelihood that our clients will access meaningful, long-term solutions,” said Ms. Segars.
The LSAs develop life skills plans that enable the clients, primarily first-time non-violent offenders, to obtain probation as an alternative to incarceration. The life skills plans assembled by the advocates supplement the court record in order to give judges the additional confidence that community probation will be successful.
The 20 LSAs, who are AmeriCorps members, have a varied background, ranging from being a minister to a recent law school graduate. They receive orientation and training at the OPD before taking up their assignments.
The focus of the Public Defender’s CAP is to draw together community resources and network with public and private agencies, community organizations, and faith-based organizations to strengthen the safety net for PD clients.
Wanda Moore, who oversees this program and is also Deputy Public Defender for the Intensive Supervision Program, said, “By building partnership with community organizations and the court system and linking our clients to community resources, clients are able to integrate positively into the community. This may represent the first time that they can participate meaningfully in the community. In this way, LSAs’ activities strengthen the individual, his or her family, and the community at large.”
“The cost savings from diverting men and women away from incarceration is substantial,” said Susan Remis Silver, the CAP administrator. “For example, if each LSA succeeds in diverting 10 clients from prison, this would save the state over $5 million.”
Additional information on the Community Assistance Program and the Life Skills Advocates, as well as the other activities of the Office of the Public Defender, can be found at the agency’s Web site at www.thedefenders.nj.gov
Telephone: 609-777-1862 or 609-292-7087 Fax: 609-777-1795