Pre-Entry Coalition Landscape Analysis

You are here


Defender Association of Philadelphia





Organization Overview:

The Defender Association of Philadelphia is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides high-quality, client-centered legal representation, courtroom advocacy, and a connection to social services. Our practice strives to protect the Constitution, ensure a fair and equitable criminal justice system, and improve client outcomes. We provide multi-dimensional representation. By partnering with in-house social workers, paralegals, mitigation specialists, investigators, information technology specialists, and administrative staff, our attorneys are able to represent our clients as individuals and tailor our services to their unique needs. In addition to the direct legal services we provide, we also advocate for systemic change to improve legal system processes, reduce racial disparities and improve outcomes. We collaborate with our justice system partners and community stakeholders on a variety of issues to eradicate racial disparities and the culture of mass incarceration. These issues include: ending cash bail; reforming probation/parole practices; Supporting successful diversion programs; raising the age for youth prosecution; limiting entry points for incarceration of youth  and empowering communities to play a more active role in the criminal justice process.

Our office represents indigent adults and children in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, as well as, children in the child welfare system. It represents approximately seventy percent of all persons arrested in Philadelphia. In 2017, the Defender Association represented 1928 child defendants in approximately 21,960 delinquent hearings. Our Child Advocacy Unit represented approximately 3700 children in dependency proceedings. The Defender Association of Philadelphia is committed to providing holistic representation to our Family Court clients- in dependency, delinquency and cross-over (both dependency and delinquency) courtrooms. It is also committed to expanding its advocacy to improve outcomes for juvenile justice and dependency involved youth.

Project Name:

Pre-Entry Coalition Landscape Analysis
Project Type: 
Program Evaluation; Strategic Plan

Project Overview:

Our approach at the Defender focuses on the front-end of the criminal justice system to achieve better outcomes at lower costs. We accomplish this in large part by being deeply embedded in the communities we serve. Our efforts to strategically engage the community have created opportunities and better outcomes for clients. This has had a positive impact on public safety, especially during the pandemic. The criminal justice system has historically dealt with social issues in a punitive manner that yields little return on investment. A few years ago, guided by the principle that effective delivery of justice is a social service, the Defender began to work more closely with community groups to connect our clients with much-needed, high-value, culturally competent resources.

One of our innovations has been the creation of bail advocates. Bail advocates are trained social workers that work to understand defendants’ needs pretrial and connect them with the community-based services they need—housing, food, health care, etc. Meeting these needs reduces the likelihood that defendants will fail to appear in court, and so bail commissioners are more likely to allow defendants to await their court date at home instead of in jail. A study by the UPenn Quattrone Center found that bail advocates also improve racial equity. In Philadelphia, 59% of criminal defendants are Black, yet 66% of defendants who are detained pretrial are Black. The Quattrone study found that, if bail advocates were available to all defendants, only 58% of pretrial detainees would be Black, thereby eliminating the disparity observed in pretrial detention.”

The Defender’s partnership with community groups evolved organically into the formation of the Pre-Entry Coalition in 2019. The goal of this initiative is to assess the needs of an individual when they first enter the criminal justice system and determine ways to deal with their behavior that both increase public safety and create a path for them to avoid a lifetime criminal conviction. The Pre-Entry Coalition is built upon the principle, firmly rooted in recidivism research, that community connection and supportive peers protect against re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration. The Coalition recognizes that periods of incarceration themselves, however brief, are criminogenic. And so, we engage our participants on the front end and make a long-term investment in public safety by finding appropriate community supports that serve as alternatives to the typical trappings of the justice system—cash bail and pretrial detention, incarceration, and other punitive measures that don’t address social needs. The Defender is one of many partners in the Pre-Entry Coalition, which includes organizations like the bail funds, housing agencies, and mental health and substance use service providers. Additional stakeholders include the courts, the DIstrict Attorney's Office and Probation.

Those goals of the primary goals of the Pre-Entry Coalition are to increase releases without relying on cash bail or supervision  without compromising public safety or court appearance rates. Collateral benefits we hope to achieve include the following: improved procedural fairness (clients experience of the system), achieve the best possible outcomes for clients, facilitate disentangling clients from system involvement.  We also hope to improve community connections of agencies providing support in the community and improve the overall delivery of services within the Coalition.


(1) Landscape of existing pre-entry coalition partners;

(2) identify gap analysis in the supports available by neighborhood

(3) create a strategy to recruit participants from neighborhoods where most people are returning following arrest;

(4) preliminary quantitative data collection plan and if possible preliminary analysis of available outcomes;

(5) qualitative data collection plan and interviews with stakeholders (clients and support providers) to assess what supports they receive from Coalition and what supports they require and

(6) develop a strategic plan to recommend sustainability planning.

Project Timeline: Our budget testimony is typically in the end of June and this information would be helpful then

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326