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Policy Advocacy, Litigation, Public Education and Organizing

In the spirit of our four decade history as a public defense office committed to system reform, the current incarnation of the Public Defender Association continues to do policy advocacy, litigation, public education and organizing on issues that systemically affect people who are or are likely to be engaged by the justice system.

PDA recognizes there are intersections between the criminal justice system and various systems that contribute to and perpetuate inequity. PDA’s system reform work emerges from these connections; we believe efforts to reform the criminal justice system must take a multifaceted, collaborative approach and apply fresh strategies to be successful. PDA works closely with community, government, and legal partners to address the web of systems impacting the communities we seek to help.

Periodically, understandable neighborhood desires to not have people who are ill and/or experiencing homelessness living on sidewalks and in parks, results in calls to "sweep" or use law enforcement to remove homeless encampments. PDA advocates for and attempts to engineer alternative solutions, framed in terms of harm reduction and new no-barrier housing options, that are actually more likely to reduce and end the phenomenon of people living outdoors rather than perpetuate the issue.

For example, we are a partner in King County’s groundbreaking Familiar Faces Initiative which focuses on persons who are high utilizers of county jail (defined as having been booked four or more times in a twelve-month period) and who also have a mental health and/or substance use condition. Under the current system, a mere 1,250 people account for more than 7,000 bookings a year in King County alone. Further, King County spends a considerable amount of resources on responding after the fact with little effectiveness in improving the circumstances of the “familiar face” as such persons tend to interact with a wide variety of government workers who have little contact with one another. The Familiar Face Initiative’s goal is to improve health and social outcomes and end the revolving door of the criminal justice system for these persons by taking a public health approach to their needs and by streamlining behavioral health service provision across multiple government departments. We lend to Familiar Faces our experience designing viable police diversion processes that can plug into those improved, trauma-informed, care systems as they are implemented.

PDA has long led the effort to end the local law enforcement practice of banning people from future, otherwise lawful, use of public spaces and transit systems, based on an alleged past law violation. In Seattle, we successfully worked with the business community and police to establish a police department rule that overhauled this practice. We have ongoing work seeking similar reforms in King County’s transit systems. Our work on police banning has involved individual representation in administrative appeals, habeas corpus litigation, public education and policy advocacy.

PDA also engages in impact litigation where we can make a difference and advance system changes in such a forum. Along with co-counsel, we represented the plaintiff class in a federal lawsuit, Trueblood et. al. v Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which led to a permanent injunction preventing the protracted detention of mentally ill pre-trial defendants who were waiting for the state to provide competency evaluation and restoration services.