cover image Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice

Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice

Jonathan Rapping. Beacon, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-6462-7

Rapping, a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and former public defender, describes in this impressive debut the history and philosophy of Gideon’s Promise, his criminal justice reform organization. Named for Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 Supreme Court case establishing the constitutional right to counsel, Gideon’s Promise seeks to build a community of public defenders committed to “procedural justice,” “client-centered lawyering,” and the idea that people are more than “the sum total of their worst acts.” Rapping paints a bleak picture of the modern “conveyor belt” criminal justice system that creates impossible caseloads for public defenders, devalues the accused (80% of whom can’t afford to hire a lawyer), leans on plea bargaining under threat of unaffordable bail, and prioritizes lawyers’ relationships with judges over clients. To counteract these imbalances, Rapping trains lawyers to resist streamlining procedures that leave no time to collect information beyond police reports, adopt a narrative approach to “shape the universe of facts” at every step of the process, and commit to seeing their clients as people. He makes a convincing case that well-supported, values-based public defenders who prioritize incremental improvements in the face of systematic injustice can be effective change agents. This optimistic, well-articulated account is a must-read for policy makers and criminal-justice advocates. (Aug.)