2020 COVID-19: Gideon’s Promise Stands with Public Defenders Advocating for the Incarcerated Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


Atlanta, GA – April 10, 2020 – Gideon’s Promise, a 501 (c)(3) public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities, is standing with public defenders across the country advocating during the COVD-19 pandemic for the release of minimal risk and medically fragile people currently being held in jails, prisons and immigration detention centers.

Nationwide, public defenders are leading the charge in petitioning criminal legal systems for systemic responses to the crisis to ensure safety for those incarcerated as well as of the broader community.  These dedicated attorneys are filing motions in individual cases; seeking release of people who pose no threat to society; and engaging in written and oral advocacy with other criminal justice stakeholders to fashion sensible responses to this public health emergency.

Gideon’s Promise partner public defender offices throughout the country have been working tirelessly since the onset of COVID-19 to reduce or eliminate bail for people detained pretrial; parole people who were nearing their release dates; and to release others who are particularly vulnerable due to their age or medical histories. Dedicated public defenders, most working from home, making the job more difficult and time consuming, have stepped up to support these vulnerable populations with impressive results:

  • 22nd Judicial Circuit Public Defender Office (St. Tammany and Washington Parishes) fought for the release of roughly over 500 people over the state’s objection, bringing the jail population down from 1400 to 900.
  • Covington Trial Office (Covington, Kentucky) The hard work of dedicated public defenders in this office resulted in the release of 530 people from custody.
  • East Baton Rouge Office of the Public Defender (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) with dedication, hard work, and aggressive client-centered advocacy this office was able to get over 500 people out of jail.
  • Fulton County Public Defender’s Office (Atlanta, Georgia) through relentless advocacy, reduced the number of inmates in jail from 180 to to just under 90.
  • Hamilton County Public Defender Office (Cincinnati, OH) lobbied judges to secure the release of 460 people, which accounted for a 40% reduction in the city’s jail population.
  • Jefferson County Public Defender Office (Birmingham, AL) has succeeded in the release of 300 prisoners from county jail.
  • Knox County Public Defender Community Law Office (Knoxville, TN) due to their public defender’s tireless effort has released over 400 people, reducing their jail population by 34%.
  • Luzerne County, Public Defender Office (Luzerne County, PA) secured the release of 220 people from jail, almost 25% of the population.
  • Mecklenburg County Public Defender (Charlotte, NC) led the charge to release 750 people who have been jailed in the last month. That is a 29% reduction in incarcerated people.
  • Santa Barbara County Public Defender Office (Santa Barbara, CA). The public defenders in this office worked around the clock to secure the release of 209 people.

Motions for release and corresponding hearings continue to this day in the aforementioned offices as well as in countless other public defender offices that serve as a voice for the voiceless every day in courtrooms across this county and with increased vigor in times of crisis.

 “Our ultimate commitment to democratic ideals is reflected in how we treat society’s most marginalized members. Thank goodness for our public defenders, who serve as a constant reminder of these ideals when some are tempted to abandon them,” says Gideon’s Promise President Jonathan Rapping.  “As the rest of the country figures out how to navigate life under shelter-in-place orders, public defenders are shining a light on the perilous conditions of our penal institutions.  They force us to acknowledge the dangerous health risk of overcrowded facilities, not only to those housed there, but to the staff and vendors who work there. They point out that as employees come and go from these institutions, the well-being of the communities where they live are tied to the conditions inside. They remind us that we are indeed all in this together.”

The programming of Gideon’s Promise provides public defenders with training, mentorship and leadership development.  Partner public defender designation is assigned to offices and statewide systems whose public defenders, managers and directors have participated in the entire Gideon’s Promise curriculum. For information, please visit wwww.gideonspromise.org or call (404) 525-4505.


About Gideon’s Promise

Gideon’s Promise is a 501(c)(3) public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities.  Founded in 2007 by Jonathan Rapping, the organization has grown from a single training program for sixteen attorneys in two public defender offices in Georgia and Louisiana to a national enterprise with 1,000 participants in 45 public defender offices across 27 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization’s initial three-year program for new public defenders has expanded into a comprehensive program model that supports public defenders at all levels of their career.