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


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


A bold vision for the future of criminal justice that goes beyond the discussions for de-carceration and offers an evolutionary shift for how poor, disempowered populations interact with the law.

Combining wisdom drawn from over a dozen years as a public defender and cutting-edge research in the fields of organizational and cultural psychology, Jonathan Rapping reveals the pervasive issues inherent in our current system of public defense and lays the foundation for how model public defense programs should work to end mass incarceration.

Public defenders represent over eighty percent of those who interact with the court system, a disproportionate number of whom are poor, non-white citizens who rely on them to navigate the law on their behalf. More often than not, even the most well-meaning of those defenders are over-worked, under-funded, and incentivized to put the interests of judges and politicians above those of their clients in a culture that beats the passion out of talented, driven advocates, and has led to an embarrassingly low standard of justice for those who depend on the promises of Gideon v. Wainwright.


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


“Over the last half century, America’s reactionary investment of billions into police, prosecution, and prisons has resulted in over-incarceration and an extreme, unjust, unreliable system. This important exploration of the role of defenders is a vital and compelling corrective on how we balance the scales of justice.”

—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy


“In Gideon’s Promise, Jonathan Rapping tugs at both the heartstrings and our consciences as he challenges America’s true commitment to justice. He gracefully articulates the importance of public defenders in our system of justice, and he rings the alarm at how the system is failing not only the poor but justice itself. With a clear, resonant style, he walks the reader through the grotesque abuses of some of our most vulnerable, while offering solutions that can lift us up to our highest ideals.”

—Stacey Abrams, author of Minority Leader 


“As Bryan Stevenson did in Just Mercy, Jonathan Rapping transports us onto the frontlines of the criminal justice system with a breathtaking book that will both inform and inspire. With superb storytelling, great heart, and overwhelming clarity, Gideon’s Promise is must-reading for anyone interested in social justice in America.”

—Gilbert King, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove


“Public defenders are routinely overlooked in the struggle to end mass incarceration. In this inspiring new book, Jonathan Rapping seeks to change that. He shows us that we can—and must—build a world full of public defenders who fight relentlessly for their clients, partner with communities to resist injustice, and lead movements for radical change.”

—James Forman Jr., Pulitzer prize-winning author of Locking Up Our Own 


“With jaw dropping stories that both infuriate and inspire, Jonathan Rapping takes the reader on a journey through the murky trenches of American criminal justice, and pitches public defenders as the unrecognized heroes who can lead us to a better place. Provocative and persuasive, Gideon’s Promise is the book a “woke” Atticus Finch would have written.”

—Paul Butler, author of Chokehold


“If we truly believe black lives matter—indeed, that the lives of anyone who has been left behind matter—we must ensure they have a voice in the criminal legal system where so much damage is done. Gideon’s Promise cautions us that these voices can never be heard without phenomenal public defenders who must speak for them. If we really care about the dignity of those impacted by our criminal justice policies, we must heed the call of this critically important book and view public defenders as indispensable to any solution.”

—Benjamin Crump, author of Open Season 


“Jonathan Rapping is a true freedom fighter, heroically championing the rights of the condemned and the accused for more than two decades. His courageous and visionary leadership at Gideon’s Promise is helping to build a movement of public defense lawyers determined to fight for those who have been discarded in the era of mass incarceration and to transform our criminal punishment system into a justice system—a transformation that is long overdue.”

—Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow  


“Useful reading for anyone interested in helping to change a deeply flawed system.”

Kirkus Reviews

A blueprint for criminal justice reform that puts a new generation of public defenders front and center in the fight for legal equality.

- Jonathan Rapping, Author of Gideon's Promise
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