2020 Annual Report 



Does Gideon’s Promise Make a Difference?

When defendants habitually receive subpar representation, the entire criminal justice system suffers. Unnecessary guilty pleas, excessively long case dispositions and disproportionally long jail sentences clog the system and burden taxpayers. The best way to remedy these problems is to ensure that defendants represented by public defenders are handled with the same diligence and expertise as other cases.

With the support from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, Gideon’s Promise and Measures for Justice* partnered to measure the effectiveness of the Gideon’s Promise trained lawyers.


In all stages of the criminal justice system process, Gideon’s Promise attorneys are making a difference in the following ways:


  • More likely to get pretrial diversion: Felony defendants in a Gideon Promise county are more likely to receive pretrial diversion than those represented in the non-Gideon’s Promise county.
  • Less likely to plead guilty: Defendants with Gideon’s Promise attorneys are significantly less likely to enter a guilty plea than those represented by other counsel types.


  • Incarcerated less often: Felony cases represented by Gideon’s Promise attorneys result in fewer sentences to incarceration than public defender and other counsel counterparts.

These findings suggest that Gideon’s Promise is actively working towards increasing the efficacy and fair administration of justice for everyone-not just the defendants they represent.

*Measures for Justice examined four similar counties located in the same southern state. Three of the county public defender employ leadership staff and attorneys trained in the Gideon’s Promise values-based approach curriculum. The fourth county functioned as a comparison county, having no Gideon’s Promise attorneys.


Gideon’s Promise works to strengthen public defense in America is executed through three (3) critical levels of engagement:

Level 1

Training, mentorship and leadership development.

Gideon’s Promise provides a cumulative learning values-based program model that supports public defenders at all stages of their career. Biannually, new lawyers, supervisors, chief defenders, trainers and law students considering careers in public defense and the clinical instructors who teach them participate in the organization’s programming and trainings conferences to learn tactics and strategies to:

  • Improve delivery of public defense services in their area.
  • Provide a community of peers to nurture and sustain one another.
  • Decrease burnout and high turnover rates associated with the profession.


Level 2

Public defender office & law school partnerships.

Gideon’s Promise’s programming is conducted in partnership with 104 partner, statewide and affiliate public defender offices located in 29 states and the and the U.S. Virgin Islands and 22 law schools.

These partnerships allow the organization to:

  • Challenge the systemic norms regarding the practice of public defense in America.
  • Remain acutely attuned to the rapidly changing nature of support needed by public defenders.
  • Strengthen the pipeline of public defense lawyers from law students to seasoned professionals.


Level 3

Impacted communities.

80% of people accused of a crime rely on public defenders to help them navigate the criminal justice system. In this capacity, Gideon’s Promise trained public defenders assist 200,000 individuals and their families each year by providing the court with critical context that raises their voices and shares their stories to fashion fairer legal outcomes that benefit clients and communities in the following ways:

  • Decrease unnecessary guilty pleas, long dispositions and incarcerations that clog the system and burden taxpayers.
  • Reduce the exponential societal damage of mass incarceration to families and communities.
  • In pretrial and sentencing Gideon’s Promise trained lawyers are more likely to get pretrial diversion; less likely to plead guilty and clients are incarcerated less often*.

The Opportunity

Gideon’s Promise is committed to strengthening public defense to ensure the protections and promises in the Constitution of equality under the law are realized for all Americans. Through our training and support, public defenders have the tools they need to better serve our nation’s most vulnerable clients. Your support ensures Gideon’s Promise can continue to support more public defenders, expand its reach and improve the lives of millions of individuals and their families. We hope you will join us in this seminal work to transform the culture of public defense and ultimately, keep America’s promise.

“My experiences with Gideon’s Promise—the training, the community, the much-needed support—would not be possible without your generosity. Thank you for your donation.”

Kevin M. Whitfield — Assistant Public Defender; Richland County Public Defender Office; Columbia, SC; Gideon’s Promise Class of 2015
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