An Evaluation of Chicago's First Defense Legal Aid Program

Laura L. Kunard, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sharon Shipinski, University of Illinois at Chicago
James Raymond Coldren, Jr., John Howard Assn. for Prison Reform

State of Illinois law (725 ILCS 5/109-1) allows for public defenders only after first court appearance, leaving many arrestees unrepresented between the time of their arrest and their initial court appearance if they cannot afford to hire counsel. To address the needs of arrestees who are unrepresented by counsel, First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) provides free lawyers to almost anyone arrested by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). An organizational evaluation was undertaken by the Center for Research in Law and Justice (CRLJ) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). CRLJ conducted a multi-method study that included a survey, interviews, field observations, and secondary data analysis. The goals of the FDLA program evaluation were to (1) conduct an assessment of FDLA's current structure and operations, (2) determine the problems they are addressing using several criteria such as the quality of the collaborative relationships, service delivery, ability to reach targeted group(s), and client satisfaction, and (3) investigate what impact (if any) FDLA has regarding the quality of justice afforded the target population. The results indicated that FDLA is effective in reaching its target population, but the investigation into case impact was inconclusive. Challenges to implementing the research design will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006