LOS ANGELES — A new program in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office aims to have a big impact on public safety by connecting people accused of crimes with social services.

What You Need To Know

  • A 2019 survey of public defender clients found roughly a third struggled with housing and substance use

  • Advocates with Partners for Justice help clients receive social services while navigating the court system

  • A partnership with Uber ensures participants get to their court appointments

  • "Partners for Justice" hopes to be in 200 counties by 2024

The county brought advocates with Partners for Justice into several courthouses after a 2019 survey of public defender clients found roughly a third struggled with housing and substance use.

“A legal problem can be fixed but if the other issues in their life — housing instability, food instability — if those things aren’t cared for, they can end up right back in the same predicament,” Compton public defender Dominique Brown said.

Her client, Jasmin Cepeda, was struggling with homelessness, substance use and failing health when she was sentenced to probation for a misdemeanor domestic battery in September 2021.

“I ended up losing everything I had,” Cepeda said.

Cepeda worked with advocate Grace Wilson to access rehab, housing and now has a steady job. She’s on track to complete her probation. A partnership with Uber is also helping clients get to their court appearances on time.

Cepeda credits the program with getting her life back on track.

“If I didn’t have an advocate, I wouldn’t be here. I would just be gone,” Cepeda said.

The program is currently operating in Compton, East LA, Downey, San Fernando, Pasadena and Van Nuys, according to Executive Director Emily Galvin-Almanza. She hopes to expand the program from 17 to 200 counties nationwide by next year.

“Our mission is to transform the very definition of public defense, and in Los Angeles, we see our work as not just building collaborative defense locally, but supporting the public defender’s vision of a more community-rooted, client-led defense,” Galvin-Almanza said.