Gideon's Promise (Hardcover)

A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice

By Jonathan Rapping

Beacon Press, 9780807064627, 256pp.

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

List Price: 27.95*
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A blueprint for criminal justice reform that puts a new generation of public defenders front and center in the fight for legal equality

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.

However, rather than arguing for a change in rules that govern the actions of lawyers, judges, and other advocates, Rapping proposes a radical cultural shift to a "fiercely client-based ethos" driven by values-based recruitment and training, awakening defenders to their role in upholding an unjust status quo, and a renewed pride in the essential role of moral lawyering in a democratic society.

Through the story of founding Gideon's Promise and anecdotes of his time as a defender and teacher, Rapping reanimates the possibility of public defenders serving as a radical bulwark against government oppression and a megaphone to amplify the voices of those they serve.

About the Author

Jonathan Rapping is the Founder and President of Gideon's Promise, an organization dedicated to changing the culture and practice of public defense in America. He was awarded a 2014 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship for his work as a criminal justice innovator. Rapping is a Professor at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School and Harvard Law School. He lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife and their two children.

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

“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

“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.”
—Ben Crump, author of Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People