Public Defender Services Program Named One of the Best in the Nation


​Public Defender Services’ Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project selected to serve as an example for other rural communities to follow

Charleston, WV - The Rural Justice Collaborative (RJC) Advisory Council has selected the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project as one of nine Rural Innovation Sites. These are the country’s most innovative rural justice programs which will serve as models for other communities. The RJC initiative will provide resources to enable other communities to replicate these Innovation Sites’ successes.

“Rural community leaders often don’t have the resources to develop programs from scratch, but we know that many rural justice leaders, like those from the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project, have found innovative solutions to their complex problems,” said Tara Kunkel, executive director of Rulo Strategies, which organized the RJC in partnership with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). “Before this, there has been no nationally concerted effort for justice leaders and their collaborators in other sectors to share what they know. The Innovation Sites provide a framework that others can build from.”

About Public Defender Services’ Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project
The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project utilizes the special training and skills of peer recovery coaches working in public defender corporations to intervene into the substance use needs of public defender clients at the earliest stage of the criminal legal process. Peer recovery coaches arrange for substance use treatment opportunities immediately upon a client's release from incarceration to reduce overdose risk and promote linkage to treatment.

The peer recovery coaches are employed by the public defender corporations, where they work and receive referrals from public defenders to ensure the attorneys can focus on the legal case while the recovery coaches address the underlying root causes of their criminal offenses. Peer recovery coaches also follow up with clients 6-, 12-, and 18-months after referral to offer clients ongoing support and encouragement for sustained recovery and successful reentry into the community.

The Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project was initially developed out of grant writing efforts, later resulting in positive outcomes and sustained funding for Public Defender Services to expand this project with the support of the Department of Administration.

According to Dana Eddy, Executive Director of Public Defender Services, “The peer recovery coach project is a recognition that reasons exist for many individuals’ intersection with the criminal justice system, and if those reasons are not addressed, these individuals will continue to devolve and eventually harm themselves. Defense counsel are overwhelmed with the legal issues such that these life issues cannot be addressed but for the assistance of persons with expertise and experience with such issues, which is what the recovery coaches provide. The hope is that with such assistance, clients can be put on a path to recovery, rehabilitation and reentry into the community upon the resolution of their legal issues.”

Leading By Example
Over the next three years, the RJC will work with the Public Defender Corporation Recovery Coach Project to create educational materials that it will feature in an online resource center. Thanks to funding from the State Justice Institute (SJI), the program will also offer visits to leaders from other communities and participate in regional conferences. “The RJC will provide a vast knowledge pool filled with actionable content which individual communities may not have the resources to compile on their own,” said Kristina Bryant of NCSC, who helps coordinate the RJC.

About the Rural Justice Collaborative
The RJC showcases the strengths of rural communities and highlights the cross-sector collaboration that is a hallmark of rural justice systems.  The work under the RJC is supported by a cross-sector advisory council composed of rural judges along with additional stakeholders in the justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and public health systems. The advisory council will guide the multi-year initiative and identify innovative programs and practices.

The RJC priority focus areas are:
  • Increasing access to behavioral health treatment
  • Reducing victimization
  • Facilitating employment/educational opportunities for justice involved individuals
  • Eliminating barriers of access to justice
  • Reducing incarceration
  • Facilitating reentry
  • Reducing the number of children in foster care due to substance use disorders
About the National Center for State Courts
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts. Learn more at ncsc.org.

About Rulo Strategies
Rulo Strategies is a woman-owned business focused on supporting and evaluating initiatives designed to foster collaboration between diverse stakeholders with distinct but complementary missions. Founder Tara Kunkel served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) where she advised on the policy direction of all opioid-related and overdose prevention initiatives. Learn more at rulostrategies.com.

About the State Justice Institute
The State Justice Institute (SJI) was established by federal law in 1984 to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts, and foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts. SJI is a non-profit corporation governed by an 11-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Learn more at sji.gov.


Samantha Knapp
(304) 558-7022
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