Wednesday, April 30, 2014 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A unique San Francisco Public Defender program that pairs legal advocacy with social work to keep at-risk teens in school has been selected as 2014 Program of the Year by the California Public Defenders Organization.
The Legal Educational Advocacy Program (LEAP) will be honored Friday, May 2, at the statewide public defender organization’s annual convention in San Diego. LEAP works directly with San Francisco youth on probation, making regular court and school appearances and training parents and caregivers to advocate effectively for their children. Of the youth who have gone through the program, fewer than 13 percent reoffend six to 12 months after exiting.
The 3-year old program, funded through a federal grant, continues to work toward the greater goal of reducing the disproportionate number of youth of color in the justice system overall. It is comprised of Juvenile Unit Attorney Manager Patricia Lee, Social Worker Marynella Woods, Education Attorney Lauren Brady Blalock and Youth Advocate Marc Babus.
“The Board of Directors of the California Public Defenders Association believes that this unique, multifaceted client-oriented program effectively addresses many of the underlying causes that bring youth into the juvenile justice system by providing two attorneys, one to fight for them in the courtroom and the other to advocate for them in the classroom,” said CPDA President Winston Peters.
CPDA’s Program of the Year will be the second award for the program this year. On March 11, the team received a Public Managerial Excellence Award from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the civic planning organization SPUR. The award, sponsored by SPUR’s Municipal Fiscal Advisory Committee (MFAC), recognizes managers or teams working for the City and County of San Francisco who display extraordinary leadership, vision and ability to make a difference both within city government and the community at large.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office started the program to stem the dropout rate of its juvenile clients, said he was gratified to see LEAP’s accomplishments recognized.
“LEAP is the only program of its kind in California. My hope is to see it duplicated by other public defender offices around the state, because the link between education and crime reduction is clear,” Adachi said.
The program is in its final year of funding provided by a three-year grant. Adachi said he hopes to find an alternate funding source for the project.