Case Study: Orleans Public Defenders
Introducing Orleans Public Defenders
The devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans in 2005 is almost immeasurable. One of the many effects of the deadly hurricane was a complete criminal justice system breakdown at every level and the failings in representation for poor people. There were people who were incarcerated who didn’t know when they would be released and others whose release dates had come and gone, but yet remained imprisoned with no one advocating for them. Katrina highlighted the incredible need for legal representation and advocacy work for the thousands of marginalized men, women and children stuck in the cycle of the broken system. The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that it brought. Their mission is to fight for their clients by providing excellent client-centered representation, reforming the system and partnering with the community. With their unwavering commitment to this cause and the clients they serve, OPD has created a new standard for public defense in Louisiana.
The Right-Fit Partnership
The Orleans Public Defenders, a pro-bono client of Exponent Partners, needed a way to more efficiently and effectively capture, integrate and consolidate client data in order to dramatically increase the efficiency of their advocacy work. They needed the right partner to truly understand their mission and build a powerful, scalable system to allow them to measure their impact and more effectively do the critical criminal justice work they do. As a B-Corporation with a strong commitment to corporate values and social impact, Exponent Partners is committed to investing in work that fosters true systemic social progress. The company demonstrated this commitment by taking on Orleans Public Defenders as a pro-bono client partnership. Their project kicked off together in early 2021.
The Challenge for Exponent Partners
The Orleans Public Defenders were facing multiple challenges at the start of their project with Exponent Partners. The most critical challenges relating to their information systems were as follows:
A fragmented system
Before starting their project with Exponent Partners, OPD’s Client Services Division was using a combination of Google Sheets, Excel and other files to track their program intake and client data on an ongoing basis. They were able to report on baseline metrics only and doing so involved many repetitive, manual processes. It was challenging for them to surface holistic, big picture trends to demonstrate the impact of their work.
Intake… and intake again
Staff and volunteer turnover and challenges with their systems resulted in many team members repeating the client intake process due to issues with continuity of records. This meant a lot of lost time and frustration in gathering information that had already been captured at some earlier point. This was particularly challenging as criminal justice advocacy work involves building trust with clients. There were many examples of clients having to repeat and relive their story multiple times as a result of data loss and staff transition. Not having continuity of records definitely worked against them and cost them critical time.
Challenges scaling up
The Orleans Public Defenders has established its organization as a criminal justice reform leader, and they have a lot more work to do. The challenges they faced on a daily basis with their fragmented, manual system cost them precious time and resources they could otherwise use to do more work and serve more clients. The time they spent tracking only the baseline metrics meant they were not able to easily access the data to report on the big picture trends. This made it hard to quantify the impact of their work and tell their stories effectively.
The Solution for Orleans Public Defenders
From Excel to Exponent Case Management
The organization consolidated various data collecting and tracking mechanisms (approximately 18 separate files) into a purpose-built system: Exponent Case Management. Their client services staff members can now manage client referrals, complete intakes, coordinate complex service planning and tracking, and conduct a new assessment with a single, user-friendly system.
Ensuring continuity and preservation of records
OPD’s team can now easily access the full data collection picture for their clients, allowing them to focus their time and effort on the go-forward plan instead of repeating sometimes painful data intake processes. Having a system with consolidated data allows them to pick up where they left off, even with the possibility of staff or volunteer turnover. This has allowed the team to greatly increase their efficiency and deliver more services to clients in need. In 2020, CSD worked with and advocated for 633 clients in more than 650 cases.
Focusing on systemic change
OPD’s new system allows them to measure and track all of their critical advocacy and increases their ability to report on the big picture trends they’re seeing. With Exponent Case Management built on Salesforce, they’re able to easily pull data and reports to demonstrate how much money they’re saving the system, how many clients they’re serving, and what holistic trends they’re seeing in criminal justice in New Orleans. This will allow them to advocate more strategically at a systemic level, helping to create more equity in the system for New Orleanians and beyond.
Insights for Social Justice Organizations
The Orleans Public Defenders is the only public defense office in the state of Louisiana that takes a holistic approach to their representation. Like many social justice-focused organizations, their ability to generate data and provide insightful reports on the impact of their advocacy work is critical to them achieving their vision of reforming the system. Exponent Case Management, built on the foundation of Salesforce, allows them to both increase efficiency at a tactical level while providing critical high-level visibility to the full extent of the work they do. 2022 marks the start of a new era for the Orleans Public Defenders, where their information systems will fully support the critical work they do to serve their communities.
Photos courtesy of Orleans Public Defenders