SIDEBAR Winter 2019-2020 - 17

MONTGOMERYBAR.ORG

public defender

Social Justice is Justice
By Alana Hook, Esq., Chief of the Social Services Unit

O

ften we hear that individuals should never be judged by
the worst thing they have ever done but I like to take
this a step further. A person should never be judged
by an experience, diagnosis, or status they had no choice in
creating. Whether a client has lived in poverty, or experienced
loss or abuse throughout a lifetime, research shows that
these traumas impact their brain and the functionality of the
hemispheres throughout the duration of their lives. As the Chief
of the Social Services Department for the Montgomery County
Public Defenders, it is my job to understand our client's life
story and be able to give our attorney, the prosecution and the
Courts the true picture of who that person is, beyond the crime
with which they have been charged.
The Social Services Department for the Montgomery County
Public Defender has worked with approximately 330 individual
juvenile and adult clients in 2019. Our clients' needs range from
simple referrals to outpatient drug, alcohol and mental health
counseling to working with psychiatrists, psychologists and
other professionals to develop comprehensive mitigation reports
to give the courts a true picture of our client's life. We are often
called to testify about programs and alternatives to incarceration.
Our office is lucky to have two social worker advocates.
Very few public defender offices are this fortunate. By having
advocates available, we are ensuring public safety, wellness, and
recovery by bridging the gaps that have been left to linger by
institutional issues that have been created by public policy of
eons ago. The Public Defender supports and serves clients who
have never had a voice or the privilege of visibility in our society.
By using therapeutic techniques and motivational interviewing,
social service advocates create an opportunity for people to be
seen and heard without judgment.
Statistics from Montgomery County Correctional Facility
show about half of interviewed inmates experienced sexual,
physical or emotional abuse both as an adult and in childhood;
two-thirds have a history of drug or alcohol use/abuse; and
at least half reported mental health symptoms or diagnoses.
Nowhere is this more important than working with juvenile
clients who may be away from their families for the first time
in their lives. In order to address the immediate individualized

needs of clients we develop a biopsychosocial history and
genogram (a pictorial map of a family system). Working
from birth until the day we meet, we identify every missed
opportunity for intervention in their lives; whether it was in
utero as their mother was unable to seek pre-natal care, or
missed assessment that could have provided an IEP, or a car crash
that caused a concussion, we piece together the fabric of who
this person is and outline how we can work towards recovery
versus the continuation of "status quo."
The implementation of social services is not specific to
criminal law; it can be expanded into the dependency court
systems. In the very same way that we support and guide
outcomes for criminal cases, we guide and create plans for
treatment, reunification, and wellness for children involved
in the various systems. Social service advocates in the Public
Defender's Office can be utilized to apply for housing subsidies,
vouchers, and provide weekly housing listings for affordable
housing. Additionally, the advocate can assist with the
assessment of the children and family as a whole, and better
ascertain the needs of the family to provide a referral process
that may include in-home family based services, wraparound,
or in-school support referrals. Truly the abilities of the advocate
are limitless, which empowers all parties involved to feel more
capable of effecting long-term, realistic change that can alter the
course of lives forever.
Social justice is truly a bi-partisan issue. The needs of the few
are the needs of the many in Montgomery County. The need for
safety, shelter, and support are universal and traverse the color
boundaries and socioeconomic statuses we see in our rich and
diverse community. The children who attend our schools are
the same ones we hope to raise to attend our colleges, sit on our
judicial bench, and police our neighborhoods. But only through
remediation and the elevation of their spirit can we truly seek
justice, and say that we have done good work. Without the
use of community-based resources we will continue to face the
same struggles again and again. Justice cannot be defined as just
behavior and treatment. Justice should include the exploration of
the function of the behavior, the antecedent to the behavior, and
a true intervention of the behavior.
WINTER 2019-2020 17


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SIDEBAR Winter 2019-2020

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