The NDS PACE Program

Imagine a world in which Black and brown neighborhoods are free from harm. Parents watch their children graduate. Whole families gather for the holidays. Kids play joyfully in the streets. Local businesses succeed and build neighborhood resilience. Communities are free to breathe.

Neighborhood Defender Service’s new PACE (Police Accountability/Community Empowerment) Program builds that freedom by creating long-term, structural change. PACE reckons with police impunity, reduces overpolicing, and builds community power and wealth. It helps individuals and communities alike secure their futures by addressing the police misconduct that marginalizes them, providing them with resources, and working alongside them to reshape policy in ways that reverberate across generations.

How PACE Works

The NDS PACE program responds to the needs of Black and brown communities and is informed directly by their experiences. It was created by the Neighborhood Defender Service, a pioneering national public defender office with three decades of experience, first in Harlem and now in Detroit. Among the ways that the NDS PACE program will change how policing works are:

Filing impact litigation…

that wins money for clients and changes police behavior in our schools and in the larger community. PACE litigation also addresses Constitutional concerns such as qualified immunity and “no-knock” warrants.

Closing the racial wealth gap…

through local action. Families will be able to use settlements won through PACE litigation to secure their financial futures. PACE will also design financial literacy and workforce development seminars for overpoliced communities.

Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline…

that surveils families and criminalizes children’s behavior by changing the way police interact with young people and minimizing the presence of law enforcement in schools.

Driving policy to empower communities…

by identifying local, state and national reforms that confront structural racism and securing their implementation. These include reimagining public safety and expanding solutions beyond police and jail.

Support NDS PACE

“The PACE Program is the next generation of groundbreaking work growing out of the NDS experience. We do not intend to let this critical moment pass without doing all we can to bring about long-term, meaningful, structural change to end the oppression rife within our society.”

Rick Jones, Executive Director, Neighborhood Defender Service

Neighborhood Defender Service is uniquely positioned to help build a future in which overpoliced and under-resourced communities can finally breathe. NDS created holistic public defense in 1990 to provide high-quality, comprehensive social and legal services to those who otherwise could not afford them. Now, with offices in Harlem and Detroit, NDS is launching the PACE Program to disrupt and dismantle the structural impediments in our society that continue to oppress its clients, their families and communities.

Support these efforts today.

Support PACE

The PACE Program is founded by Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS), a national public defender office with three decades of service. NDS pioneered holistic public defense in 1990 to provide high-quality, comprehensive social and legal services to those who otherwise could not afford them. Thirty years later, NDS’ PACE Program aims to disrupt and dismantle the structural impediments in our legal system that continue to oppress its clients, their families, and communities.

When NDS opened its office in Harlem in 1990, we offered a new paradigm in the fight for fairness and quality representation for those who could not afford it. In the 30 years since, NDS has provided dynamic and ever-evolving holistic support in confronting the challenges brought about by the structural racism pervasive in our legal system. We have provided not only world-class legal representation but also critical support and assistance to our clients and their families in an effort to help improve their lives. All this, while meeting head-on the greatest challenges of our time—mass incarceration, police violence, eviction crises, family separation, COVID-19, and more.

NDS has pursued a comprehensive national advocacy platform to disrupt the stark racial and economic disparities endemic to our legal system. From marijuana decriminalization, to Raise the Age, to re-entry issues, NDS has rallied against the over-criminalization and mass incarceration of Black and Brown communities. From pre-arrest representation, its pioneering efforts have spurred a movement to challenge a criminal conviction’s civil collateral consequences, including housing, deportation consequences, and family separation, and to expand the right to counsel in both criminal and civil proceedings around the world.

In contrast to a traditional public defense practice, NDS clients have an entire team fighting on their behalf, including criminal and civil attorneys, family defense attorneys, advocates, social workers, administrators, investigators, paralegals, law school and social work interns, and pro bono attorneys. NDS deploys all of these resources on behalf of its clients, addressing the underlying issues that bring them into contact with the criminal legal system. NDS engages clients early, often even before arrest, working with them to investigate the facts of the case and mobilizing community support. In doing so, it changes the landscape of a case by giving life to the presumption of innocence and providing poor clients the kind of legal services otherwise reserved for the wealthy. This approach allows support to extend well beyond the courtroom, with robust social services meant to protect clients from the damages of criminal legal proceedings. When clients face consequences with employment, schooling, immigration, or in family or housing court, NDS works alongside them to resolve these issues.

The PACE Program is the next generation of groundbreaking work growing out of the NDS experience. For 30 years we have been guided by our mission, vision, and values and intend to use those same core principles to create long-lasting, meaningful structural change for a reimagined world. Read more at our About NDS page.