Shelby County’s Jericho Project Wins National ‘Innovations in Criminal Justice’ Award

6d467-jericho_newtag_cmyk_vert_mac-tif-scaled1000FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Memphis, TN, 2/20/2015 –  The Shelby County Jericho Project has been chosen as one of eight programs across the country approaching criminal justice challenges in new and effective ways. The recipients of the 2015 “Innovations in Criminal Justice Award” were selected by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Center for Court Innovation.

“I am delighted that we can bring together a multidisciplinary group of criminal justice leaders to discuss initiatives that are examples of a more efficient and effective justice system,” said BJA’s Director Denise O’Donnell. “The program highlights the most innovative criminal justice programs across the nation, but also provides summit participants with the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to implement or replicate these practices in their own jurisdictions.”

The Jericho Project was launched more than a decade ago by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office to better serve people living with serious mental illness and substance use disorders who were cycling through the criminal justice system.

The main architect of the Jericho Project is Shelby County Chief Public Defender, Stephen Bush. He developed the initiative while an Assistant Public Defender, a position he held for almost 20 years before being appointed Shelby County’s 10th Public Defender in 2010.

“The Jericho Project has helped break down barriers to recovery for hundreds of people since it launched more than a decade ago,” said Bush. “We are honored that a program developed in Shelby County is being recognized as a national model. And particularly so, that this recognition comes from leading national prosecutors. Supporting people who live with addiction and mental illness as they transition from jail to our community is vital work, and we hope this award helps other communities develop better ways of doing it.”

Nearly 60% of those participating in Jericho have successfully completed their recovery plans and also avoided further contact with the criminal justice system. By building linkage plans to community treatment and services tailored to client needs, this comprehensive approach has cut in half the recidivism rate typically found among those with serious mental illness.

The Jericho Project will be recognized at the “Innovations in Criminal Justice Summit III” April  20-21, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Media Contact: Josh Spickler  901.216.2024

Download Media Release PDF Here

Top 10 Stories of Justice in 2012 from the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office


It’s been a big year for public defense in Shelby County. We’d like to share a few of those stories with you as we prepare to head into 2013.

Here are our picks for Top Stories of Justice in 2012 plucked from and beyond:

10. New Expungement Law in Tennessee.

In May, Governor Haslam signed a law that would expunge Tennessee criminal records for those who meet certain conditions.  Our office had high hopes that this new law would provide relief to already productive citizens who’ve been burdened with a conviction long after paying their debts. But the expungement came with a pricetag and conditions that significantly limited its application. To date, our offfice is aware of only 19 people in Shelby County who have actually benefited from the new law.

 9. Shelby County Public Defenders Earn Recognition. 

This year, our office received state and national attention for going above and beyond.  In April, Assistant Public Defender Bill Robilio was recognized by the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) for outstanding service to his peers.  Robilio regularly volunteers to help fellow lawyers struggling with personal and health issues.  In August, Assistant Public Defender Kamilah Turner became the first public defender in Tennessee to win the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) award for high quality trial advocacy.  Also in August, Dir. of the Defender’s Resource Network and JustCity co-editor, Josh Spickler, was invited to present at the Brennan Center Community-Oriented Public Defense Network conference in New York City. Shelby County was recognized for its innovative use of digital media and presentation formats to communicate with the public.

8.  National Leaders in Criminal Justice Reform Bring Training to Shelby County.  

This year, our office brought in national experts to help improve the quality of indigent defense in Shelby County.  In November, we welcomed the founder of the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC), Jonathan Rapping, a nationally recognized trainer in client-centered public defense. Our entire legal and non-legal staff participated in lecture and small group training.  In December, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) provided our entire office with a grant-funded two-day training program in forensic science.  The program was designed to help our lawyers identify and challenge junk science in the courtroom.

7. Shelby County Receives National Recognition for Helping Mentally Ill Clients. 

Since developing the Jericho Project more than a decade ago,  Shelby County Public Defender Stephen C. Bush has become a national voice for the compassionate and effective defense of those with mental illness.  In October, Bush was interviewed for a national publication, offering guidelines for other lawyers addressing the needs of clients with mental illness.  In December, Bush was invited to present before a team from the National Association of Counties (NACo) to outline the innovative strategies behind the Jericho project.

6.  First ‘Street Court’ for Homeless in Memphis

This summer, our office coordinated the first ever Street Court for Project Homeless Connect – a one-day, one-stop effort to offer services to the city’s homeless population.  The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office collaborated with prosecutors, a judge, court clerks, and host of law student volunteers to assist homeless clients with criminal matters. The Street Court was such a success that it will be offered again at Project Homeless Connect in 2013 and will be implemented by University of Memphis Law School students for their 2013 alternative spring break.

5.  State of Public Defense in Shelby County Cover Story of the Memphis Flyer

In February, Memphis’ alternative weekly featured the work of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office as its cover story.  The article detailed the dire resource situation our office faces operating in the poorest big city in America, but it also highlighted the opportunities that lay ahead as our office seeks to become a model and help lead the national indigent defense reform efforts underway.

4.  Man Facing Death Penalty Freed by Capital Defense Team

In July, Capital Defense Team lead atttorney Gerald Skahan and his team won acquital for a man charged with murder. The team argued that he acted in self defense. Forty-two year old Ealroad Davis would have joined 88 others on Tennessee’s death row, if convicted.  The Capital Defense Team was able to show that the death was the result of an argument that ended tragically. Davis was set free after spending nearly 3 years in detention awaiting trail.

3.  Two of Nation’s Top Law School Grads Join Shelby County Public Defender’s Office

This summer, Memphis welcomed its first class from the Public Defender Corps program.  Two new law schools grads, one from Yale and one from the University of Alabama, joined the Shelby County Public Defender’s office as part of a three-year program. This marks the first time Shelby County was selected to participate in the program.

2.  Shelby County and Davidson County Public Defenders Join Forces to Correct a Multimillion Dollar Funding Error

In April, Davidson County Public Defender Dawn Deaner and Shelby County Public Defender Stephen C. Bush testified before the Tennessee General Assembly to request a correction in state funding for Davidson and Shelby County. The miscalculation in state funding has recurred for more than 20 years.  State lawmakers did not approve the fix in the 2012 session, but efforts are underway to address the issue in 2013.

1.  Department of Justice Investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court

In April, the Department of Justice released a landmark report citing the the Shelby County Juvenile Court for due process and equal protection violations — insufficient access to counsel and the courts and disproportionate treatment of black children.  In December, the DOJ and Juvenile Court reached an agreement.  In the agreement, the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has been given the responsiblity of creating a juvenile defense unit to represent the children of our community.  No doubt, this will also be a top story in 2013.

It’s been a big year for justice in Shelby County and 2013 looks to be even bigger.

Check back with us at for more stories of justice from Memphis and beyond.  

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Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush Featured in National Article

Jericho_NewTag_CMYK_HorMore than a decade ago, Shelby County created one of the most innovative jail diversion programs in the country. The Jericho Project was developed with the help of the Shelby Public Defender’s Office to help people with mental illness escape the revolving door of the prison system.

When those with mental illness are arrested and unable to afford an attorney, public defenders often find themselves standing in the gap for them, and studies show that people with mental illness will spend 2-5 times longer in custody awaiting disposition of their case than those without a mental illness.

It goes without saying that this is frustrating for families and damaging to those caught in a system that does not function well for healthy people, much less for those with debilitating mental illness.

Chief Public Defender Stephen C. Bush  Photo by Justin Fox Burks Photography
Stephen C. Bush
Shelby County Public Defender
Photo by Justin Fox Burks

The Jericho Project is now an established part of the justice system and is coordinated by the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.  Stephen C. Bush was instrumental in its design and implementation when he was an assistant public defender.

Today, Bush is the chief public defender and a national expert on jail diversion strategies for the mentally ill.

He was recently interviewed for a national online publication dedicated to mental health issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

In the article, Bush answered questions addressing the role of public defenders and some of the challenges that those with mental illness and their families can expect when navigating the criminal justice system.

Here are a few of the questions.

Q: What is the role of the public defender and what role can family members have in communicating with a public defender?

Q: How can family members share information with the public defender if he or she doesn’t seem open to communication?

Q: My loved one has a serious mental illness, but the public defender is not raising this issue in court. Why not?

45460999-namiSee the answers to these and other questions on NAMI’s website.