Following a competitive application process, the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office has been selected to partner with Code for America’s Fellowship Program to facilitate the creation of a mobile app envisioned to enhance client access to available services and resources.

Recognizing the often-insurmountable challenges individuals face after an entanglement with the criminal justice system, the objective is to improve quality of life and reduce recidivism for justice-impacted residents of Santa Barbara County.

“If people are given a chance to address their individual challenges, they may find themselves not entangled in the criminal justice system,” said Tracy Macuga, Santa Barbara County public defender.

“We need to build and develop sustainable partnerships with all potential community stakeholders to better address the complex needs of our indigent population and ensure clients have access to resources,” Macuga said.

Suffering a criminal punishment often carries far more devastating collateral consequences than the court sanction itself. Individuals frequently lose their homes or jobs and are worse off than before the initial arrest.

Many who are arrested suffer from mental illness or substance use disorder, which can complicate criminal proceedings, as well as their re-entry, if not properly addressed.

The goal of a mobile app is to give clients who are actively involved in the criminal justice system a roadmap to easily navigate and access an array of quality, long-term mental health and substance use services.

The services exist, but knowing where to start, which apply, etc., can be overwhelming, creating gaps in services and leaving people vulnerable.

Recognizing this gap and need for ease of access to services, the public defender pursued and was selected by the Code for America Fellowship program. The fellows at Code for America will work closely with the Public Defender’s Office over a nine-month period to design and implement the mobile app.

“Access to services can be transformed by utilizing technology,” said Deepak Budwani, chief financial and administrative officer for the Santa Barbara County Public Defender. “Clients would have a one-stop shop of available resources to navigate the criminal justice system, resource pamphlets and information materials.

“Additionally, services available to clients in the community would seamlessly be accessible and would even list the availability of services at those locations.”

“Our fellows work with local government to create systems interventions where inequity lies at the root,” said Hasim Mteuzi, associate director of Code for America’s Fellowship program. “In this way, we bring the margin to the center.”

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