Neighborhood Defender Service’s (NDS) PACE Program
2021 JusticeAid Grantee Partner

I magine 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 over-policing, 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.


JusticeAid introduced NDS PACE at our 2021 Spring Forum on Racist Policing in Communities and Schools, held on May 2, 2021 in partnership with The Riverside Church of New York. Watch the recorded event. Our 2021 Fall events included an author talk with Georgetown Law professor Kris Henning followed by the Fall Concert with Mavis Staples and special guest Amy Helm. See summary, photo galleries, and recording.

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:


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.


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. 


that surveils families and criminalizes children’s behavior. PACE changes the way police interact with young people and minimizes the presence of law enforcement in schools.


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


“NDS partnered with JusticeAid at a dynamic moment in the country’s struggle for racial equality and fundamental fairness. The PACE Program is the next generation of groundbreaking work growing out of the NDS experience. We do not intend to let this 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 & Founding Member, Neighborhood Defender Service

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 pre-arrest representation, to 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. 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 NeighborhoodDefender.org

To better understand that work, we are sharing resources—articles, videos, podcasts, books, and more—that reflect the experiences informing the NDS PACE Program’s approach to change. Dive into these resources to get a sense of how NDS PACE will work to transform policing in the United States.

JusticeAid raised $421,242
for NDS PACE in 2021.
Pictured clockwise starting top left:
  • NDS Executive Director Rick Jones meets with women recently released from prison
  • NDS staff advocate for their clients in the state capitol building
  • NDS serves clients meals during the holiday season
  • NDS staff participate in nationwide protests against police violence