Robin Steinberg

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Robin Steinberg is an American lawyer, social justice advocate[1] and leader in the field of holistic public defense.[2]

Steinberg is the CEO of The Bail Project,[3] a national organization modeled after The Bronx Freedom Fund,[4] which she co-founded with her husband David Feige in 2007.[5] Steinberg is the founder and former executive director of The Bronx Defenders, a community-based public defense office serving low-income New Yorkers in the Bronx since 1997,[6] and the director of Still She Rises, Tulsa,[7] "the first public defender office in the nation dedicated exclusively to the representation of mothers in the criminal justice system".[8] At The Bronx Defenders, Steinberg created The Center for Holistic Defense,[9] a national program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice that trains public defender offices across the country to replicate The Bronx Defenders’ model of holistic defense.[10]

Steinberg has spoken at TED,[11] and taught at Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School,[12] Seton Hall and UCLA.[13]

Early life and education[edit]

Steinberg was born and raised in New York City. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 1978[14] with a degree in Women’s Studies, Steinberg moved back to New York to attend the New York University School of Law to begin a career in women’s rights law. During her time at NYU Law, Steinberg enrolled in a clinic called the Women’s Prison Project.[15] Influenced by her clients’ experiences in the legal system, Steinberg pursued a career in public defense after receiving her J.D. degree in 1982.


The Bail Project[edit]

In November 2017, Steinberg and the team behind the Bronx Freedom Fund launched The Bail Project, a national organization that seeks to expand the revolving bail fund model to high-need jurisdictions across the United States.[16] The organization will be working with public defense offices and community partners across the country to establish 40 sites across the country with the goal of paying bail for 160,000 people.[17]

In April 2019, in the wake of a recipient of The Bail Project beating his wife to death hours after being arrested for domestic violence (with previous convictions of assault), Robin Steinberg said, "No one could have predicted this tragedy. It’s important to remember that had he been wealthy enough to afford his bail, or bonded out by a commercial bail bond agency, he would have been free pretrial as well. In times like this, we must come together for this family and keep sight of the need to transform the larger systems that create poverty, racism and violence, including the pretrial bail system.”[18]

Still She Rises[edit]

In January 2017, Steinberg launched Still She Rises, Tulsa, a project of The Bronx Defenders and the first public defender office in the country dedicated exclusively to the representation of women with children in the criminal justice system.[19] Oklahoma incarcerates a higher percentage of women than any other state and more than double the national average.[20] Still She Rises brings the holistic model of public defense pioneered by The Bronx Defenders to low-income women in the North Tulsa community.[21]

Center for Holistic Defense[edit]

In 2010, Steinberg received funding from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance[22] to begin the Center for Holistic Defense, the training and technical assistance arm of The Bronx Defenders. Each year for five years, the Center selected between three and six defender offices for intensive training, including site visits at defenders’ offices and The Bronx Defenders, on how to adopt holistic defense practices.[23] Steinberg has trained over 25 defender offices, ranging from large, statewide public defender systems such as the Wisconsin State Public Defender[24] to small, local groups like the Tribal Defenders for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana.[25]

The Bronx Freedom Fund[edit]

Having witnessed clients sit in jail for months because they could not afford to pay bail, often pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit, Steinberg and David Feige co-founded The Bronx Freedom Fund in 2007, a nonprofit charitable bail organization that posts bail for low-income New Yorkers facing low-level or misdemeanor charges. The Bronx Freedom Fund currently bails out over one hundred people per month.

In 2015, The Bronx Freedom Fund won the National Criminal Justice Association's Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Northeast Region, and in 2017 was featured in the American Bar Association’s “Spotlight on Innovation” speaker series for organizations “on the cutting edge of legal services.” As part of her work with The Bronx Freedom Fund, Steinberg advocates for cash bail reform and the use of charitable bail funds in jurisdictions beyond New York City.

The Bronx Defenders[edit]

In 1997, Steinberg and a small group of advocates founded The Bronx Defenders, a community-based public defender office located in the heart of the South Bronx. Years of listening to clients involved in the criminal justice system had convinced Steinberg that far from being paramount, clients’ concerns about their criminal cases often came second to other issues—maintaining custody of their children, stable housing or a job, remaining in the country, or accessing vital public benefits. Armed with this understanding, Steinberg and her team developed The Bronx Defenders’ model of holistic defense, a client-centered model that uses interdisciplinary teams of advocates, social workers, and attorneys to address both the underlying causes and collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement. Clients at The Bronx Defenders benefit from an array of free services including representation in criminal, family, housing, and immigration court, as well as social service assessment and support. The Bronx Defenders’ impact litigation team has also fought for, and won, many systemic reforms in New York City’s criminal justice system.

Today, The Bronx Defenders has a staff of over 300 attorneys, advocates, and social workers who represent more than 35,000 low-income [26] New Yorkers each year. By engaging in legislative advocacy, pursuing impact litigation, and offering training and technical assistance to other public defender organizations, The Bronx Defenders bridges the gap between a traditional direct service organization and a policy organization, seeking to ensure justice and dignity for criminal justice-involved people in the Bronx and beyond.


  1. ^ Gogolak, E. C. (2013-10-11). "New, Young Help for Poor in Infamous Bronx Courts". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  2. ^ Mitchell, Kirby (May 2, 2014). "Transforming Public Defense: Stories of Holistic Advocacy and Lessons Learned from Civil/Criminal Attorney Partnerships" (PDF). Retrieved November 27, 2017. External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ Patrick, Robert. "Nonprofit will use $16 million bail fund to free people from American jails, including in St. Louis". Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  4. ^ "Bail "disrupters" aim to free 160,000 people from U.S. jails". NBC News. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  5. ^ "The Problem with NYC's Bail Reform". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  6. ^ "Our Mission and Story". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  7. ^ "Our Team". Still She Rises, a Holistic Defense Project of The Bronx Defenders based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  8. ^ World, Samantha Vicent Tulsa. "Holistic legal aid program begins taking clients in north Tulsa". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  9. ^ "The Bronx Defenders Seek to Promote Holistic Defense | Center for Court Innovation". Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  10. ^ "The Center For Holistic Defense". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  11. ^ "TED2018: The Age of Amazement | April 10–14, 2018 | Vancouver, BC, Canada". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  12. ^ "Robin Steinberg". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  13. ^ "Trailblazing Advocate Robin Steinberg Joins UCLA Law Criminal Justice Program". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  14. ^ "Biography Page". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  15. ^ "Alumnus/Alumna of the Month | NYU School of Law". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  16. ^ Feuer, Alan (2017-11-13). "Bronx Charity Founder Wants to Pay Bail for Poor Defendants Nationwide". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  17. ^ "Bail "disrupters" aim to free 160,000 people from U.S. jails". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Fisher, Rich. "Still She Rises: Bringing a "Holistic Defense" Approach to Assisting the Mothers of North Tulsa". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  20. ^ Winkler, Elizabeth (2018-01-02). "Why Oklahoma Has the Most Women Per Capita in Prison". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  21. ^ World, Samantha Vicent Tulsa. "Holistic legal aid program Still She Rises begins taking clients in north Tulsa". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  22. ^ Drucker, Ernest (2018-02-20). Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health. The New Press. ISBN 9781620972793.
  23. ^ "The Center For Holistic Defense". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  24. ^ "Public Defender Offices Eligible for Free Technical Assistance". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  25. ^ "The Center for Holistic Defense Announces Technical Assistance Winners". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  26. ^ "The Bronx Defenders". The Bronx Defenders. Retrieved 2018-04-11.