Searching for Justice in the South Bronx

Friday, May 03, 2013

As the executive director of the Bronx Defenders, a public defense and legal services organization, Robin Steinberg has spent her career demanding justice for the residents of the poorest Congressional district in the nation.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court case that requires states to provide attorneys for defendants who cannot pay for them. Gideon created the public defender system to ensure some balance between prosecution and defense, but as Steinberg explains, "Leveling the playing field is simply impossible."

She continues, "Defender offices in this country are under-resourced...everybody's under-resourced in the criminal justice system, so there's not really a leveling of the playing field."

According to Steinberg, the plea bargain system has also undermined the vision of equal justice the Supreme Court imagined 50 years ago "The criminal justice system in 2013 is not 'The Good Wife,' she explains. "Very little goes on in the trial world in the criminal justice system. In the state system...somewhere between two and five percent of cases get tried. Ninety-five percent or more get plea bargained."


Robin Steinberg

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [5]


What a one-sided tale. It is disgraceful that plea bargains are a way of life and the time it takes to have an actual trial. That said, Steinberg completely omits the most likely reason a murder charge was dropped is because the Bronx jurys and judges are notorious. Even stranger was Steinberg's allegations that the system is racist, talk about living in the past. Now you frequently have a black or hispanic deft arrested by black/hispanic cop prosecuted by black/hispanic attorney resided over by a black/hispanic judge. The most racism currently exists on the part of jurors who have been polled and openly state they disbelieve anything a white cop says.

May. 04 2013 08:48 PM
Mara Farrell from Fishkill

I was driving upstate when I listened to Robin Steinberg today. Amazing and heart breaking. Her work within such a broken system is beyond magnificent. But as someone commented earlier, these stories of injustice need to be told a thousand times over. And again and again. People live unaware, and if that harsh reality was dished out day after day, it would start to resonate.
To criminalize youthful acts is one of our worst sins as a society. And as Robin said, these memories never leave, but they can leave you forever fractured.

May. 03 2013 07:51 PM
Mara Schiff from Florida

As a professor of criminal justice who specializes in "restorative justice," I have spent the last 30 years researching, teaching and hopefully helping to reform the criminal and juvenile justice systems. I have spent the last 15 or so of those years advocating, training, researching, writing and promoting restorative justice as an alternative to current justice practices especially for juveniles and also for school-aged kids subject to horrible zero-tolerance and other failed disciplinary policies. RJ is an ideal of justice based on making reparation directly to victims and communities who have been harmed by crime, while holding offenders accountable and engaging victims and communities in the response to harm and the creation of "justice." Can we talk some more about that, and what we can do to keep kids OUT of system like this and IN communities? Kudos to Ms. Steinberg for her honest and passionate assessment of the justice process, and her lifelong commitment to serving youth who truly need her.

May. 03 2013 12:53 PM
Jessica Giorgianni from Jersey City, NJ

I felt an incredible range of emotions listening to Robin Steinberg talk on this complicated issue and her depth of experience working for justice. She should be speaking everywhere possible- to students at law schools, to news outlets, and especially on TED (

May. 03 2013 10:04 AM

Is the justice system stacked against the victim and
what about considering their dignity and humanity for those who
sanctimoniously speak of justice.
Shouldn't the Bronx and other inner cities be a
progressive paradise by now considering their representation?
It seems the police are faulted for taking action
and then faulted for not taking action by ever present lawyers
on all sides.

Meanwhile unreasonable laws and regulations against law abiding
citizens and business owners in New York who pay for it all are totally appropriate
as so many leave the state?

May. 03 2013 09:40 AM

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