New Philadelphia public defender puts focus on criminal justice system's most vulnerable

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia's new public defender has had a long, winding road as a Jamaica-born immigrant who graduated from Cornell University. Keisha Hudson says her vision is to help the people who are most vulnerable in the criminal justice system.

For a decade, Hudson worked as a federal defender, and then as a defender in the suburbs before tossing her hat in the ring.

"I thought, 'I must apply to this position,'" she said. "I had been in Montgomery County for four years as the Deputy Chief Defender."

Now, after a nationwide search, Hudson has been named to the post. Her journey to Philly has not been easy.

Hudson's mother, who was a midwife, left her family in Jamaica to create a better life for her family in the United States.

"She moved to the Bronx to work as a nurse and did that because we grew up in extreme poverty and she wanted to make a better life for her children," Hudson said.

Three years later, when Hudson was 15, she, her dad and brother followed, and the family settled in New York City.

Hudson says she "really had to learn to assimilate quickly, experienced racism for the first time and had to learn how to navigate not only a new country but a new school."

She went on to graduate from Cornell University and Cornell Law School, and she found her passion for defense work representing death row inmates. She says she worked on several dozen capital punishment cases.

Hudson starts her new role as a chief public defender Monday, and she says she wants to continue to build a strong office while focusing on criminal justice reform, specifically with regard to prevention.

"Can we get to the root causes of why people commit crime and address and support and provide the resources to hopefully stop that pipeline," she said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio