BATH – New Community Outreach Coordinator Mackenna Ryan is one of the key elements of a new approach to the work of the Steuben County Public Defender’s Office.

A 2010 Campbell-Savona graduate, Ryan worked at the Youth Advocate Program in Elmira for several years.

She is now working in the Public Defender’s Office under the Americorps volunteer program.

Public Defender Shawn Sauro said the partnership with Americorps represents a major savings to county taxpayers.

The county’s share of the cost for the full-time position is just $7,000 per year, with a one-year renewable contract.

“We have someone here eight hours a day, five days a week” for that cost, Sauro said, noting that hiring a full-time employee with benefits would be several times more expensive.

He said volunteers such as Ryan acquire valuable experience through the program that they can translate into career advancement.

The addition of Ryan’s position is part of a larger push in the Public Defender’s Office toward a more “holistic” approach to their work.

“We’re not counselors, we’re not life coaches, our training is the law,” Sauro said. “There are time constraints and we’re not superhuman. But we want, and need, to do more than just take people off the street and out of the community.”

Ryan said time in the Youth Advocate program in Elmira gave her a solid background in identifying issues that may beset those living in difficult surroundings, and in providing information and support in times of trouble, she said.

“I can see a need,” Ryan said. “The places the kids come from, sometimes their parents really don’t care and they go down a not-so-great path.”

After a month on the job, she already has several schools on board. She has also reached out to agencies related to substance abuse, mental health and other issues.

The office recently opened a SCNYPublicDefender Facebook page. A community forum in Hornell is in the works for April, and will include a presentation on basic legal rights and the legal process, Sauro said.

The other side of the that work is connecting clients coming to the office with the resources and public services they need, and simultaneously giving attorneys a broader picture of each case.

The office is looking to add an intake coordinator to take on that role, also through an Americorps contract.

Sauro said that search is underway, but they haven’t been connected with the right candidate just yet.

In the meantime, he noted that Ryan is also taking on some of the functions of that planned position, both to get the work started and to facilitate training when the position is filled.

He said the result of the new efforts, modeled on the Bronx Defenders Project should be a better allocation of court resources and ultimately, improved public safety.

“[With] the contact that the Americorps volunteers will have with the clients, we will be going into the courtroom armed with information that better serves the clients -- and the courts, and the District Attorney’s Office,” Sauro said. “If we learn, [for example], that a client has a severe mental health issue that needs to be addressed in a certain way, when we go to court we can advise the judge and the DA’s office, and say, ‘Instead of spending two years in prison, maybe if we can keep them local, under supervision, and doing [what they need to do about their mental health], we’re all better served.’

“The community is better served, because when all is said and done, this person is better, and doesn’t commit the same crime again.”

“[It’s] better than just taking a person off the street, locking them up for a specified period of time, and then releasing them into the world unchanged,” Sauro said.