PHOTO RECAP: Participatory Defense Launches in Nashville!

It was tremendous honor that some of us participatory defense organizers from California were invited to build with community leaders and the public defender’s office of Nashville, as they launched the first participatory defense hub in Tennessee! We met an incredible and resilient community who is deeply invested in advocating for justice and fairness in the courts and the neighborhoods. We started by doing doing a participatory defense training with public defenders and community advocates who were a diverse network of re-entry service providers, church leaders, community organizers and more. We went over how community and defender partnerships can tangibly change the outcome of cases, how the collaboration can lead to systemic changes in the criminal justice system, as well as how to get started. Some friends of JustCity (a non-profit organization in Memphis), the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office, and the Knoxville Public Defender’s Office attended as well! The following day we went to court with the community advocates, being guided by the defender’s office, so the community could get a clearer understanding of the mechanics of the court, and where their voice and partnership could have impact. After that we did a session on how to make social biography videos, and then that evening held the first ever participatory defense meeting in Nashville at a church hosted by the Family Reconciliation Center. That same day, we co-authored an op-ed in the Tennessean on the launch of participatory defense in Nashville. You can check that out by clicking, “Public defenders, community work to reduce incarceration.” Special salute to Gideon’s Promise and the National Association for Public Defense, who fostered the space and belief to build this incredible bridge, and to Dawn, Sara, Malinda and all our partner’s in Nashville — we are so humbled by your spirit, leadership, and value driven fight for justice!

Check out the photos below to meet some of the amazing people we got introduced to, and see the exciting work going on in Nashville!

andrewtrainingAt the introduction to participatory defense training at the Nashville Public Defender’s Office, Andrew goes through various principles that has helped guide communities have lasting and sustainable impact in their communities.
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Montgomery County Participatory Defense Hub Saves Member 57 Years from Incarceration

From the first participatory defense meeting in Montgomery, PA at at CADCOM.

From the first participatory defense meeting in Montgomery, PA at at CADCOM.

Congratulations to our friends at the (Community Action Development Commission) CADCOM in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania who started a Participatory Defense Hub! The organization does community work and re-entry services for their county, and added participatory defense as a method for their community to stay whole and to prevent incarceration. Below, they share with us their first Time Saved story of 2016 — saving a community member of theirs 57 years from incarceration!  (Post submission by Montgomery County participatory defense facilitator Heather Lewis)

On June 15, 2015 CADCOM held its first Participatory Defense Hub meeting.  We had three guests that night; two participants and one volunteer.  One participant named Ted was there on behalf of his son Chris who was being charged with three counts of bank robbery.  Ted was very proactive in his son’s case which made our maiden voyage into participatory defense relatively easy.  Essentially, the participatory defense hub was able to offer support, suggestions and encouragement when Ted grew weary and frustrated; however, he made the phone calls, went to court and followed up with his son’s public defender.  Continue reading

2,570 Years of Time Saved from Incarceration! (End of 2015 Total)

In the beginning of 2015, families and communities we work with had a total of 1,862 years of Time Saved from incarceration through their efforts. The term Time Saved is a phrase we came up with as a way to encourage family and community involvement in partnering with defense attorneys on behalf of their loved ones. We say it to families who are attending their first participatory defense meetings who are unsure about the court process, and what role they can play. What we say is the system is going to give your loved one “time served” if left to its’ own devices, but that they can turn time served into time saved if they engage, participate in the process, and partner with their defense attorney.

As 2015 ends, we have updated our Time Saved number based on the work of families and attorneys to win dismissals, acquittals, and reduced sentences. Our current total as we enter 2016, is 2,570 years of Time Saved!

And considering it costs California roughly $63,000 a year to incarcerate someone in the prison system, families and communities have also saved millions of dollars for the state. But most importantly, each year saved from incarceration means families and communities made whole.

There are participatory defense meetings now happening in three other states beyond California (Alabama, Kentucky, Pennsylvania through our public defender and community partners), and more set to get started in 2016. We are excited to see how the power of family and community can challenge mass incarceration, and bring loved ones home. Here are a few of the time saved stories from 2015 that made up our current total:

VIDEO: When Arthur Beat a Life Sentence and Erased His Name (The Ceremony of Participatory Defense Victories)

arthur Continue reading

Everyday Ideation: How Families Use ‘Cumulative Intelligence’ to Take on the Criminal Justice System (By Raj Jayadev)


Gail Noble facilitates a weekly participatory defense meeting in San Jose, CA.

Gail Noble facilitates a weekly participatory defense meeting in San Jose, CA.

Every week I sit in a room with families whose loved ones are facing criminal charges. It is part support group, part strategic planning session. There are no lawyers in the room and the families have no legal training.

But week in, week out, the group translates the legalese to one another, navigates each other through the maze of a court system and finds ways to affect the outcome of cases.

No one is trying to be Perry Mason or a pseudo-lawyer; they just want to do whatever they can to stop an incarceration. The results of the meetings are incredible — families become partners with their defense attorney, wrongful charges are dropped, sentences reduced.

While the outcomes are remarkable, the meetings themselves are powerful to watch. People who initially thought the mechanics of the courts were totally indecipherable eventually are discussing complex aspects of the law like penal codes, pretrial motions and defense theories after a few weeks of attendance.

But how?

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VIDEO: How to Create Social Biography Packets

Watch participatory defense organizers Gail Noble and Cecilia Chavez explain how to make social biography videos — a tool for families to tell the fuller story of their loved one facing charges in order to change the outcome of a case. Both Gail and Cecilia have guided numerous families and organizations through the process to make effective packets that were used by defense attorneys to win reduction in charges and sentences. E-mail us if you have questions, or would like to learn more on how to make social biography packets!

VIDEO: 5 Minute Talk on Participatory Defense at PopTech 2015!

Below is a 5 minute talk on participatory defense we gave at PopTech 2015, a gathering of social innovators and scientists who are bringing new ideas to the world’s most challenging problems. We were fortunate to be a Poptech Fellow, where we were able to receive guidance and mentorship on how to expand our work from some of the world’s most dynamic social innovators and thought-leaders. Here is the talk we gave on participatory defense.


Author Howard Franklin: For Public Defenders ACJP is a Godsend

Editor’s Note: With great honor we publish this guest post from Howard Franklin, a retired public defender who wrote the acclaimed novel Gideon’s Children. If you haven’t picked it up, please do. This November, he is generously donating all book sale proceeds to ACJP!

Read the review in

Read the review in

It’s a sad fact that fifty years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision mandated representation for every person charged with a crime, Public Defenders are still drastically underfunded, understaffed, overworked, and often disrespected by prosecutors, judges, court personnel, and sometimes their own clients.

As illustrated in my novel, Gideon’s Children, Public Defenders are outnumbered by prosecutors by as much as 3 to 1, depending upon the jurisdiction. When I served as a Los Angeles County Public Defender in the late Sixties, and was stationed in the Compton Judicial District, I faced calendars of 10 Felony Preliminary Hearings or 25 Misdemeanor cases alone, while the prosecution had two or three Deputy DAs handling the State’s interests. And while the prosecution had the assistance detailed below, I had me, myself, and I. Continue reading

The Free Press: “A National Model of Truth and Justice for All”

Thanks to The Free Press in Maine for covering our talk at Poptech! Click their image to read the full story.


Eight out of ten people who face the justice system in the U.S. can’t afford a lawyer.  Raj Jayadev, director of De-Bug, a media company in San Jose, California, saw that the accused were cut off from their families and other resources and didn’t know how to navigate the court system. Typically, they got a public defender who was stretched thin across too many cases. Ninety percent of those who are charged in the U.S. and can’t afford a lawyer plead guilty without ever going to trial, regardless of whether they are innocent or have extenuating circumstances that could lessen their sentence, said Jayadev. “It looked like a conveyor belt to jail,” he said. Read more >>>

VIDEO: What is Quality Representation?

We recently had the honor of sharing our work and perspectives to a powerful group of social scientists, public defenders, and academics from across the country who came together through the National Science Foundation and the New York State Indigent Legal Services to discuss a profoundly important question for anyone concerned with justice: What is quality representation? 

So to bring something to the table, we just asked people who come to our meetings for families who’s loved ones are facing the court system that basic question. Some respondents have had various experiences with defense attorneys, some are family members, some are organizers who work regularly with families. We showed this video at the convening. If you have an answer to the question, send it in to us!


Participatory Defense at PopTech Hybrid 2015!

We recently had the honor to share our participatory defense model at PopTech Hybrid — a convening in Maine of scientists, social innovators, and international thoughts leaders. It was a tremendous opportunity for us to learn about how people from around the world have moved from bold ideas to society changing movements. Much gratitude to the PopTech faculty who spent time lending their wisdom to help imagine a road map for participatory defense to become the “new norm”, and the incredible Poptech Social Innovation and Science Fellows who are well on their way in changing the world as we know it — saving lives, the earth, and our collective future. From Kenya to Karnatika — we see you! Check out this visual graphic of our PopTech talk on participatory defense by the talented Peter Durand. Video to come soon! (Click on image to see more graphic interpretations of other PopTech talks!)