We recently had the honor to visit Birmingham, Alabama to build with the Jefferson County Community Law Office and local service providers and community organizations to launch participatory defense in this historic anchor of the civil rights movement. We also had the opportunity to meet with other public defender offices and community organizations from other parts of Alabama and Tennessee. We shared the story of participatory defense, went over intervention points in the timeline of an Alabama case, how individual case work leads to policy changes, how to build an infrastructure for participatory defense meetings, and tangible ways to build partnerships between defender offices and the local client community. Much gratitude to Jefferson County CLO family for hosting us as we collectively build this exciting new path. Check out the images below, and a short video captured moments and reflections of the training will be coming out shortly.
Having just returned from sharing our social biography video concept to capital defense attorneys from across the country on how family story can literally save lives, we are happy to share another encouraging development in 2015. We are excited to announce Raj Jayadev was selected as the newest Ashoka Fellow for De-Bug/ACJP to grow a new national field to advance our concept of “participatory defense.” This model equips families and communities most impacted by mass incarceration in the United States to effectively participate in the criminal defense process and transform the landscape of power in the court system.
Raj joins an international network of nearly 3,000 fellows in 70 countries who are putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale. Through seven years of developing participatory defense, De-Bug’s Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP) has made impactful change in the local court systems — an arena that seemed impenetrable arena for families to actively advocate for their loved ones facing charges. But through ACJP, those targeted by the criminal justice system are transformed into agents of change by bringing a community organizing ethic to the courts. In our local work alone, we calculated 1,862 years of time saved through family and community intervention.
With the support of the Ashoka Fellowship, Raj will be expanding our movement of participatory defense nationwide — working and supporting communities to build on their local capacities to transform the criminal justice system. By collaborating with great community stakeholders, public defender offices, and impacted families, we are launching participatory defense pilots, trainings, and media projects in the following places in the next few months:
* Birmingham, Alabama — February
* St.Louis, Missouri — March
* Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — March
* Washington, DC — March
* Los Angeles, California — April
* Lexington, Kentucky — June
If you are an organization, network, or defender office interested in getting trained to start participatory defense in your community to support families capacities to change the outcome of cases of their loved ones, and to transform the policies that govern the courts, please do contact us.
Special thanks to Colette and Diane at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for coordinating a webinar on March 23rd in DC for us to share our participatory defense model, and how public defenders and communities can start using the organizing model in their regions. We will also cover how to make social biography videos. Sign up and check it out!
We started off 2015 with an inspiring trip to Atlanta to give presentations and trainings on “participatory defense” to southern state Public Defender Chiefs at the Gideon’s Promise gathering. This army of both young and experienced attorneys are transforming what public defense means in this country as they say, “one lawyer at a time.” We’ve had the great fortune of building with their camp for a couple years now, and are exciting about the new partnerships that are sprouting from our common cause of challenging mass incarceration through movement-building. Here are a few flicks!
Much thanks to South Carolina public defender and Gideon’s Promise member Shane Goranson, who wrote a nice reflection on his experience doing a social biography video after we gave a workshop on how to make them at Gideon’s Promise convening in Atlanta last year. Check it out!
Jim* had clearly been through a lot in his life. He suffered with a terrible substance abuse problem. But he had put in a lot of work on himself since he crashed into another car while being chased by a state trooper. I knew Jim had a lot of good in him. I knew he was helping a lot of people, but I didn’t know how to step up the presentation of mitigation in court in a way that would really do his work justice and have a real impact on his punishment. While I represented Jim I was lucky enough to go to a Gideon’s Promise training where Raj Jayadev made a presentation on client videos and their potential impact. I knew that would be the way to help Jim. Raj emphasized that it didn’t need to be flashy or expensive, it just needed to be sincere story.
Thinking through the story, the presentation, and the content we wanted for the video was invigorating and enlightening. I learned more about Jim, I gained respect and admiration for him. The people we interviewed, the most important people in Jim’s life, grew to know us and respect us. They made comments about how surprised they were about what we, a public defender and very generous videographer, were doing. Jim knew we left no stone unturned in trying to get him the best possible resolution and they worked hard to help us. In the end we put it all out there and did the best we could and that leaves a certain satisfaction even if the result was a little disappointing. I learned a lot while making the video and representing my client in a new, creative way let me see my job a little bit differently too. It put public defenders in a different light too, in this case a lawyer who could produce mitigation up to par with any private attorney. Highly recommended.
(Shane Goranson is a Public Defender in Greenwood South Carolina)
We decided to start sharing the one ceremony we have at ACJP — when a loved one comes home from prison or jail due to the advocacy of their family, and they erase their name from our weekly meeting board. To the outside viewer passing by our building and looking through our window, it may not look like much. Just some person erasing their name while others watch, clap, and cry. But for the families in the meeting, the ceremony is profoundly meaningful. It symbolizes the power of how family and community can challenge and beat the institutions of mass incarceration. Every weekly meeting, when families come to advocate for their loved ones, we write their loved one’s name on the white board, and then the groups shares updates and strategies as we go through the list of names. A number of people listed on the board had never set foot in a meeting until the day they come home. They have been detained while their family has come to these meetings every week. Robert was one of those community members — a name on the board that the rest of the group only knew through his mother’s stories, but they prayed for his release nonetheless. This short video is of the day he erased his name, at the first meeting of 2015.
Like many cities across the country, San Jose starts 2015 on the heels of a march and rally that echoed the national call for police accountability. We belted chants and held up signs with the names of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.
But calling this event an act of solidarity is not quite accurate. Rather, the march was an act of “familiarity” and a morbid binding of reality that we, too, can speak the names of the deceased who once walked our streets, went to our schools, attended our churches and whose lives were unjustly cut short by a bullet fired from an officer’s gun.
While our event – the “Protect Your People March” – ended at the police department as others across the country have, we started at the district attorney’s office. We made it a point to march within earshot of the windows of our county jail because police are not isolated agents of the state. Rather, they are part of a “criminal justice system” that includes prosecutors, jails, judges and courts.
We picked our march route to make a physical connection showing how the same system that time and again refuses to hold officers accountable for the killing of innocents, is the same one that incarcerates more than 2 million Americans. People of color are disproportionately represented in that number.
The same injustice that allowed the officers who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner to not be prosecuted, is the same bias that is being used to over prosecute communities of color at a dizzying clip. It is why our march focused on two words that will hopefully become part of this movement’s lexicon moving forward – prosecutorial discretion. Continue reading