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)

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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!