Grandmother Freed from Life Sentence

The first woman up for a potential re-sentencing in Santa Clara County due to Proposition 36 won her release this week. A 55-year-old grandmother, Lisa Carter had done 18 years of a life sentence due to the recently reformed 3 Strikes Law. Lisa’ third offense was $150 shoplifting charge. When moved up from prison to the county jail in anticipation of court, Sister’s That Been There founder Steeda McGruder was asked by Lisa’s attorney to give counsel on the possible re-entry process. Lisa, her daughter, and her 12-year-old granddaughter offered testimony at the hearing — all calling for her release. At one point the prosecutor noted that Lisa was “on her own personal journey” but thought that journey should continue in prison. That will not be the case, as Judge Deborah Ryan issued the release. Here is an image of family, friends, even former bunkies of hers who knew Lisa years ago — at the steps of the court right before the hearing. They lit candles and prayed before court. Read the Mercury News article here.



4 Reasons Why San Jose/Santa Clara County Is a National Leader in Social Justice

Heading into Fall, ACJP/De-Bug wants to acknowledge the nationally significant policy wins in criminal justice reform, police accountability, and immigration that occurred this Summer — all of which were first-of-its-kind victories in their respective fields. Check out the coverage from mainstream media, as well as videos, articles, and photos we produced chronicling how Summer 2013 has put our region on the map for social justice in this “storify.”

We Stopped the Ban of Letters to Inmates!

Steeda of Sisters That Been There Showing the Letter Exchanges from inmates.

Steeda of Sisters That Been There Showing the letter exchanges from inmates.

Congratulations to the families and organizations of Santa Clara County! We successfully made our voices heard, and stopped the implementation of a jail policy which would have greatly restricted inmates from receiving letters, photos, and all of the other “lifelines” that connect those on the inside to their loved ones on the outside. The policy — called the Postcard Only Policy — was created originally by Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona, and has been spreading quickly to counties across the nation. We first heard the alarms of the policy being planned here in Santa Clara County after receiving calls from families, and receiving letters of concern from inmates. Our community of civil rights groups, families of the incarcerated, re-entry experts, faith-based communities all came together to express a collective repudiation of the policy (watch the powerful video). Jail administrators were open to meet with us, and we held an powerful gathering where families shared heart-felt testimonies of why letters are so vital for those on both sides of the jail walls. After a Summer of growing concern of the proposed policy, administrators announced at the August Public Safety meeting that they are dropping the policy! For more check out the San Jose Mercury News coverage, and the blog of the victory form our friends at the Prison Policy Institute who are fighting this ban nationally. Our hope is other counties may be inspired by the families of Santa Clara County and will fight back to beat the ban in their counties! (Special thanks to Sisters That Been There, San Jose NAACP, Coalition for Justice and Accountability, De-Bug families, ACJP, and everyone else who helped!)

De-Bug’s ACJP Featured in Investigative Reporting Workshop’s Review of Public Defense

awww-img-courts-mainSpecial thanks to journalist Kat Aaron for including De-Bug’s ACJP organizing model in her insightful and comprehensive review on the current condition of public defense nationally entitled, ““Courts explore new ways to deal with heavy caseloads, overflowing jails”. The article examines various state’s efforts to meet Gideon’s promise, as well as new models that are starting to catch momentum, such as the Bronx Defender Program in New York. ACJP is given as example of how community organizing efforts can impact indigent defense services.

She writes, “The Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, works with people facing criminal charges and their families to ensure that the public defense they receive is attentive and engaged. Family members have worked as volunteer investigators, tracking down witnesses and gathering cellphone videos of events. They scour police reports, looking for inconsistencies. They collect testimonials and stories that paint a portrait of the defendant and his family ties. This is the kind of work that can be crucial to a defense but that many defenders are too overwhelmed to do.” Read her full piece, including more on De-Bug’s efforts to promote community organizing in the courts by clicking here.

De-Bug Family Members Win $1 Million Civil Suit in Taser Death Case

For six years, Noreen Salinas has fought for justice for her father Steve Salinas, who was tased to death by a San Jose police officer in 2007. Noreen walked into De-Bug the week of her father’s death asking for support, and she has been De-Bug family ever since, attending regular ACJP meetings. Throughout the years, she has become our moral leader in the effort to shelve Tasers, a lethal weapon that continues to take lives. We marched, rallied, held press conferences, all under the call, “Justice for Steve Salinas.” As of last Friday, after a jury unanimously delivered a verdict in favor of the Salinas family — we have made some of the promise of that chant a reality. As you will read in the Mercury News article, this is the first win of its kind in San Jose. And that a federal jury has found that the Taser was a contributing cause of death also is a major blow against Tasers nationally. Here is Noreen in front of the mural we made of her in the basement of De-Bug, holding the Mercury News article. The title though is misleading. When a city holds officers accountable for excessive force, and a mourning family is given some peace — that city doesn’t loose, it wins. Click the image to go to Mercury News article.

Mercury News: Dave Cortese, Molly O’Neal and Cynthia Hunter: Santa Clara County should keep current immigration policy

cubanologyOPEDBelow is an op-ed authored by a powerful collective of civic leaders in Santa Clara County that just appeared in the Mercury News.  We thank Supervisor Dave Cortese, Public Defender Molly O’Neal and Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium Cynthia Hunter for courageously standing up to protect our policy.

We are asking folks to please share and add your support through online comments. Please know that when it comes to immigration issues, those who want to change the policy will be likely very active on the comment box. One approach is to accept that, and pay it no mind, but if you would like to engage on behalf of the beliefs espouse by the op-ed, please do. We have to let our leaders know they are supported by the public when they champion our positions. Thank you!

You can also email the Board of Supervisors to let them know to keep Santa Clara County’s Immigrant Detainer policy as is!

Mike Wasserman
George Shirakawa
Dave Cortese
Ken Yeager
Joe Simitian

Dave Cortese, Molly O’Neal and Cynthia Hunter: Santa Clara County should keep current immigration policy
There is nothing more valuable to public safety than community trust in local law enforcement because it establishes residents’ willingness to report crimes and to cooperate with police. But that trust will break down immeasurably in immigrant communities if residents face the debilitating fear of potential deportation. Continue reading

ACJP//De-Bug Family Member Featured in Mercury News for Innovative New Re-Entry Program!

At a forum ACJP//De-Bug held at the end of last year, as Santa Clara County imagined the best ways to build a realignment strategy that reduces recidivism, Steeda McGruder gave her testimony as an offering of hope to a crowd of community members, elected officials and public safety officials. She shared a vision of peer mentorship built from ideas she developed while she was incarcerated. She called her dream “Sisters That Been There.” She made her dream real, and now Sisters That Been There has become a unique blueprint of redemption, re-invention and tangible impact. Check out the Mercury News profile of her success story!

Ex-convict with ‘street cred’ leads unique San Jose support group for repeat offenders
By Tracey Kaplan

For a Santa Clara County contract employee, Steeda McGruder doesn’t exactly have a pristine résumé:

Age: 29

Occupation: Drug dealer/user, thief

Work history: In and out of custody for past 17 years

Attitude during last jail stint: Angry, suicidal, high-risk (allowed out of maximum-security cell only every 48 hours to shower)

So why has the probation department eagerly put her on its payroll at $400 a week?

Because officials believe her criminal record, powerful rap and magnetic personality make McGruder the ideal person to run a support group for recently released repeat female offenders called “Sisters That Been There.” Continue reading

Mercury News: District Attorney’s Office Charging Gang Enhancements for Graffiti

Gang enhancements are a device prosecutors use to greatly increase (or threaten to increase) sentences for defendants who they feel meet the extremely loose definition of having committed a crime to benefit a “street gang.” By adding this enhancement, ACJP has seen families where a defendant felt forced to take a plea due to the extremely high sentence they would face if they lost a trial due to the enhancements. And as defense attorneys will tell you, walking into a jury trial with a “gang” tag already puts the defendant at a serious disadvantage. But this is the first time we have seen prosecutors expand the net of gang enhancement to include graffiti charges — as they have just done here in Santa Clara County. As you will see in the article written by Tracey Kaplan for the Mercury News, the DA’s office acknowledges these are non-violent acts, but nonetheless are applying gang enhancements. We are concerned with this precedent of treating the enhancement like a rubber band — stretching it to include whomever they want to force a plea out of. And of course, we know that such extraordinarily severe sentencing will not deter the act of graffiti. As such, these youth are being sacrificed (records with strikes and the looming threat of lengthy prison sentences) for a rationale that carries no logic in the real world.  Continue reading

VIDEO: Stop Deporting Youth in San Mateo County

On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, the San Mateo County Coalition for Immigrant Rights held a county-wide forum to urge the Board of Supervisors and Probation Chief Stu Forrest to stop reporting youth to ICE. More than 250 people attended. Check out the video below, and to see other media coverage of the campaign check out our storify! And to stay posted in our progress, check out!