Participatory Defense Launches in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has to be one of the most exciting cities in the country when it comes to community power challenging the daily operations of the courts. Philadelphia has elected a civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner as their next District Attorney, has a head of the Public Defender Office Keir Bradford-Grey who is committed to building community support for those facing court, and the people are taking to the streets for Meek Mill. Changes are happening in Philly that may be a blue print for the rest of the country.

And now, Philadelphia is starting participatory defense. Read this piece in the Philadelphia Citizen “Ideas We Should Steal: Participatory Defense” to see how the community is well-positioned to take the methodology to new heights.

phillyflier(Poster from the first participatory defense forum in Philadelphia.)

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The Atlantic Feature on Participatory Defense

Check out the new piece by Maura Ewing in The Atlantic “How Prisoners’ Families Can Assist Overworked Public Defenders”. The piece features the great work of the Montgomery County, PA Participatory Defense Team!

NORRISTOWN, Pa.—Things were not looking up for Saabir Lewis last August. The 21-year-old faced up to 20 years in prison on charges including assault, trespassing on school property, and armed robbery stemming from incidents in 2015 and 2016. Though no one was badly hurt, the offenses were serious.

He is now in a dramatically different circumstance: After 10 months in county jail, Lewis will soon be transferred to a juvenile-detention facility to finish out a two-year sentence, after which he’ll have five years of probation. Aside from the benefits of a shortened sentence and detention among people closer to his age, he’ll be able to participate in rehabilitation programs that an adult prison likely wouldn’t have. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE >>>


Time Saved Story Series: David vs. Trump

As part of an effort to share Time Saved stories — how families and communities are using participatory defense to beat wrongful charges — we are sharing David’s story. David attended an anti-Trump rally and was arrested for resisting arrest. But rather than just wait for arraignment — he worked on challenging the allegations. He and the San Jose participatory defense hub clicked up with NLG lawyer Dan Mayfield. Here is David’s story.

PHOTO RECAP: National Social Biography Media Boot Camp!

Much gratitude to the participatory defense hubs who came to our first ever Social Biography Media Boot Camp (May 18th-22nd), where we taught organizations from 15 different cities on how to produce social biography packets and videos to impact the outcome of cases. At our intensive five day training held in San Francisco at the Google Community Space, organizations learned how to communicate the fuller truth of their loved ones to challenge and reduce charges and sentences and bring them home from incarceration. Each hub (coming from states such as Tennessee, Maryland, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania and California) brought a photo, and told the story of, a person they wanted to make a social biography packet or social biography video for to prevent or reduce an incarceration. They learned about narrative construction, how to collect and present records, how to create purposeful character letters, how to use camera and editing equipment, how to best support public, and more. Each hub produced a packet and a video during the camp. They worked tirelessly, and returned home with new tools, as well as a fully stocked media production equipment package to use! Here are some pics from the incredible gathering!


We were proud to have our partners from all over the country — and also meant the world to us to have some of the most incredible freedom fighter organizations in California joining us at the camp! Here is Youth Justice Coalition, CURYJ, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin about to start Day 1 of the Social Biography Media Boot Camp!


Andrew from Fathers and Families of San Joaquin shares in the introductory day as to why family stories should highlighted when courts are making decisions about peoples lives.


Carnell from East Palo Alto shows participatory defense hubs from across the country the social biography packet he made years ago. That packet that described his role as a single father, and was one of our first packets, is what he and his attorney used to turn a five year prison sentence into a six month out patient drug program. 


Hubs collaborated on coming up with narrative construction, themes, records, and imagery for their respective social biography packets. They also learned the technical parts of scanning and editing photos, and design/layout.


Through an equipment grant with Google, each hub was able to receive a media production package (video camera, laptop, audio equipment) to produce high quality social biography packets and videos!

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Protect Your People: A Public Defender’s Reflection on Participatory Defense

Special thanks to Santa Clara County Public Defender Sajid Khan for speaking at our national Social Biography Media Boot Camp! It was an intensive five day training, where 15 different participatory defense hubs from all over the country learned how to produce social biography packets and videos. Sajid came to talk about how public defenders have used these end products, and other ways public defenders and communities can work together to prevent incarceration. He wrote a short reflection after the gathering that we wanted to share. Thank you Sajid!


Santa Clara County Public Defender Sajid Khan addresses participatory defense hubs at the Social Biography Media Boot Camp held at the Google Space in San Francisco, CA May 18-22nd.

Thank you to Charisse Domingo and the beautiful folks at Silicon Valley De-Bug for hosting me on Friday to talk to their Participatory Defense partner groups from places like Philadelphia, North Carolina and Tennessee.  As I understand it, “Participatory Defense” is a movement to empower families and community partners of those ensnared in the criminal justice system to contribute to the defense of their loved ones, essentially expanding the legal team beyond just the public defender to achieve the best outcomes possible for the accused.   Continue reading

CBS News: The Growing Impact of Participatory Defense

Much thanks to writer Katti Gray for this piece on the growth of participatory defense! 


This article was originally published in The Crime Reporta criminal justice news service.
Ramon Vasquez was facing the threat of a lifetime in prison when he stood trial for a 2008 murder he didn’t commit.

“The only number I heard in court, was ’80 years.’ Like, I might get 80 years if I was convicted,” recalled Vasquez, a San Jose, Calif. delivery-truck driver.

Vasquez, then 29, knew the evidence proving his innocence was out there. But neither the expensive private lawyer his family initially hired but couldn’t afford nor the court-appointed attorney he wound up with (who urged Vasquez to plead guilty so he’d be eligible for parole within about eight years) seemed willing to go get it. (CLICK HERE TO GO TO CBS ARTICLE >>>)


Love Without Parole (LWOP)

The following is a dual writing project from Frankie, who is currently serving a Life Without Parole sentence, and his wife Yolanda, who in a lot of ways is doing the sentence as well from the outside. The writing is part of Silicon Valley De-Bug’s “Lockdown Love Series” — reflections about the relationships of those impacted by the walls of incarceration — our loved ones inside and the families who love them. The title,”Lockdown love”, comes from Joe and Benee, a San Jose love story – a couple who have been holding it down for each other during Joe’s years of incarceration. “Joe is my heart,” writes Benee. Joe and Benee also wanted to let other prison/ jail spouss know and feel that they are not alone and things could be done with love. Here is the love letters of Yolanda and Frankie. 

Every Year He Asks Me, Will You Be My Valentine?
By Yolanda Ledesma

Frank and I met in our early childhood, we were children playing, getting dirty, and cheering each other on at birthday parties all without a care in the world. Time went on and our paths went in different directions.

Fast-forward ten years, I was at a friend’s house and across the street lived my future Frankie. We knew each other but I wasn’t interested; he was, and not shy nor quiet about it. (Click here to read more…)


When Brenda Erased Her Name: Time Saved Mini-Video Series

The “erasing the name” ceremony is a special moment at participatory defense meetings. At meetings, loved ones put the name of the their family member on the board and on a weekly basis develop ways to impact the outcome of the case.  And when their loved one comes home, they attend the meeting, and erase their name. It means that the family, community, and freedom has won. Here’s when Brenda erased her name.

Video Recap: National Participatory Defense Gathering

Check out this 5 minute video from the first ever National Participatory Defense Gathering! In late October we brought together participatory defense hubs we have trained from across the country so they could share their experiences, learn from one another, and deepen this practice that turning Time Served into Time Saved nationally. We had twelve communities from different states come and strategize on how we can grow this movement to end mass incarceration as we step into 2017. Thank you to all the freedom fighters who attended!

News Feature on Pottstown Launching Participatory Defense Hub!


Congrats to our community partners and the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office for the news feature on the launch of their participatory defense hub! Families from Pottstown were commuting across the county to the Norristown participatory defense meetings in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, but with the support of the Cadcom facilitators, the public defender, and the Pottstown community leaders — they started their own hub. Check out their story by clicking here…