These are peo­ple wait­ing in line back in my home­town in San Jose, get­ting ready to go into court.

They’re con­nect­ed by one loom­ing, anxiety-filled ques­tion, Will I go to prison or jail? Will I be part of the over two mil­lion peo­ple incar­cer­at­ed in this country?”

And the real­i­ty is that eight out of ten peo­ple that face the jus­tice sys­tem can’t afford their own attor­ney. And so they have a pub­lic defend­er, who’s doing hero­ic work but is under-resourced and stretch bare with too many cas­es. And so as a result, peo­ple that are fac­ing the jus­tice sys­tem, unsure of how to nav­i­gate those courts and sep­a­rat­ed from their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, over 90% will take a plea deal. Meaning they’ll nev­er see their day in a tri­al court.

But we have a solu­tion. We make the fam­i­ly an essen­tial and effec­tive part of the defense team, so they could change the out­come of cas­es and trans­form the land­scape of pow­er in the court system.

How it works is friends like Blanca who have loved ones that are fac­ing the jus­tice sys­tem con­vene in a week­ly meet­ing with oth­er fam­i­lies who have loved ones that are fac­ing the courts. And they build a com­mu­ni­ty out of what oth­er­wise would’ve been an iso­lat­ing, intim­i­dat­ing process. And they write the names of their loved ones on a board. And col­lec­tive­ly, they go through every sin­gle name, iden­ti­fy­ing spe­cif­ic places where the fam­i­ly could have tan­gi­ble impact on the out­come of the case.

They will iden­ti­fy tac­tics like cre­at­ing bio­graph­i­cal mate­r­i­al so that their loved one is under­stood by the courts not as just a case file. And they’ll review police reports and point out incon­sis­ten­cies that prove inno­cence. And they’ll work with the pub­lic defend­er, who now has a new resource at their dis­pos­al that is as com­mit­ted as they are in seek­ing jus­tice for their client. And the results have been remark­able. We’ve seen charges dis­missed, sen­tences be sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduced, not guilty ver­dicts, even appeals of the ini­tial­ly wrong­ful­ly convicted. 

And we have one cer­e­mo­ny in this mod­el we call par­tic­i­pa­to­ry defense, which is when a loved one comes home, and they’ve been a name on the board that we’ve seen or just under­stood through a mom’s sto­ry. That per­son is giv­en an eras­er. And they walk over to the board and their erase their name. And it means that the fam­i­ly has been made whole. And for those oth­er fam­i­lies who are just start­ing the jour­ney, going through the most fright­en­ing times of their lives, it means that there is hope and a fin­ish line for them, too, if they engage and participate.

And the per­son that I want­ed to intro­duce my PopTech fam­i­ly to as a way to describe the process is Carnell. Carnell pled guilty to a low-level drug charge, but was fac­ing a five-year prison sen­tence. And his main con­cern was, as a sin­gle father what would hap­pen with his two young girls if he got locked up. So we gave him a cam­era and we said, Take pic­tures of what it’s like being a dad.” So he took pic­tures of mak­ing the girls break­fast, and tak­ing them to school, and dri­ving them to vol­ley­ball prac­tice. And he made this pho­to essay that he gave to his pub­lic defend­er, who used [it] at the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing. And that five years of prison was trans­formed into a six-month out­pa­tient drug pro­gram, so that Carnell could be with his two young girls, and his daugh­ters would have a father in their lives. And Carnell can get the treat­ment that he was seek­ing for him­self and for the future of his family.

And Carnell’s not the only sto­ry. We have one met­ric that we use in par­tic­i­pa­to­ry defense. We call it time saved.” It’s a play on the term time served, which is what the courts call time of incar­cer­a­tion. So, what we do is we look at what was a fam­i­ly fac­ing when they first came to us ver­sus what they received after they worked the mod­el. And so Carnell would rep­re­sent five years in time saved. When we reviewed all our cas­es and we totaled the num­bers, we had 1,862 years of time saved.

Those are years with par­ents in their chil­dren’s lives. Of young peo­ple going to col­lege instead of prison. of gen­er­a­tional cycles of suf­fer­ing that had been elim­i­nat­ed. All from the pow­er, will, and intel­lect of fam­i­lies. We’re train­ing com­mu­ni­ties all across the coun­try now. And what I would ask of you is when you go back to your home­town, and if you see a line peak­ing out the court­room doors of your city, know that those peo­ple are not nec­es­sar­i­ly just the fod­der of mass incar­cer­a­tion on a con­vey­or belt to jail or prison. They are poten­tial­ly the found­ing moth­ers and fathers of a new move­ment that may change the way jus­tice is expe­ri­enced and exer­cised in America, forever. 

Thank you.

Further Reference

This pre­sen­ta­tion at the PopTech site.

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