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.


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.