Return to Video

Community-powered criminal justice reform

  • 0:01 - 0:03
    This is my favorite protest shirt.
  • 0:04 - 0:06
    It says, "Protect your people."
  • 0:06 - 0:09
    We made it in the basement
    of our community center.
  • 0:09 - 0:12
    I've worn it at rallies,
  • 0:12 - 0:15
    at protests and marches,
  • 0:15 - 0:17
    at candlelight vigils
  • 0:17 - 0:20
    with families who have lost loved ones
    to police violence.
  • 0:21 - 0:24
    I've seen how this ethic
    of community organizing
  • 0:24 - 0:27
    has been able to change
    arresting practices,
  • 0:27 - 0:30
    hold individual officers accountable
  • 0:30 - 0:34
    and allow families
    to feel strong and supported
  • 0:34 - 0:36
    in the darkest moments of their lives.
  • 0:37 - 0:40
    But when a family would come to our center
  • 0:40 - 0:44
    and say, "My loved one
    got arrested, what can we do?"
  • 0:44 - 0:46
    we didn't know how to translate
  • 0:46 - 0:50
    the power of community organizing
    that we saw on the streets
  • 0:50 - 0:51
    into the courts.
  • 0:52 - 0:53
    We figured we're not lawyers,
  • 0:53 - 0:56
    and so that's not our arena
    to make change.
  • 0:57 - 1:00
    And so despite our belief
    in collective action,
  • 1:00 - 1:03
    we would allow people that we cared about
  • 1:03 - 1:05
    to go to court alone.
  • 1:06 - 1:10
    Nine out of ten times --
    and this is true nationally --
  • 1:10 - 1:12
    they couldn't afford their own attorney,
  • 1:12 - 1:16
    and so they'd have a public defender,
    who is doing heroic work,
  • 1:16 - 1:19
    but was often under-resourced
  • 1:19 - 1:22
    and stretched bare with too many cases.
  • 1:22 - 1:26
    They would face prosecutors
    aiming for high conviction rates,
  • 1:26 - 1:28
    mandatory minimum sentences
  • 1:28 - 1:32
    and racial bias baked
    into every stage of the process.
  • 1:34 - 1:36
    And so, facing those odds,
  • 1:36 - 1:39
    stripped away from the power of community,
  • 1:39 - 1:42
    unsure how to navigate the courts,
  • 1:42 - 1:46
    over 90 percent of people that face
    a criminal charge in this country
  • 1:46 - 1:47
    will take a plea deal.
  • 1:48 - 1:52
    Meaning, they'll never have
    their fabled day in court
  • 1:52 - 1:55
    that we talk about
    in television shows and in movies.
  • 1:56 - 2:02
    And this is the untold part of the story
    of mass incarceration in America --
  • 2:02 - 2:05
    how we became
    the largest jailer in the world.
  • 2:06 - 2:09
    Over two million people
    currently incarcerated in this country.
  • 2:10 - 2:11
    And projections that say
  • 2:11 - 2:15
    one out of three black men
    will see the inside of a prison cell
  • 2:15 - 2:19
    at some point in their life
    on this trajectory.
  • 2:21 - 2:22
    But we have a solution.
  • 2:23 - 2:26
    We decided to be irreverent to this idea
  • 2:26 - 2:29
    that only lawyers can impact the courts.
  • 2:30 - 2:32
    And to penetrate the judicial system
  • 2:32 - 2:37
    with the power, intellect and ingenuity
    of community organizing.
  • 2:39 - 2:42
    We call the approach
    "participatory defense."
  • 2:42 - 2:45
    It's a methodology
    for families and communities
  • 2:45 - 2:47
    whose loved ones are facing charges,
  • 2:48 - 2:50
    and how they could impact
    the outcome of those cases
  • 2:50 - 2:54
    and transform the landscape
    of power in the courts.
  • 2:55 - 2:56
    How it works is,
  • 2:56 - 2:59
    families whose loved ones
    are facing criminal charges
  • 2:59 - 3:01
    will come to a weekly meeting,
  • 3:01 - 3:03
    and it's half support group,
  • 3:03 - 3:05
    half strategic planning session.
  • 3:06 - 3:08
    And they'll build a community
  • 3:08 - 3:12
    out of what otherwise would be
    an isolating and lonely experience.
  • 3:13 - 3:15
    And they'll sit in a circle,
  • 3:15 - 3:18
    and write the names
    of their loved ones on a board,
  • 3:18 - 3:20
    who they're there to support.
  • 3:20 - 3:21
    And collectively,
  • 3:21 - 3:25
    the group will find out ways
    to tangibly and tactfully
  • 3:25 - 3:27
    impact the outcome of that case.
  • 3:28 - 3:31
    They'll review police reports
    to find out inconsistencies;
  • 3:32 - 3:34
    they'll find areas that require
  • 3:34 - 3:36
    more investigation
    by the defense attorney;
  • 3:36 - 3:38
    and they'll go to court with each other,
  • 3:38 - 3:40
    for the emotional support
  • 3:40 - 3:45
    but also so that the judge knows
    that the person standing before them
  • 3:45 - 3:46
    is part of a larger community
  • 3:46 - 3:49
    that is invested in their
    well-being and success.
  • 3:51 - 3:53
    And the results have been remarkable.
  • 3:54 - 3:56
    We've seen charges get dismissed,
  • 3:57 - 3:59
    sentences significantly reduced,
  • 3:59 - 4:01
    acquittals won at trial
  • 4:03 - 4:06
    and, sometimes, it has been
    literally lifesaving.
  • 4:06 - 4:09
    Like in the case of Ramon Vasquez.
  • 4:09 - 4:15
    Father of two, family man, truck driver
  • 4:15 - 4:18
    and someone who was wrongfully charged
    with a gang-related murder
  • 4:18 - 4:20
    he was totally innocent of,
  • 4:20 - 4:22
    but was facing a life sentence.
  • 4:23 - 4:25
    Ramon's family came to those meetings
  • 4:25 - 4:28
    shortly after his arrest
    and his detention,
  • 4:28 - 4:30
    and they worked the model.
  • 4:30 - 4:32
    And through their hard work,
  • 4:32 - 4:34
    they found major
    contradictions in the case,
  • 4:35 - 4:38
    gaping holes in the investigation.
  • 4:38 - 4:42
    And were able to disprove
    dangerous assumptions by the detectives.
  • 4:43 - 4:47
    Like that the red hat that they found
    when they raided his home
  • 4:47 - 4:50
    somehow affiliated him
    to a gang lifestyle.
  • 4:51 - 4:54
    Through their photos and their records,
  • 4:54 - 4:59
    they were able to prove that the red hat
    was from his son's Little League team
  • 4:59 - 5:01
    that Ramon coached on the weekends.
  • 5:02 - 5:04
    And they produced independent information
  • 5:04 - 5:07
    that proved that Ramon
    was on the other side of town
  • 5:07 - 5:09
    at the time of the alleged incident,
  • 5:10 - 5:11
    through their phone records
  • 5:11 - 5:13
    and receipts from the stores
    that they attended.
  • 5:15 - 5:18
    After seven long months
    of hard work from the family,
  • 5:18 - 5:21
    Ramon staying strong inside jail,
  • 5:21 - 5:24
    they were able
    to get the charge dismissed.
  • 5:25 - 5:27
    And they brought Ramon home
  • 5:27 - 5:30
    to live the life that he should
    have been living all along.
  • 5:30 - 5:32
    And with each new case,
  • 5:32 - 5:36
    the families identified new ways
    to flex the knowledge of the community
  • 5:36 - 5:38
    to have impact on the court system.
  • 5:40 - 5:42
    We would go to a lot
    of sentencing hearings.
  • 5:42 - 5:45
    And when we would leave
    the sentencing hearing,
  • 5:45 - 5:47
    on the walk back to the parking lot
  • 5:47 - 5:50
    after someone's loved one
    just got sent to prison,
  • 5:50 - 5:53
    the most common refrain we would hear
  • 5:53 - 5:56
    wasn't so much, "I hate that judge,"
  • 5:56 - 5:58
    or "I wish we had a new lawyer."
  • 5:59 - 6:01
    What they would say was,
  • 6:01 - 6:04
    "I wish they knew him like we know him."
  • 6:05 - 6:08
    And so we developed tools and vehicles
  • 6:08 - 6:11
    for families to tell the fuller story
    of their loved one
  • 6:11 - 6:14
    so they would be understood
    as more than just a case file.
  • 6:14 - 6:18
    They started making what we call
    social biography packets,
  • 6:18 - 6:22
    which is families making a compilation
    of photos and certificates and letters
  • 6:22 - 6:26
    that show past challenges
    and hardships and accomplishments,
  • 6:26 - 6:29
    and future prospects and opportunities.
  • 6:29 - 6:33
    And the social biography [packets]
    were working so well in the courts,
  • 6:33 - 6:37
    that we evolved it
    into social biography videos.
  • 6:37 - 6:39
    Ten-minute mini documentaries,
  • 6:39 - 6:42
    which were interviews
    of people in their homes,
  • 6:42 - 6:44
    and at their churches
    and at their workplace,
  • 6:44 - 6:47
    explaining who the person was
    in the backdrop of their lives.
  • 6:49 - 6:54
    And it was a way for us to dissolve
    the walls of the court temporarily.
  • 6:54 - 6:56
    And through the power of video,
  • 6:56 - 7:01
    bring the judge out of the court
    and into the community,
  • 7:01 - 7:05
    so that they would be able to understand
    the fuller context of someone's life
  • 7:05 - 7:08
    that they're deciding the fate of.
  • 7:09 - 7:13
    One of the first social biography projects
    that came out of our camp
  • 7:13 - 7:14
    was by Carnell.
  • 7:15 - 7:16
    He had come to the meetings
  • 7:16 - 7:19
    because he had pled
    to a low-level drug charge.
  • 7:19 - 7:20
    And after years of sobriety,
  • 7:20 - 7:23
    got arrested for this one
    drug possession charge.
  • 7:23 - 7:26
    But he was facing a five-year
    prison sentence
  • 7:26 - 7:28
    because of the sentencing
    schemes in California.
  • 7:29 - 7:31
    We knew him primarily as a dad.
  • 7:31 - 7:33
    He'd bring his daughters to the meetings
  • 7:33 - 7:36
    and then play with them
    at the park across the street.
  • 7:36 - 7:38
    And he said, "Look, I could do the time,
  • 7:38 - 7:41
    but if I go in,
    they're going to take my girls."
  • 7:43 - 7:45
    And so we gave him a camera
  • 7:45 - 7:48
    and said, "Just take pictures
    of what's like being a father."
  • 7:49 - 7:53
    And so he took pictures
    of making breakfast for his daughters
  • 7:53 - 7:54
    and taking them to school,
  • 7:54 - 7:57
    taking them to after-school programs
    and doing homework.
  • 7:58 - 8:00
    And it became this photo essay
  • 8:00 - 8:03
    that he turned in to his lawyer
    who used it at the sentencing hearing.
  • 8:04 - 8:08
    And that judge, who originally indicated
    a five-year prison sentence,
  • 8:08 - 8:11
    understood Carnell in a whole new way.
  • 8:11 - 8:15
    And he converted
    that five-year prison sentence
  • 8:15 - 8:18
    into a six-month outpatient program,
  • 8:18 - 8:21
    so that Carnell could be
    with his daughters.
  • 8:21 - 8:23
    His girls would have
    a father in their life.
  • 8:23 - 8:26
    And Carnell could get the treatment
    that he was actually seeking.
  • 8:28 - 8:31
    We have one ceremony of sorts
  • 8:31 - 8:34
    that we use in participatory defense.
  • 8:34 - 8:37
    And I told you earlier
    that when families come to the meetings,
  • 8:37 - 8:39
    they write the names
    of their loved ones on the board.
  • 8:39 - 8:42
    Those are names that we all
    get to know, week in, week out,
  • 8:42 - 8:44
    through the stories of the family,
  • 8:44 - 8:47
    and we're rooting for
    and praying for and hoping for.
  • 8:47 - 8:49
    And when we win a case,
  • 8:49 - 8:53
    when we get a sentence reduced,
    or a charge dropped,
  • 8:53 - 8:55
    or we win an acquittal,
  • 8:55 - 8:58
    that person, who's been
    a name on the board,
  • 8:58 - 8:59
    comes to the meeting.
  • 9:00 - 9:02
    And when their name comes up,
  • 9:02 - 9:04
    they're given an eraser,
  • 9:04 - 9:06
    and they walk over to the board
  • 9:06 - 9:08
    and they erase their name.
  • 9:09 - 9:13
    And it sounds simple,
    but it is a spiritual experience.
  • 9:13 - 9:17
    And people are applauding,
    and they're crying.
  • 9:17 - 9:20
    And for the families
    that are just starting that journey
  • 9:20 - 9:22
    and are sitting in the back of the room,
  • 9:22 - 9:24
    for them to know
    that there's a finish line,
  • 9:24 - 9:28
    that one day, they too might be able
    to bring their loved one home,
  • 9:28 - 9:30
    that they could erase the name,
  • 9:30 - 9:32
    is profoundly inspiring.
  • 9:34 - 9:37
    We're training organizations
    all over the country now
  • 9:37 - 9:39
    in participatory defense.
  • 9:39 - 9:42
    And we have a national
    network of over 20 cities.
  • 9:42 - 9:45
    And it's a church in Pennsylvania,
  • 9:45 - 9:48
    it's a parents' association in Tennessee,
  • 9:48 - 9:50
    it's a youth center in Los Angeles.
  • 9:51 - 9:54
    And the latest city that we just added
    to the national network
  • 9:54 - 9:56
    to grow and deepen this practice
  • 9:56 - 9:57
    is Philadelphia.
  • 9:58 - 10:02
    They literally just started their first
    weekly participatory defense meeting
  • 10:02 - 10:03
    last week.
  • 10:04 - 10:09
    And the person that we brought
    from California to Philadelphia
  • 10:09 - 10:13
    to share their testimony,
    to inspire them to know what's possible,
  • 10:13 - 10:15
    was Ramon Vasquez,
  • 10:16 - 10:19
    who went from sitting in a jail
    in Santa Clara County, California,
  • 10:19 - 10:22
    to inspiring a community
    about what's possible
  • 10:22 - 10:26
    through the perseverance of community
    across the country.
  • 10:27 - 10:32
    And with all the hubs, we still use
    one metric that we invented.
  • 10:33 - 10:34
    It's called time saved.
  • 10:34 - 10:37
    It's a saying that we actually
    still say at weekly meetings.
  • 10:37 - 10:41
    And what we say when a family
    comes in a meeting for the first time is:
  • 10:41 - 10:43
    if you do nothing,
  • 10:43 - 10:46
    the system is designed to give
    your loved one time served.
  • 10:47 - 10:51
    That's the language the system uses
    to quantify time of incarceration.
  • 10:52 - 10:56
    But if you engage, if you participate,
  • 10:56 - 10:59
    you can turn time served into time saved.
  • 11:00 - 11:03
    That's them home with you,
    living the life they should be living.
  • 11:04 - 11:08
    So, Carnell, for example,
    would represent five years of time saved.
  • 11:09 - 11:12
    So when we totaled our time saved numbers
  • 11:12 - 11:15
    from all the different
    participatory defense hubs,
  • 11:15 - 11:17
    through the work
    in the meetings and at court
  • 11:17 - 11:20
    and making social biography
    videos and packets,
  • 11:21 - 11:27
    we had 4,218 years of time saved
    from incarceration.
  • 11:29 - 11:32
    That is parents' and children's lives.
  • 11:32 - 11:35
    Young people going to college
    instead of prison.
  • 11:35 - 11:38
    We're ending generational
    cycles of suffering.
  • 11:39 - 11:43
    And when you consider
    in my home state of California,
  • 11:44 - 11:50
    it costs 60,000 dollars to house someone
    in the California prison system,
  • 11:51 - 11:54
    that means that these families
    are saving their states
  • 11:55 - 11:57
    a ton of money.
  • 11:57 - 12:00
    I'm not a mathematician,
    I haven't done the numbers,
  • 12:00 - 12:03
    but that is money and resources
    that could be reallocated
  • 12:03 - 12:06
    to mental health services,
  • 12:06 - 12:08
    to drug treatment programs, to education.
  • 12:10 - 12:14
    And we're now wearing this shirt in courts
  • 12:15 - 12:16
    all across the country.
  • 12:16 - 12:18
    And people are wearing this shirt
  • 12:18 - 12:22
    because they want the immediacy
    of protecting their people
  • 12:22 - 12:23
    in the courtroom.
  • 12:24 - 12:26
    But what we're telling them is,
  • 12:26 - 12:30
    as practitioners,
    they're building a new field,
  • 12:30 - 12:32
    a new movement
  • 12:32 - 12:36
    that is going to forever change the way
    justice is understood in this country.
  • 12:37 - 12:38
    Thank you.
  • 12:38 - 12:41
    (Applause)
Title:
Community-powered criminal justice reform
Speaker:
Raj Jayadev
Description:

Community organizer Raj Jayadev wants to transform the US court system through "participatory defense" -- a growing movement that empowers families and community members to impact their loved ones' court cases. He shares the remarkable results of their work -- including more than 4,000 years of "time saved" from incarceration -- and shows how this new model could shift the landscape of power in the courts.

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
12:54

English subtitles

Revisions Compare revisions