Emergent Justice

Storytellers of the Movement

Participatory Defense

Changing outcomes & transforming communities

Participatory Defense is a national movement of people working in their local community to fight excessive-sentencing and wrongful convictions. It is cooperative model that balances the landscape of power in the criminal system by:

  • providing guidance, support, and community for people facing charges and their loved ones that empowers them to directly impact the outcome of cases reducing the likelihood of either over-sentencing or a wrongful conviction; and
  • identifying issues for collective action that can change both how people navigate within criminal justice system and how the criminal justice system itself operates.

By taking collective action to hold the actors of the court accountable and make needed systemic changes, Participatory Defense offers both a path for healing our communities from the pain and trauma caused by the criminal justice system and, ultimately, end mass incarceration.

Most people enter the criminal justice system with limited knowledge about how it operates. Neither they, their families nor their community know they can play a critical role in influencing the outcome of the judiciary process by taking constructive action at specific points along the way.  Participatory Defense empowers participants through these primary program components:

Regular HUB Meetings: meetings are held to help individuals and families learn to become agents of change and understand how they can be part of and expand the defense team.  Together they look at documents, share their knowledge and experience, and brainstorm next steps. Meetings are held virtually on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month.

Social Biography Packets/Videos:  The HUB staff work with the families to collect information which would provide a complete picture of the character of and assistance for a person facing charges in the court.  They are used to show community support, encourage alternatives to incarceration, and help the court better understand the actions the defendants will take to be successful.

Court Monitoring & Support:  HUB team members will also be present in court, providing moral support for the defendant, helping the family understand the process, holding the representatives of the court accountable and identifying systemic changes in policies and procedures which need to be addressed.

We are not attorneys and we do not give legal advice. The Participatory Defense model is designed to complement and support the work of defense attorneys, not undermine it. Working with local public defender’s offices is a meaningful part participatory defense; a mutually beneficial relationship in which we can learn from them, and they from us.

Our HUB includes both people recently arrested or charged and those who are incarcerated but fighting a wrongful conviction or excessive sentencing.

Silicon Valley De-Bug organizer, Raj Jayadev