Community-powered criminal justice reform | Raj Jayadev

Community-powered criminal justice reform | Raj Jayadev

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

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

64 thoughts on “Community-powered criminal justice reform | Raj Jayadev

  1. The problem itself is “protect your people”…. My people, your people. My nation, your nation. There’s no mine or yours… It should be “protect THE people”…

  2. They ended the for-profit prison system in one state, so I think the sentiment is catching on:

    Don't turn one of the most vital aspects of civilization–the administration of law–into just another business. There's no incentive to end crime. There's only profit to be made in making it worsen.

  3. I laughed out loud.

    Put fathers back in the home, enforce dress codes in public schools, hold parents liable for the transgressions of their children.

  4. This is wonderful. The accused need a real & practical social support mechanism, not the faceless justice system corrupted by private prison businesses. The one thing I wish had been covered is a statistical analysis of the case results. It sounds like this community activism is making a difference, but the message is hard to take at face value when selection bias (telling only about successes) is a factor.

  5. Before getting triggered and turning off the video because racism is being brought up, see if you can try to consider what the speaker is saying in good faith.

  6. Essentially show the courts that criminals are still human with people who love them and they deserve a chance to be rehabilitated and become functioning memebers of society. Not only that but paying enough attention to the criminal justice system to hold them accountable to shotty police work or racial bias on part of the judge and jusy.

  7. If it was predominantly white males that are causing these problems, would there be the same push for zero accountability, the same excuses made, the same deflecting and attempts to hide who are the perpetrators ?

  8. I lived in Detroit many years. The blacks are allowed to do illegal things everyday without a word from the Cops. The same actions land burbs Whites behind bars everytime.

  9. "community powered criminal justice reform…"
    "With an underlining leftist narrative." 😁 👍 There we go!

    They're coming.

  10. Here this man is talking about pushing compassion into the courtroom and people are worried about things completely different than what he’s talking about. All the people speaking on this are people who have zero experience in the court system, or people with a single sociology bachelors thinking they’re holier-than- thou. Just let him speak his truth without being attacked and leave you food for thought. That’s the entire point of a Ted Talk. Please and thank you.

  11. Criminal Justice Reform has been the biggest HOAX of our generation. Here is why.
    Criminals must stay behind bars. Yes. That means black prisoners too!

  12. I feel for you, and those with you…
    but disagree, the courts is not where you PROTEST, wrong place.
    …its at the voting box…
    the LAW is the LAW…you want to change that?

    its not in the court-room …
    its at YOUR…voting box…
    yes, its slow that way, but the only way to fix in long terms!
    social ideas changes slowly, read some where that it changes major ideas around 300 years,and
    If true…may not be the case with the internet, now. still all your thinking has to be in long terms…
    get them together at …the VOTING BOX…

  13. I know that many of you folks have experience dealing with the law* and the court system for many different reasons.
    Then there are people that have no valid opinion because they've managed to live in a bubble for one reason or another whether it's a skill or luck…..

    If you want to know the truth about law enforcement and governmental corruption that exists on a state city Town level, you need to watch this video based on my first-hand experience.

    What you will see in my video is more through the words that I am speaking based on my FACTUAL experience.
    There are other videos on my channel that show actual Court performances as well as a 911 call and me being arrested for unlawful reasons.

    I speak nothing but the truth in my video.
    I'm an upstanding American and these issues matter to me because they affect me and the world around me, and I hope that some will see my video and find a sense of common ground of a circumstance that we could all agree upon.

  14. Racial bias in law enforcement and courts in 2019 is preposterous, RAJ JAYEDEV.
    Here's another great perspective on the same subjects:

  15. This man is a hero and so is every single person who works with his group and does work on this! We need to abolish prisons and defend our communities!

  16. I believe your voice will drive reform in creating a new fair criminal justice system really that works and is in fact fair and consider the individual rights of all human beings

  17. I don't like TED promoting liars. Since, 1 in 25 persons will never rise above the ethical capacity to only do right when physically forced to do right, and 47% of incarcerated men are psychopaths (diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder – ASPD) just perhaps there is a specific reason they are in prison. Which beats the alternative in those other nations where they simply kill the "excitable boy". He is also a racist.

  18. the only time nurses & doctors are interested in patient care is when
    it is the staff being in a power trip cuz all nurses & doctors or case
    workers do is bully the patients as if the staff making up stories that
    the patient did when in reality the patients had done no such thing,
    or for me to talk to nurses about the trauma that landed me in the
    ward in the first place is threatening to the nurses that they have to
    sedate me with heavy sedatives cuz of the emotional pain of the
    trauma of why I'm a patient, the nurses constantly bullying patients
    & telling patients to shut up & using threatening verbal commands
    at patients as if the staff adding more trauma to the patients will
    some how heal the patients, or if my guess that continued studies
    are made on meds to see how to change meds or develop newer
    meds off of continued study of meds on the market, yet both nurses
    & doctors or case managers do everything to shut down discussions
    of side effects as if side effects are a threat to the doctor's control,
    if no one is studying the meds then how will we learn anything about
    the meds to develop more, or that the nurses & doctors both prescribing
    more PRNs that the patient isn't even allowed to have, me, I've got
    maybe around 6 different PRNs that I may ask the nurses for but they
    refuse to give them to me, & some of these are being written up by
    nursing staff & not the doctor, what, the staff doesn't want me to have
    the meds prescribed for me, then send me home,

  19. How about fixing this problem before this situation. Use these community resources to 1. Get an education 2.get a real job 3.dont have kids outside of marriage 4. Stop having fatherless households 5. Be a contributor not a taker. Do these 5 simple things and you wont need all this feel good bullshit he is spewing. V

  20. Every person is prison claims to be innocent. Here in Australia the judges are so weak you're lucky to get a jail sentence short of terrorism. We had a drug dealer recently get off free, went back to dealing and was caught on camera bragging about it, got arrested again and still got off. In Australia we should be locking up our judges for being too easy on the criminals


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  22. OR…. teach everyone how to follow the laws and keep their noses clean. How to understand what to vote for. How to think and talk in a lawyer like method

  23. My totally uninformed brother, no doubt you will take this wrong but your efforts should be oriented back into the communities where the crimes are occurring and directed at people that will stand fast after witnessing a shooting of another and say they saw nothing. Your efforts are misdirected and need to be at one of several cores of why the justice system is broken. You would fair better at targeting these communities and offering support for the would be witnesses to the crimes to come forward and demand that proper justice is laid at the feet of the guilty. This would accomplish more on a community basis than an attempt to institute justice reform on that low of a level. The only level for justice reform to be changed is in the House of Representatives of the State's involved. And truly at the ballot boxes. But choose the vote very carefully and beware of false street prophets that say they want your vote so that they can effect this change. Make sure, microscopically vet the candidate carefully and decide for yourselves not because someone with a recognizable name said this is the person to vote for. You might be very surprised at whom you may end up voting for, if this is done. Then, keep pressure on that elected person to reform the broken system. Just a thought to keep in mind while doing your research. Ask yourself some questions about what my next sentence says. In my state, the criminal statute addressing the crime of murder is either 2 or 3 very short paragraphs, and the statute regarding D.U.I. Is some 28+ full pages in length. Yes……the system is broken, but a call to action is never going to have much impact on the solutions of the problem.

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