October 15, 2019

Story by Jhody Polk

Photo by Open Society Foundation

My name is Jhody (the “h” is silent, and yes it is pronounced Jody). This is an unlikely name in my family, and I have hated my name over half my life.

I am my mother’s first born and only girl. It is a tradition in my family that her eldest sister, my aunt Idah, names the kids. My mother, who had gotten pregnant in the 12th grade, deviated from that tradition.  READ MORE.

September 25, 2019

Story by Amika Mota

Art by Adrian Avila

 In my seven years in California state penitentiaries, I spent a lot of time in the law library working on my own case. Over the years I had become known on the yard as a jailhouse lawyer, and women wanted me to read through their cases for them. I had no legal background or education, just the ability to research and communicate an understanding of legal language.  


That was how I met Cassandra at the Central California Women’s Facility, in January of 2011. Her play mom Cindy introduced us in the chow hall.  READ MORE.

September 25, 2019

Story and Photo by Andrea Cipriano

Effective change in the criminal justice system requires focusing on “North Stars” that can point the way towards a more fundamental transformation of communities and institutions, a conference at John Jay College was told Tuesday.

“Reforms and transformation need to happen at every point in the system, but also way beyond the system,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said at the Smart on Crime Innovations ConferenceREAD MORE.

September 16, 2019


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.  WATCH HERE.

August 07, 2019

Story by Holly McDede

Photo by Silicon Valley De-Bug

A San Jose based group called Silicon Valley De-bug is on a mission to get family members into the courtroom as advocates. That organizing strategy is now spreading to “participatory defense” hubs around the country.

Yolanda Ledesma, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-bug tells us more about it. LISTEN HERE.

August 06, 2019

Story by Victoria Law

Photo by Fox and Rob Rich

Gloria Williams was in her 20s when she was sent to prison for her part in a robbery that turned deadly. After serving nearly five decades, including one decade in solitary confinement, Williams now has a chance at freedom.  Gloria Williams turns 74 this month. She has spent nearly 50 birthdays behind bars and is the longest-serving female prisoner in Louisiana. But on July 22, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole gave her a favorable recommendation for commutation... READ MORE

August 04, 2019

Story by Nick Holland and Claire Bates

Photo by Jean Melesaine

In the US most people who are charged with a crime can’t afford expensive lawyers and investigators to prepare their case. The public defenders who represent them usually have heavy workloads and limited resources. Family and friends would often like to help but don’t know how.


So a group in California is trying to make things fairer by teaching them how the legal system works and explaining what they can do. It shows them how to dissect police reports, put together a social biography for the defendant and get crucial evidence for their lawyer.  LISTEN AND READ HERE

April 11, 2019

Story and Photo by Justin Bright, NPR/ WUFT

The loved ones of those facing criminal trials in Gainesville may now influence the trial’s outcome through an initiative called participatory defense.

The program began 11 years ago in San Jose, California, to combat mass incarceration and humanize defendants in ways that typical court proceedings may not. Community organizers meet with the families and loved ones to educate them about the criminal justice system and to collect information regarding the case that can be presented to the public defender. READ MORE

April 05, 2019

Story by Philadelphia Sun Staff

Photo by YASP

The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP), an advocacy group that supports children charged as adults in the city’s criminal justice system, recently announced the launch of the nation’s first participatory defense hub specifically for children and youth entangled in the criminal justice system with support from the Defender Association of Philadelphia and other organizations committed to youth justice.  READ MORE

December 11, 2018

Story and Photo by Cherri Gregg


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia's Special Committee on Criminal Justice Reform held a hearing Monday night on an innovative approach to reform that makes the community part of the justice system.  Participatory defense is a pilot initiative that includes intervention by the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, courts, and the community. The program pairs individuals accused of a crimes with stakeholders that provide support by walking the defendant and their family through the criminal justice system. READ MORE

December 10, 2018

Story by Michael D’Onofrio

Photo by Bastian Slabbers


When Zakiyyah Salahuddin found out her teenage son was arrested for allegedly carrying a gun, she thought it was serious.


After she finally spoke with her 13-year-old son, Zaheim, and discovered the gun was fake and purchased at a local store, Salahuddin knew she had to fight to defend him.  READ MORE

November 21, 2018

Story by Grace Shallow/ Generocity

Photo by the Cobarrubias Family

Albert Cobarrubias was the first homicide of 2010 in San Jose, California. But Raj Jayadev remembers the young man as more than a grave statistic.

Cobarrubias, who had just graduated from San Jose State University, aspired to be a lawyer for the underserved. He was also volunteering with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a grassroots advocacy and storytelling nonprofit that Jayadev cofounded. READ MORE

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