Participatory Defense: What You Can Do If You or a Loved One is Arrested
Date:  06-04-2015

“Participatory defense” movement is empowering people to press for a more just punishment system
With 2.3 million people incarcerated in America, one is hard pressed not to personally know someone behind bars, or at least know of someone who is incarcerated. In a criminal justice system that is known for racial inequality and harsh sentences that in many cases do not fit the crime, low-income individuals and people of color have been particularly hard hit.

For those experiencing the criminal justice system for the first time, and for those who have been previously been criminal justice-system involved, the process from arrest to court resolution can be confusing, frightening and without proper knowledge, filled with unforeseen collateral consequences.

On May 29, 2015 The New York Times published an article about a new movement that educates people on how to implement a proactive defense that gives them a strong voice when dealing with overburdened public defenders and the prosecutors who for too long have had the upper-hand in deciding the fates of those standing before a judge. For those accused of a crime, “participatory defense” is a new strategy that aims to level the playing field for defendants, while also helping their families navigate the punishment system.

Guiding Families to a Fair Day in Court

By David Bornstein

If a member of your family was arrested, would you know how to help? Would you know what to look for in a police report? Or guide your relative about what to expect from the defense attorney?

For a wide swath of Americans, these are not hypothetical questions. More than 2.3 million people are in prisons and jails, and 5 million are on parole or probation. More astonishingly, nearly one-third of Americans have been arrested on criminal charges (other than a minor traffic violation) by age 23. Particularly in inner cities, it’s prudent for Americans to understand how the justice system works. (Watch this impassioned TED talk by a young sociologist, Alice Goffman). The question is: How can communities better prepare for the crisis of an arrest — so they can act more effectively in the defense of family, friends or neighbors?

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