By the Numbers: 1,862
Six years ago, community organizer Raj Jayadev formed the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP)—named after an aspiring lawyer killed in a drive-by shooting—to help families caught up in the criminal justice system. As he began taking on more cases, he grew frustrated when, despite all the services he connected them to, they relinquished so much control once the case went to the courtroom.
To affect real change, Jayadev thought, he would have to bridge the divide between the legal establishment and the community. That realization grew into a methodology called “participatory defense.” The idea is to work with public defenders and connect them with a client’s family and community, so they can more effectively tell their full story in court.
Through this model, families become extensions of the legal defense team by scouring police reports, reading transcripts, offering defense strategies and speaking up for the defendant.
About 80 percent of the 2.5 million Americans behind bars have relied on public defenders to represent them in court and influence the outcome of a case. By facilitating participatory defense in more than 400 cases, the ACJP has won acquittals, had charges dismissed or reduced, changed prison terms to rehabilitation sentences and even knocked life sentences off the table.
When accounting for the original maximum sentences and subtracting what the defendant actually received after community intervention, the justice project has saved people a combined 1,862 years of incarceration.
Last week, a group of former inmates, their families and friends, ACJP volunteers and public defenders all met at Zero One Garage in downtown San Jose to celebrate the time saved. Jayadev says the plan is to hold a celebration every 1,000 years saved from now on as the program expands into communities around the nation.
Below is a documentary screened at the event, which chronicles the story of Lisa Coulter, who was released from a life sentence after 18 years through Prop. 36 and the advocacy of her family and public defender.