Participatory defense is a way you can challenge the carceral system. Participatory defense is a community process and involves lay people, not necessarily attorneys. It requires thoughtful action and time commitment, but can reap life-saving rewards for families facing disruption by incarceration. We aren't part of the participatory defense network, as we do not have the capacity to commit to the amount of labor participatory defense requires. We are seeking more people who want to learn about participatory defense and could commit to helping community members in need. We need people who would commit to the labor, which during an active case could be 5 to 10 hours of labor a week--and that could vary based on the gravity of the case. Participatory defense does not come with guarantees and sometimes we do not get the best outcome, but still sometimes, we may get better outcomes. Participatory defense also increases morale and helps those who are experiencing a criminal charge feel more supported. However, participatory defense works--it has been shown to be successful in many cases getting sentences lowered and sometimes even getting charges dropped altogether.
If you're interested in participatory defense work and believe you could uphold the commitments, reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put "Participatory Defense" in the headline. Tell us in the body your primary motivations for wanting to do participatory defense work and a little bit about your skills and interests. Also tell us good days and times to meet via Zoom to get acquianted and talk about the principles of participatory defense. If we get enough people interested, we'll reach out to the Participatory Defense Network and sign up for official trainings together. After the training, if we all feel we can uphold the principles and the labor described, we'll form a local Participatory Defense in Hillsborough or Pinellas County (based on groups primary interest). In time, if we grow, we'll be able to expand to both counties and possibly Pasco.
PLEASE NOTE: We are abolitionist in nature and believe that, when possible, fighting for full charges dropped is most desirable, if possible. We respect the self-determination of the impacted individual and their community if they would push for lower sentencing. We also recognize that some cases may be triggering or challenging, and that we may not be the right participatory defense group on the basis of the charges presented to us. Any network member could recuse themselves from cases they feel conflicted in. If it is a situation where someone caused harm, we will have to make the best decisions we can to ensure that even if the charges are dropped, the harm causing community member is able to take accountability for having cause a harm and we'd need to make a very strong effort to help them find the appropriate resources and tools to cease causing harm. When we're not a capacity to handle that, we may need to refer the case to another participatory defense group. These are decisions we would all make together.
Black, Indigenous, transgender, gay, queer, disabled, and/or system impacted/formerly incarcerated people are encouraged to join and learn about participatory defense. All people, regardless of whether you meet any of the above categories, have a place in participatory defense. There is room for everyone but particular need for the perspectives and voices of people in the margins of society.
Interested but not sure you want to commit, have a few more questions or want to talk through it? Email email@example.com and we can make time to chat on Zoom or in-person when practical.
We are not affiliated with any of these videos but we believe they're important to view. While we aren't part of the official participatory defense network, we have been consulted by a chapter and took advice and shadowed. We believe you should first try to seek training/shadow by connecting with the participatory defense network on their website above. If for any reason they're busy and not able to help you launch, you can reach out to us in the interim and we can teach you what we know, based on our own interpretations of the network principles and practices and our organizational experience with participatory defense.
Public defenders and defense attorneys: Please take some time to watch this webinar and consider if participatory defense can be a strategy for you and your clients.