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Organizing Projects

Working closely with communities, we are helping to build new tools of collective power and to develop a new movement-oriented approach to public defense that can be strategically deployed in organized campaigns to end mass incarceration.
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ORGANIZING & ACTION

The Trial Project

Ninety-five percent of people in prison are there because they pled guilty to an alleged crime, in hopes of avoiding a sky-high statutory penalty threatened by the prosecution. The system depends on these guilty pleas to function. With them, it can push dozens of people through courthouses and into cells in a matter of minutes — a process that would otherwise take weeks or months if each of those people insisted instead on their constitutional right to a trial.

This powerful insight was memorably recounted to Michelle Alexander by formerly incarcerated community organizer Susan Burton over a decade ago. The Trial Project builds on Burton’s insight. Drawing together organizers, lawyers, scholars, activists, and policymakers we aim to help conceptualize and ultimately to facilitate the collective power of people facing prosecution. Following their lead, we will help them band together if they so choose to form plea bargaining unions, and potentially to demand their right to trial — en masse.

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ORGANIZING & ACTION

The Jury Project

Coercive plea bargaining tactics don’t just hurt the people facing prosecution. Juries are the voice of democracy  in the penal system—the voice of the communities most directly impacted. When prosecutors coerce guilty pleas and thus eliminate trials, they deprive the community of its power to check prosecutorial abuses. By the same token, any effort to increase the role of trials in the system, like the Trial Project, will enhance the power and the significance of juries.

Recognizing this dynamic, the Jury Project works to empower local juries, in three essential ways. First, we will build strategies to challenge existing laws and practices that systematically exclude certain members of the community–including those with criminal convictions–from serving on juries. Second, through coordinated campaigns, we will help educate community members about their constitutional power to acquit whenever a conviction would serve only to perpetuate unjust policies driving mass incarceration. Finally, we will help public defenders activate the power of juries in their own advocacy through novel trial and litigation strategies.

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ORGANIZING & ACTION

The Policing Intervention Project

For every person sent to prison or jail, dozens more are stopped, frisked, and arrested by police officers. As a result of these frequent street “encounters,” poor and disenfranchised people of color are harassed, and abused. And in the worst of all cases, they are killed.

Recognizing that policing is the front door of mass incarceration, the Policing Intervention Project builds on the work of the Trial Project and the Jury Project by working with the same core communities to help build tools to protect people in the “black hole” that often exists between the moment of arrest and the first court appearance.

During this critical window, people who are out of the sight and protection of their supporters and advocates are most at risk of having their rights violated. Uniting organizers, activists, and lawyers, we aim to build capacity for early intervention and protection within this black hole, deploying rapid response resources and activating counsel and advocacy at the moment when the system’s coercion is first brought to bear, and when the seeds of guilty pleas are sown.