by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyers Everyone deserves the right to vote, including parolees
The following op-ed was written by George Gascón, the district attorney for the city and county of San Francisco and David Muhammad, the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, the former chief probation officer for Alameda County and a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials working to improve the criminal justice system.
As voter suppression efforts continue to grab national headlines, one suffrage movement is gaining momentum across the country: The fight to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
In November, nearly two-thirds of voters in Florida restored voting rights to 1.4 million people in that state who were previously subjected to lifetime disenfranchisement for a felony conviction. Within the last year, states as varied as Minnesota, Iowa, New Mexico, Kentucky and Louisiana – to name a few – have moved to restore voting rights or reduce registration barriers for people with criminal records.
California has already emerged as a national leader in passing major criminal justice reforms, including reforms to address prison overcrowding and other measures to put the war on drugs behind us. Law enforcement and prosecutors in the Golden State are supporting these reforms because we recognize that public safety benefits from community restoration, rather than deprivation and social isolation. But while California pioneered many smart-on-crime policies that have been duplicated across the country because they enhance safety, equity and justice, we’ve fallen behind much of the country in our efforts to restore voting rights.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow people to vote while they’re re-entering their communities after a prison term. Most recently, Nevada and Colorado restored the vote to people on parole as of July 1 of this year. Two states never removed voting rights due to a conviction in the first place.
In California, however, the state Constitution still prohibits those who are “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony” from voting.
We’re missing out on the opportunity to strengthen our democracy and help people reintegrate as participating members of our society. And that’s why people from across the political spectrum are currently working to pass Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 (ACA 6), which would restore voting rights to otherwise-eligible adults after they have served a prison sentence and have been successfully paroled.
Richard Edmond-Vargas co-founded Initiate Justice, an organization working to pass ACA 6 and that works directly with people impacted by the criminal justice system. Richard also co-founded a self-transformation group for incarcerated young men that was recognized by the California state Assembly for its contributions to public safety and was featured in a CNN documentary. He worked as a firefighter and holds associate and bachelor’s degrees in business. Yet Richard is one of the roughly 50,000 Californians who cannot vote because he’s on parole. He accomplished all of this while in prison on a 10-year sentence he received for robbing two stores when he was 19 years old.
Edmond-Vargas wants to restore voting rights to others on parole because he said “people are more accountable to communities that we have a say in.”
“The community becomes our community,” Edmond-Vargas said.
Reconnecting this population with their communities gives them a stake in society. And restoring their right to vote helps create the strong connections they need to succeed.
In fact, civic engagement has been proven to help improve reentry outcomes. The American Probation and Parole Association recognized over a decade ago that “disenfranchisement laws work against the successful reentry of (formerly incarcerated people),” and called for the restoration of voting rights upon the completion of a sentence. This position is rooted in a practical law enforcement purpose, as research comparing felony disenfranchisement policies across the U.S. demonstrates that states with more restrictions on voting have significantly higher rates of recidivism.
It’s time to acknowledge that we are safest when we encourage civic participation from everyone in our communities, including our returning citizens. The state Assembly has the chance to pass ACA 6 and reaffirm California’s place as a leader in smart and effective criminal justice reform.
Read the story on Sac Bee
Speaking of… Prosecutors created mass incarceration. That’s why every DA's office needs to review extreme sentences.
The following op-ed was written by James Forman Jr., (@jformanjr), professor at Yale Law School and author of “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” and Sarah Lustbader (@SarahLustbader), senior legal counsel at the Justice Collaborative, a nonprofit organization working to reform the criminal legal system.
What can we do to shrink our prison population, the world’s largest?
Most answers to that question point forward: They look to reduce future arrests, prosecutions and sentences. But such changes, while desperately needed, do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people who are already serving long sentences in America’s expensive and overcrowded prison system.
And make no mistake about it: There are a lot of people serving extraordinarily long sentences. The state prison population grew 222 percent from 1980 to 2010; the National Research Council attributes half of that growth to an increase in incarceration time. The Sentencing Project reports that one in seven American prisoners is serving either a life sentence or its functional equivalent. (In some states, the number is almost one in three.) Once, parole boards could truncate some of these long sentences, but the decimation of parole has largely eliminated that possibility.
The explosion in sentence length has turned some prison wings into de facto nursing homes, with prisons responsible for providing costly medical care to a growing elderly population. Keeping people locked up for so long does little for public safety. Most people who commit crimes, including violent crimes, do so while young. Arrest rates for violent crimes peak during people’s late teens (rates for robbery, for example, are highest at age 19), and criminal careers for violent crime typically last only five to 10 years.
Middle-aged and older prisoners are an especially good bet for early release, particularly when they receive support during the re-entry process. For example, in 2012 a Maryland court ordered the release of nearly 200 prisoners who had served sentences of more than 30 years, mostly for homicide and rape. Fewer than 1 percent have committed a crime in the years since release.
Social science data, religious teachings and common sense acknowledge something our justice system does not: People change. Today, there are tens of thousands of people serving long sentences who have completely turned their lives around, but have no hope for release.
Fortunately there is growing momentum to reduce excessive sentences. Legislation authorizing sentence reductions in old cases has passed in California and the District of Columbia. Senator Cory Booker has proposed something similar at the federal level. And in July, more than 3,000 people were released from federal custody under the First Step Act, passed in December, which allows certain federal prisoners to earn early release for good conduct.
But there is another solution to this problem. Prosecutors can recognize their role in creating the crisis and work toward fixing it. They should start by opening “sentence review units,” which would consist of small dedicated teams of lawyers, investigators, data scientists and social workers within the prosecutor’s office. The details would vary by place, but each team would review past cases, and when they find sentences that seem particularly egregious, prosecutors would give these cases a second look.
Social workers and investigators would sit down with incarcerated people and their families to better understand what brought the individuals to prison and how they have changed during their years behind bars. If the team decides that release would serve the interests of justice and public safety, the prosecutor could argue for those long-incarcerated people to be reunited with their communities.
The concept of sentence review units is not entirely unfamiliar; it builds on conviction review units that root out cases where an innocent person has been found guilty. Sentence review units are similar, but instead of wrongful convictions, they seek out cases where the sentence seems excessive. What counts as “excessive” is necessarily a judgment call, but examples include sentences that in retrospect seem disproportionate to the severity of the offense, or those that are far longer than what a person sentenced today would receive.
Why should prosecutors be the ones to lead the movement to cut down long sentences? Because they were, and in many places still are, a major driver of the country’s sentencing explosion. In the courtroom, they have pushed for maximum sentences and resisted appeals for leniency. In statehouses, they have lobbied legislatures for longer sentences and opposed reform efforts.
Read the story on NY Times
More of This Meet the lawyers making sure no child goes to immigration court alone.
Family separations at the border are not the only crisis immigrant children face. Children who were taken from their parents, or who crossed the border alone, also go to their immigration hearings alone. And “alone” means no lawyer.
Many Americans are shocked that there is no right to a lawyer in immigration court. Last week, Mazin Sidahmed wrote about New York City’s attempt to provide lawyers to immigrant families. If a lawyer matters to an adult — and it really, really does — it’s even more important for a child.
This is not just a Trump-era problem. In 2012, Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, started visiting immigration courts for a report she was writing on how to improve them. In one courtroom, the judge was hearing the cases of children. “There was a little boy at the table white-knuckling the chair, with no one to help him,” she said. He was about eight. His mother, who was undocumented, was afraid to come into the building.
Professor Benson, who knew the judge, asked if she could act as a friend of the court. She said that the judge and the attorney for the government — whose job it was to try to get the boy deported — were both relieved. After talking to the boy through an interpreter, she asked the judge to postpone his case until she could get him a lawyer.
She went across the street to the boy’s mother. Then she called some of her former students, and got one to take the boy’s case for no pay.
What started as a collection of Professor Benson’s alumni is now the Safe Passage Project, which has provided nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children with a lawyer — the most of any organization in the city, the group claims. It’s one of various nongovernmental organizations, many of which rely on volunteers, that are helping children get their cases heard.
Eight is not a typical age for an unaccompanied child. I talked to one young man in the Los Angeles area, Nolberto, who came from Guatemala alone at 14. The MS-13 gang had targeted him because he was a devout Christian and refused to sell drugs. The relatives he lived with needed to get him out in a hurry, and hired someone to take him to the United States.
Nolberto’s story is very common. Rich Leimsider, the executive director of Safe Passage, does not like the distinction many people make between innocent young children and menacing-looking teens. “We’re representing plenty of boys people would cross the street to avoid,” he said. “They still deserve a lawyer.”
Yet there are also preteen children, some even younger than eight, in court alone. They’re there because the administration is still separating families; children taken from their families at the border are then deemed to be unaccompanied. On July 25, I saw children as young as 10 in court with no adult.
When a child crosses alone, or is separated from parents, he or she is held alone by the Border Patrol, often in inhumane conditions. Legally, this detention is supposed to last no more than 72 hours, but in reality it can last several weeks.
Border agents then turn the child over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (part of the Department of Health and Human Services), which sends the child to its next open bed, anywhere in the country. That can be a foster family, small group home or institution.
Then the refugee agency searches for a relative or friend who will take in the child and be designated a sponsor. About a third of children in the refugee agency’s care have no sponsor.
Some have been taken from their parents. Last year a judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite families, but there is no real tracking system. And the government continues to separate families. Anthony Enriquez, who runs the unaccompanied minors program at Catholic Charities in New York, said that last summer, the New York area received 400 children at the height of the crisis — and since then, 300 more have come.
Other children have relatives who are afraid to come forward for fear they will be deported. Sponsors are becoming harder to find; without one, some children will stay in detention for the rest of their childhood. (Although many American families would like to take in such children, a sponsor must have a pre-existing relationship with the child.)
Nolberto’s case shows how much a lawyer can matter. He lived in Mixco, just outside Guatemala City, in a neighborhood controlled by MS-13.
His uncle was the pastor of a small evangelical church that met in the house where Nolberto lived. Nolberto loved the church. He joined a troop of children who performed Christian skits for the neighborhood and uploaded them on YouTube. Even before he was 10, he preached to other children and asked them not to join a gang.
MS-13 tormented the congregation and repeatedly threatened to kill Nolberto if he didn’t sell drugs for them. (Is it any wonder people want to leave? Yet the Trump administration recently designated Guatemala a “safe third country,” meaning that any immigrant to the United States who passed through Guatemala must seek asylum there first. The administration is pursuing similar arrangements with Honduras and El Salvador.)
When Nolberto was 14, his family realized they had to get him out. They paid a member of the congregation to take him to the boy’s father, who lived — undocumented — in the Los Angeles area.
Along the route, Nolberto’s story became even more of a nightmare. The man hired by his uncle turned him over to another. Nolberto said in a phone interview that he was twice kidnapped for weeks and his father was extorted for money — once in Mexico and once in Texas.
Four months after leaving Guatemala, Nolberto reached his frantic father. In California, he went to high school and attended church without fear for the first time.
He was given a court date and a list of groups that provide free lawyers. He called down the list and finally got one through Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), a national organization that has trained and supports some 40,000 pro bono lawyers.
“I would have gone to court by myself,” Nolberto said. “But I didn’t know what to apply for, how to make a case, or how to present it to the court.” Even after all he’d been through, the thought was terrifying. “They’re going to define if you stay or go home, and you could die at home,” he said. “Imagine if you don’t have help.”
Read the story on NY Times
More of This Too It’s time to remove immigration courts from presidential control
A string of directives from President Donald Trump’s Justice Department that have reduced the authority of immigration judges and limited their control of their courtrooms has given new urgency to calls for a complete overhaul of the immigration courts.
Those courts now exist within the Justice Department and answer to the attorney general. Proposals for Congress to exercise its constitutional powers and create separate, independent immigration courts have long been dismissed as costly pipe dreams. But under Trump, judges and others in the court system say they are facing an unprecedented effort to restrain due process and politicize the courts with the president’s hard line on immigrants and demands for deportations.
“It’s time for the Department of Justice and the immigration courts to get a divorce,” said Jeremy McKinney, an attorney who is a vice-president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
In a letter in July, the immigration lawyers joined the American Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association and the immigration judges’ union to call on Congress to “establish an independent court system that can guarantee a fair day in court.” The idea is percolating in the Democratic presidential contests, with three candidates—Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Elizabeth Warren—presenting specific plans. Another candidate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, drafted a bill last year to make the change.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, said he will hold hearings on the proposals this fall. There is little chance such a plan would have traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Under the proposals, the immigration courts would become a stand-alone agency that would not be run or controlled by outside officials, with the goal of insulating judges from political pressure by any administration.
Department of Justice officials say they are working on a fast track to modernize courts that have been relegated to institutional backwaters. They oppose any plan to separate the courts, saying it would create a bureaucratic and legal morass that would do little to resolve massive backlogs and other chronic problems.
The costs and logistical hurdles “would be monumental and would likely delay pending cases even further,” said Kathryn Mattingly, a Justice Department spokeswoman. The proposals present “significant shortcomings, without any countervailing positive equities,” she said.
But several judges, including three who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to make public statements, said the Trump administration has pushed the courts too far. The latest salvo emerged from a thicket of legal language in a rule issued Monday by the Justice Department. In a major change, it gives the official in charge of running the courts, who is not a sitting judge, the last word in appeals of some immigration cases. It also gave that official—the director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the formal name of the immigration court agency—expanded power to set broadly-defined “policy” for the courts.
The judges’ union reacted with alarm. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said the rule “removes any semblance of an independent, non-political court system.”
Read the story on The Marshall Project
Read This Why do so many corporate lawyers become judges?
The following op-ed was written by CHRISTOPHER KANG, a lawyer, former aide to Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin, and Deputy White House Counsel under Barack Obama; and BRIAN FALLON, a former aide to Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer who worked in the Obama Justice Department. Both are co-founderers of Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy organization.
In response to President Donald Trump’s historic transformation of the federal judiciary, several Democratic candidates for president have promised to prioritize the swift appointment of a new wave of federal judges if they enter the White House.
But if Democrats hope to reverse Trump’s success in seeding the federal judiciary with extreme ideologues, they need to do more than nominate and confirm judges swiftly. They need to start nominating a whole different kind of judge.
We have seen the judicial confirmation process up close. We’ve both worked as top aides in the Senate, and one of us served as the top White House lawyer for judicial nominations for a majority of Barack Obama’s presidency. We believe that a Democratic president who follows Trump must show a new level of boldness, adopting a simple but revolutionary principle: We don’t need any more corporate lawyers on the federal bench during the next Democratic administration.
For years, presidents of both parties, along with the senators who advise on their judicial selections, have favored a certain kind of résumé. A typical nominee might have an Ivy League degree and clerkships with one or more respected federal judges. But perhaps no qualification is more prevalent than prior work at a major private-sector firm, representing the interests of large corporations.
It is not difficult to understand how corporate-law partners came to dominate the pool of judicial-nomination candidates. Many of the most accomplished lawyers in the country are drawn to the high-profile work—and large paychecks—available at large firms. Their elite schooling, clerkship connections, and financial resources bring them into the orbit of the federal officeholders who play a role in naming judges. Republicans often elevate these lawyers for their proven ability to promote corporate interests. For Democrats, there are certain political upsides to these types of nominees as well: Their work as corporate lawyers can help project a moderate image and deflect criticism from the pro-business Republicans who vote on their confirmations.
But this pattern has had consequences that should gravely concern progressives. First, there is an urgent need to push back against the ever-increasing body of pro-corporate rulings coming out of the federal courts. Progressives have generally been slow to recognize what they are up against. It’s fairly well accepted that social conservatives have sought to swing the courts to the right following Supreme Court decisions desegregating America’s schools and recognizing a woman’s right to have an abortion. Less recognized, however, is that business-friendly Republicans have simultaneously focused on using the courts to make the country friendlier to their interests, a push that intensified in tandem with the efforts of social conservatives. In 1971, Lewis Powell—then a corporate lawyer, who would go on to be named to the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon—wrote a memo to the Chamber of Commerce urging it to make the courts a key prong in its strategy to promote its pro-business agenda. The chamber largely followed Powell’s advice in the ensuing decades.
The progressive Constitutional Accountability Center has calculated the Chamber of Commerce’s “win rate” before the Supreme Court, looking at the cases in which the business group has filed friend-of-the-Court briefs. Overall, since John Roberts became chief justice in 2005, the Court has sided with the chamber 70 percent of the time, substantially more often than during the tenures of Chief Justices Warren Burger and William Rehnquist.
The Roberts Court has also embraced controversial legal theories, such as corporate personhood, that have helped big companies consolidate power. It has interpreted the First Amendment as requiring that, in the name of free speech, corporations be allowed to spend unlimited sums to influence elections and that, in the name of freedom of religion, companies be allowed to deny contraception coverage to female employees. The Court’s rulings have gutted the collective-bargaining power of unions, granted corporations immunity from liability for human-rights violations, and expanded the use of forced arbitration, effectively repealing decades of landmark protections by allowing corporate wrongdoers to unilaterally opt out of the federal judiciary’s protections.
The combination of rising corporate power and eroding legal protections for workers and consumers has resulted in a system that empowers corporations to take advantage of individuals with near-impunity. This trend has fed the massive transfer of wealth and political power away from everyday Americans and toward large corporations and their shareholders.
It would be a woefully insufficient response to this situation for Democrats to put forward nominees who, in many cases, helped develop this very body of jurisprudence during their time at major law firms.
Read the story on The Atlantic
Perspective “Domestic terrorism” laws would actually hurt communities of color instead of white supremacists
The following editorial was written by Roy L. Austin Jr., a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and Kristen Clarke, a former prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
In the wake of the horrific mass murder this month in El Paso, in which a gunman killed 22 people and wounded dozens of others, Americans have understandably sought ways to prevent such tragedies. In particular, some have called for making “domestic terrorism” a chargeable offense. As former federal civil rights prosecutors, we don’t believe that we need new laws. We just need to stop discriminating in the resourcing and enforcing of the laws we have.
We already have powerful tools for prosecuting hate crimes — criminal offenses motivated by bias toward an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The first federal hate crime law was passed in 1871 to address the Reconstruction-era racial terrorism experienced by African Americans, including lynchings. These laws have evolved over time. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing laws to protect a broader range of threatened communities.
On the other hand, domestic terrorism (unlike international terrorism) is not a chargeable offense. It never has been, nor does it need to be. Such a law is unnecessary and would be harmful to communities of color.
The USA Patriot Act defines “domestic terrorism” as an act that occurs primarily within the United States that is dangerous to human life and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. That term is used for purposes of investigation only.
Unfortunately, however, in an inherently biased criminal-justice system, the concept of domestic terrorism has long been used in discriminatory and harmful manners. In the post-9/11 world, the counterterrorism framework targeted and discriminated against Arab Americans, American Muslims and South Asian Americans. This securitized frame of engagement with specific communities sent a false message that Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans somehow warranted suspicion. An increase in hate crimes against members of these communities soon followed.
Historically, federal law enforcement agencies have used this kind of framing to target not only those who commit acts of violence but also those who advocate social and racial justice — including the FBI’s covert operations against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and, five decades later, its creation of the term “black identity extremists” to target those protesting excessive force used by police.
Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors already have the tools they need to investigate and prosecute acts of mass violence. There are 57 terrorism-related charges in federal law — 51 of which would apply to acts of both international and domestic terrorism, including hate crimes. What our government lacks is the will to consistently use these charges when a threat involves white supremacists. What our government also has done is disproportionately allocate its resources in this area to acts of terrorism, though hate crimes have led to far more deaths of Americans and on U.S. soil than terrorism over the past decade.
Furthermore, should history repeat itself, a stand-alone charge of domestic terrorism would do more harm than good for communities of color. First, it would suggest that white supremacists of today are somehow different from the white supremacists of 1871, diminish the importance of existing hate crime laws and ignore why they were enacted in the first place. Second, in an inherently biased system, it would heighten the possibility that law enforcement agencies would have yet another tool for targeting the very communities that are most vulnerable to acts of violence.
Read the story on Washington Post
Dessert When lawyers and designers join forces
As you are reading this, 450,000 people in the U.S. are sitting in jail who haven’t been convicted of a crime. Why? Because they simply can’t afford to pay bail, or didn't have access to a lawyer or their loved ones at the time of arrest. Stephanie Yim, Co-Founder and Director of Design at Good Call, is on a mission to change that. Good Call is a tech nonprofit focused on early legal intervention for the arrested in New York. The arrested and their loved ones can call 1-833-3-GOODCALL 24/7 and get connected to a free lawyer immediately. As a designer leading the organization, Yim is bent on ensuring that her organization keeps the community at the center of everything they build.
Shannon Farley: Long before founding Good Call, you were a kid growing up in Queens, New York, a place that had a profound impact on who you are today. Take us back to your experience growing up.
Stephanie Yim: As freshmen in high school, my classmates and I had to make an ephebic oath, which is a statement of commitment to civic duty. Looking back now, I’ve taken that oath to heart and it influences how I think about my work today.
Also, growing up in the most diverse place in the world - Queens, New York - I was exposed to so many cultures and walks of life. I belonged to - not only my community - but the communities of my friends. As I got older, I learned of the intersecting systems of oppression that affect people based on their backgrounds. What keeps me motivated to do the work I do is driven by my desire to return the support and love I’ve experienced from these communities.
Farley: Can you tell us more about why the issue of criminal justice is so important to you?
Yim: To give some perspective, in New York alone, 700 people are arrested every day, a majority of those arrestees coming from low-income communities of color. Worse yet, 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. There is clearly racial injustice in our criminal justice system. I remember the moment I heard Ray’s story. Ray was arrested in front of his home for a robbery happening nearby simply because he “fit the description.” He ended up spending a week in Rikers Island. After hearing that injustice, I knew there must be something that we could do.
Farley: Prior to co-founding Good Call, you designed for big brands like Mastercard and Chrysler. What motivated your shift to social impact tech?
Yim: For a bit of background, my dad was a designer. He taught me to notice how design impacts every aspect of our lives; that design is about improving things as much as it is about daring to redefine the status quo. I had always wanted to apply these design principles in service of positive social impact, but didn’t really know how to access the social justice and nonprofit space.
When I learned about the Blue Ridge Labs social impact fellowship, I thought to myself, this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. The fellowship’s theme that year was “access to legal justice.” Aside from this theme being a social justice issue I cared deeply about, my mom had been an immigration paralegal for over 20 years and I knew that innovation was needed in that space.
Farley: That’s where you met Jelani Anglin, Gabriel Leader-Rose, and Eugene Lynch, the group that would become the founding team of Good Call. What was the process of designing Good Call like?
Yim: The idea for Good Call came forth after spending a lot of time talking to people that have been affected by the criminal justice system. We spent months interviewing New Yorkers, even surveying people being released from Central Bookings in exchange for sandwiches. We kept hearing similar stories...when you’re arrested, your phone is taken away. Unless you have a lawyer’s phone number memorized, you often can’t talk to one - or even your loved ones - until it’s too late.
We learned that what people wanted most was immediate relief and support during an arrest. That was when we decided to create a hotline.
Farley: Can you describe your tech nonprofit, Good Call?
Yim: Good Call runs a free 24/7 arrest support hotline in NYC. In the case of an arrest, anyone or their loved ones can call 1-833-3-GOODCALL and be connected to a lawyer in under a minute. We do this by partnering with all the public defender offices in NYC, so individuals and lawyers can reach each other at the moment of crisis through our platform. Although not a prerequisite to calling the hotline, Good Call also runs an emergency contact directory that allows anyone to save friends and families’ contact info on goodcall.nyc so that loved ones can be notified by a lawyer in case of an arrest. Our goal is to protect the rights of all people, particularly the over-policed, by providing immediate access to legal assistance in case of arrest.
Farley: You don’t often see a designer in the co-founding team of an organization. How has this influenced the trajectory of the Good Call organization and product?
Yim: I push our organization to think about community-centered design. The impact of a person’s arrest cascades down and impacts their loved ones, friends, and community. Knowing this, how then can we design solutions that support and strengthen all these people, including the lawyers that are doing their best but are overworked? As a designer and co-founder, my job is to inject this community-centered design thinking into - not just our product decisions - but all aspects of our organization.
From a product perspective, Good Call needs to be reliable, credible, and usable, since we’re asking people to trust us during arrest, especially because there is so much justified mistrust in the criminal justice space. We keep the community at the center of every part of the design process. For instance, at one point we considered creating an app, but once we heard that pulling out a phone can be misconstrued as pulling out a gun from one of our community focus groups, we quickly abandoned the idea.
Farley: Can you tell us a story about how Good Call has positively affected a person’s life?
Yim: A few months after launching Good Call, we received a call from a mother whose son was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. She had no idea which precinct her son was taken to and she had to be at work, so she called Good Call.
She was immediately connected to a lawyer at The Bronx Defenders. The lawyer located her son and went to the precinct, where he witnessed him being placed in a biased lineup - her son was shown to the victim before anyone else. Upon hearing this in court, the judge threw out the case and her son was able to return home. The young gentleman is going to play college basketball this fall. Stories like these show how early legal intervention can make the difference between someone going home justly, or going to jail for the wrong reasons.
Read the story on Forbes