The systems we rely on don't work. So Advocates work harder.

Too much of the time, systems Americans are supposed to rely on just don’t work. Or rarely work the way they should. The bureaucracies ordinary people are expected to navigate are nearly impossible to understand and the simple functions of these institutions are constantly derailed. Take one recent example from an Advocate on our team, who had the seemingly straight-forward task of ensuring that one of their clients had transportation upon their release from jail...

The systems we rely on don't work. So Advocates work harder.
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If there’s one thing we have learned at Partners for Justice, it’s that nothing in the carceral system is simple or harmless. The bureaucracies ordinary people are expected to navigate are nearly impossible to understand and most of them err on the side of disadvantaging people--usually, the Black and Brown people historically oppressed by these structures. At their most harmful, these systems can and do cost lives. But having someone on the outside dedicating to ensuring a person doesn't become a casualty of that system--fighting tirelessly--can change everything. Take this recent example from one of our PFJ sites.

An Advocate was supposed to (1)  get a client out of jail and (2) take them to inpatient treatment. Instead, she...

  1. Showed up at the jail fifteen minutes before the expected 9am release with transportation arranged for 10...and found out the jail had no record of the release order from the judge
  2. Called the judge and had the order re-sent to the jail
  3. Jail says the Department of Probation has told them not to release the client
  4. Called probation, they say...it’s a different branch of probation
  5. Call the other branch of probation, and then a three-way call with jail to confirm the release
  6. It’s now 9:45. Transportation to treatment arrives, Advocate asks them please sit tight
  7. Jail informs us (for the first time) of a $1000 bond from another city court
  8. Advocate calls that city court, asks to speak to the judge about releasing bond to let client go to treatment
  9. Judge agrees, but won’t waive a small fee...that will also hold the client in jail
  10. Advocate lets transport know it might be a while and asks them to come back later
  11. Begs judge to relieve fees. He says no
  12. Advocate runs to post office to get a $30 money order for the fee
  13. Advocate arrives back at jail, breathlessly, to pay the fee
  14. Jail informs us (for the first time) of another hold...a warrant from family court
  15. Advocate calls family court and family court judge releases hold
  16. But because people are leaving the office early and the family court is having fax issues, there’s no way for the judge to tell the jail to release the hold, so the Advocate once again has to leave the jail to liaise between the family court and the jail
  17. Jail finally gets the order...by now it’s 12:15pm
  18. Advocate reenters the jail to pay the money order and asks how long until release. The jail says about an hour. 
  19. So transportation is called, and the treatment facility too. They remind the Advocate that there is a hard cut-off at 5pm for entry into treatment...and the treatment program is a full hour and a half away from the jail
  20. Check in with jail about release. Client still hasn’t been contacted or pulled for release, it’s now 1:45pm
  21. As 2pm looms, the guard says that they should be getting the Client soon...and then they have to fingerprint him and check again for outstanding warrants and holds!
  22. Advocate calls transport. They have no idea if they can make it back to pick up the client. We start thinking about other options, like an Uber or Lyft
  23. But just as we’re giving up on transportation...the client is released! The Advocate is able to get them situated with clothing, hygiene items, the things they would need (and would otherwise be without) at treatment, and transportation arrives at 3pm to barely make the deadline to enter treatment!

This story is, of course, a success. But what would have happened if the Advocate wasn’t there? The person would have sat in jail, another story of the system’s failure to carry out any non-carceral option. Another life trapped in America’s jails. 

We are proud to be fighting for our clients, preventing harm, and securing wins--one at a time--for real people. And we’re especially proud of the fact that our work has proven powerful enough to grow. This year, we’re going to new communities, opening new programs, and have found the next brilliant group of new professionals who will be doing the work.

Our incoming 2021 class identifies as 86% Black, Indigenous, or People Of Color and 40% have felt the impact of our legal system in their own lives or families. Their lived experience will be invaluable in doing this critical work, and we couldn't be more proud to have them, ready to fight the tough fights, the long fights, and the fights that are, all too often, invisible.


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