Community Update from San Francisco
Public Defender Mano Raju

AUGUST 2020
SF Public Defenders march through the Mission District for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter on June 3, 2020.
Dear Community,


I hope this email finds you and your family healthy and safe.


In my last newsletter I shared the work we were doing at the Public Defender’s Office at the onset of COVID-19 to protect the health and lives of our clients in adult, juvenile and immigration custody as well as in the greater community, by working to release people during this pandemic. Since then, the world has been rocked by the murder of George Floyd, and now our work is occuring in the context of this ignited Black Lives Matter Movement as well as COVID-19.  


Public Defenders have always played an active and important role in fighting for racial justice in the US criminal legal system, both inside and outside the courtroom. But now, it is more clear than ever that we must continue to center racial justice as our most urgent priority, and work together with community members to fight for the changes that will create a healthier and safer society for all of us.   


As trials resume, and people continue to be trapped behind bars during this ongoing pandemic, we remain at the frontlines of the criminal legal system, fighting for justice for our clients every step of the way. I am proud to share what we have accomplished during this time, and remain humbled by the tireless work of my team who fight for our vulnerable communities every day.

In community and solidarity, 
Mano Raju
San Francisco Public Defender


Twitter: @ManoRajuPD @sfdefender
Facebook: @Mano Raju @San Francisco Public Defender’s Office                                Instagram: @ManoRajuPD @sfpublicdefender 

Fighting for Structural Change

and Racial Justice

In the past few months my office has become even more active at the state level as people continue to demand real change, and interest in meaningful police reform has grown among lawmakers. We organized public defenders from across the state to put together a list of critical reform measures, including an end to secrecy and impunity for officers who violate public trust. We sent these reforms to Governor Newsom and California lawmakers to advocate for bold action and continue to work with multiple state lawmakers on these issues.

I’ve also testified in support of bills such as AB 1950, which would shorten probation periods, thereby reducing the likelihood of jailing people unnecessarily for “technical violations” like missing a meeting; and for SB 378, which would end mandatory prison sentences for many non-violent drug offenses - which largely impact communities of color - and would empower judges to offer alternatives.

Locally, our Policy and Law Enforcement Integrity Unit have been working on racial justice and criminal legal system reforms on a number of fronts:
 
No Kneeling on Necks on Our Watch - No one can ever forget hearing George Floyd pleading to breathe. Yet days after he was killed, we learned of a police officer using her knee on the neck of our 19 year old client in SF. I immediately called for an end to the dangerous practice that restricts breathing, and SFPD changed its policy.  
Supporting Community Calls to Defund our System of Mass Incarceration - We urged the Police Commission to resume meeting during the pandemic and worked with the community to advocate that they vote down the SFPD’s $700 million dollar budget, and redirect funds.
No More Mugshots in the Media - After years of advocacy by my office and community advocates, SFPD Chief Scott notified officers that they are now prohibited from releasing mugshots on the police department’s social media accounts or to the media, with a few small exceptions. This is an important change to combat racial bias, and to ensure those arrested and presumed innocent are not convicted in the court of public opinion before their day in court.
No More Markups for Jail Calls & Commissary Items - My office worked closely with Supervisor Sandra Fewer to introduce and pass the People Over Profits ordinance to ensure that the City will no longer be able to generate revenue for the jails by charging for jail phone calls and marking up the cost of commissary items - costs which largely affect communities of color and are shouldered by low-income women.
Sheriff Oversight Ballot Measure - The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to put a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot that would create independent oversight of the Sheriff’s department and much needed transparency as it relates to the management of our jails and treatment of incarcerated people. My office worked closely with Supervisor Shamann Walton to create and pass this legislation, which in fact, was the brainchild of my dear friend and predecessor, Jeff Adachi.
Closing CJ4 by November 2020 - My office continues to work closely with the Safety and Justice Challenge Sub-Committee to ensure that the legislation to close County Jail 4 by November (which passed at the Board of Supervisors) is implemented fully, and by the prescribed deadline.

Fighting for People's Health and Freedom in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has spread most rapidly in prisons and jails across this country, and we have therefore continued our focus on fighting to release as many people as possible.
Immigration Detention - Our immigration team has worked around-the-clock to achieve victories that seemed impossible before the pandemic. As a result of our ongoing class action lawsuit against Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) which we filed jointly along with our co-counsel, (including the ACLU NorCal, ACLU SoCal, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Lakin & Wille LLP, and Cooley LLP), our Immigration Defense Unit has helped reduce the population of two California ICE detention centers by two-thirds. We have helped secure the release of more than 120 immigrants, who are now with their families and rightfully residing in their communities. Also, just last week, our team helped expose that ICE had purposefully not administered testing at their Bakersfield detention center.
In a separate case, our team pushed hard to successfully release one of our clients, a trans woman who was abruptly transferred by ICE from California to Texas on Christmas night (KQED reported).

Prison Releases - Our Integrity Unit continues to mobilize to help get people’s sentences reduced or convictions overturned in order to free people who have survived and transformed their lives while imprisoned.
In May, we helped Paul Redd successfully petition the District Attorney’s office to file for resentencing after he served 44 years for a conviction that hinged solely on the testimony of a single co-defendant who took a deal for zero jail time. Mr. Redd (pictured above on the day he was released and reunited with his family) spent over 30 of those years in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, where in 2013, he helped lead a hunger strike that resulted in landmark reform of solitary confinement in California. Mr. Redd now walks free! 
San Quentin - Our focus has turned to San Quentin which is in the midst of a horrifying outbreak of COVID-19 that has already infected over two-thirds of the population and claimed 24 lives since May when 121 men were transferred there, but not properly tested before they arrived. 
Our team - which includes our colleague Steph Liebb who was formerly incarcerated at San Quentin - sent 60 letters to people in San Quentin offering advocacy for release and reentry support, and have received a large response. We’ve also been getting results.
  • By the end of July, five of the seven remaining men serving life sentences on 3rd strikes out of San Francisco have earned release.
  • Our Social Workers are working on at least 20 reentry plans in hopes that others can be safely released from these incredibly dangerous conditions. 
  • Marin County Superior Court has consolidated 41 habeas corpus petitions for release based on 8th Amendment violations of cruel and unusual punishment, and our attorneys are working with public defenders from other Bay Area counties to argue the case and get the population below 50% as recommended by leading health experts.

Prison advocacy - We continue to advocate for more people to be released from prison based on who they are TODAY and not on what they may have done or pled to years or decades ago. Thus, we have been urging the California Department of Corrections - which by its own assessment has ranked nearly half of the people in its custody as low risk for reoffending - and the Governor to stop using the binary of “violent” and “non-violent” to discriminate against who could and should be safely released. 
SF Jail: While we have been successful at reducing the jail population during COVID,  and have been able to keep the jail population below 800 people, the number of known COVID cases in SF County jail jumped 40% since mid-June, mostly from new people being booked into jail, demonstrating the risk to everyone in the jail, in the courts, and in the community at large.  This is why our office is part of a coalition of legal and medical experts who have been urging the court to restore the state’s emergency order of $0 bail for misdemeanors and low-level felonies to reduce the jail population and protect public health during the pandemic which rages on across the country, largely impacting incarcerated populations at a rate much higher than the general population. 

Our Pretrial Release Unit has also been particularly critical during the time of COVID, as they are setting up visits everyday with people in the jails who’ve just been arrested. This important and unique early representation model results in people spending less time in jail and having their cases dismissed or reduced at arraignment. This also means that we are able to keep the jail numbers lower and reduce the chances of COVID spreading within the jails and back to the community.  For those who are in jail, and for their families, we created this informational guide to help people know how to stay safe, know their rights, and connect to community resources. 
Trials Resume in the Time of COVID - With trials starting up again for the first time since March, our office is working diligently to protect our clients’ right to a fair trial as well as the health and safety of everyone in the courtroom. Deputy Public Defender Sierra Villaran convinced the court of the importance of seeing the facial expressions of jurors and witnesses, and the judge ruled that clear face masks would be provided.  We continue to work with the courts and the Sheriff’s department to address the concerns both for safety and for justice. 

Empowering Young People to Dream of a Better Future

Building a New Pipeline of Criminal Justice Advocates Through the ‘Young Defenders’ Program - This month we started the Young Defenders program at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office where 25 local high school students will have a 40-week paid internship working with our staff to learn about the criminal legal system and bring that knowledge back to the community. My hope is to build a new generation of diverse Public Defenders and criminal justice advocates. The Young Defenders program is a unique collaboration between our office, Teachers for Social Justice, Mayor Breed’s Opportunities for All initiative, SF Unified School District, and the Human Rights Commission. We’re looking forward to a great year working directly (although remotely) with the youth.

Moving Closer to Closing Juvenile Hall - The working group to close Juvenile Hall went on hiatus at the beginning of the pandemic, but thanks to the advocacy of Patti Lee - our Managing Juvenile Defender and Chair of the working group - meetings have resumed and we are moving toward the eventual closure of Juvenile Hall by December 2021. In the meantime, our Juvenile Defender Unit has been helping to keep the number of detained youth at an historic low (11 youth total as of today), and our MAGIC programs continue to coordinate resources and opportunities for youth and families to thrive, including this year's virtual Back-to-School resource fair on August 13th, co-sponsored by the SF Department of Children, Youth & Their Families.

Public Defenders In the Streets

and In the Community

Our Racial Justice Committee has helped organize several recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, including a national day of action where Public Defenders around the country held simultaneous rallies to honor those who have suffered at the hands of police and to lend our unique insight into a criminal legal system imbued with the legacy of racism.
Our Racial Justice Committee has also organized several volunteer opportunities for our staff - including teaming up with Supervisor Matt Haney’s office to pack and deliver meals for people on Treasure Island, and working with the Salvation Army to distribute approximately 1,350 meals to our unhoused neighbors in District 6 & District 10, where people are dealing with both the COVID-19 crisis and food insecurity.
If you want to get more involved in any of our advocacy efforts please email our local Policy Director Carolyn Goossen at Carolyn.Goossen@sfgov.org, or our state Policy Director Danica Rodarmel at Danica.Rodarmel@sfgov.org.
If you have questions related to the information in this newsletter please email our Public Information Officer Valerie Ibarra at Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org.
As always, if you need to reach our office for any reason, call our front desk at 415-553-1671.
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