Issue(s): Ending Mass Incarceration
Urban Peace Movement led the charge this summer in a “participatory defense“ case supporting a young man named DaJon Ford, a former high school football start from Oakland, who was being held at Santa Rita Jail where he had languished for nearly 4 years awaiting trial in a case where he was charged as an adult for an incident which occurred when he was only 17-years old. DaJon is the cousin of one of UPM’s youth leaders from the Determination Young Black Men’s group.
In June we formed a community support committee and a campaign to urge the DA’s Office that DaJon should be released or returned to the juvenile court system in light of the passage of Prop 57. The practice of transferring youth into adult court disproportionately impacts Black and Brown youth and exposes them to much harsher sentences than they would face in juvenile court.
In November 2016, California’s Prop 57 passed with 77% support for the measure in Alameda County. The proposition prohibits prosecutors from directly filing youth into adult court without having to go through a judge. However, DaJon and 17 other youth currently being held were filed into the adult system before the measure passed. The last offer that DaJon was given almost 3 years ago was a 14-year prison sentence. And, even though he had no prior criminal justice contact, the maximum exposure he had in adult court was upwards of 60 years.
As part of the campaign effort, UPM youth leaders conducted outreach every weekend this summer, and they spoke in churches to inform people about Dajon’s case and about ending the treatment of youth as adults in the criminal justice system. They collected over 1200 signatures on a petition that was submitted to the DA’s office. And, 40 letters of support were submitted to the Judge in the case. And, we held rallies on the steps of the Alameda County courthouse.
After our organizing effort, the DA’s Office came back with an offer to DaJon that allowed for his release and which will give him a pathway to an eventual clean record once he successfully completes probation. He was released just days ago, and now instead of spending 10 more years behind bars he is home and he has the opportunity to be in his little son’s life! DaJon attended the Determination Black Men’s Group last week, and we look forward to supporting him in his transition!!
This effort was made possible by UPM’s youth leaders and by the support of our allies and partners. The campaign followed the methodology of “Participatory Defense” pioneered by our allies in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley De-Bug (who have supported us in this effort). Community pressure made all the difference in this case!! This is an unbelievable first victory that has set the stage for our continued work to stop the practice of treating youth as adults in the criminal justice system!!