There are now two Participatory Defense meetings in Nashville; Tuesdays at McGruder Family Resource Center (in partnership with Free Hearts) and Thursdays at Family Reconciliation. Choose the one most convenient for your and your family. Details below.

Raj Jayadev: 1,862 fewer years in prison from PopTech on Vimeo.

PARTICIPATORY DEFENSE: Transforming the Courts Through Family and Community Organizing

Helping to organize people facing criminal charges in Nashville, their families and their friends to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.

Deaner-DawnFrom Dawn Deaner:

The Nashville Public Defender’s Office defends adults living in poverty who are accused of committing a crime in Davidson County.  We also defend children of poverty who are accused of being delinquent.  Our goal is to defend every client as if he or she was our son or daughter, our brother or sister, our mother or father.  Because we are all part of a shared community, and justice only exists where no one suffers an injustice.

To this end, we are excited to bring a new movement to Nashville called “Participatory Defense.”  Participatory Defense is a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and their communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.  Along with the Nashville Defenders, Family Reconciliation and many other local non-profit organizations will assist in facilitating this new grassroots program. For more information or to join the discussion on Participatory Defense in Nashville, TN, email Sara Sharpe at


Meetings at McGruder Family Resource Center


Every Tuesday night (beginning April 11)
6:00 pm


McGruder Family Resource Center
2013 25th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37208

For more information please call 615-293-0295

2013 25th Avenue North

Nashville, TN 37208

Meetings at Family Reconciliation

Every Thursday night
6:00 pm

Family Reconciliation Center (Inside St. John’s Church)
6300 Charlotte Pike
Nashville, TN 37209

For more information please call 615.554.5075

More here:

Feature on Participatory Defense (

Everyday Ideation: How Families Use ‘Cumulative Intelligence’ to Take on the Court System (Huffington Post)

Make them Hear You: Participatory Defense and the Struggle for Criminal Justice Reform – Janet Moore, Marla Sandys, & Raj Jayadev (Albany Law Review)

“Participatory Defense” – By Raj Jayadev

Tony is 13 years old and just got out from 99 days in juvenile hall. He sat shyly at the edge of the table next to his mother, responding respectfully to the “congratulations” and “welcome homes” that were directed to him from strangers who knew him only through his mother’s stories and seeing his name on a whiteboard at the meeting they all attend every week. Tony is at what we’ve dubbed our ‘family justice hub’ meeting — weekly gathering of families whose loved ones are facing criminal charges. He is here to be a part of the one ceremony we have – when a family brings a loved one home by either beating the charges, receiving a reduced sentence, or a dismissal as a result of their intervention into the case — and they erase their name from the board. The room of roughly 20 people breaks into applause when Tony takes the eraser to his name, his mother thanking the community who walked with her and her son through the darkest 99 days of their lives. She is in tears. Tony was facing years of incarceration, but due to her advocacy and the public defender’s lawyering, her son will be able to have his 14th birthday at home.

If tradition holds, Tony’s mom will continue attending the meetings, and assist other families who find themselves in the position she once did. She will share with them what she learned here from others — how to partner with or push the public defender, how to dissect police reports and court transcripts, and how to build a sustained community presence in the courtroom to let judges and prosecutors know the person facing charges is not alone.

We call the approach “participatory defense” – a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and their communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.

As incarceration rates balloon to astronomical levels – 1 out of 100 Americans are currently locked up — participatory defense may the most assessable way directly affected communities can challenge mass incarceration, and have the movement building dynamic of seeing timely and locally relevant results of their efforts. It is a penetration into the one domain that facilitates people going to prisons and jails, yet has been left largely unexplored by the ground up movement to end mass incarceration – the courts. Please believe there are Tony’s across the country waiting to come home, and communities that, if equipped, can do just that – bring him home.

We have been developing the participatory defense model in San Jose, California for six years. The approach is to bring a community organizing ethos to the otherwise isolating court experience.

Read the full article at:

For more information please contact Sara Sharpe