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A Day in CA Court

a Running Public Diary of the California Courts

Court Watching and Court Doing in California’s Moment of Change


On behalf of organizers across the state, we are excited to announce the launch of the website — a running public diary of the California court system. Through a local lens and informed by grassroots organizers, this online platform serves as a window to track how counties across California are responding to changes in bail law. The site provides stories, videos, and data that monitors pretrial detention and release, as well as materials on how communities can observe and impact pretrial release decision-making.

In light of SB10 -- the recent legislation that threatens to give judges more power to detain people pretrial -- it is even more important to have both real-time observation and impact by local communities in their court systems.

The local perspective of is a strategic response to changes in bail law in California. Our belief is that 
the power of any litigative win for statewide bail reform, such as the Humphrey appellate ruling, will ultimately only be made real by local communities holding local court actors accountable to the new standards. Similarly, any state legislative threat to freedom, such as SB10, can also be challenged and beat back by the flexing of community power expressed in the court machinery.

In fact, this site started as a show of community power -- a statewide rally in front of the courts. It began as coordinated actions held onFebruary20,2018 under the banner “A Day in CA Court” involving 8 different counties from San Diego to San Francisco, led by grassroots community organizations who were part of the Participatory Defense Network. 


The organizations who participated in the actions went on to collectively plan how to have a more involved, sustained, and impactful presence in the court. We now have two complementary models of engagement: “Court Watching” and “Court Doing.” Court Watching is community organizations regularly monitoring arraignments and bail hearings, using standardized qualitative and quantitative data collection forms. They track bail decision outcomes, as well as actions by judges, prosecutors, and defenders. The updates and results of Court Watching is shared on Day in CA Court and on social media at #DayinCACourt. Community members can sign up for Court Watching on the site. The current data capturing illustrates trends, patterns, and tendencies of the court, but also is an indicator of how judges may rule under an SB10 regime. For example (as these numbers we shared on twitter shows), if a judge is routinely just setting bail based on what the bail schedules are, and those amounts are so high they are resulting in de facto detention orders, it exposes how that judge would use the new preventive detention tools given to them under SB10 to maintain or expand a practice of incarceration.


Court Doing is community organizations employing participatory defense tactics focused on the pretrial release or detention decision. Community organizations, who are already trained participatory defense hubs, attend arraignments and work with families in attendance for their loved ones on how they can impact the bail decision. For example, the court doing team sits with family members to fill out a community support form (developed with the public defender office) to be given to the public defender who then has useful information to advocate for release when the case is called. If release is not secured, the community continues to partner with the public defender to try to win release at the bail hearing.  The effort of Court Doing is done in partnership with local public defenders, and has effectively countered the predictive assumptions made by risk assessment instruments and the overly-used reliance on detention. As California changes from a money bail system to a preventative detention system under SB10, the Court Doing approach remains the same, using the key elements of showing comprehensive community support challenge any excuse the court may have for detention.


We are very clear California is in a historic, pivotal, moment of change in regards to pretrial justice. How courts operate now will not only determine the trajectory of decarceration or incarceration for the state moving forward, it no doubt will influence the direction of the rest of the country. This is why we created -- to offer a chronicling of the courts from the lens of community, and to highlight how communities can shape this moment.

Please subscribe to to receive updates, reports, and findings from the network, as we give a window into the California court system, and the movement holding that system accountable.Andfollow: #dayinCAcourt on twitter to get daily snapshots from Participatory Defense Hubs from across California!

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