By Nick Gardner
SAN FRANCISCO– San Francisco Mayor London Breed has teamed up with Public Defender Manu Raju to create the San Francisco Young Defenders Program, a “paid educational internship program to provide employment and mentorship opportunities to 25 local public high school students around criminal justice issues.”
This comes as part of Mayor Breed’s Opportunities for All initiative, which is designed to provide young people of all backgrounds with the skills they need to pursue a successful professional career through job training, mentorship programs, and paid employment opportunities.
The program’s goal is to provide youth of color with an avenue toward achieving success in the future for themselves, their families and their communities. This will be done by “invest[ing] equitably in youth empowerment rather than the criminalization of youth,” she said.
Both Breed and Raju stressed the importance of the Young Defenders Program in light of recent events that have further exposed the divide that exists between the criminal justice system and communities of color.
“I am proud that we are launching the Young Defenders Program at this moment in time, as the movement for Black Lives Matter continues to build momentum across the country, and young people are calling for racial justice and changes to the laws and practices that directly affect their lives,” Raju said.
Raju, who boasts 18 years of experience as a public defender, believes that by teaching participants the ins-and-outs of the criminal legal system, as well as public defenders’ role in advocating for the people, the Young Defenders Program will create a “pipeline of diverse Public Defenders and criminal justice advocates.”
With the birth of this pipeline, the Young Defenders Program will move the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office closer to its goal of ending the pipeline that connects schools to prisons. This will be done by expanding on community-based MAGIC Zone programs that provide resources and direct mentorship to youth in the Bayview and Filmore-Western Addition neighborhoods.
The program is scheduled to last 40 weeks. Over the course of this time, students will participate in mock trials, complete weekly assignments alongside public defenders and social workers, and virtually coordinate community outreach on important issues surrounding communities of color, such as educating people on their rights, increasing POC representation on juries, and emphasizing restorative justice.
The program will have to remain online for the time being, but participants will earn academic credits toward their high school diplomas, as well as minimum wage for a maximum of 15 hours per week. Funding for the program will come from Opportunities for All, the mayor’s office, and the public defender’s office.
The first group of participants—former summer interns at Opportunities for All—were selected recently, and the program is already receiving positive reviews.
“I like that this cohort is teaching me things that I need to know about the law and my rights,” said one participant.
Other participants also voiced their praise for the program, labeling it a “good opportunity for me to learn about criminal justice,” and a means of “experienc[ing] different job techniques.”
The mayor’s budget includes funds that have been redirected from the city’s General Fund and law enforcement department.
Mayor Breed is using these funds to support initiatives seeking to mend decades of racially discriminatory policies that have burdened African Americans in San Francisco. One such initiative is the aforementioned Opportunities for All program, which is set to receive $5.5 million in funding for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years.
In 2019, Opportunities for All provided over 3,800 youth internships for high-school and college students, 1,500 of which were new placements. The initiative has already seen 1,400 placements so far for 2020. Recently, 12 positions were added for upper-class college students and postgraduates, who will have the opportunity to manage a group of younger interns.
In the words of Mayor Breed, “I know firsthand how an internship can change the course of a young person’s life.”
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