San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Urges Gov. Newsom to Restore Resentencing Funding

SF Public Defender Mano Raju protesting jail conditions in September 2021

The CA Legislature requested last week that the governor restore this effective program, which reunites families and saves taxpayers millions.

Special to the Vanguard

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to restore funding—as the state Legislature requested last week—for the Public Defender Pilot Program (PDPP), which reunites families and reduces mass incarceration. This program funds resentencing programs throughout the state, such as the SF Public Defender’s Freedom Project which has saved taxpayers an estimated $150 million in its first two years. Resentencing is a process by which a judge reviews a sentence in light of new “second look” laws that are designed to reduce mass incarceration in California, releasing those who have demonstrated they are safe and ready to reenter and contribute positively to the community.

“We are thankful that the Legislature agrees that the PDPP is a critical program that helps to remedy injustices and historical racial inequities in the legal system,” said Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris, who manages the Freedom Project. “We hope the governor will do the same. The PDPP is a modest investment with huge cost savings.”

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Freedom Project is one of several public defender resentencing units in California to receive PDPP funding. Last week, the Freedom Project held a luncheon to celebrate the 88 clients whom the program has helped to be resentenced. It’s estimated that the project has eliminated over 1,000 years of incarceration and all the associated costs. Since the PDPP funding allowed the Freedom Project to fully staff its holistic team—including lawyers, paralegals, and social workers who do meticulous release planning and support clients during their reentry—there has been no recidivism.

“I am one of thousands of Californians who became eligible for resentencing thanks to new laws, but I was only able to start my life again because a public defender’s office was funded by the state to represent me through the process,” said Belinda Anderson, a Freedom Project client who attended the celebration. “So many people who are eligible for resentencing remain locked away, without access to the courts or to counsel who can help.”

Gov. Newsom proposed cutting the $40 million remaining in PDPP funds—just 0.014% of the state budget—earlier this year, and legislators have requested that he restore that funding. Budget negotiations are ongoing, and the legislature has until June 15 to pass a final budget.

“Public defenders are uniquely motivated to help implement important justice reforms such as those that recognize the harm and wastefulness of excessive punishment,” said Mano Raju, the elected Public Defender of San Francisco. “The PDPP is proving that reducing mass incarceration is not only possible, but also saves the state money in the long run and gives individuals an opportunity to contribute to their communities and enhance public safety for all.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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