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MacArthur ‘genius grant’ winner from San Jose seeks to reform criminal justice

You probably first heard about Silicon Valley De-Bug through Colin Kaepernick. The former 49ers quarterback made it the organization the first recipient of his $1 million pledge to support organizations working for social justice.

Or maybe you heard about it through the many times that ABC7 has interviewed its co-founder Raj Jayadev. He started De-bug in 2001 after noting that minorities are disproportionately arrested in San Jose.

Since then, Jayadev’s turned Silicon Valley De-Bug into a reform movement that gives voice to low-income people facing incarceration, while helping them with their own defense. And now Jayadev is one of 25 recipients of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “Genius Grant.”

“We decided to be irreverent to the idea that only lawyers can make changes in the courts. What we developed was a way to layer the criminal justice system with the power of community organizing,” Jayadev explained.

The method is called “participatory defense.” Families meet weekly to discuss their cases with peers and experts. Sometimes they were able to reduce sentences or even get their cases overturned.

Jayadev now holds training workshops across the country. In fact, he held a workshop in Seattle on Thursday, where he told ABC7 he’s humbled to have been selected as part of a group of 25 extraordinary individuals.

Jayadev will receive $625,000 over the next five years to spend in any way he and De-Bug see fit.


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