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Community Law Office offers program to help families navigate criminal justice system

The Community Law Office has started a new program for getting the loved ones of those facing criminal charges guidance on how they can participate in the cases.

The Families Advocating for Choice and Empowerment – or F.A.C.E. – is a support group that recently began weekly meetings for the families and loved ones of those facing criminal charges. It is held every Thursday at 5:30 pm at 16 St. Baptist Church, and led by members of Community Law Office's social work team.

"The active participation of loved ones can mean beating the charges or receiving a reduced sentence," the office's lead social worker and F.A.C.E. co-founder Wendy Peek stated in a press release. "By allowing defendants and their circle of supporters into the legal process, F.A.C.E. will hopefully challenge the assumptions of both how the courtroom works and who is allowed a say."

The Community Law Office is the name for Jefferson County Public Defender's office that was begun two years ago to provide legal services to indigent criminal defendants in the Birmingham division.

"By educating people on how to navigate the criminal justice system, and by allowing them to actively participate in criminal cases, we aim to give them the tools to both change the outcome of their own cases and push for broader criminal justice reform," according to a statement from the office.

"When it comes to facing a trial, it's often thought that a good or just outcome comes mainly from having a good lawyer. Although our office is proud to offer excellent legal services, we believe that the most profound way to impact the criminal justice system (as well as individual cases) comes from partnering with the communities most affected by mass incarceration," according to the statement.
The active participation of loved ones can mean beating the charges or receiving a reduced sentence" - Wendy Peek

The F.A.C.E. program was inspired by a California-based model of community organizing called 'participatory defense' that has been slowly spreading to public defenders around the nation, according to the statement.

While meetings are open to the public, the F.A.C.E program is aimed at those going through the criminal justice system, according to the Community Law Office.

The meetings offer a mix of education and emotional support.

"We walk participants through the typical criminal process, take questions, and bring ex-offenders or their family members to offer insight," according to the statement. "We also offer participants the opportunity to actively get involved in cases through reviewing police reports and court transcripts, assisting to locate witnesses, and mobilizing neighborhoods, churches or other community 'anchors' on behalf of their loved ones."

No legal advice is offered during the meetings, but the Community Law Office officials try to provide basic resources so the families can advocate on their own behalf, according to the statement.

For more information contact the Community Law Office at 205-588-4220.
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