Meet Contra Costa

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Release Date: 
Monday, September 21, 2020

Maisy Menzies began serving at in Contra Costa County, California in August. Read on to learn how Contra Costa is addressing their clients’ needs and how AmeriCorps VISTA is plugging in to get things done.


This year, I’m serving in the Richmond office of the Contra Costa Public Defenders. These public defenders are known for being at the forefront of progressive representation for their clients through innovative projects and community advocacy.


In 2016, the Contra Costa Public Defenders Office launched a program called the Early Representation Program which works to lessen the number of Failure To Appear (FTA) cases that are charged as a result of people facing low-level misdemeanors not understanding when their arraignment dates are. This is a huge problem that results in lower-income families losing jobs, housing, custody over their children and even can result in unexpected jail time for people whose original charges would have typically been closed with a just a fine. The Early Representation Program aims to increase court process transparency for misdemeanor cases so that people better understand that they have the right to representation before their arraignments, and so that they know exactly when they will need to be in court, and what is expected of them. So far, it has decreased the county FTA charges by an average of 20%.


Additionally, the Contra Costa Public Defenders office has been a huge and public advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement, organizing a nationwide protest for Public Defenders for BLM in which upwards of 140 public defender offices participated. On top of all of this, the Martinez office and the Richmond office work together with organizations like Stand Together Contra Costa and Justice for Miles Hall to represent their community’s voices and needs when they attempt to make systemic change. This has helped bring about the Holistic Intervention Program launched in May 2020 that seeks to help address underlying issues of poverty in these communities such as the need for housing, affordable substance use treatment and easily accessible childcare. The population of Contra Costa county is made up of 43% non-Hispanic white people, 16.8% Asian people, 9% Black people, 11.3% Hispanic and other races, and 11.1% white Hispanic people, but the data for people charged for misdemeanors and felonies does not match this. Black and Hispanic/Latinx community members are four times more likely to be charged for a crime in Contra Costa county than any other race. It is amazing to be a part of Contra Costa’s public defenders who are vehemently fighting for justice and better representation for their community, and more transparency at all levels of the criminal justice system.