FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 3, 2020


Public Defender’s Office, 

Mayor’s Office of Communications, 



Paid internship program, created in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Human Rights Commission, and Teachers 4 Social Justice, provides 25 public high school students with a 40-week experience to learn about the criminal legal system and public defense

San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed and Public Defender Mano Raju today announced the creation of 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. The Young Defenders Program is part of the Opportunities for All initiative, which Mayor Breed created in 2018 to connect young people of all backgrounds to paid employment, job training, and mentorship opportunities.

The Young Defenders Program seeks to invest equitably in youth empowerment rather than the criminalization of youth, and ensure that youth of color have the opportunity to achieve a more successful future for themselves, their families, and their community. The program is the result of a unique partnership between Mayor Breed’s Opportunities for All initiative, the Public Defender’s Office, the Human Rights Commission, the San Francisco Unified School District, and Teachers 4 Social Justice. The internship program started last week with orientation, and the interns begin their placements with the Public Defender’s Office today. 

“I know firsthand how an internship can change the course of a young person’s life,” said Mayor Breed. “We created Opportunities for All to empower youth and give them a chance to learn new skills and build professional connections, while also getting paid for their time. When we focus on providing opportunities for all of our young people, those youth go above and beyond to prove themselves and then succeed in ways they and others never imagined. This program invests in communities that have historically been left behind and opens up opportunities that otherwise would have been out of reach. I want to thank all the partners who have worked to make the Young Defenders program a reality, especially at a time when it’s more important than ever that we’re making concrete investments in supporting 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,” said Mano Raju, Public Defender of San Francisco. “Through this program we have an opportunity to train and educate young San Franciscans on how the criminal legal system works and how public defenders advocate for people through every step of the process. My hope is we can start to build a new pipeline of diverse Public Defenders and criminal justice advocates through this program.”

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office is lauded as one of the premier public defender offices in the country, with a deep commitment to community engagement and achieving structural reforms to the criminal legal system locally and statewide.  The Young Defenders Program is in line with the Public Defender’s commitment to close the school to prison pipeline, as evidenced by its community-based M.A.G.I.C. programs which connect youth and families to opportunities and resources in the Bayview and the Fillmore-Western Addition neighborhoods. The Young Defenders Program is an opportunity to further guide and empower young San Franciscans through direct mentorship.

Over the course of 40 weeks, Young Defenders will hear lectures from guest speakers, be paired with defense attorneys and social workers to complete weekly assignments, participate in group projects such as mock trials, and develop virtual community outreach events on topics such as knowing your rights, increasing the diversity of juries, and facilitating restorative justice. Many will also earn academic credit toward high school graduation while earning minimum wage for up to 15 hours a week. Due to COVID-19, students will participate in the program remotely for the time being, and will be provided the technology they need for remote work.

The first group of Young Defenders were selected for the program through an interest survey following their summer internship with Opportunities for All. Opportunities for All and the Mayor’s Office will fund the youth stipends, and the Public Defender’s Office will fund the program through staff time and service hours. As many families are struggling financially due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever that students have access to paid internship opportunities.

“The purpose of this program is to expose students to the world of criminal justice from the perspective of the Public Defender’s Office while inspiring students to use their own power as educators and activists for change,” said Athena Edwards, Senior Fellow, Opportunities for All.

“I like that this cohort is teaching me things that I need to know about the law and my rights,” said Aniyah, a San Francisco native and rising junior at Raoul Wallenberg High School. “I also like my Fellows. They’re very creative in leading our activities and our group conversations and even though these things can be tricky, it’s fun trying new things. I enjoy being a part of this cohort and getting to experience different job techniques, while doing activities outside of my comfort zone.”

“It’s a good opportunity for me to learn about criminal justice,” said Shamira, a San Francisco native and rising sophomore at KIPP San Francisco College Prep. “Last week in orientation, we did our first presentation. My partner and I focused on Breonna Taylor, and how the police who killed her have not been arrested. We learned a lot about laws, but also used our own knowledge and understanding for the presentation.”

 “I’m excited to be starting my second year interning with Opportunities for All,” said India Brar, a student joining the Young Defenders program. “I am extremely passionate about helping people especially ones in need and believe that being placed with San Francisco’s Young Defenders program was not only more than I could’ve asked for, but will allow me to make a difference which is something I am looking forward to.” 

Since taking office, Mayor Breed has consistently prioritized funding for programs that make San Francisco more equitable. As announced on Friday, the Mayor’s budget continues to prioritize equity, with funding both from the General Fund and redirected from the City’s law enforcement departments. Mayor Breed has proposed using funding to reinvest in the African American community and to repair the legacy of racially disparate policies on health, housing, and economic outcomes for African Americans in San Francisco. 

In addition to redirecting funding from law enforcement departments, the Mayor’s budget includes ongoing and new investments from the General Fund to support vulnerable populations throughout San Francisco, prioritizing several children- and youth-focused initiatives that will ensure more equitable outcomes for future generations of San Franciscans. Specifically, the Mayor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Years 2020-21 and 2021-22 includes $5.5 million in funding from the General Fund to continue the Opportunities for All program.

“I am grateful for the ability to connect Opportunities for All with Teachers 4 Social Justice and the Public Defender’s office to launch this program,” said Sheryl Davis, Executive Director, Human Rights Commission. “Opportunities for All provides young people with the opportunity to not just develop skills and build their social networks, but programs like the Young Defenders, centers youth voice, encourages and empowers youth to address issues of inequity, to transform systems and challenge business as usual. I look forward to learning from the youth and seeing the impact they will have in the community and the criminal justice system.”

“This is the City, the School District and community based organizations working together to do the most for young people, especially during this time,” said Jeremiah Jeffries, public school teacher and coordinator for Teachers 4 Social Justice. “SF Young Defenders is a concrete example of where we should be reallocating funding to, away from policing and criminalization of youth, toward education and giving youth a foundation to build careers focused toward justice.”

“In my role as Board of Education Commissioner and Education Advisor to the Mayor, the creation of SF Young Defenders is the fulfillment of one of the many promises we asked the public to trust us to fulfill,” said Jenny Lam, Commissioner, San Francisco Board of Education. “The potential I see in these young people and in this opportunity is why cross institution and community partnerships can be so powerful and should be the rule not the exception for how to get things done for young people.”

In October 2018, Mayor Breed announced the launch of Opportunities for All (OFA), a program to address economic inequality by ensuring that all young people can be a part of San Francisco’s thriving economy and explore different career paths. In the first full summer of the OFA program in 2019, there were more than 3,800 total placements, including at least 1,500 new placements. 

To date, the summer 2020 OFA cohort has placed over 1,400 youth in internships. Additionally, 68 Opportunities for All Fellows and 12 Senior Fellows were placed. Fellows are college aged young adults who work directly with high school students, creating project design, and developing their projects and presentations. OFA introduced the Senior Fellow position this year, 12 upper-class college students, and postgraduates, who each managed a small group of Fellows, offering daily, direct engagement, facilitating meetings, and supporting the project design for their cohorts.  


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