Partnering with San Quentin: The SFDA/San Quentin News Forum

Partnering with San Quentin

The First Forum and Partnership of its Kind

Born out of an unlikely partnership between a district attorney’s office, a former newspaper owner, and inmate at San Quentin, the  SFDA/San Quentin News Forum represents the first-of-its-kind collaboration at San Quentin between inmates and prosecutors to discuss incarceration, rehabilitation, and reentry to further push and evolve our criminal justice system.

A Growing Success

Since its inception in 2012, the Forum has expanded its reach. The SFDA’s Office now takes trips to San Quentin with regularity, with each visit including a growing number of prosecutors from the office, politicians, and judges from throughout the Bay Area.

Just earlier this year, DA Gascón and members of the SFDA’s Office led more than 40 elected district attorneys and approximately 28 assistant district attorneys from throughout the United States to San Quentin. The event occurred as part of the itinerary for an annual prosecutor’s conference hosted by the SFDA’s Office this year. The elected DAs in attendance came from New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, and many other cities in between.

The Forum has also proved to be successful in another way. The inspiration behind the office’s first-of-its-kind (for a prosecutor’s office) Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board (“FIA Board”) came from a SQ Forum. The FIA Board, which includes DA Gascón, members of his office, and formerly incarcerated men and women, meet regularly to discuss more effective strategies and policies for reducing recidivism.

Founded in 2012 by the SFDA's Office, a Former Newspaper Owner, and Inmate at SQ

The idea behind the Forum first developed after a prosecutor from the SFDA’s office attended a general newspaper meeting at San Quentin. The meeting, held by a former newspaper owner and facilitated by the editor-in-chief of the San Quentin Newspaper, focused on skills development for managing a successful publication. As the men interacted, they shared their personal insights on the role of incarceration in their lives and their ideas for impacting positive change beyond the walls of San Quentin. It quickly became apparent that the men had as much to impart as they had to learn.

Recognizing the value of the conversation within the broader arena of criminal justice reform, DA Gascón and a team from the office traveled to San Quentin months later to hear the men themselves, inaugurating the first Forum and beginning a growing relationship between the office and San Quentin. 

Listening to their Experiences to Promote Public Safety

The purpose of the SQ News Forum is to promote public safety through honest conversations between the incarcerated men and prosecutors in our office. During forums, the men speak with truth and accountability about their crimes and their upbringing, and answer questions raised by prosecutors and policy thinkers from the office.

Broad topics of discussion include incarceration, rehabilitation, and reentry, and often lead to deeper discussions about factors that underlie criminal behavior, effective strategies for safely expanding rehabilitation programs, and the tools that the recently released need to succeed upon parole. The men also speak candidly about their childhoods, focusing on mechanisms to reduce the entry of at-risk juvenile offenders into the criminal justice system.

Path to Reform by Looking Within

The SQ News Forum provides a platform for men on the inside to be of service to the community on the outside. Through these conversations, there is hope that law enforcement and incarcerated individuals can work together by relying on each others’ experiences to more meaningfully and justly transform our criminal justice system.