Archival: This is archived content from the original Court Watch LA website, before the program’s relaunch.
Court Watch LA began in June 2019 when organizers from several social justice groups based in Los Angeles got together to discuss how they could hold prosecutors and judges in the criminal courts accountable for their actions. The preceding few years had seen increasing rates of homelessness and a subsequent rise in arrests for trespassing and loitering, seemingly unjustifiably high fines, fees, and bail levied upon low-income individuals, and the continuation of disproportionately high rates of prosecution of Black and Latinx individuals in Los Angeles.
Inspired by the program already in place in New York, the Los Angeles organizers decided to create a volunteer-based program where people would observe court proceedings to record what had transpired and publicize their findings for the public. By July, the first training was held, and we now have over 200 trained volunteers who have spent over 130 hours and observed over 800 cases in courtrooms across Los Angeles.
This comes at a time when cities across the country are recruiting volunteers to watch over criminal courts. Much of what happens within courtroom walls, including statistics on the number and types of charges issued, bail amounts, and the demographics of the defendants, is not recorded and published officially. And, without this information, efforts to enforce accountability and reform within the criminal justice system are limited by a lack of evidence.
Through our observation program, we have been able to expose practices supported by the district attorney and the court system which enacts serious burdens on low-income individuals, including the many homeless people who are regularly tried in the courts.
In addition, our observers have noted racial disparities and an egregious lack of empathy from some judges and courts towards the humans who are caught in the criminal justice system. Through our work, by recording the day-to-day proceedings of the court, we hope to educate ourselves and others and to gather information that we can use to hold the district attorney and judges accountable for their actions, and to advocate for improvements in the criminal justice system.
Court Watch LA organizes volunteers to observe criminal court proceedings and analyzes and reports out their findings in order to transform the public’s understanding of the criminal legal system. Much of what happens within criminal courtroom walls is not recorded and published officially. Without this information, efforts to enforce accountability are limited. By documenting court proceedings, we hope to educate ourselves and others and gather information that we can use to advocate for changes to the criminal legal system.
Since the program’s initiation in July 2019, Court Watch LA has trained over 200 volunteers, who have collectively observed over 800 cases in Los Angeles criminal courts. Through our observation program, we have been able to expose practices by prosecutors and the court system that impose serious burdens on low-income individuals, including the many unhoused people who are regularly tried in the courts for charges directly related to their poverty. In addition, our observers have documented racial disparities and an egregious lack of empathy that some judges and prosecutors have displayed towards people caught in the criminal legal system.
Our project is already achieving its goal of informing the public and transforming our collective understanding of the criminal justice system, and we are growing. Court Watch LA continues to actively train and recruit volunteers, and is establishing more forms of outreach and alliances.
To get involved and be part of this movement, sign up for a training, and come volunteer with us.