San Francisco

SF Public Defender's Office Welcomes High Schoolers Under Citywide Mentor Program

NBC 5 News

Twenty-five public high school students in San Francisco are getting an opportunity to work alongside Public Defender Mano Raju through a new virtual internship program that aims to empower youth, Mayor London Breed announced Monday.

The Young Defenders Program allows students to get a close look at the criminal justice system, working alongside Raju and other public defenders. The program began with a virtual orientation last week and on Monday, with the students doing their internships online for now amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program is a part of the Opportunities for All initiative, created by Breed back in 2018 in order to connect young San Franciscans with opportunities like paid employment, job training, and internships that teach them new skills and connect them with professional contacts.

"I know firsthand how an internship can change the course of a young person's life," Breed said in a statement. "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 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," Raju said. "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."

During the 40-week internship, the students will hear lectures from guest speakers, be paired with attorneys and social workers for weekly assignments, participate in group projects like mock trials, and develop online outreach events that cover topics like citizens' rights, diversity on juries, and restorative justice.

Students in the defender's program will earn credits toward high school graduation while getting paid minimum wage for up to 15 hours a week.

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