lawyers working at the intersection of poverty and criminal justice


We represent the poor and vulnerable.

We use that work to identify and research the systems that perpetuate poverty and punish the poor. Then we—with courts, schools, police, and citizens—craft, implement, test, and replicate the remedies to those systemic causes.


The criminal justice system is broken. Over-criminalization and reliance on retributive punishment have resulted in a system of oppression that entrenches poverty and harms those on the margins. By shifting the focus to healing, rather than punishment, the criminal justice system can simultaneously address the root causes of offending behavior and improve lives while enhancing public safety.

Street Outreach Court Detroit

In 2010, Street Democracy led an effort to establish a specialty homeless court in Detroit that credits the efforts of defendants to address the roots causes of their homelessness against outstanding fines and costs. We currently serve as the court's defense counsel. Since its inception in 2012, SOCD has helped hundreds end their homelessness. Learn More

Functional Sentencing

Born from our work in SOCD, Functional Sentencing seeks to replace the traditional system of fines and costs with targeted interventions—such as, job training and GED classes—for all defendants in need. By adopting Functional Sentencing, courts can achieve specialty court-level public safety gains at a fraction of the cost. We are currently piloting the program in Hamtramck, Michigan. Learn More.

Deescalation & Diversion

In 2018, we began engaging law enforcement agencies to discuss ways of implementing deescalation and diversion policies. These policies lessen the potential of violent police interactions and advance public safety by shepherding citizens to services.

Court Watch

Court Watch is our court observational program to discover the policies and practices that serve to deny equal access to the courts. From those observations, we advocate for changes to court rules, forms, and informal practice.

Watch our clients Dennis, Lesia, and Mecca testify with Patti before the Michigan Supreme Court to help end pay-or-stay sentencing.


While criminal justice reform is the core of our mission, we recognize that no issue can be addressed in isolation. So we collaborate with other community organizations and engage in a broad range of advocacy areas—from homelessness to the 'school-to-prison pipeline'.


Ending homelessness has been the underlying motivation for our work. We mitigate homelessness by (i) providing direct services to homeless veterans; (ii) providing policy and research support as a member of the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures; and (iii) advocating changes to regular landlord tenant court practice.


Street Democracy, with the ACLU of Michigan, Michigan State Conference NAACP, 482Forward, Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, and Student Advocacy Center, leads an effort to provide schools consultation regarding new legislation ending zero-tolerance policies.

Worker Co-Ops

Worker cooperatives are businesses that allow workers to become owners with little barrier-to-entry. We work with our partner Grace-in-Action to incubate and grow worker cooperatives in SW Detroit.


Charles Hobbs

Charles directs our legal services program to homeless veterans and leads our education policy work. When he isn't representing to homeless veterans, he represents K-12 students in expulsion hearings.

Nick Aquino

Nick is the lead researcher on the Functional Sentencing project and the main contributor to our tax foreclosure work. He also performs administrative and organizational duties to support daily operations.

Jacquelyn Babinski

Jacquelyn is our legal researcher and grant writer. She also assists Charles on our education policy work. She is currently a 3rd-year Law Student at Michigan State University, intending to specialize in juvenile law after graduation.

Jayesh Patel

Jayesh leads SOCD, FS, our advocacy projects, manages the team, and faces constant ridicule from his family and friends for his undying commitment to the uniform.