Street Democracy logo

a legal reform nonprofit working arm-in-arm with community to make public systems just

FYI, we are moving things around on the website to make it easier for y'all... pardon the dust.

Our Why

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

Martin Luther King, Jr signature

We love our friends, who like us, work tirelessly on the frontlines to help folks who are suffering now. But we know that ending future harm means turning systems of oppression into systems of opportunity.

That sounds awesome... but uh, What exactly does that mean? We thought you'd never ask.

A system of opportunity, by offering aid and encouragement, clears the path for its participants to live their best lives.

Instead of seeking to punish or humiliate or ignore, a system of opportunity wants its participants to succeed. It wants to quickly connect them to in-community supports so that they have the resources to focus on getting better. It wants to teach them the skills they need to get out and stay out. A system of opportunity also reinforces the dignity of its participants. It incorporates their voice at every step. And it uses a process so simple and transparent that the vast majority can navigate themselves out.

We exist to make this a reality... and hopefully one day put ourselves out of business. :)

Our How

This is our secret sauce, our formula for transforming systems.

To get at its root, we ask a community what the problem is from their perspective, and then together dive deep to figure out exactly how and why the system repeatedly produces injustice.

When we can fix a system with a few small tweaks, we advocate for reform.

But when a system is unsalvageable, we work arm-in-arm with a community to design a better one. We test it out, and if it seems like we really, really got something, we develop toolkits, technology, and other actionable resources that can quickly be adapted for use in other communities.

We call this approach Functional Justice.

Shout out to all our math nerd peeps out there! :)

Our What

As community-based lawyers, we play whatever role the community needs. From direct representation of individuals and organizations to policy advocacy, impact litigation, and organizing. All our work starts off project-based, as smaller, issue-specific research or advocacy actions. But when community or need requires it, projects grow into larger, everyday work, our programs.


Street Outreach Court Detroit

In 2011, Street Democracy led an effort to establish a specialty homeless court in Detroit that credits the efforts of defendants to address the root causes of their homelessness against outstanding fines and costs. We currently serve as the court's defense counsel. Over 600 graduates have earned their way toward a better life. learn more

Functional Sentencing

Functional Sentencing is a sentencing model we developed, based on our work in SOCD, that gives people the opportunity to improve their lives by addressing the root causes of their behavior which achieves better public safety outcomes than fines, supervision, and jail. Our project focuses on helping citizens, communities, counsel, and courts use and adopt Functional Sentencing. learn more


In 2016, Street Democracy launched a partnership with Volunteers of America Michigan to provide coordinated human and legal services to rapidly re-house homeless veteran families. learn more

Access to Justice

Court Watch is our effort 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. learn more

BLM & Police Reform

Since 2018, we have been working to reduce police violence through a mix of advocacy and technical assistance. learn more

Property Tax Justice

For more than 10% of our SOCD clients', homelessness was connected to a property tax foreclosure. Working through a community coalition, we are working to rightsize assessments, ease the process for folks to claim their exemptions, bring reparations to those that have unjustly been foreclosed. coalition homepage


ReThink started from Charles' pro bono work in combatting the school-to-prison pipeline. It then led to our partnership with the ACLU of Michigan, Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, 482Forward, Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, the Student Advocacy Center, and other education advocates to make the school discipline process restorative and procedurally just. learn more

Our Clients' Voice

As lawyers, we know we have access to spaces our clients don't. We believe it is one of our fundamental duties to share that access by centering their voice in our advocacy.

Watch our clients Dennis, Lesia, and Mecca testify with our former colleague (now ALJ Judge) Patti before the Michigan Supreme Court to advocate for a new court rule to end pay-or-stay sentencing.

Play icon, link to youtube video
Street Democracy team with clients in front of Michigan Supreme Court bench

On the far left is Mary Jones, a member of Detroit Action and co-chair of SOCD, leading the conversation on trends and opportunities in homeless courts at the ABA and California's Judicial Council Homeless Court Summit in San Diego.

Also, Mary joined our board in 2020.

Also, also, that's Judge Cylenthia LaToye Miller, SOCD's co-founding judge, in the center.

In 2016, Detroit students sued the State of Michigan for their failure to provide meaningful access to literacy to Detroit public schools' students.During the case's appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Street Democracy filed an amicus brief on behalf
482Forward, a parent-student education advocacy organization.

We felt that the best way to demonstrate the lack of access to literacy and its impact on students was to put front and center the words and art, poetry and protests of 482Forward's members.

We believe ours to be the first voice brief of this kind.

482 - Amicus - 2018-11-27 - Filed.pdf

Instead of a standard legal argument, we simply submitted as our letter this petition signed by over 160 non-attorneys in support of a court rule amendment to allow cell phones.

SD - Court Watch - MCR - 2019-11-01 - Letter in Support of MCR 2018-30.pdf

Our Commitment

Because we believe partnership with community extends beyond the intersection of our respective work, we commit to step outside of our "mission" to help our community partners achieve theirs. But this small commitment is actually essential as it allows us to listen, learn, and realign with our own actual mission, being truly community-driven advocates.

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Ready to join the fight?