Colleen Manwell

  • Hosted by Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem
  • Sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school The University of Michigan Law School
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Disability Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2012
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Colleen provided holistic, client-centered representation for women and children with mental health disabilities to combat the collateral consequences they face as a result of contact with the criminal justice system.

The number of people with mental illnesses involved in the criminal justice system is at an all-time high. According to current estimates, there are three times as many people with psychiatric disabilities in jail than in hospitals. Instead of receiving mental health care, people with mental illness often get caught up in the criminal justice system where they are at risk of slipping into a cycle of recidivism, continually revolving in and out of jail for petty offenses. The risk of repeat offenses is exacerbated by collateral consequences of contact with the criminal justice system. Public housing, job licenses, parental rights, and various forms public assistance are put in jeopardy at the moment of arrest. A legal advocate makes a drastic difference in ensuring that people with mental illness do not lose the support mechanisms they need to avoid continued involvement in the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Colleen:

  • Provided more than 200 clients with full legal representation or legal consultation
  • Helped clients secure Medicaid, Social Security, and other public benefits; trade licenses; and alternatives to incarceration, such as mental health treatment programs
  • Trained Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS) staff on working with clients experiencing mental health crises, directing clients to emergency resources, and criminal diversion programs for clients with serious mental health diagnoses

Next Steps

After her Fellowship, Colleen joined the Neighborhood Defender Service’s Family Defense Team as a staff attorney, where she defends parents in abuse-and-neglect and termination of parental rights proceedings.

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