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Headshot of Elisa Epstein

Elisa Epstein

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school University of Chicago Law School
  • Issue area Children/Youth, Disability Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2024
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Elisa’s (she/her/hers) project seeks to leverage disability rights law to litigate and advocate for the release of incarcerated youth with disabilities in order to ensure they receive the necessary services in their communities.

More than 200,000 youth spend at least some time in juvenile detention in any given year. Nearly 70% of youth who enter the juvenile justice system have a mental health, sensory, or learning disability, and a third to 40% of detained or incarcerated youth have special education needs. Yet, instead of receiving specialized care in their communities, as they are entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are locked up in detention centers that further exacerbate their symptoms and traumas. Detained children are often subjected to damaging and horrifying conditions—such as physical violence, little or no education or mental or health care services, and 23 hours a day of solitary confinement.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Elisa will utilize an integrated advocacy approach to advocate for the decarceration of imprisoned youth with disabilities. Elisa will bring litigation against individual facilities, conducting policy advocacy in partnership with community members, and developing training materials for public defenders to center disability rights advocacy in their individual client work. Additionally, she will increase awareness of the harms inflicted on children with disabilities by carceral environments through public education initiatives.

Meet Other Fellows Like Elisa

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Julia Souza

Host: Law Foundation of Silicon Valley

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Beth Kurtz

Host: Children’s Law Center

Sponsor: The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

Stephanie Cocce

Host: Greater Boston Legal Services

Sponsor: Anonymous

Rajan Anthony Sonik

Host: Massachusetts Law Reform Institute/ LSC of Harvard

Sponsor: Biogen, Mintz