Photo of Emma Shakeshaft

Emma Shakeshaft

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin
  • Sponsored by Kohler Foundation Inc., Quarles & Brady LLP
  • Service location Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Law school University of Wisconsin Law School
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Emma challenges modern-day debtors’ prisons throughout Wisconsin by urging courts to pursue more rational and equitable approaches to criminal justice debt in municipal and circuit courts.

State and local courts throughout Wisconsin have attempted to increase funding by using aggressive tactics to collect unpaid fines and fees for low level municipal violations. Courts have gone so far as to order the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without affording hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment. As with many areas of the justice system, those who are impacted the most by these unconstitutional practices are under-resourced people of color.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past year, Emma has:

  • Filed indigency petitions for 9 individuals, which resulted in their release from the House of Corrections
  • Gave 10 talks and presentations to community members, lawyers, judges and advocates
  • Created a Wisconsin municipal court database that includes data on criminal justice debt, fines, fees, and punitive impact
  • Created and distributed over 1,000 municipal know-your-rights booklets and posted my municipal know-your-rights video for public use
  • Began a statewide investigation into the juvenile justice costs imposed on youth and their families

Next Steps

In the next year, Emma plans to:

  • Continue giving presentations to the legal community as well as know-your-rights trainings in communities that are the most impacted.
  • Analyze statewide data on commitments and other sanctions for failure to pay fines, fees, and forfeitures.
  • Continue investigating and identifying opportunities for impact litigation.


Chest to Chest: Inmates Are “Sitting Ducks” Waiting for COVID-19

I have a personal commitment to practice law in areas that benefit communities of color and focus on racial justice, specifically within the areas of civil rights and criminal justice reform.

Emma Shakeshaft /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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Ifetayo Y. Belle

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