Harjeen Zibari

  • Hosted by Texas Fair Defense Project
  • Sponsored by Lisa Foster and Alan Bersin
  • Service location Austin, Texas
  • Law school The University of Texas School of Law
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Harjeen empowered, educated, and advocated for Texans impacted by a broken probation system through direct representation and policy work, all to end the poverty to mass incarceration pipeline.

Harjeen’s Kurdish heritage instilled in her a passion to work with and empower underserved populations. This project provided her an opportunity to do just that, while effecting lasting change in Texas’s criminal legal system.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Harjeen:
  • Waived a total of $59,247.69 in probation-related costs, fines, and restitution
  • Achieved the early termination of probation for 10 clients, and avoided sentence extensions for 12 others
  • Worked with a local coalition to stop the construction of an $80 million women’s jail in Travis County, Texas, which would have disparately impacted poor women of color and added to the state’s overwhelmingly carceral infrastructure
  • Was elected to serve as a member on the Texas Bar Legal Services of the Poor in Criminal Matters Committee
  • Wrote and published an Ability to Pay Guidance for Judges and Practitioners, outlining the statutory scheme regarding fines and fees in Texas, and highlighting recent legislative changes in that arena

Next Steps

After her Fellowship, Harjeen will serve as the Director of the Probation Project at the Texas Fair Defense Project, continuing the work to dismantle Texas’s broken probation system. She will continue to provide direct representation to folks struggling to keep up with the fines and fees associated with their probation and will file requests for early termination of probation for eligible applicants. Additionally, she will work on statewide policy initiatives, including proposing bills related to probation during the upcoming 88th Texas Legislative Session. Furthermore, she will train judges and defense attorneys across the state on how to set low-income Texans up for success during their probation sentences.

Growing up in a Kurdish immigrant community, I witnessed firsthand how devastating grappling with the legal system can be, especially when someone does not have the finances or generational knowledge to succeed.

Harjeen Zibari /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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