Mehwish Shaukat

The Project

Mehwish will fight to protect the religious liberties of Muslims in prison through national appellate impact litigation and strategic coalition building. 

The United States incarcerates thousands of people of faith and routinely violates their fundamental right to worship. Most people who face such violations have no attorneys. Previous estimates have found that around 95% of people in prison represent themselves. When they file pro se, and often lose, they have no appellate representation. 

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in prison. Too often, prisons inflict violence and torture on Muslims who seek to peacefully practice their faith. With virtually no access to quality appellate representation to fight losses in the district court, the violations have multiplied in duration and degree. Muslims have been subjected to torture by prolonged stints in solitary confinement, violent forcible shavings, traumatic forcible removal of hijab, and more. There are almost no appellate experts who specialize in prisoners’ rights and also fully understand Muslim religious practices. 

Fellowship Plans

Mehwish will craft a national litigation strategy and lead the charge to file appeals for religious liberty violations in federal appellate courts across the nation. She will directly represent clients appealing Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and First Amendment violations. In addition to her impact litigation, Mehwish will leverage her deep personal ties to impacted persons and communities to center and amplify her clients’ often ignored voices in the community and in the courtroom. Her project is a groundbreaking effort to assemble a national coalition of appellate experts, impacted persons, and legal scholars to end torture and violence against Muslims in prison. Mehwish’s advocacy and appellate victories will strengthen the religious liberties of all people in prison. 

My purpose is to force the criminal justice system to reckon with the broken promises of our constitution that all people—no matter how vilified—are equal before the law.

Mehwish Shaukat /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Wilson will advocate to build fully funded alternatives to police that consider the unique cultural needs of people of color and people with disabilities.

More than half of Black people with disabilities in the United States are arrested by the time they turn 28. Police are sixteen times more likely to kill someone with a disability than a person without a disability, and three times more likely to kill a Black person than a white person. Many arrests and deaths happen when the victim is in a mental or behavioral health crisis. In most cities the existing crisis response service is a police officer with handcuffs and a gun. When police respond, the situation often escalates into an arrest, or a death–especially for people of color.

Fellowship Plans

Wilson’s project will use novel legal arguments rooted in equal protection, disability rights, and racial justice to litigate, advocate, and educate for a fully funded non-policing mental health crisis response in California. Wilson will work alongside community members and organizers, and he will leverage his personal experiences to help shape a community-led and culturally responsive alternative to police. Wilson will also develop a resource manual that will collect examples of alternatives to police in other jurisdictions as well as outline how to build emergency response and community treatment infrastructure.

Wilson’s experience supporting people with mental health disabilities at all stages in the criminal legal system inspired him to focus on police interactions. By working to limit police interactions and providing fully funded mobile crisis responses, Wilson’s project will reduce the number of people who are trapped in the criminal legal system.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship provides me an opportunity to serve my community by protecting people from the harms that come when people of color and people with disabilities have unnecessary interactions with police.

Wilson Baker /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jaden (she/her/hers) supports community-led development of an alternative to juvenile court case adjudication and the establishment of a youth-led education defense network.

Out of nearly 20,000 youth in California placed on probation in 2019, 87% were Black or Latinx. Students of color are always less likely to receive diversion and more likely to remain on probation longer than their white peers. These racial disparities are unambiguously connected to a status quo of racism in schools, from inequitable resource distribution to bias in discipline. The school-to-prison pipeline and the criminal legal system stack the odds against students who are already at a disadvantage. Young people need support, not discipline, in order to achieve their potential both in and out of school.

Fellowship Plans

During Jaden’s Fellowship, she will contribute to the realization of a Los Angeles free from constant juvenile probation surveillance. She will provide policy and legal research to community partners who are building juvenile court alternatives. Jaden will also empower system-impacted young people to defend education access of other young people through the development of a peer advocacy program. Additionally, she will document, investigate, and litigate the harms of LA’s School-Based Probation department.

Jaden is motivated by her commitment to ending violence against youth in schools and improving the quality of education for Black students. She is dedicated to transformative approaches to addressing anti-Black racism in schools and beyond.

I went to law school to serve communities like mine in a movement lawyering capacity. Now, I’m living that dream and changing the way that low-income young people of color navigate historically harmful structures by building a better one.

Jaden Lajyll Zwick Ojeaburu /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

At the Southern Center for Human Rights, Megan will provide zealous parole advocacy for incarcerated people seeking their freedom before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles (the “Board”) has a history of denying parole applications. In 2018, 54% of incarcerated people were granted parole, and that number dropped to 31% in 2019, 15% in 2020, and just 3% in 2021. The low parole grant rate exacerbates overcrowding in the Alabama Department of Corrections, which results in dangerous and even fatal conditions within the state’s prisons.

Every person seeking parole needs and deserves zealous advocacy to ensure their testimonies are heard before the Board. The steep decline in the parole grant rate in Alabama, and Alabama’s dangerously overcrowded prisons, underscore the urgent need for parole advocacy.

Fellowship Plans

Megan’s project will train legal and non-legal volunteers to provide parole-eligible individuals with passionate advocacy before the Board. Legal and non-legal advocacy for clients will increase their likelihood of success in their parole hearings. During her Fellowship, Megan will develop relationships with firms and non-legal volunteers in Alabama and Georgia to create pro bono opportunities for volunteers interested in parole advocacy, create parole advocacy presentations to train volunteers preparing for parole advocacy, and collect data concerning parole grant rates during the Fellowship.

Many of Megan’s family members have been deeply impacted by the criminal legal system, whether from incarceration, juvenile detention, probation, or parole. Megan’s connection to the criminal legal system motivates her commitment to providing zealous parole advocacy for individuals seeking their freedom in Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Corrections disproportionately ensnares low-income people of color. I am honored to provide advocates in Alabama and Georgia with the tools to ensure incarcerated people, who are often silenced, have a meaningful opportunity to seek their freedom.

Megan Toomer /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Olivia’s (she/her/hers) project will help launch the first restorative justice diversionary program in Georgia that addresses felony harms by adults: Restorative Justice Georgia.

Georgia has the highest rate of correctional control in the country. There are 527,000 people in prisons and jails or under probation or parole in Georgia, and 4.6 million individuals have a Georgia criminal record. Young, low-income, Black, and Latinx people are disproportionately impacted by correctional control.

For victims of crime, the criminal legal system does not adequately meet their needs. Research shows that most victims would prefer to hold people accountable through means beyond prison. However, there are currently no mechanisms to prioritize the healing and needs of the person harmed while giving the person responsible for the harm the chance to make amends and take accountability.

Olivia’s experiences as a Black woman have informed her of the trauma that the criminal legal system can inflict through surveillance and incarceration, especially in low-income communities of color. This has motivated Olivia to develop alternative approaches to harm that allow for accountability and healing.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Olivia will facilitate the transition of cases from the criminal legal system into the restorative justice process. She will work with criminal legal system actors to ensure the restorative justice process is fulfilled successfully, and to increase access to the program. Olivia will also engage community members to spread knowledge about restorative justice and advocate for policy changes to expand access to restorative justice throughout Georgia.

When people experience harm in their communities, they must often decide whether to involve the criminal legal system despite the weight of the consequences that can come with that. As a Black woman, I am proud to expand access to alternative responses to harm in Georgia communities, many of which are Black and Brown.

Olivia Murray /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexis (she/her) plans to use strategic litigation and a public education campaign to reform rural Illinois juvenile detention centers on behalf of youth held in unconstitutional and non-rehabilitative conditions.

During the pretrial stage of a criminal case, youth have the right to be presumed innocent and may not be punished while awaiting trial. However, youth in Illinois are routinely confined in small cells for 23 hours a day, multiple days a week, without adequate medical or mental health care or educational services.

Being detained as a child is a life-altering experience that can have long-term negative effects, including an increased risk of adult incarceration, substance abuse, and psychiatric disorders. This is particularly true for Black youth, who are overrepresented in the Illinois juvenile justice system.

Alexis’ commitment to fighting for much-needed change in Illinois juvenile detention centers stems from her own multi-racial and multi-cultural family, which has also motivated her to join the fight to end racism in the criminal legal system and mass incarceration.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Alexis will work with attorneys from the ACLU of Illinois’ Corrections Reform Project—among other juvenile justice allies and advocates—to file lawsuits against some of the most egregious juvenile detention centers in Illinois.

Alexis will seek input from system-impacted youth, their families, and other community-based organizations to ensure her litigation strategies meet community needs and complement other advocacy efforts. Beyond the courtroom, she will also use non-litigation strategies, such as a public education campaign, to inform the public, press, and political stakeholders about the conditions in these facilities.


Ropes & Gray Announces “Ropes Impact Fellowship" to Advance Public Service Commitment

Reforms to juvenile incarceration practices, which are excessively punitive and dehumanizing, are desperately needed. I’m committed to working with juvenile justice advocates, system-impacted children, and their families to ensure that children are afforded their fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Alexis Picard /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Natalie (she/her/hers) will work with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA) and a network of community partners to offer holistic civil legal representation and self-advocacy tools to low-income residents of New Haven, Connecticut who have been involved in the criminal legal system.

Structural racism is a defining feature of the United States criminal legal system, with punishment concentrated overwhelmingly in low-income Black and Latinx communities. New Haven, a majority non-white community, has the highest incarceration rate of any county in the state of Connecticut. Disrupting the racial and economic inequities perpetuated by mass incarceration requires more than reforming the criminal legal system—it requires meeting the needs of people returning from incarceration, including their civil legal needs.

By working in partnership with her directly impacted neighbors in New Haven, Connecticut, Natalie’s Fellowship project aims to shift power and resources to communities harmed by mass incarceration, intervene in the reproduction of racial and socioeconomic inequity, and instead, support community flourishing.

Fellowship Plans

Natalie will provide individual representation, develop a holistic civil-legal screening tool specific to the needs of people returning from incarceration, and build a reciprocal referral pipeline between NHLAA, public defenders, and social service providers serving New Haven residents with criminal-legal system involvement. Natalie will also develop educational and pro se materials on high-priority civil-legal needs and hold a series of workshops with community partners on these topics. By equipping people who are returning from incarceration into the community with holistic civil-legal representation and resources for self-advocacy, this project supports residents’ stability in the community and advances racial and socioeconomic justice.

Sparked by a racialized encounter with police when I was a teenager in rural Montana, my subsequent sociological and legal education kindled my commitment to offer direct legal support and self-advocacy tools to communities harmed by mass incarceration.

Natalie Smith /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Emily (she/her/hers) will enhance opportunities and liberty for low-income Georgians by preventing license suspension, probation, incarceration, and other consequences of non-serious traffic offenses.

Georgia’s traffic code exposes low-income Georgians to an increased risk of prolonged license suspension and being placed under correctional control because of their inability to pay a traffic ticket. Georgia drivers who are unable to afford to pay traffic fines are routinely placed on probation due solely to their inability to pay. Additionally, Georgia drivers routinely have their driver’s licenses suspended for reasons unrelated to unsafe driving. Both consequences mean millions of Georgians are at risk of a non-serious traffic offense leading to state supervision, loss of transportation, loss of income, or even loss of liberty.

Emily understands first-hand how hard it can be for low-income families to meet sudden expenses. Growing up in the South and spending almost a decade in Georgia, Emily is passionate about creating a community where low-income Georgians are not at risk of losing their liberty or livelihood because they cannot afford an unexpected expense.

Fellowship Plans

Emily will enhance low-income Georgians’ liberty by interrupting these collateral consequences of minor traffic offenses. Emily will represent individuals facing license suspension or potential loss of liberty in non-serious traffic cases. Emily will also develop clinics where Georgians facing license suspensions can receive assistance from pro bono attorneys. Through direct representation, data gathering, and community outreach, Emily will identify patterns to develop and pursue a policy agenda to create more equity and opportunity in Georgia’s traffic code.

I’m passionate about this project because of the practical, day-to-day implications it has for low-income Georgians. The idea that something as common as a traffic ticket can upend lives and curtail liberty motivates me to advocate for a better Georgia.

Emily Spears /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Serena (she/her) will support detained and imprisoned children in Louisiana by challenging the state’s plan to transfer children to adult prisons and advocating for improved conditions of confinement for children through direct representation, strategic litigation, and educational training.

In Louisiana, district attorneys can prosecute children as young as 14 in adult court for certain serious offenses. Recently, state leadership introduced a plan to transfer additional children from Bridge City Center for Youth to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Prison. This issue predominately impacts Black children, who make up 80% of the children incarcerated in Louisiana.

After witnessing the incarceration of community members and loved ones in her childhood, Serena embraced the promise of a future where children receive support in their communities rather than confinement in jails and prisons. This promise motivates her commitment to children’s rights and reintegration.

Fellowship Plans

For children to return to their communities, they need the resources to thrive there. In adult prisons, children are more likely to experience abuse and ultimately recommit. During this Fellowship, Serena aims to challenge the transfer of children to adult prisons and the movement of juvenile cases to the adult system. She also seeks to advocate for the safety, civil rights, and rehabilitation of children in adult prisons.

Many children are denied the resources to flourish at home or in school. Instead, they are pipelined into a system that makes it even harder to succeed. I am honored to advocate for the rights of the children who navigate this system.

Serena Hughley /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

At Northeast Legal Aid, Lexi (she/hers) will work to counteract legal barriers to reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals through direct representation, education, and community outreach.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face extensive and compounding barriers to reentry, including denials of housing, employment, and occupational licenses. Many reentering individuals also have significant criminal or child support debt that can lead to driver’s license suspensions and wage garnishment. These barriers are the result of systems that deem formerly incarcerated individuals as unworthy of community resources, deny their humanity, and often fuel cycles of poverty, instability, and recidivism.

Lexi’s passion for reentry work stems directly from her long history working with currently and formerly incarcerated clients in Norway, Italy, New Zealand, and the United States. She is deeply committed to creating a future where no one experiences the trauma of incarceration, and where responses to harm are rooted in healing, community, and compassion.

Fellowship Plans

Lexi’s project strives to address barriers to reentry by providing holistic, wrap-around, direct representation to reentering individuals. She will represent clients on issues involving criminal-record-related housing and employment denials, child support debt, driver’s license suspensions, occupational licensing, record clearing, and public benefits.

Lexi will also work with local reentry centers and community organizations to distribute legal resource materials, host weekly clinics, and facilitate know your rights trainings to ensure that reentering individuals understand and are empowered to exercise their rights.

My formerly incarcerated clients are some of the kindest, most resilient people I know. Like everyone, they deserve access to stable housing, meaningful employment, and the opportunity to live happy and healthy lives as integral parts of our communities.

Lexi Gray /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow