Lauryn created a systematic approach to identifying and litigating wrongful shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma convictions (SBS/AHT); initiated post-conviction litigation in numerous cases and actively advocated for post-conviction reversals; and used data gathered through case identification and litigation to inform future efforts to change the way unreliable science is used in these kinds of cases and prevent future wrongful convictions.
Science has revealed the lack of evidence for SBS and shown the diagnosis is unreliable. Medical advances have shown there are many other causes of the findings upon which the diagnosis is based, and courts across the country have begun to reverse SBS convictions. Despite this, thousands of indigent people remain in prison without access to the legal resources necessary to challenge their wrongful convictions. While wrongful convictions in general disproportionately impact people of color, convictions based upon false SBS diagnoses are further subject to explicit and implicit biases as race and poverty are considered risk factors for abuse.
Lauryn grew up in a family that was impacted by the criminal justice system and is committed to providing a voice for those incarcerated. When she learned that SBS might be the largest cause of wrongful conviction, she became passionate about assisting those who have suffered an unimaginable double-tragedy: they lost a child. They then were wrongfully blamed for that loss and sent to prison as a result.
- Identified and received responses from 54 incarcerated and 6 formerly incarcerated people who are believed to have been wrongfully convicted on the basis of unreliable medical testimony about SBS/AHT
- Collected transcripts and began review in 27 cases
- Contacted forensic experts and initiated reviews in five cases thus far
- Wrote, edited, and filed two petitions for writ of habeas corpus
- Built relationships with clients through letters and prison visits, and built relationships with clients’ families
- Presented this project to the Innocence Network Conference in 2022, which has spurred other Innocence organizations to replicate this project in multiple other states across the country
Lauryn will continue working on this project at the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) as there is still so much work to be done and there are so many people awaiting justice. Lauryn is looking forward to her transition into a staff attorney at NCIP. She is grateful for the opportunity to continue advocating for people whose lives the criminal legal system has stolen, specifically those that have lost a child and then been wrongfully imprisoned for it…truly a double tragedy.
Mark’s Fellowship served to bring more Black Chicagoans into the city’s worker center movement. Mark provided on-site trainings on navigating the criminal records relief process at worker centers and litigated a variety of employment law matters on behalf of Black workers.
Black Chicagoans possess criminal records at disproportionate rates due to the over-criminalization of, and under-investment in, their communities. Those with criminal histories often cannot obtain jobs at all or are pushed into highly exploitative work. Addressing this problem requires both assisting Black Chicagoans with clearing their records and vindicating their employment law rights, and supporting grassroots social movements aimed at confronting underlying systemic issues.
Chicago is currently witnessing a mass exodus of Black residents. This project emerged from a concern for that troubling reality. Mark worked to ensure that Black Chicagoans have access to well-paying, non-exploitative work so that they can remain in the city that they call home.
During the two-year Fellowship, Mark:
- Assisted a group of workers in presenting their demands to their employer in a manner that provided them with legal protections for their organizing activities and linked them to a union (which ultimately worked with the group to successfully organize the workplace.)
- Took on discrimination in the temporary staffing and warehousing industries by participating in class action lawsuits brought against companies that refused to hire Black workers.
- Provided know your rights trainings to worker center organizers on a variety of issues in employment law, including wage theft, discrimination, and local ordinance violations.
- Built a partnership with a local law school clinic which has provided expungement and sealing services for dozens of workers to date.
Mark will be staying on with Raise the Floor Alliance – Legal Department as a Staff Attorney!
Eliana worked to protect and restore the rights of survivors of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration through legal clinics, public education, corporate partnerships, and policy advocacy led by impacted people.
In the 50 years since Nixon’s announcement of the War on Drugs, the political campaign has severely damaged Black communities through mass incarceration, economic dilapidation, state-sanctioned violence, and the reduction of community resources. Eliana’s project focused on providing civil legal aid to individuals with conviction histories to help them obtain economic justice while helping to remove the actual systems that contribute to these injustices.
During her two-year Fellowship, Eliana:
- Collaborated with Viola cannabis brand, a Black-owned multi-state operator, to author a 100-page Know Your Rights toolkit titled A New Leaf: A How-to Guide for Successful Reentry After a Cannabis Conviction, which serves as a self-help guide for folks with drug-related convictions in all stages of reentry. Eliana also hosted community legal trainings on the content of the toolkit.
- Hosted corporate legal compliance trainings for cannabis employers to teach them how to respect the rights of criminal justice-impacted applicants under California’s Ban the Box legislation.
- Engaged in policy work to advocate for the decriminalization of drugs and creation of expungement laws through her participation in coalitions such as Drug Policy Alliance’s Federal Cannabis Regulations Working Group. She also had the privilege of educating legislators on best practices for decriminalization and expungements through speaking engagements, including serving as a panelist at the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s Federal Policy Forum.
- Directly represented individuals with drug-related convictions in expungement hearings and administrative hearings against state licensing boards who denied applicants an occupational license. Eliana was the first attorney in California to argue for client relief under a newly enacted law, AB2138, which prohibited certain boards from denying licensure due to an expunged conviction.
- Collaborated with her sponsors on reentry clinics – serving 90 clients – and legal research projects.
After her Fellowship, Eliana will continue to advocate for the rights of survivors of the War on Drugs in a leadership position with The Hood Incubator and through her own independent consulting for NGOs and government agencies. The Hood Incubator leverages the legal cannabis industry as a model for healing and equity through economic development, community organizing, and policy advocacy. This is Eliana’s dream job as it is a national, Black-led grassroots organization committed to building a movement for cannabis justice so every Black person can generate wealth, health, and prosperity for their communities.
Upon their release from prison, individuals with criminal convictions are saddled with significant civil disabilities. These disabilities limit employment and housing prospects, ultimately serving as instruments of social exclusion and encouraging recidivism. To address these barriers to re-entry, C. Daniel appealed denials of occupational licenses based on unrelated criminal histories, hosted forums on the rights of individuals with convictions, and advocated for greater community supports for reentry.
I believe that a person is more than the worst thing they've ever done. Individuals with criminal convictions and their communities are best served by true opportunities for community inclusion.
C. Daniel Bowes /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Dana’s project focused on breaking down legal barriers to employment for clients in Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota’s 22 county service area. He represented clients in matters related to criminal expungements, Department of Human Services licensure hearings, and drivers license revocation hearings.
Even people who've made mistakes and broken the law are entitled to a second chance. Hopefully my work opens doors to people who've had countless amounts slammed in their face due to previous mistakes.
Dana Jene Yokom /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Mirella provided legal assistance to the residents of Alameda County who have been involved in the criminal justice system, and who face barriers to employment. Through education and outreach, cross-practice referrals and weekly legal clinics, she will help clients obtain all available records remedies. Criminal record remedies for residents of Alameda County, who are facing barriers to employment due to their prior involvement in the criminal justice system.
During Mirella’s Fellowship, Mirella:
- Provided direct legal representation for low income clients throughout Alameda County
- Educated individuals in Alameda County about the new court remedies available to California residents who have had their driver’s licenses suspended
- Removed the barriers to employment faced by many Alameda County residents
Benjamin Butler will provide direct representation to income-eligible Veterans to help improve the lives of low income and homeless Veterans by providing legal services that untimely lead to higher incomes, better health, safer housing, and family stability.
Veterans frequently face complex legal problems that stem from mental and physical injuries sustained during service. These issues, if left unresolved can lead to serious obstacles for Veterans. This program will focus on assisting with the legal needs of Veterans, in order to help to avoid or overcome these obstacles in order to achieve a better quality of life for Veterans.
Bethan works on Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Clean Slate Project, which collaborates with community partners to provide direct reentry legal services for expungements and Certificates of Relief for dismissed charges and convictions across the state of North Carolina.
Today in the United States, about 1.6 million people are currently in prison; 4 million are on probation; and nearly 65 million have a criminal record. In the South, the prison population has grown faster than in any other region. Criminal justice is therefore a critically important issue–particularly so for communities of color.
Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction are formidable and often insurmountable barriers to successful reentry. They include disenfranchisement; denial of public employment and benefits; loss of professional licenses; and deportation. Southern states have more legal barriers to successful reentry than other regions of the country. According to a report by the Legal Action Center, which ranked all 50 states from best to worst based on the number of legal obstacles faced by people attempting to renter society, most of the southern states were ranked in the worst category, meaning they had the greatest number of roadblocks to reentry.
The entrenched criminal justice system is in urgent need of widespread reform. SCSJ’s Clean Slate Project is just a small piece of the overall effort to end mass incarceration and the overcriminalization of people of color. By providing community requested legal services to address collateral consequences, lawyers help directly affected people to obtain jobs and housing and ultimately join in community organizing efforts for change.
During the Bethan’s Fellowship, Bethan:
- Filed petitions in over 30 of the 100 NC counties
- Argued petitions in 7 counties
- Held 5 legal services clinics in 4 counties
- Engaged local court actors, including DAs, PDs, judges, and clerks, in learning about the Clean Slate Project and collateral consequences
- Developed a case management system and recruited and trained 12 law school interns and community volunteers to expand caseload capacity while maintaining high quality service for clients
- Continued providing direct legal services by holding 3 clinics
- Expanded filing Certificate of Relief and expunction petitions to at least 10 other counties
- Collaborated with partner organizations to challenge private landlords in denying housing to those with criminal records and Certificates of Relief
- Challenged at the state appellate level several trial court denials of Certificates of Relief and expunction petitions.
Dafna Gozani, through Colorado Juvenile Defender Center’s We Believe in Youth Project, represents justice-involved youth and former youth remove barriers to employment.
CJDC’s ability to provide direct expungement and deregistration services for youth and former youth fills a gap in ancillary legal services in Colorado. This gap is particularly pronounced in the collateral consequences of juvenile delinquency cases. Because the public defender and other legal services agencies in Colorado do not provide representation to youth and former youth seeking to expunge their juvenile records or remove their names from juvenile registries, CJDC is the only nonprofit provider of legal services to remove these barriers to employment.
During Dafna’s Fellowship, Dafna:
- Created an entirely new direct services project for the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center
- Provided services to over 200 Individuals with Barriers to Employment
- Removed 29 Barriers to Employment through Direct Representation• Expand CJDC’s We Believe in Youth Program
- Created a Formal Pro Bono Referral Program
- Continued to assist individuals with legal and employment services
Erica provided legal assistance to low-income individuals in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties experiencing legal barriers to employment, including direct representation for expungements and outreach to organizations serving unemployed and underemployed individuals.
Having seen how past interactions with law enforcement impacted clients in the family law, immigration, public benefits and civil rights contexts, Erica was happy to be able to use the law to free clients from the collateral consequences of having a criminal record through the expungement process.
Erica’s experience as a community organizer and Peace Corps Volunteer before law school taught her to listen to her clients, think creatively, build coalitions, and work cross-culturally.
Following her Fellowship, Erica remained on staff at the Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania (LASP). She is currently a supervising attorney of the community engagement unit at LASP.