Maya Goldman

The Project

Maya strives to protect and advance the rights of incarcerated people with disabilities in Illinois who are denied access to transitional housing programs based on their disabilities.

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) operates an ableist and classist parole system that keeps disabled people in prison past their release dates. Everyone sentenced to prison in the state is given a “mandatory supervised release” (MSR) date, at which point they are supposed to be placed in transitional housing to assist in their reentry. However, the IDOC largely contracts with housing programs that categorically deny entry to people with disabilities. Many programs refuse entry to people taking psychiatric medications, and the vast majority are not at all accessible to people who use mobility devices. Without such programs, disabled incarcerated people are left with an impossible choice: stop taking their medications or using mobility devices to increase their chances of getting into a housing program, or prioritize their health but risk spending extra time in prison because there is nowhere for them to go.

Fellowship Plans

Maya’s project will develop a class action lawsuit to ensure the Illinois Department of Corrections abides by the Americans with Disabilities Act when contracting with transitional housing providers. She will coordinate with local disability rights and reentry organizations, as well as system-impacted individuals, to establish an advisory committee that will guide all community organizing, litigation, and policy goals. Additionally, Maya will work closely with service providers to ensure disabled people returning home from prison receive support with housing, employment, and Social Security benefits.

As a Disabled person, I find power—and resilience—in advocating alongside members of my community to ensure disabled people never fall through the cracks. No one should have to hide their disability in order to get out of prison and into housing.

Maya Goldman /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maya (she/her/hers) investigates and assists with affirmative litigation to vindicate the rights of people experiencing human rights abuses in Georgia prisons and jails, and work on community-based non-litigation approaches to these harms.

Georgia has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the United States. Conditions of confinement in many of Georgia’s jails and prisons have deteriorated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic such that incarcerated people are experiencing violations of their human rights. Black and Latine Georgians are overrepresented in Georgia’s prisons and jails, and therefore more likely to be impacted by the significant decline in conditions of confinement that incarcerated people are experiencing.

Maya’s time as an investigator working on advocacy and litigation around criminal courts in the South drives her commitment to open courts, which are an essential step toward empowering communities to enact change in local criminal legal systems. She is passionate about challenging injustices at the intersection of race and poverty in the criminal legal system.

Fellowship Plans

Maya will work with attorneys and investigators to investigate conditions of confinement at facilities in Georgia through interviews with incarcerated people and record requests. Maya will work with the legal and policy teams to identify strategies to curb the human rights abuses people are experiencing and increase decarceration efforts, including supporting movement led work. Maya will also work with a team of data experts to identify the racial disparities present in the carceral system in Georgia.

Media

Using Waller to Uphold First and Sixth Amendment Rights Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

Fabulous Fellows: Students Earn Premier Honors in Public Interest Practice

My experience as an investigator showed me the importance of working with clients and impacted communities to challenge inhumane conditions and other consequences of mass incarceration."

Maya Chaudhuri /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Roz (she/her/hers) will aim to dismantle arbitrary procedural barriers that derail prisoners’ civil rights actions through federal appeals attacking such barriers, amicus coalitions, and education for prisoners.

The United States leads the world in incarcerations with 2.3 million people behind bars. The brutalities of mass incarceration are well documented, including the psychological torture of solitary confinement, rampant sexual and other violence, and the shocking indifference of prison officials to the well-being of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisoners who have suffered such harm deserve justice. The problem is, decades ago Congress enacted a poorly drafted statute, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which obstructs prisoners’ access to the courts. Perhaps the greatest of the PLRA’s barriers is the exhaustion provision: if a prisoner fails to comply precisely with its often purposefully complicated requirements, his or her right to sue is lost forever, no matter how horrific the civil rights abuse.

Roz’s experience working alongside prisoners in law school opened her eyes to the unspeakable horrors they face daily and motivates her commitment to building a legal landscape where they can successfully seek justice for those horrors.

Fellowship Plans 

Roz will litigate federal appeals across the country on behalf of prisoners whose civil rights lawsuits have been thrown out because of the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement to create a more favorable law. Additionally, she will develop a coalition of diverse actors to co-write amicus briefs in order to persuade judges to change the way that they approach exhaustion cases. Finally, she will teach prisoners about strategies to avoid common exhaustion pitfalls through an educational program at an Illinois prison.

Media

Roz Dillon's Team Member Profile

I am driven by the fundamental truth that prisoners are people, and that all people, no matter what they have done, deserve to be treated humanely and with dignity.

Roz Dillon /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Eliza (she/her/hers) will work to stop the solitary confinement of children—particularly children of color—in Georgia’s adult prisons using strategic litigation and public education.

Georgia is one of the few states that continues to subject children to solitary confinement.  For kids incarcerated in Georgia’s adult prisons, solitary confinement is used both as a disciplinary sanction and for protection against bodily harm.  Children in solitary are kept in a cell the size of a parking space, receive food through a feeding slot, and must be strip-searched and handcuffed when allowed out of their cell.  This has devastating mental health effects and greatly increases the likelihood of recidivism.

In Georgia, this practice almost exclusively affects Black youth: Black teens make up around 80% of juveniles in Georgia’s prisons.  Black children in Georgia are thus not only more likely to be sent to adult prison but once there, they are subjected to a type of confinement that all but ensures long-term mental health problems and a return to the criminal legal system. Ending this practice is therefore critical to achieving racial justice in Georgia.

Eliza’s experience advocating for clients subjected to solitary confinement and her commitment to making Georgia better motivate her to fight against solitary confinement in its cruelest form—as applied to children, and disproportionately children of color.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Eliza will bring strategic litigation raising challenges to juvenile solitary confinement. She will also collect data and track Georgia’s use of solitary confinement for kids. Additionally, she will develop public education materials to increase awareness of this issue, such as op-eds.

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

Ensuring that kids in adult prisons are not subjected to solitary confinement can greatly minimize the long-term negative impact of incarceration.

Eliza McDuffie /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sarah (she/her/hers) will evaluate North Carolina prisons to ascertain confinement conditions of people with mental illness and recommend a strategy to keep these individuals out of solitary confinement-like conditions.

North Carolina prisons have rates of serious mental illness nearly four times higher than the general population. Prison mental health treatment programs are insufficient to meet mental health needs, and even existing treatment options reportedly go under-utilized. Although solitary confinement harms mental health, people with mental illness are reportedly often placed into these units in violation of state policy. The exacerbation of mental illness in prison remains difficult to halt because advocates and legislators have limited information about what happens behind prison walls. Keeping people with mental illness out of harmful prison conditions requires a comprehensive knowledge of how prisons actually operate.

Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder as a teenager and recovered because she had privileged access to high-quality healthcare. After studying the systematic criminalization of mental illness, she became determined to expand quality care access to marginalized populations, particularly for people in prison who lack agency over care.

Fellowship Plans

Sarah will research and collect data firsthand on the mental health treatment and solitary confinement units in seven North Carolina prisons. She will then use empirical evidence to form recommendations for legal advocacy aimed at improving prison conditions for people with mental illness. Her project will culminate in a report and will give Disability Rights North Carolina a path forward in advocating for reform on these issues. Her findings will also be utilized by partner organizations and the state government.

Media

An Advocate for Mental Health

A person’s opportunity to recover from disease is a human right that should not be impeded by prison walls.

Sarah Hoffman /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Sarah advocates on behalf of incarcerated women in Massachusetts and serves their unique legal needs through trauma-informed representation, rights education, policy reform, and increasing public awareness

Because incarceration has traditionally been framed as a men’s issue, the unique challenges women face while in custody are erased and their needs remain unmet. Acknowledging how incarceration affects women, specifically, is critical to advocating for those needs. An overwhelming majority of incarcerated women have experienced sexual violence, which is then compounded by their experiences in custody. Women are also more likely to be primary caregivers and have distinct medical needs.

As a woman of color, Sarah is motivated to advocate on behalf of her fellow women of color, many of whom are disproportionately impacted by the criminal and carceral systems.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Sarah has:

  • Provided advocacy, advice, and referrals on 43 matters for incarcerated women, both cis and trans
  • Partnered with a data analysis firm to design a survey for incarcerated women regarding their experiences with sexual trauma
  • Testified in front of a Massachusetts state legislature joint committee in favor of a bill that would implement a five-year moratorium on the construction of new jails and prisons

Next Steps

In the next year, Sarah plans to:

  • Distribute the survey widely to collect data on incarcerated women’s experiences with trauma
  • Partner with sponsors to interview incarcerated women throughout Massachusetts to hear their stories of experiences during and prior to incarceration
  • Publish a report based on survey data and stories from interviews detailing incarcerated women’s experiences with trauma and proposed solutions as devised by directly impacted women
  • Implement a media and legislative campaign based on the report to raise public awareness and push for systemic change

Media

Women in Massachusetts Prisons Targets of Sexual, Mental Abuse: Study

A Different Way Forward: Stories from Incarcerated Women in Massachusetts and Recommendations

Massachusetts Organizers Call for No New Women’s Prisons and an End to Their Construction

PLS Considers a Different Way Forward for Women’s Prisons

Fostering a More Just Society

Bor-Zale, Nawab and Warren Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowships

My life experiences taught me the value of empathy, and it is empathy that is at the heart of trauma-informed representation.

Sarah Nawab /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Expanded access to necessary medical care for incarcerated people with opioid use disorder through innovative litigation, advocacy, and training.

At least a quarter of America’s prison population suffers from opioid use disorder and twenty-four percent of people who are addicted to heroin pass through America’s jails and prisons each year. Yet most jails and prisons have an outright ban on medication for addiction treatment (MAT), the medically approved way to treat people with opioid use disorder through a combination of counseling and the FDA approved medications methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The consequences of such inadequate medical care are deadly—one study found that in the first two weeks after release from prison, an incarcerated person’s risk of dying from a heroin overdose is forty times as high as the general population. But providing MAT saves lives—making it seven times less likely that a recently incarcerated individual will die of an overdose.

Joseph is from rural Ohio, which has been severely impacted by the opioid epidemic, as documented in the book Dreamland by Sam Quinones. Joseph spent the summer after his first year of law school in Cincinnati, Ohio working with incarcerated people, where he saw firsthand the toll that the opioid epidemic has taken on vulnerable communities. Joseph envisions a world where people suffering from any addiction are able to get the treatment they need and live whole lives, free from stigma.

Fellowship Highlights

Throughout his Fellowship, Joseph filed cases against jails and prisons in Illinois, New Mexico, and New York for failure to provide MAT for incarcerated people with opioid use disorder. The litigation in Illinois resulted in his client being the first non-pregnant person in the DuPage County Jail to receive methadone in five years and also sparked an expansion of the Jail’s methadone policy. He also published a report giving an overview of MAT-in-corrections policies throughout the country and providing a roadmap for policy change. Joseph worked on legislative and policy advocacy efforts alongside ACLU affiliates across the country to change prison and jail policies on MAT, as well as working on COVID-19 related litigation in jails and immigration detention facilities.

Next Steps

After his Fellowship, Joseph will clerk for Judge Roy McLeese of the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Media

Granting Emergency Request, Federal Court Blocks Jail from Denying Life-Sustaining Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Opinion: California prisons must provide inmates addiction treatment

Pandemic Lawyering: A Year in Review

‘We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation’: Woman recovering from opioid addiction sues to get methadone treatment in DuPage County Jail

As Overdoses Spike During Coronavirus, Treating Addiction in Prisons and Jails is a Matter of Life and Death

Supporting Inmates After They are Released

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

How America’s prisons and jails perpetuate the opioid epidemic

Overdoses are on the rise. Is it time to provide medication assisted treatment in NC prisons?

Editorial: Helping jail inmates kick an opioid addiction helps us all

Exclusive: ACLU Sues NY County Over Methadone Access in Prison

How to Save Lives in Jail During the Opioid Crisis

Inmate sues to ensure methadone in prison

The Project

Sara advocated for humane conditions and accountability in Utah’s jails and prisons to protect incarcerated individuals from constitutional violations and medical neglect.

In 2014, Utah had the highest per capita jail death rate in the country. Individuals held in Utah jails and prisons have died or been seriously harmed while desperately seeking medical care. Others have been abused, kept in solitary confinement for weeks or months, or denied access to legal materials, grievance processes, or the courts. Individuals in rural jails are isolated from legal and healthcare services, and mentally ill and disabled prisoners are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect. These issues have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted incarcerated people who are housed in congregate settings where social distancing is often impossible. Thousands of people were infected with COVID-19 in Utah’s prisons and jails, demonstrating the dangers posed by mass incarceration, and the need for release plans and robust enforced safety protocols to protect the health and safety of incarcerated people, corrections staff, and the broader community.

Sara has been dedicated to serving in Utah since she moved to Salt Lake City to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Her law school internship with the ACLU of Utah exposed her to the injustices and abuses within Utah’s jail system, and she proudly continued working on conditions of confinement and dedicated herself to advocating for Utahns’ civil rights during her Fellowship.

Fellowship Highlights

Sara successfully advocated for better medical care for multiple incarcerated individuals. She also successfully advocated for the implementation of certain COVID-19 safety measures in carceral settings. She provided a platform for incarcerated people and their loved ones to speak to the public about conditions of confinement while she conducted a public education campaign on conditions of confinement and prisoners’ rights. Finally, she assisted in carrying out litigation on conditions of confinement.

Next Steps

Sara plans to continue advocating for individuals in the criminal legal system in her next position.

Media

ACLU Utah: COVID 19 in Jails and Prisons, Parole and Probation Reform, Stories from the Inside

Utah inmates died after parole board declined to increase ‘compassionate releases’

FOX 13 Investigates: How outbreaks killed 18 Utah prison inmates while families were kept in dark

Pandemic Lawyering: A Year in Review

Davis County jail inmate dies by suicide

15th Utah inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19

Family members protest after 278 prisoners test positive for coronavirus at Utah prison

Bills to widen public access to jail documents advance in Utah Legislature

Five inmates at the Weber County jail have coronavirus

Coronavirus outbreak worsens at the Weber County jail

Utah inmates are dying from coronavirus, as advocates call for an investigation

The Inspiration