2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Katherine D.

The Project

Katherine (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of survivors of cyber sexual abuse through direct representation, written guidance, education, and policy reform.

Revenge and deepfake pornography affect millions of people yearly, across income levels and ages, and can lead to massive emotional and financial consequences for victims. Currently, there are no major legal providers in Texas who specialize in cyber sexual abuse, particularly deepfake pornography, which is so new that laws against it are in their infancy. Law enforcement, attorneys, and advocates must be trained to face the new types of sexual exploitation that evolve in the digital era. Survivors of cyber sexual abuse, regardless of their income level, need access to legal systems which protect them and remedies for the abuse they have suffered.

Katherine has seen the law’s struggle to keep pace with developing technology, as well as the constantly evolving forms of abuse such technology enables. She is motivated to make sure protective measures for victims progress as quickly as the abusive technology evolves.

Fellowship Plans

To address this issue, Katherine will train Texas law enforcement and a network of volunteer attorneys on how to confront cases of cyber sexual abuse. She will provide direct representation for survivors of internet sexual abuse. She will write a guide for litigating against cyber sexual abuse, which will be published online for use by attorneys as well as pro se litigant-survivors. Finally, she will develop comprehensive policy surrounding deepfake pornography.

I am a woman who grew up in the internet era; I understand the incredible dangers of the internet, and am proud to protect vulnerable individuals from online exploitation

Katherine D /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Charlotte (she/her/hers) will build digital tools designed to promote access to housing justice at scale, focusing on removing barriers to housing justice for low-income immigrant renters.

Immigrants face a host of unique challenges when trying to secure housing: discrimination, lack of access to public benefits, language barriers, and pervasive fears regarding contact with the legal system all make immigrant renters especially vulnerable to housing instability. Evidence shows that immigrant renters are more likely to “self-evict,” leaving their homes without attempting to assert their legal rights. Those renters who do choose to participate in the legal process still face challenges, and recent data shows that Colorado renters are represented in just 1.3% of all eviction cases, and unrepresented renters are 3 times more likely to have an eviction judgment entered against them than represented renters. Immigrant renters simply lack access to legal support that can, in many cases, keep them housed–and traditional legal services are unlikely ever to match the scale of their needs.

Charlotte has worked with immigrants across the state to secure greater legal equity, create security and opportunity, and build thriving communities. She is excited to have the opportunity to continue this work as a Fellow, this time with a focus on co-creating new solutions for housing justice that intentionally include and serve immigrant community members.

Fellowship Plans

Charlotte’s project will help renters across the state to assert their rights, with or without counsel, by developing digital applications that respond directly to immigrant renters’ needs. She will identify immigrant communities’ housing-related needs and community barriers to accessing housing justice by conducting a listening tour in partnership with community organizations serving immigrants across the state. Based on these learnings, she will develop, disseminate, test, refine, and market digital tools designed to serve these communities. Additionally, Charlotte will analyze data collected through these tools to gain insight into pervasive housing justice issues in immigrant communities in Colorado and use these empirical findings to enable immigrant and housing advocates to pursue policy changes and provide other resources and support.

All of us deserve the dignity and safety that stable housing provides. With creative, community-led solutions, we can make it possible for renters to stand up for themselves and their families in court.

Charlotte Goodenow /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kabbas (he/they) in partnership with EPIC, will address the systemic surveillance and criminalization of public housing residents via coalition building, open government records requests, and state and federal legislative advocacy.

Public housing residents are subjected to constant surveillance and control by law enforcement and housing authorities. Surveillance, in combination with truncated Fourth Amendment rights and draconian HUD policies, penalize and evict residents while driving mass incarceration. Advances in surveillance systems have enabled more precise, targeted discrimination to enforce “broken windows” policing that reinforce the decades-long racialized myth of public housing as a site of crime. These discriminatory surveillance systems operate with no public accountability or scrutiny and use up funding that could address public housing residents’ own demands.

Fellowship Plans

During the fellowship, Kabbas will work with public housing residents to fight against the discriminatory impact of public housing surveillance. Kabbas will file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to unearth when and how surveillance systems are being used against public housing residents, the rationales used to justify implementation of these systems, and identify how they fall short. Kabbas will partner with public housing residents to center their demands as well as publicize the discriminatory effects of surveillance. In addition, Kabbas will advocate for state and federal legislative policies that will provide greater protections for public housing residents.

Public housing residents are surveilled in the name of safety and security. My Equal Justice Works fellowship has allowed me to partner with public housing residents and center their demands on what truly makes for safe and secure communities.

Kabbas Azhar /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Vanessa’s (she/her/hers) project will ensure academic success and future independence for low-income students with complex communication needs by expanding access to highly needed augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

Upwards of 91,000 students in Illinois have complex communication needs and would benefit from communication devices to express themselves to fully participate in their education. Despite federal and state laws that protect students who require communication devices, Illinois school districts systematically fail to appropriately evaluate and train educators to implement a communication device. For low-income families, school is often the only place they can turn to access a communication device for their children due to challenges with health care access.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Vanessa will provide direct legal assistance to families in both English and Spanish, including advocacy support, representation at Individualized Education Program Meetings (IEPs), mediations, and administrative due process hearings. Vanessa will conduct community outreach trainings to increase advocacy support and inform of legal rights to communication devices. Vanessa will also collaborate with community partners to develop a direct referral base for AAC throughout Illinois.

As a life-long Chicagoan and former CPS student, Vanessa is deeply passionate about quality public education for all. When she discovered special education law existed, she knew it was the path for her.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship is a personal mission, based on my brother’s lack of access to critical communication devices. Through my project, I want to uplift the voices of similar students who have been denied opportunities to effectively communicate.

Vanessa Aceves /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Grant (he/him/his) investigates the automated decision-making systems used in government benefits programs and advocates for low-income individuals across the United States whose benefits have been unfairly reduced or eliminated because of algorithmic bias.

More than 37 million Americans are in poverty, and with rising inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many more rely on government benefits to keep themselves afloat. To meet rising needs, state and local agencies across the United States have turned to automated decision-making systems to make government benefits programs more efficient and effective. However, many automated decision-making systems are deeply flawed and exhibit serious errors and biases that unfairly reduce or eliminate government benefits for those most in need: low-income communities of color. For the millions who rely on government assistance, these algorithmic errors can cause serious harm—often without impacted individuals ever knowing.

The son of an engineer, Grant has long believed that technology and justice go hand-in-hand. He has worked both within and outside government to fight algorithmic bias, surveillance, and corruption.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Grant will file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to publicize how government agencies use automated decision-making systems and challenge agencies who fail to disclose information in court. Alongside organizations serving low-incoming communities, Grant will develop educational materials and provide support for impacted individuals by filing amicus briefs. And to prevent future harm, Grant will push state agencies and legislatures alike to adopt A.I. guidelines that protect individuals from algorithmic harm.

Media

Ai-Generated ‘Fake Obituaries’ Publishing Incorrect Information About Deceased Online

Outsources and Automated: How AI Companies Have Taken Over Government Decision Making

Too many families have struggled to stay afloat amid COVID-19, and they should be able to trust our government to support them. EPIC’s work ensures that agencies use artificial intelligence to help, not hurt, those in need.

Grant Fergusson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Evelyn will provide pro se record sealing resources to low-income individuals in Harris County, Texas through an innovative, technology-driven tool.

The free, public self-help website ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org, launched by The Beacon in August 2021, and made possible through funding from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, allows any individual with a Harris County criminal record to determine eligibility to seal their record through nondisclosure and navigate through the step-by-step process of self-filing in Harris County.

There are approximately 400,000 individuals with Harris County criminal records who are eligible to have all or part of their record sealed. This Fellowship project is focused on connecting with those individuals whose records are preventing them from accessing housing, employment, and educational opportunities. In doing so, the project seeks to address the racial and economic disparities reflected in the criminal justice system.

Fellowship Plans

Evelyn will help users navigate ClearYourRecordHarrisCounty.org and the pro se process, and she will track and troubleshoot common barriers in navigating the site. She will provide direct representation for ancillary civil legal issues to wholly remove individuals’ legal obstacles to employment and housing. Through case manager workshops and clinics, she will also help community organizations and pro bono attorneys assist users in completing the forms for filing. The long-term goal of the project is to increase the number of pro se filings and to work with courts and government entities to improve procedures for pro se filers in Harris County.

For people who do not have much, a criminal record becomes the weight that keeps them from accessing all the basic things that help one thrive in life: an education, a good job, and a place to live. By removing legal barriers, this project creates opportunity and gives people in need a chance to overcome other obstacles in their lives.

Evelyn Garcia Lopez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ben investigated and published information about automated decision-making systems used in high-risk government services throughout the criminal justice cycle. Ben educated the public, advocates, and legislators working to address and combat the inherent biases in both the underlying data and algorithms used in the criminal cycle.

The increasing reliance on data and algorithms to make decisions about the length and severity of punishment among other important determinations is an underappreciated trend in the criminal justice system today. One example is the algorithm used to determine recidivism risk and to set bail, commonly referred to as a “risk assessment,” which has been shown to have disparate impacts on people of color. Other algorithms are used to determine eligibility for government benefits and more. Yet despite the increasingly significant role that these algorithms play in our justice system, they operate largely in a black box. Bringing them to light and instituting proper accountability and testing procedures will be essential to control the disparate impact these systems are having on underrepresented and over-incarcerated communities.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Ben has:

  • Testified in support of a bill establishing transparency and accountability in government procurement of automated decision-making systems in front of the Washington State Legislatures and submitted written testimony to the Massachusetts State Legislature
  • Published a report called Liberty At Risk, featuring significant FOIA documents, legal analysis, and recommendations around the use of Pretrial Risk Assessments
  • Worked with government agencies and other organizations to help understand and strategize about the use and impacts of automated decision-making systems.
  • Published and maintained web pages highlighting open government work, legal analysis, and critical educational context

Next Steps

Ben will transition to a Counsel role at EPIC, where he will do similar work leading AI and Human Rights work both inside and out of the Criminal context.

Media

AI legislation must address bias in algorithmic decision-making systems

In California, voters must choose between cash bail and algorithms

An Algorithm That Grants Freedom, or Takes It Away

Algorithms Were Supposed to Fix the Bail System. They Haven't

Going back to work or school? An algorithm may warn you to keep your distance from others

Technology Adoption Around the Criminal Justice System is a Tightrope

The capabilities that algorithms have to improve impartiality and efficiency within the courts and policing are vast and exciting—but can’t come at the cost of equality, transparency, and understanding in order to mitigate the perpetuation of inequitable incarceration.

Ben Winters /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Margaret’s project focused on providing direct Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) assistance to nonprofit organizations and systematically analyzing the most pressing FOIA needs of the nonprofit community to strategically litigate FOIA cases. Coordinating these activities through a newly-created Public Interest FOIA Clinic at PCLG and using a web-based interactive feedback tool, Margaret helped nonprofit organizations realize their goals in assisting underserved communities.