Sarah Free

The Project

Sarah (she/her/hers) will provide direct representation to people seeking clemency who were “emerging adults” between 18-25 years old when convicted under Illinois’ felony-murder rule.

The over-prosecution of Black emerging adults drives mass incarceration in Illinois. Incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times that of white emerging adults, this group is also disproportionality prosecuted under a controversial state law: felony-murder. Felony-murder carries a sentence range of 20 years to life, allowing the State to charge a person with first-degree murder if another person dies during the commission of a felony, even if the person charged did not actually or intend to kill them. Sixty percent of people serving sentences in Illinois under this law were emerging adults when convicted, and 75% of those people are Black. While research has established that emerging adults share key developmental characteristics with juveniles and have an enormous capacity for change and rehabilitation, no sentencing protections exist for them, and there is no right to legal representation in clemency proceedings in Illinois.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Sarah will provide direct representation in clemency proceedings to people currently incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections. She will train lawyers on the felony-murder rule, emerging adulthood, and the devastating impact of the rule on people in this age group and the communities they come from. Sarah will elevate personal stories of emerging adults sentenced under felony-murder to educate the broader public on these issues and advocate for change.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Mass incarceration is a crisis born of the criminal legal system’s refusal to acknowledge the capacity to change. Few people remain the same as they were between the ages of 18-25, and addressing the unique characteristics of emerging adults gives us one more tool to build a collective future where no person is defined by their worst act.

Sarah Free /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Thomas (he/him/his) will advocate for and provide family preservation legal assistance to families facing homelessness in Chicago through advocacy, outreach, community education, and direct representation.

Families experiencing homelessness face significant obstacles to accessing family-related legal services. CCH estimates 76,998 people experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2018. Homelessness disproportionately impacts families of color. 61% of homeless individuals in Chicago identified as Black.

Tragically, families experiencing homelessness in the Chicago area have little to no access to legal assistance for family-related legal issues such as child custody, parental responsibilities, and protection from domestic violence. Even where family legal aid services exist, homeless families face barriers like lack of phone, stable address, and access to transportation. Moreover, Covid­-19 has exacerbated legal issues facing homeless families. Reported domestic violence has increased during the pandemic and a rise in eviction and foreclosure is expected. These civil legal issues can be life-altering and there is an urgent need for civil representation for homeless families.

Thomas’s experience working with people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity motivates his work. His years organizing low-income people guides his commitment to supporting systemic approaches to curbing homelessness.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Thomas will represent families in domestic relations and child welfare proceedings. He will conduct outreach and community education workshops to families experiencing homelessness at schools, shelters, and community service providers in the Chicago Area. Additionally, Thomas will draft a report including barriers that families experiencing housing have in accessing legal services and proposed policy solutions.

Media

As Eviction Crisis Looms, Advocates Fear an Increase in Child Removals

Homelessness is too often caused by lack of access to family legal support and family issues, I felt a strong connection to the work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ fight to address homelessness at the root.”

Thomas Edwards /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Andy (he/him/his) will expand a community-based education advocacy program into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, providing special education and school discipline legal services to low-income families in the community.

Disparities in educational resources and the school-to-prison pipeline have long created barriers to a meaningful education for many children in Rogers Park, Chicago. But in the midst of a pandemic and with an eye toward its aftermath, these barriers have and will continue to become more widespread. And with only two legal aid agencies providing direct, comprehensive educational advocacy in Chicago, there is a significant need for community-based educational advocacy in Rogers Park. It is crucial that Rogers Park youth are returning to school, receiving the educational services they need to be successful in school, and learning in a restorative and trauma-informed environment.

Through advocating for students in school discipline hearings, Andy learned the transformative power of educational advocacy, and the tools a lawyer can use to keep kids in school and to ensure they are receiving the support and services they need to be successful and connected to their school community.

Fellowship Plans 

During his Fellowship, Andy will represent Rogers Park youth with special education needs as well as students confronting school exclusion. To expand the reach of his project, Andy will empower parents and caregivers to advocate for their children in school through Know Your Rights trainings. And through partnerships with community organizations, Andy will work collaboratively with the community to advocate for Rogers Park schools to transition from punitive disciplinary approaches towards more inclusive and restorative practices.

Media

An Evanston-based Legal and Social Work Nonprofit Now Offers Services in Rogers Park for Students and Parents

I believe comprehensive and community-based education advocacy provides one of the greatest tools a community has to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

Andy Froelich /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Fernanda (she/her/hers) will combat immigration-related retaliation against workers in climate disaster clean up and reconstruction zones in the Southern United States through education, legal representation, and policy change.

The global climate crisis is wreaking havoc across the United States. Whether it be hurricanes, dam breaks, tornados, or wildfires, companies are looking to rebuild quickly at expedient costs and to do so, secure workers from around the country. Most of these workers are immigrants and many are undocumented. Unfortunately, many in the growing disaster recovery industry take advantage of the workers’ undocumented status by not paying them all they are owed, not paying them at all, and not following safety and health guidelines for what is often very dangerous work. When workers assert their rights, employers threaten to report them to immigration enforcement authorities.

Fernanda and her family left Mexico and moved to Alabama when she was two years old, where she grew up as an undocumented immigrant. She watched her parents receive less pay and unfair treatment than they deserved for their long hours of labor and take whatever job was available to them out of necessity to provide for their family. Due to a lack of information, her family was left vulnerable to those who believed undocumented immigrants had no legal recourses in labor disputes. Fernanda hopes to empower others and spread through the immigrant community the knowledge that everyone deserves a fair wage and humane working conditions, despite their immigration status.

Fellowship Plans 

Fernanda will equip natural disaster workers with legal information about their rights to be free from immigration-related retaliation by creating Know Your Rights workshops and videos to distribute via social media platforms, and training workers to be peer educators. She will also represent workers in wage and hour, safety and health, and worker organizing retaliation claims; companion applications for U Visas; and in appropriate cases, T Visas. Fernanda will hold large companies accountable for immigration-related retaliation, even when it is committed by subcontractors. She will also help change local policy, in disaster-affected communities to reduce the effects of immigration-related retaliation and promote long-lasting changes at the national level.

Media

2021 Scales of Justice Highlights

Men and women who rebuild communities decimated by natural disasters often return to their families with empty pockets, crushed spirits, and life-altering illnesses or disabilities as a result of their dedication to reconstruction and the lack of protection given by their employers. Large companies and subcontractors should honor and defend these valiant resilience workers, not pocket the funds federal agencies give them to pay workers.

Fernanda Herrera Spieler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

In order to promote community safety and disrupt the cyclical nature of incarceration, Jack (he/him/his) will work to expand the use of restorative justice practices as an alternative to incarceration for young people in Chicago accused of committing violent crimes.

Chicago is a city gripped by a cycle of violence rooted in a history of segregation and community divestment. Residents in the city’s most neglected neighborhoods are subject not only to a disproportionate amount of violence, but also a disproportionate amount of harm by our legal system. One neighborhood, North Lawndale, suffers from a rate of violence that is three times the city’s average and despite a population of just 35,000, North Lawndale residents account for 12% of the state’s prisoners.

Located in the neighborhood, Lawndale Christian Legal Center (LCLC), provides holistic defense for North Lawndale juveniles and young adults accused of felonies. At the heart of LCLC’s mission is a belief in the power of community.  LCLC is committed to using restorative justice practices to repair harm and build a healthier and safer community through their clients.

Jack’s experience working in Chicago’s underserved communities motivates his commitment to fight for a system that addresses the root causes of community violence.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jack will build on the work of LCLC by representing clients and advocating for cases to be diverted to restorative justice solutions that will be directed by highly-skilled practitioners. Additionally, he will focus on raising awareness amongst community stakeholders about the efficacy of restorative justice as a more productive way to address community violence.

Our legal system conflates punishment with accountability and destroys lives in the process. I am committed to working for a system that seeks to eliminate, rather than perpetuate, harm by recognizing the humanity of all people.

Jack Saletta /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Laura provided outreach and legal services to low-income seniors in Blue Ridge Legal Services’ (BRLS) service area, with special focus on seniors in Shenandoah, Warren, and Allegany Counties, which are rural areas that are in the most distant locations from BRLS offices.

Isolation and misinformation endanger seniors in rural areas, especially during a pandemic. Additionally, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities may provide residents care according to a formulaic plan that prioritizes institutional efficiency over residents’ rights and autonomy. Often, seniors are simply not heard as individual persons.

Laura has always gravitated toward vulnerable clients in her law practice–children, disabled persons, mentally ill patients, and incapacitated persons. She believes that every person both wants and deserves to be heard and that due process of law for every person is a difficult and worthy ideal.

Fellowship Highlights

In addition to providing direct legal services to victims of elder abuse, Laura worked with multiple interdisciplinary organizations to increase awareness and provide education to law enforcement, social services, financial institutions, and the general public.

The Project

Candice worked to reduce the number of youth of color experiencing homelessness by providing holistic legal services with a race equity lens and engaging youth to inform and improve direct and systemic advocacy.

The 2017 King County Youth of Color Needs Assessment reported nearly 8,000 youth experience homelessness in King County annually, with youth of color notably and disproportionately affected. Youth struggling with homelessness need legal advice to understand their options for safety and to access emergency shelter, education, and medical care. Many youths may also need an attorney to help them navigate and access immigration relief, child protective services, and juvenile and family court proceedings. Candice’s project aimed to increase the awareness, accessibility, and cultural competency of civil legal aid to provide effective services for youth of color to remove these barriers to housing stability.

After volunteering with a local foster care organization and witnessing the multitude of issues that youth face in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, Candice knew she wanted to help improve the systems that heavily affect youths’ life trajectories.

Fellowship Highlights

During her two-year Fellowship, Candice:

  • Became the first person at her host organization to file an Order of Limited Dissemination, and participate in a writ of habeas corpus hearing in a family law court
  • Provided direct representation to 14 youth of color in landlord disputes, protection orders, family law hearings, and other civil legal issues
  • Provided advice and referrals to 100 individuals
  • Conducted outreach presentations for ten partners and service providers about LCYC’s services
  • Co-created eight animated videos on civil legal rights for youth of color experiencing homelessness

Next Steps

Candice will remain with her host organization, LCYC, as a staff attorney. Candice is thrilled to continue working with such an amazing and supportive organization to expand civil legal services to young people.

Coming from a large family myself, I have always been inspired to do work that positively impacted children and their families.

Candice Dundy /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

This Fellowship addressed the needs of providing assistance and support to victims and survivors as well as educating communities members and different organizations about human trafficking, some of the indicators, resources available, and how to access those resources. 

Kejai provided comprehensive legal services to human trafficking victims and survivors by identifying their legal needs and providing direct representation as well as providing them with case management services. She also participated in community outreach by educating the community on human trafficking and the resources available for victims and survivors. In addition, she conducted trainings and educated various agency staff members and community groups on human trafficking and the resources available to victims and survivors. 

Kejai has had the privilege of pursuing her passion for protecting the rights of vulnerable populations, which she continued through her Fellowship. Her passion for utilizing her legal and social work degree to empower families as part mentor, motivator, and advocate as well as her belief of using a trauma-informed approach in the type of areas she practices uniquely equipped her for her Fellowship. She believes that everyone deserves a voice and a zealous advocate who will fight for those voices and equal justice under the law.

 

The Inspiration