Chris Shenton

The Project

Chris will use litigation, state and local administrative advocacy, education, and monitoring to challenge administrative disenfranchisement in the electoral process.

Chris’ project challenges “administrative disenfranchisement,” reframing election administration issues from harmless administrative errors to serious barriers in the democratic process. Mistakes in election administration are popularly conceived (to the extent they are conceived at all) as harmless scriveners’ errors that balance out in all but the closest elections, which are protected by careful and deliberate recounts. But in reality, these administrative disenfranchisements pose a threat to voting rights, which is disproportionately experienced in communities of color and poor communities. These problems are often baked in well in advance of an election, through decisions made for administrative convenience, without considering how they will impact the voters whom they are meant to serve.

Fellowship Plans

Chris will use a variety of legal strategies, including public records requests, trainings for community groups and elections staff, administrative advocacy, and litigation, in combination with well-established relationships with community groups and election administrators alike, to ensure that the experiences and needs of voters are factored into the decision-making calculus for designing and administering election systems.

I went to law school to help make our democratic systems work better, for more people, and with no one left behind. Too often our elections aren’t built to include the people whose will they are supposed to reflect; I am incredibly honored to put my shoulder to the wheel in this project to end administrative disenfranchisement, and help ensure that all voters have the freedom and opportunity to claim an equal stake in shaping the future of their communities.

Chris Shenton /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kevin (he/him/his) advocates on behalf of incarcerated people in Kentucky and communities affected by prison gerrymandering to stop the use of the criminal justice system as a means of disenfranchising voters.

The criminal justice system is often used as a tool to disenfranchise voters. Incarceration-based disenfranchisement occurs in many forms, including impeding people in pre-trial detention from voting and shifting political power away from communities through prison gerrymandering. There are an estimated 21,000 pre-trial detainees in Kentucky, each of whom has the constitutional right to vote, but many are nevertheless unable to vote due to poor jail administration. Moreover, the Kentucky legislature has continually used prisons to egregiously gerrymander the state.

These forms of political disempowerment are under scrutinized but must be addressed. Kentuckians need a comprehensive program that will integrate direct services, policy advocacy, and litigation to make jailhouse voting more accessible and end prison gerrymandering.

Kevin is motivated by his many family reunions in Kentucky, his childhood in the South, and the overwhelming need to expand the right to vote at this critical, historical moment.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Kevin will work directly with incarcerated people in pre-trial detention to register incarcerated voters and help them vote absentee. He will engage in advocacy to improve jail practices, advance prison gerrymandering policy, and publish policy reports. Finally, he will commence litigation to end prison gerrymandering in Kentucky and ensure jails comply with their constitutional duties.

The right to vote is sacred, and nobody should be disenfranchised because of their wealth or zip code.

Kevin Muench /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.

Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.

Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.

Fellowship Plans

Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.

Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.

Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Johari (he/him/his) works with formerly and currently incarcerated New Yorkers to increase voter participation and civic engagement by enforcing the new parole enfranchisement law and advocating for universal suffrage through legislative advocacy.

There are approximately 35,000 people under parole supervision in New York State. The parole system mirrors the system of mass incarceration that feeds it, disproportionately impacting people of color. Even though people of color only make up 38% of New York’s population, they make up over 50% of those in the state prison system. Part of addressing the cruelty and inequities of mass incarceration requires ensuring that those with direct criminal legal system contact are able to engage civically and build power within their communities. This starts with the fundamental right to vote, which preserves all other rights, and is the most basic building block to systemic change. Yet there is a lack of knowledge that people in New York can now vote while on parole, and barriers to voting exist for systems-impacted people.

Fellowship Plans

Johari will spend his Fellowship working with people on parole to register them to vote and organize in their communities via town halls and public meetings. In addition, Johari will collect data on the implementation of S.830B, a law that requires corrections facilities to provide information and opportunity to register to vote for those entering community supervision. That data will be used to create training materials on best implementation practices for corrections officers as well as judges, defense attorneys, and district attorneys, and to support compliance litigation. Johari will also assist in drafting a bill to grant currently incarcerated New Yorkers the right to vote and provide them with the means to do so.

Mass incarceration has been a tool of inflicting civic death on those who are ensnared in its clutches, and, in particular, it has silenced people who look like me. The return of the right to vote, which is at the core of civic engagement, is necessary to shift from a paradigm of punishment to one of equity.

Johari Frasier /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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

Kate will work to eliminate or mitigate barriers to critical programs, services, and housing for people with disabilities in Louisiana who have been adversely impacted by disasters.

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida, many Louisianans with disabilities are facing housing insecurity or eviction, being denied appropriate services or accommodations, or are facing discrimination based on their disabilities.

As a public defender, Kate witnessed her clients with disabilities get stuck in a revolving door of system-involvement as their basic needs remained ignored and their rights denied both inside and outside of the criminal legal system. This cycle was amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly frequent and powerful storms that batter Louisiana, all of which multiplied the poverty and stress of my most vulnerable clients. The Disaster Resilience Program at Equal Justice Works gives Kate an opportunity to directly address the needs of Louisianans with disabilities in the wake of these disasters and to build resilience moving forward.

Fellowship Plans

While much of Kate’s work will be immediately serving those impacted by COVID-19 and Hurricane Ida, she will also focus on expanding stakeholder relationships and cultivating partnerships among the disaster legal community, service providers, and community social services providers. She will strategize, plan, and conduct training and outreach to communities and organizations to build disaster resilience moving forward. Kate will share information and resources for disaster survivors and attorneys supporting communities affected by disasters.

The Project

Meena (she/her/hers) will document and challenge the widespread effects of precision policing tactics used to surveil, police, and criminalize Latinxs on Long Island, New York. 

“Precision policing” presumes that police can predict and prevent crimes before they happen by concentrating investigations, surveillance, and harassment on so-called “hot spot” neighborhoods and communities. Although packaged as a solution to the sweeping overreach and racial disparities of stop-and-frisk policies, “precision policing” has instead intensified the racial disparities endemic to policing. In Long Island, New York, the information gleaned from the enhanced surveillance of particular “hot spots” has been used to create lists of individuals alleged to be involved in, loosely affiliated with, or at-risk of criminal activity. Although an individual’s inclusion in these lists is often prompted by entirely non-criminal criteria such as association, inclusion can have serious criminal justice and immigration consequences. Wherever the use of these lists has come to light, they have been shown to be over-inclusive, racially biased, and riddled with errors. Unfortunately, no comprehensive investigation has been undertaken to identify the full scope and effect of these tactics on Long Island, which is one of the most racially and economically segregated geographic locations in the United States and an area that suffers from a long history of intentional discrimination and racially biased policing against Latinxs. 

Meena’s motivation for challenging discriminatory policing tactics and the consequences of disparate police harassment is driven by her personal experience growing up in an intentionally segregated midwestern city to a first-generation, Latina mother, paired with her extended family’s own experience with deportation. 

Fellowship Plans

Meena will document, collect, and generate data about the discriminatory use and effects of precision policing tactics, including databases utilizing non-criminal criteria. She will work with community partners to develop and publish an empirical paper documenting the major findings of her project and provide policy and legislative recommendations to local and national stakeholders, media, and government officials. Building on her investigative findings and community partnerships, Meena will also develop administrative and litigation strategies to challenge the laws, regulations, and policies that enable discriminatory law enforcement practices based on race and association. 

The Project

Sonali (she/her/hers) will work to build political power for communities of color by fighting discriminatory local redistricting through legal assistance, advocacy, and litigation.

Local political processes, such as city councils and school boards, make the decisions that govern people’s everyday lives: what the police force looks like, what utilities people receive, how schools operate, and who these institutions actually serve. But as the face of the country is rapidly changing, incumbent politicians are drawing local districts specifically to dilute the vote of growing communities of color. As 2021 begins the decade’s redistricting cycle—one without key legal protections for the first time—communities in places of high demographic change face the threat of being locked out of the political process altogether. Communities of color are fighting for much-needed policy reform, but that reform is only possible with meaningful representation and political processes that are responsive to their needs. 

Fellowship Plans

Sonali will work with local partners to identify two to five target localities with unmet needs. In these localities, the project will offer legal support to communities during the redistricting process, by helping build a record to strengthen their negotiating positions. Best practices and strategies learned from these experiences will be consolidated into resources to be shared broadly with community-based groups and inform a public report with policy and legal recommendations. If the project identifies areas that require strategic litigation, then Sonali will also prepare to challenge maps in court. 

My racial justice work, informed by my South Asian heritage, is driven by a spirit of collective liberation: I want to fight for all communities of color to get the political representation they deserve.

Sonali Seth /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Billy works to ensure equal access to housing and employment for BIPOC people with criminal records in Oakland through direct legal services, community education, and systems-change efforts.

Creating equal opportunities in housing and employment for the one in three Californians with a criminal record addresses a concrete effect of mass incarceration and criminalization of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. Black individuals, in particular, are five times more likely to have a record than white individuals. This reflects the disproportionate rate at which Black individuals, especially Black men, are arrested and incarcerated. Having a record seriously damages a Black person’s chances of having stable housing and employment. Black job seekers are 50% more likely than their white counterparts to have their records used against them. In Oakland, 73% of homeless people have criminal records. While California has made some strides in banning discrimination against people with criminal records, enforcement is sorely lacking.

While committed to public interest since applying to law school, Billy has also seen the harmful effects of criminal record discrimination within their own family and brings this experience with them in their fight for a more just legal system.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Billy has:

  • Helped dismiss a total of 29 convictions from 10 clients’ records, and provided legal advice to 70 individuals total
  • Filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment for a client who was wrongfully terminated because of an old conviction
  • Made their first court appearance representing a client during their record cleaning hearing where their convictions and remaining fees were dismissed
  • Began to explore potential impact litigation related to discriminatory housing ordinances
  • Presented on employment and housing issues to individuals on lifelong parole taking part in an entrepreneurial program
  • Conducted a housing clinic with the Clorox Company

Next Steps

In the next year, Billy plans to:

  • Make materials and give a presentation to landlords/employers on their legal obligations to applicants
  • Organize collaborations with service providers to improve online information about background checks
  • Continue researching “crime-free” and nuisance ordinances that are harming BIPOC communities around California and helping advance future litigation challenging one of these ordinances
  • Work with pro bono attorneys to provide at least one free legal clinic to impacted people in Oakland with a focus on employment and housing issues
  • Continue to assist between two to six people who call Root & Rebound’s Friday hotline each week

Media

Clorox supports legal advocacy in service of racial justice

While fighting institutional racism must take place on many fronts, I am inspired by Root & Rebound’s mission to stand with people trying to rebuild their lives after prison and to address the direct consequences of the prison industrial complex.

Billy Strelow /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Whitney represents LGBTQ+ immigrants in New York City in immigration court and affirmative immigration applications. She also advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ immigrants held in immigration detention regarding their conditions of confinement.

Deeply rooted homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism manifest in immigration enforcement, detention, and court. LGBTQ+ people face hostility and lack of understanding from judges, prosecutors, and detention custodians; even their attorneys may fail to understand, respect, and appropriately advocate for their clients’ experiences and identities. Additionally, immigrant New Yorkers may be detained at a wide range of jails and detention centers throughout New York and New Jersey. The wide variety of federal, state, and local actors involved in their detention heightens the risk of violence that queer and trans individuals face in these detention centers.

As a queer, first-generation American, Whitney’s commitment to providing culturally competent immigration representation and conditions of confinement advocacy for queer and trans immigrants is deeply personal. She is passionate about providing access to quality immigration representation and advocacy that creates space for individuals’ full, authentic identities and selves.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first twelve months of the Fellowship, Whitney has:

  • Provided full representation to 18 clients on their immigration matters
  • Successfully advocated for the release of a transgender woman from immigration detention following nearly three years of detention, during which time she participated in a hunger strike and social media advocacy
  • Created a referral system through which immigration staff at The Bronx Defenders can refer LGBTQ+ clients for consultation, support, and/or co-counseling
  • Presented to the immigration practice at The Bronx Defenders regarding changes to the current screening processes to make them more thorough and inclusive of LGBTQ+ clients and issues, and implemented those changes

Next Steps

In the next year, Whitney plans to:

  • Identify procedures for the detention of trans, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary (“TGNCNB”) immigrants at each of the facilities at which immigrant New Yorkers are typically detained and common issues with conditions of confinement
  • Identify and advocate for changes in detention practices and policies to increase the safety of TGNCNB people in detention
  • Successfully represent LGBTQIA+ clients whose gender identity and/or sexual orientation is relevant to their claim for relief in trial-level immigration proceedings

Media

Five NYU Law graduates named 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows