Ian McCollum

The Project

Ian (he/him/his) helps soon-to-be-released prisoners in Illinois access public benefits such as SSI/SSDI and Medicare/Medicaid with the goal of reducing post-release health decline, homelessness, and recidivism.

Around one-third of prisoners in the United States report having a disability. Unaddressed disabilities contribute directly to hardship after prison. Inability to secure income through employment can make accessing housing or healthcare virtually impossible. Ultimately, these hardships contribute to a cycle of homelessness and recriminalization for too many disabled persons.

The Pre-Release Enrollment Program is designed to interrupt this cycle at a critical juncture: reentry from prison. Helping incarcerated persons start their claims before release puts them in a better position to acquire benefits soon after release, narrowing the gap of support between prison and the community.

Fellowship Plans

Ian will work between the Illinois Department of Corrections, Disability Determination Services, and local Social Security Administration offices to facilitate applications for presently incarcerated persons. He will help prisoners produce the evidence and documentation necessary for successful benefits claims. In the long term, this project seeks to lay the foundation for an integrated, community-partnered reentry unit in Illinois.

I believe stable and healthy communities are an indispensable pillar of a just society. The Pre-Release Enrollment Program has the potential to help disabled and criminalized Illinoisians successfully reintegrate into communities and thrive there.

Ian McCollum /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Nicole’s (she/her/hers) work will center on implementing state-funded healthcare coverage and advocacy for further coverage through direct client representation, community education, and public policy reform.

Federal law excludes undocumented and other non-citizens from the essential protection of healthcare. Despite advancements in state-funded healthcare coverage for immigrants, issues pertaining to the enforcement of these expansions remain. Systemic problems within the enrollment process, such as documentation requirements and other bureaucratic roadblocks, prevent many from receiving their benefits. These populations are also the object of unfavorable political discourse, which engenders communal fear and mistrust of the government, which, in turn, inhibits those eligible from acquiring healthcare coverage. In addition to continued advocacy to win further healthcare expansions, our immigrant populations need legal representation in administrative proceedings to assert their healthcare rights. In order to empower our most vulnerable populations, direct representation of clients navigating enrollment issues, community outreach, and education on the expansions are necessary.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Nicole will offer direct representation to clients navigating the enrollment process for healthcare expansions already in place. She will provide public education to explain the healthcare programs and expansions while countering community confusion and fear. Additionally, she will engage in advocacy to remedy certain systemic aspects of the enrollment process and the quality of the package of covered health services. Finally, Nicole will engage in policy work and advocate to win further expansions.

Growing up as an immigrant, I understood what it meant to be in a population denied the same rights as U.S. citizens. The Healthy Illinois Campaign’s mission to win comprehensive healthcare for immigrant populations is a fundamental step towards achieving greater racial and social equity.

Nicole Camargo Almeida /
2020 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

Misty-Ann (she/her/hers) will prepare formerly incarcerated individuals in Southern California to reunite with family, gain stability, and successfully reintegrate through direct legal services and public education workshops.

Formerly incarcerated individuals face over 44,000 legal sanctions upon release that can complicate or even prevent reuniting with family, finding employment, and securing housing, among other challenges. These barriers to reentry limit meaningful opportunities for those with a criminal record to live full, productive lives and can directly and substantially disadvantage families for generations. This project will provide much-needed streamlined direct legal services that prepare formerly incarcerated parents to reunite with their families and navigate challenges to reentry—challenges that disproportionately impact people of color and have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Misty-Ann’s personal history, work experience with youth and adults involved in the criminal justice system, and her connection to the social justice community in Los Angeles, including Root & Rebound, inspired this project.

Fellowship Plans

During Misty-Ann’s Fellowship, she will strive to improve the well-being of system-impacted families through (1) streamlined direct legal services (e.g., representation in family, dependency, or probate court), legal workshops, and community education; (2) mitigation of the negative impact of a criminal record on family strength and stability; and (3) reduction of recidivism and multi-generational cycles of criminal justice involvement.

With the support of the Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I am returning to serve the community that inspired me to attend law school.

Misty-Ann Oka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Allison advocates for South Carolinians who face legal barriers to family reunification arising from their criminal record or incarceration.

South Carolinians returning from prison and jail face more than 1,700 legal barriers to successful reentry and are especially unlikely to be represented in these matters due to the incredibly low number of civil legal aid attorneys in the state. Allison’s project addresses the reality that most system-involved individuals are parents and that records-based housing, employment discrimination, debt accrued during incarceration, and barriers to family visitation in prison, all can prolong family separation even after the end of a carceral sentence.

Every incredible client Allison has worked with, from the incarcerated moms she worked with as a legal intern to her clinic clients at Northwestern, has motivated her to continue working for families impacted by the racist criminal legal system.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Allison has:

  • Provided direct services to approximately 100 clients
  • Increased three formerly incarcerated parents’ access to their children
  • Decreased the child support arrears payments, or established an easier pay structure, for three formerly incarcerated parents that struggle financially
  • Prevented three parents from being reincarcerated for failure to pay child support
  • Represented an incarcerated father in his parole hearing, and advised approximately 10 incarcerated parents regarding family law matters
  • Presented in four trainings with community partners, including a presentation on the intersection between housing instability, the criminal legal system, and the child welfare system, and a presentation on barriers to successful reentry in South Carolina
  • Began to build a coalition around child support reform for incarcerated parents in South Carolina, which included drafting an informational letter, and discussing the issue with various stakeholders

Next Steps

In the next year, Allison plans to:

  • Design and present a family law know-your-rights course for incarcerated individuals
  • Represent at least five more clients in family court, while continuing her ongoing litigation
  • Continue legislative education regarding the negative impact on families of child support debt accrual during parental incarceration

Media

SC experts worry pandemic will hurt custody for unemployed parents

As a mom myself, I cannot imagine anything worse than being separated from my son. Incarceration rips families apart—reentry should bring them back together.

Allison Elder /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Using community lawyering strategies to support low-income renters in the Chicago neighborhood of Uptown in navigating housing disputes and protect people with prior justice involvement from housing discrimination under Cook County’s new Just Housing Amendment.

Most people lack any knowledge about Cook County’s new Just Housing Amendment, a law that prohibits housing discrimination based on prior justice involvement. Charlie’s Fellowship seeks to fix this problem by making UPLC a leader in JHA legal aid and advocacy – and as a result of this work, more people are getting into housing and more landlords are following the law. Charlie’s Fellowship also answers the drastic need for eviction defense, prevention, and trainings amid the COVID-19 pandemic in his own rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Uptown. Charlie works closely with Uptown organizers and community groups to help other renters in the neighborhood understand and exercise their rights to safe and stable housing.

As a tenant in Uptown, Charlie serves his own neighborhood, which he moved to after experiencing housing displacement in another part of Chicago. His background in organizing and coalition-building has taught him to always look for ways to expand the table and join people together around shared values and visions for the future.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Charlie has:

  • Helped tenants secure housing, avoid evictions, and obtain rent relief and repairs
  • Collaborated with local organizers and activists to resist gentrification in Uptown
  • Launched a legal aid practice, complete with resources and a virtual clinic, for justice-involved individuals under the Cook County Just Housing Amendment
  • Led a team of advocates to improve JHA enforcement and compliance by major housing providers
  • Delivered legal rights trainings on housing rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Next Steps

In the next six months, Charlie plans to:

  • Place more people into housing by asserting their rights under the Just Housing Amendment
  • Provide legal training and representation to help tenants facing the COVID-19 eviction crisis
  • Expand support for tenant organizing and movement-building in Uptown and beyond
  • Collaborate with local advocates to protect Uptown from permanent gentrification

Media

Alan Mills and Charlie Isaacs: Cook County is a fair housing model for those who paid their debt to society

2021 Scales of Justice Highlights

Illinois' Eviction Moratorium Explained

Neighborhoods are comprised not of buildings, but of the people who live in them.

Charles J. Isaacs /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Emma advances community goals to further a sustainable and equitable economy in Chicago’s historically disinvested low-income communities of color by collaborating with community groups, creating tools and resources to better understand and reform complicated city policies, and providing legal services for transactional and permitting processes.

Historically disadvantaged communities of color in Chicago are disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and are working on proactive solutions to these harms, often despite steep barriers. Emma’s project addresses these barriers by providing advocacy and direct legal services to small businesses and community organizations creating healthier, safer, and economically sustainable environments. Her advocacy focuses on equitable water access and urban agriculture. Partnership organizations include urban agriculture support networks, green space and water advocates, and small businesses focused on sustainability and addressing environmental injustices.

Emma’s dedication to a cleaner environment motivates her to empower those most impacted by industry and pollution to create safer and healthier communities.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Emma has:

  • Provided legal support to urban growers navigating water access options for the 2021 growing season
  • Advocated for equitable water access, infrastructure, and policies with community partners
  • Presented at information sessions and conferences on areas such as land use and zoning, LLC and nonprofit formation, and water access

Next Steps

In the next year, Emma plans to:

  • Create a legal clinic focused on providing land and property law advice to urban growers
  • Host a legal panel where attorneys will present information and answer questions on common legal issues urban growers face in the City of Chicago
  • Advocate for broader policies supporting sustainable development tools like urban agriculture
  • Provide legal assistance to policy advocates seeking to implement equitable water access and infrastructure

Media

Fighting for Land and Water Access in Chicago

The Power of Connection Virtual Event

I am eager to work alongside communities to affirmatively reduce environmental injustice and encourage sustainable development.

Emma Clouse /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Nina provided legal representation to students in grades K–12 who experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.

An investigation into Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2018 uncovered a widespread failure to identify and appropriately address sexual misconduct and violence perpetrated against students. School-related gender-based violence can significantly affect a student’s mental and physical health, often negatively influencing academic outcomes. Nina’s project addressed the educational rights of these students through direct representation in Title IX and related matters. Because young people who have experienced sexual harassment and violence often have overlapping legal needs related to their trauma, Nina also provided support around special education and school discipline issues. As Title IX is often misunderstood or overlooked in K–12 educational settings, this project addressed a significant gap in legal services in the Chicago area.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Nina:

  • Provided direct representation and brief legal services to nearly 60 students, including working with schools to create or redevelop IEP/504 Plans and safety plans, advocating against push-out to alternative schools, assistance with the Title IX grievance process, representation in state court for students seeking protective orders, and support during remote learning
  • Designed and launched a project analyzing the policies and procedures of public school districts in Cook County to evaluate for compliance with Title IX
  • Offered Title IX trainings to students and other advocacy organizations and presented at a national education conference

Next Steps

Nina is now a staff attorney at Legal Aid Chicago, where she will continue practicing in the areas of education and sexual violence.

The Inspiration