Brianna Bell

The Project

Brianna (she/her/hers) will provide legal assistance and support to children in the Allegheny County child welfare system with special education needs who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The goal of Brianna’s project is to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on dependency system-involved children who receive special education services. Since the pandemic crisis began in March 2020, these students have gone months without educational services or with insufficient supports and services resulting in long-term consequences. Without the stability of a secure family, these children are particularly susceptible to receiving an inadequate education, which has a lifelong impact as they transition to adulthood. 

Fellowship Plans

Brianna will advocate for recoupment and/or compensatory services based on the Pennsylvania Department of Education guidance to address the needs of special education students impacted by the extended school closure. She will research and advocate for best practices to be implemented in school districts for their benefit. Brianna will also provide consultations and technical assistance to attorneys and child advocacy specialists on individual special education cases, advocate for children at Individual Education Program (IEP) and other school meetings, and provide support to foster parents and other caregivers in their role as educational decision-maker. 

I am continually inspired by the resilience demonstrated by children facing difficult circumstances. It is a privilege to work toward creating transformative change for educational equity.

Brianna Bell /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dolly aims to reduce the scope of probation in Pennsylvania through a combination of education, advocacy, and litigation.

Although probation is often viewed as an alternative to incarceration, data shows that it functions as a major driver of mass incarceration throughout this country. Populations under community supervision are overlooked when addressing mass incarceration, even though they make up the majority of jail populations and new prison admissions in many regions. Probation violations that cause people to be reincarcerated are often technical (non-criminal) violations, such as staying out past curfew, missing a meeting with a parole/probation officer, failing a drug test, associating with people who have criminal records or falling behind on paying court costs and other fees. Many people under community supervision also struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues—conditions that are exacerbated by constant reincarceration and which make it far more difficult to comply with parole or probation conditions. Dolly’s project seeks to shed light on the social impact of community supervision while also finding ways to challenge its overuse.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Dolly has:

  • Expanded local Court Watch Program to observe and collect information on probation violation hearings.
  • Trained dozens of new volunteers for the Court Watch program.
  • Collected data on 600+ probation violation hearings.
  • Shared policy recommendations regarding pretrial incarceration with the state legislature.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Dolly plans to:

  • Assist with the development of a local pro bono probation detainer program.
  • Develop impact litigation aiming to reduce the size of the pre-trial population.
  • Publish an in-depth report on probation in Allegheny County.
  • Launch a local campaign to end the use of probation detainers in Allegheny County.

Media

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The more I learned about probation and parole, the more I realized that these “alternatives” to incarceration keep people trapped in perpetual oscillation between restrictive supervision and reincarceration, ensuring that they never have the stability they need to break free from this cycle.

Dolly Prabhu /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Essence works to increase access to race-positive, gender-responsive, and trauma-informed mental health supports and services for Black girls in school through legal representation, community engagement, and systemic advocacy.

The educational needs of Black girls are a critical part of my Project. Black girls are disproportionally criminalized and pushed out of schools compared to their white counterparts. It is imperative that Black girls have less interaction with police in schools and more access to counselors and trained mental health professionals.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Essence has:

  • Provided legal services to 21 clients, including full representation for a Black girl with disabilities who was pushed into a more restrictive educational setting after the school failed to follow her IEP
  • Prepared and submitted public testimony to Pittsburgh Public School Board that informed the budget for the 2021-2022 school year, changed school policy to no longer allow suspensions for repeated low-level offenses, and removed the offense of “disorderly conduct” from the Code of Student Conduct
  • Served as part of the amicus brief team at ELC in a precedent-setting case in front of the PA Supreme Court on students’ right to free speech outside of school and due process when facing school discipline for that speech, impacting 1.7 million school-age children in PA
  • Gave 10 presentations to community partners and advocates
  • Created an infomercial for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month that advocated for and informed audiences of the importance of recognizing the mental health needs of Black girls in schools

Next Steps

In the next six months, Essence plans to:

  • Continue to provide representation and consultation on matters involving mental health services for students who identify as Black girls
  • Develop family-friendly resources to help parents, students, and advocates understand their rights and advocate for themselves
  • Continue trainings and start informational sessions or legal clinics to support community partners, families, and youth with technical assistance and legal advice

The Project

Alayna established an innovative and replicable advocacy program providing specialized legal support to children whose parents struggle with opioid addiction and are involved in juvenile court dependency cases.

In Allegheny County, KidsVoice has seen a 300­child increase in the number of children involved in dependency cases due to opioids. Though opioid addiction is on the rise, it is possible for people to recover and lead more stable lives while providing better parental care; by keeping children in the home with their families and providing 24/7 support, further trauma will be prevented and children will be ensured safety. During her Fellowship, Alayna was assigned to a specialized group of cases involving children and their families who were impacted by parental substance use and the opioid epidemic.

Fellowship Highlights

Alayna acquired specialized knowledge on dependency issues related to parental substance use and identified cases in which it was possible for children to remain in their parents’ care while they received the necessary treatment and supervision to ensure the entire family’s safety.

Alayna was a member of two task forces and during her time with one of those groups, she collaborated with system leaders in fields of child welfare, drug and alcohol, and healthcare in order to develop a county-wide protocol for infants born affected by substance use or withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal drug exposure or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, pursuant to federal and state laws.
Alayna created resources on subjects including Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and sobriety, in collaboration with subject-matter professionals, which will be utilized by child advocates and judicial professionals for years after her fellowship ends.

Next Steps

Following her Fellowship, Alayna will remain at KidsVoice as a Staff Attorney. She is excited to have the opportunity to continue working on her current caseload, which consists of dependent children impacted by the opioid epidemic. Alayna will also take on additional cases that will further enhance her competency as a dependency guardian ad litem attorney.

I have always been drawn to work that involves advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Children impacted by the opioid epidemic deserve staunch advocates in their corner and I am proud that it gets to be me.

Alayna Bartko /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ariel provides legal services touching a variety of issues to address the unique needs and challenges faced by veterans, active duty service members, and their families. These issues include landlord tenant matters, home foreclosures, issues with health and disability benefits, family law matters, consumer and medical debt, drivers’ license reinstatement, and expungement/sealing of criminal records issues. Her goal is to help keep veterans in their homes, keep military families together, protect and secure income for veterans, and help resolve debt issues

In order to meet her project goals, Ariel liaises with community partner agencies, including case management staff at the VA hospitals, VA clinics, and Veterans’ Service Organizations in the Pittsburgh area to create protocols and facilitate referrals. She creates and coordinates referrals of veterans to program partners. Additionally, she conducts community outreach and advocacy activities to identify and address outstanding needs within Pittsburgh’s veterans’ community. Activities thus far have included developing materials to inform multiple audiences of NLSA’s legal services, and delivering “Legal Literacy” presentations at veteran outreach events on legal topics of broad appeal.

Media

7 Things Every Public Interest Lawyer Should Know About Working with Veterans

Driven by public interest, I consider it a great service and honor to serve those who served our country

Ariel N. Oliver /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Project

Tahira served indigent clients in a wide variety of legal issues including housing, family, SSI/SSD, unemployment compensation, public benefits, and prisoner re-entry.

The Project

Joshua worked to establish and promote land banking systems to further affordable housing in Toledo, Ohio and Dayton, Ohio. Additionally, Joshua identified existing properties and vacant parcels suitable for restoration and development, identify funding sources, and work with community development corporations, local public officials, HUD and other parties to develop sustainable affordable housing.

The Project

At Legal Assistance of Western NY, Bethany built a re-entry law clinic and co-managed Law Students in Action Project, a law student summer associate program. Specifically, Bethany worked on civil cases related to poverty law and employment law issues. The Law Students in Action Project recruited law students from throughout the country to intern in partner public interest offices throughout Western NY.

Next Steps

Bethany is the co-Director of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP) at the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Bethany has spent her career working at the intersection of health equity and social justice. She most recently served as Deputy Director, State Affairs at the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), where she led projects focused on expanding Medicaid, defending the Affordable Care Act, and strengthening the ability of community health centers to carry out their mission. As a former member of NCMLP’s Advisory Council from 2014-2019, she served as a bridge between the two sectors and was part of the team that oversaw NCMLP’s transition to become a federally-funded technical assistance hub for health centers.

Bethany Hamilton named new Director of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership

The Project

Represent clients in immigration court and before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS; provide legal assistance to immigrants and their families

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

I will be representing indigent immigrant clients in navigating the legal system and provide legal assistance. I will be advocating on behalf of the immigrant community in Buffalo to raise community awareness and support.

The Right Person For This Project

I am extremely passionate about immigration law. I have also worked with immigrant clients in my previous position as an Immigration Law Clerk and as a law student at Pitt’s Immigration Clinic.