Phoenix Rice-Johnson

The Project

Phoenix (she/her/hers) provides civil-legal reentry support to victims of domestic violence and other trauma survivors who are released from incarceration due to a reduced sentence under New York’s recently enacted Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

Approximately half of people released from prison in New York State end up in homeless shelters. Many formerly incarcerated individuals face housing and employment discrimination due to their criminal records, which exacerbates their challenges with homelessness and unemployment. And individuals leaving prison often lack any government ID, which makes obtaining benefits like food stamps and social security disability insurance nearly impossible. Phoenix aims to support survivors of domestic violence navigate these challenges by providing them with legal reentry support.

Fellowship Plans

Phoenix aims to support survivors of domestic violence with their reentry needs so that they can reunite with their communities, avoid reincarceration, and end the cycle of trauma and criminalization that affects so many. Her Fellowship involves three components: providing direct civil legal services to individual clients (e.g. assisting clients in appealing denials of government benefits); drafting a guide on best practices for trauma-informed lawyering and reentry support for survivors of trauma; and building relationships with other reentry organizations to better connect clients to the services they need.

My sister has been directly impacted by the dual harms of domestic violence and incarceration. Witnessing her struggle and her strength is what inspired me to support other individuals navigating the reentry process.

Phoenix Rice-Johnson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Casey (she/her/hers) will mount the first nationwide affirmative effort to mitigate the criminal and immigration consequences of attempting to cast a ballot.

After recent elections, many states, including North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, have prosecuted dozens of people for allegedly casting ballots while ineligible to do so. As a result, many people, especially people of color, face extreme consequences like incarceration and deportation for casting ballots while not knowing they were disenfranchised. For example, current ACLU clients Ms. Crystal Mason and Mr. Hervis Rogers face multi-year prison sentences for allegedly trying to vote when Texas considered them ineligible under its felon disenfranchisement laws. This growing wave of unjust voter prosecution creates fear and suppresses voter turnout among minority communities.

Fellowship Plans

Casey will contribute to the defense of individuals wrongfully prosecuted for voting. She will build capacity among defense and immigration lawyers to represent people charged with voting unlawfully. Casey will also file impact litigation to challenge statutes that impose harsh penalties upon people who try to vote not realizing they are ineligible to do so.

Prosecuting people of color for voting is a tool of racist voter suppression dating back to Jim Crow, and it has resurged recently, as politicians seek to support unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. Having worked with clients affected by this unjust practice, I am driven to ensure that no one is prosecuted, incarcerated, or deported for trying to participate in politics.

Casey Smith /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zoe (she/her/hers) will work with young people who attend alternative and nontraditional public schools in greater Philadelphia to educate them on their civil rights and support them in building power to advocate for more meaningful, accessible, and effective pathways to graduation.

One in five Philadelphia ninth-graders will attend an alternative or nontraditional school during their educational career. Many of the approximately 5,000 students who currently attend these schools have had their education interrupted by being pushed out of traditional schools, experiencing homelessness, or being incarcerated, on top of continually experiencing the effects of interlocking systems of racism and criminalization of poverty. Instead of reversing discriminatory patterns of pushout and helping every student remain in school and graduate, alternative schools often exacerbate pushout by adopting exclusionary policies, collecting limited data about barriers students encounter, and having very little accountability. These problems persist despite federal and state laws that protect all Pennsylvania students’ ability to access public education.

Fellowship Plans

Zoe will build on the Education Law Center’s existing relationships with Philadelphia-area youth organizations and child-serving providers to address the concerns of young people who attend alternative schools. She will undertake individual representation to enforce students’ federal, state, and local education civil rights in enrollment, special education, anti-harassment and bullying, and school discipline matters. Her work will ensure that alternative schools enroll students promptly and provide appropriate special education services, English language instruction, and due process in school discipline proceedings. Informed by community relationships and research into accountability gaps, she will support young people who attend alternative schools to build power and develop a focused advocacy campaign that pushes alternative schools to provide more meaningful, effective, and accessible programming.

Media

Greenberg Traurig Names its 2022 Equal Justice Works Fellows

In my six years as a high school educator, my students’ feedback pushed me every day to build a more supportive, inclusive classroom. My goal as a lawyer is not only to make sure that my clients receive a high-quality public education; it is to help them build power so they have a say in advocating for schools that fully support them and help them thrive.

Zoe Masters /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Shiv (he/him/his) advocates with and for older adults in New York prisons through parole assistance and appeals representation, re-entry support, and legislative advocacy.

The percentage of older people in New York prisons has nearly doubled over the past 30 years—a dire trend as the COVID-19 pandemic places older adults in prison at particular risk of illness and death. At the same time, parole, one of the only means for obtaining release from prison, remains out of reach for many incarcerated older adults. Older adults often navigate their parole proceedings without assistance, receive repeated denials from the Parole Board, and face barriers to re-entry if they succeed in obtaining parole. Rigorous parole assistance and parole reform are important tools toward the urgent need to release older people from prison.

Fellowship Plans

Shiv will strive to make parole a more accessible and successful reality for older adults in New York prisons. He will provide direct assistance in older adults’ parole applications and parole hearings, represent older adults in appeals of parole denials, and support older adults on parole in their re-entry needs. Shiv will also advocate for legislation in New York that would make more older adults in prison eligible for parole consideration.

I have learned invaluable lessons from community members incarcerated in New York. Through this project, I build on what they taught me and hope to honor their ongoing efforts toward a more just world.

Shiv Rawal /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Leila (she/her/hers) will defend low-income Black families in the greater Austin area against aggressive child protective services interventions through direct representation, relationship building, and community education.

Our child welfare system surveils, punishes, and separates Black and Brown families living in poverty. Often, children of color are taken from their homes, their parents, their siblings, and their communities because poverty is confused with neglect. The intersecting violence of structural racism, poverty, and family separation is especially dire for Black communities in Austin. Texas terminates the rights of more parents than any other state. In Texas’s most seemingly progressive city, the child welfare system overwhelmingly targets Black families. Black children in Austin are nearly eight times more likely to be forcibly removed from home than their white peers. Parents and caregivers are left to navigate child protection investigations and services under the threat of a petition for removal and termination of parental rights without access to counsel.

Lessons from Black women in Leila’s young world, stories from clients she’s worked alongside, and guidance from incredible mentors inspire her lifelong commitment to supporting Black communities.

Fellowship Plans

Drawing on her experience in family defense, criminal sentencing mitigation, and anti-racist facilitation, Leila will prevent unnecessary family separation for vulnerable Black communities in the greater Austin area. She will provide direct representation to parents and caregivers before a petition for removal and parental rights termination has been filed. Additionally, she will collaborate with local partners to build community trust and host Know-Your-Rights meetings to share knowledge and collectivize advocacy strategies.

Media

2021 Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works Law Fellows to Tackle Racial, Economic, and Social Justice Issues

In disrupting the everyday devastations happening in child protection offices, I honor the power and vulnerability of the Black women that made me.

Leila Blatt /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Allison (she/her/hers) will work to overhaul oppressive probation and parole systems that feed mass incarceration and exacerbate racial inequities through a replicable, community-driven campaign of litigation and other advocacy.

4.4 million people in the United States, or 1 in every 58, are on probation or parole. These forms of supervision are promoted as alternatives to incarceration, but in reality, they set people up to fail. In 2017, nearly half of all state prison admissions stemmed from supervision violations—often for conduct that, at root, results from over-policing and a lack of resources. Given generations of structural racism, Black people are 3.5 times more likely to be on supervision than white people and are disproportionately arrested and charged with violations.

Fellowship Plans

Building on the findings of her recent report, Allison will spearhead a community-centered campaign to end mass incarceration and enhance racial justice by reducing the use of supervision, drastically limiting incarceration for violations, and reinvesting savings in jobs, housing, and health services. To this end, Allison will develop and file replicable impact litigation challenging abusive probation and parole practices. Working in coalition with people on supervision, local advocates, and the ACLU’s 50-state network of affiliates, she will also promote legislative and administrative reforms to support the campaign’s goals. Finally, Allison will initiate public advocacy to raise awareness about oppressive probation and parole systems, amplifying the voices of people under supervision and local advocates.

Media

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Politicians Have No Place Making Parole Decisions for Young People

ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging PA. County’s Abusive Probation and Parole Detention System

Probation and parole are seen as acts of leniency, but in reality, these forms of punishment drive high numbers of people—particularly Black and Brown—right back to jail and prison, while largely failing to address their underlying needs. To dismantle mass incarceration and systemic racism, we must overhaul probation and parole.

Allison Frankel /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dan (he/him/his) supports worker empowerment in the Twin Cities’ construction industry through the Building Dignity and Respect (BDR) Campaign and help workers defend their workplace rights.

Workers in the East African community of the Twin Cities are joining together to win better working conditions for themselves and all workers. As a community of 100,000 individuals, many of whom work in low-wage industries, they have faced unsafe workplaces, a lack of religious accommodations, and retaliation when they have tried to stand up for their rights.

Fellowship Plans

Dan supports streamlined processes to handle wage theft claims and other labor violations that construction workers face; promote awareness-raising, education and training for construction workers on BDR standards; and promote the implementation of BDR standards at the municipal level and where Centro De Trabajadores Unidos En La Lucha works.

The Project

Dana protects the rights of pregnant and parenting people in the Bronx to receive the accommodations and support they need to stay healthy on the job.

Every day, pregnant workers are forced to choose between their health and bringing home a paycheck. Low-income women in New York spend most of their waking hours while pregnant at work, often in highly restrictive environments where workers’ ability to rest, use the bathroom, and eat are tightly controlled. Despite powerful new state and local laws protecting pregnant workers, employers continue to deny workers reasonable accommodations to prevent pregnancy complications from arising; paid family leave to allow new parents to bond with their babies, reducing the risk of postpartum depression; and lactation accommodations to allow breastfeeding workers to express milk in a private, sanitary space, improving the health of both parent and baby. When employers unlawfully push pregnant workers off the job, they can lose their income, healthcare, and even housing at the very moment they need it most.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first twelve months, Dana:

  • Created a Legal Clinic at a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in the Southwest Bronx, where she provides legal support and representation to working women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or caring for a new child.
  • Created and delivered a suite of “know your rights” and “issue-spotting” workshops to over 600 workers, service providers, and healthcare providers related to pregnancy, breastfeeding, parenting, and caregiving, including how to seek additional information and assistance through the Legal Clinic.
  • Submitted testimony and lobbied New York City to improve its pregnancy accommodation regulations and successfully argued that pregnant workers should not have to submit medical documentation for certain types of accommodations.
  • Developed vital resources for pregnant and postpartum workers, including guides to workplace rights for individuals experiencing postpartum depression and “Pregnant in New York? Know Your Rights” step-by-step legal guide.

Next Steps

In the next twelve months, Dana plans to:

  • Pilot partnership with local maternal health clinics to ensure that pregnant and postpartum people’s workplace needs are evaluated and supported.
  • Advocate to pass federal pregnancy accommodation law, to ensure no worker has to choose between her health and her livelihood.

This can mean the difference between falling into homelessness and being able to welcome a child into a healthy circumstance and a financially secure home.

Dana Bolger /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rita provides legal aid to low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai Hospital Pediatric Associates in East Harlem to address social and legal determinants of poor health.

Rita’s project brings together NYLAG’s LegalHealth division and the Mount Sinai Medical-Legal Partnership (MSMLP) Pediatric Program to support low-income children by providing civil legal services embedded in the hospital. MLPs connect medical and legal services by screening for needs at medical appointments. Legal intervention on issues children face, such as uninhabitable housing, has the compounded effect of improving health as well as living conditions.

Rita has an unwavering interest in providing legal services in a medical setting. She previously worked in a pediatric clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, developing experiences she can transfer to MSMLP.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Rita has:

  • Provided legal services to 56 clients on issues related to education, housing, immigration, and benefits
  • Assisted client in obtaining Early Intervention feeding therapy services for her two-year-old child
  • Assisted client in re-entering and asserting remaining family member grievance to live in her apartment
  • Provided two trainings to pro bono attorneys at Bloomberg and Proskauer and spoke on a panel about health disparities and medical-legal partnerships for Bloomberg and Proskauer
  • Met with 8 organizations, including the Planning and Estates Law Project, Adolescent Health Center, East Harlem Health Outreach Project, Yale New Haven Hospital Pediatric Medical-Legal Partnership, and the Yale Law School Medical-Legal Partnership
  • Created a slide deck on pro bono referral process for SSI/SSD training and updating an existing LegalHealth training on environmental and housing conditions that affect health

Next Steps

In the next six months, Rita plans to:

  • Hold clinics and conduct weekly client intakes
  • Further develop pro bono project with Bloomberg and Proskauer
  • Develop further experience in immigration cases
  • Develop training resources for medical professionals to refer patients to pediatric programs

Media

Spotlight on Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles

Addressing Disparities in Health and Health Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Project

Faith will drive reform of prosecutorial oversight in targeted jurisdictions nationwide, by holding prosecutors accountable for misconduct and adopting best practices to prevent wrongful convictions. 

The cumulative effect of prosecutorial misconduct is difficult to quantify because prosecutorial oversight is drastically under-enforced and understudied. Prosecutors have the greatest role in charging decisions, and this project will help—and incentivize—them to develop more sound and scientifically robust guidelines for criminal justice reform. This project provides direct legal assistance to victims of prosecutorial misconduct and drives systemic prosecutorial reform through legislative advocacy and policy collaboration.  

Through exposure to social justice advocacy in many different capacities over the course of her careerFaith has come to believe that the criminal legal system is the nexus of social inequality. Given the paramount role that prosecutors play within the criminal legal system, reshaping the work of prosecutors’ offices is one of the most effective means of criminal legal reform. 

Fellowship Highlights to Date

So far during the Fellowship, Faith has:

  • Connected with dozens of stakeholders for input into policy compendium
  • Created 3 fact sheets and policy memoranda about essential aspects of prosecutorial reform
  • Contributed to an amicus letter submitted in the Massachusetts lawsuit, Graham v. District Attorney for Hampden County, addressing the vital role of prosecutors in rectifying the consequences of police misconduct benefiting 25 individuals
  • Delivered guest lectures in a college forensic anthropology class discussing the politicization of forensic science

Next Steps

In the next six months, Faith plans to:

  • Initiate a strategically novel lawsuit addressing acts of prosecutorial misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction
  • Complete the model policy compendium and disseminate it as an advocacy tool
  • Draft additional amicus briefs in cases involving prosecutorial misconduct
  • Produce media advocating for policy reforms, and shedding light on the consequences of absolute immunity

Reshaping the work of prosecutors’ offices is one of the most effective means of criminal legal reform.

Faith Barksdale /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow