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Megan Harkins

  • Hosted by Legal Council for Health Justice
  • Sponsored by Dentons
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Loyola University Chicago School of Law
  • Issue area Public Benefits/Welfare Reform
  • Fellowship class year 2018
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Megan is providing proactive, trauma-informed legal advocacy to justice-involved persons living with disabling mental illness in Cook County, to promote their reintegration and recovery in the community.

Many low-income persons with disabling mental impairments and trauma histories cycle between homelessness and jail. They routinely fail to access vital support services in order to live stable lives in the community. Estimated social costs associated with this population range from $35-150,000 per person per year. A stable source of income is critical to combating recidivism and improving a person’s health, welfare, and quality of life. Unfortunately, the disability process often poses insurmountable barriers to establishing eligibility for ex-offenders living with serious mental illness (SMI). Expediting access to SSI/SSDI can stabilize ex-offenders when they are most at risk of relapse and reoffending. This project will fill a gap by targeting those who are among the highest cost drivers of medical, criminal justice, and social services costs — and prioritizes access to a unique model of civil legal aid to give them a fair chance to successfully reintegrate into community life.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past year, Megan has:

  • Developing materials and trainings for case managers and social workers on federal disability benefits.
  • Undertaking full representation of individuals referred through Thresholds.
  • Working to implement a pre-release agreement between Cook County Jail and local Social Security offices to expedite reinstating disability benefits post-incarceration or applying for disability benefits while incarcerated.

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Olivia Ortiz

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Current Fellow

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Jennifer Werdell

Host: New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)

Sponsor: Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP