2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Headshot of Natalie Smith

Natalie Smith

  • Hosted by New Haven Legal Assistance Association
  • Sponsored by Lisa Foster and Alan Bersin
  • Service location New Haven, Connecticut
  • Law school Yale Law School
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Racial Justice
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Natalie (she/her/hers) will work with the New Haven Legal Assistance Association (NHLAA) and a network of community partners to offer holistic civil legal representation and self-advocacy tools to low-income residents of New Haven, Connecticut who have been involved in the criminal legal system.

Structural racism is a defining feature of the United States criminal legal system, with punishment concentrated overwhelmingly in low-income Black and Latinx communities. New Haven, a majority non-white community, has the highest incarceration rate of any county in the state of Connecticut. Disrupting the racial and economic inequities perpetuated by mass incarceration requires more than reforming the criminal legal system—it requires meeting the needs of people returning from incarceration, including their civil legal needs.

By working in partnership with her directly impacted neighbors in New Haven, Connecticut, Natalie’s Fellowship project aims to shift power and resources to communities harmed by mass incarceration, intervene in the reproduction of racial and socioeconomic inequity, and instead, support community flourishing.

Fellowship Plans

Natalie will provide individual representation, develop a holistic civil-legal screening tool specific to the needs of people returning from incarceration, and build a reciprocal referral pipeline between NHLAA, public defenders, and social service providers serving New Haven residents with criminal-legal system involvement. Natalie will also develop educational and pro se materials on high-priority civil-legal needs and hold a series of workshops with community partners on these topics. By equipping people who are returning from incarceration into the community with holistic civil-legal representation and resources for self-advocacy, this project supports residents’ stability in the community and advances racial and socioeconomic justice.

Sparked by a racialized encounter with police when I was a teenager in rural Montana, my subsequent sociological and legal education kindled my commitment to offer direct legal support and self-advocacy tools to communities harmed by mass incarceration.

Natalie Smith /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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Sponsor: Venture Justice Fund

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Jack Saletta

Host: Lawndale Christian Legal Center

Sponsor: Aon, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

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Serena Witherspoon

Host: UnCommon Law

Sponsor: Apple, Baker McKenzie

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