Photo of Roz Dillon

Roz Dillon

  • Hosted by Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
  • Sponsored by Lavan-Harris Charitable Fund
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
  • Issue area Prisoners' Rights, Racial Justice
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Roz (she/her/hers) is working 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 countless other deprivations of civil liberties. 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, their right to sue is lost forever.

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 Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Roz has:

  • Participated in eight appeals on behalf of incarcerated clients in hopes of creating law that will help incarcerated people satisfy the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement and achieved success in one case in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Presented oral argument to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case where a prison confiscated legal mail that the client needed to join a class-action lawsuit on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of the Boy Scouts of America
  • Partnered with the ACLU’s National Prison Project to develop an exhaustion-specific amicus, which has been adapted to, and filed in, five of her PLRA exhaustion cases so far
  • Spearheaded the development of a PLRA website to share the stories of MacArthur Justice Center clients who have been profoundly impacted by one of the PLRA’s burdensome provisions

Next Steps

In the next few months, Roz plans to:

  • File opening briefs in at least three additional federal appeals to continue to expand favorably the law regarding the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement
  • Continue litigating existing appellate cases by filing reply briefs and prepare for oral argument in at least one case which is scheduled to be argued in September
  • Interview approximately nine MacArthur Justice Center clients who will be featured on the PLRA website and ensure that the telling of their stories honors and reflects their voices and experiences


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

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