Photo of Sarah Free

Sarah Free

  • Hosted by Illinois Prison Project
  • Sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Loyola University Chicago School of Law
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform, Racial Justice
  • Fellowship class year 2022
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Sarah (she/her/hers) will provide direct representation to people seeking clemency who were “emerging adults” between 18-25 years old when convicted under Illinois’ felony-murder rule.

The over-prosecution of Black emerging adults drives mass incarceration in Illinois. Incarcerated at a rate 9.4 times that of white emerging adults, this group is also disproportionality prosecuted under a controversial state law: felony-murder. Felony-murder carries a sentence range of 20 years to life, allowing the State to charge a person with first-degree murder if another person dies during the commission of a felony, even if the person charged did not actually or intend to kill them. Sixty percent of people serving sentences in Illinois under this law were emerging adults when convicted, and 75% of those people are Black. While research has established that emerging adults share key developmental characteristics with juveniles and have an enormous capacity for change and rehabilitation, no sentencing protections exist for them, and there is no right to legal representation in clemency proceedings in Illinois.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Sarah will provide direct representation in clemency proceedings to people currently incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections. She will train lawyers on the felony-murder rule, emerging adulthood, and the devastating impact of the rule on people in this age group and the communities they come from. Sarah will elevate personal stories of emerging adults sentenced under felony-murder to educate the broader public on these issues and advocate for change.

Mass incarceration is a crisis born of the criminal legal system’s refusal to acknowledge the capacity to change. Few people remain the same as they were between the ages of 18-25, and addressing the unique characteristics of emerging adults gives us one more tool to build a collective future where no person is defined by their worst act.

Sarah Free /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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