Ian (he/him/his) helps soon-to-be-released prisoners in Illinois access public benefits such as SSI/SSDI and Medicare/Medicaid with the goal of reducing post-release health decline, homelessness, and recidivism.
Around one-third of prisoners in the United States report having a disability. Unaddressed disabilities contribute directly to hardship after prison. Inability to secure income through employment can make accessing housing or healthcare virtually impossible. Ultimately, these hardships contribute to a cycle of homelessness and recriminalization for too many disabled persons.
The Pre-Release Enrollment Program is designed to interrupt this cycle at a critical juncture: reentry from prison. Helping incarcerated persons start their claims before release puts them in a better position to acquire benefits soon after release, narrowing the gap of support between prison and the community.
Ian will work between the Illinois Department of Corrections, Disability Determination Services, and local Social Security Administration offices to facilitate applications for presently incarcerated persons. He will help prisoners produce the evidence and documentation necessary for successful benefits claims. In the long term, this project seeks to lay the foundation for an integrated, community-partnered reentry unit in Illinois.
I believe stable and healthy communities are an indispensable pillar of a just society. The Pre-Release Enrollment Program has the potential to help disabled and criminalized Illinoisians successfully reintegrate into communities and thrive there.
Ian McCollum /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Kevin improves employment prospects and financial stability for low-income community members in Western Illinois through criminal records relief.
It is estimated that over 40% of the adult working-age population in Illinois has a criminal record of some kind. Many workers with these criminal records struggle to gain meaningful employment after interactions with the criminal justice system. Criminal records relief increases employment opportunities for low-income community members and helps to improve their financial stability. Additionally, in Illinois, the healthcare industry faces a shortage of workers. The healthcare waiver process enables workers with old criminal records to work in the healthcare industry. Kevin’s Fellowship aims to represent workers in expungement and seal proceedings of old criminal records. He also assists workers with old criminal records seeking employment in the healthcare industry in Illinois through the healthcare waiver process. Finally, he assists workers in reinstating their driver’s licenses and increases their access to employment.
While interning with Prairie State’s Bloomington office, Kevin was troubled to hear the stories of community members who were struggling to find work because of old criminal records. He is excited and appreciative of the opportunity to help provide this service to the community in Rock Island, Illinois.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the first year of the Fellowship, Kevin has:
- Represented 17 clients to seal or expunge a total of 47 criminal records.
- Provided 46 clients with legal advice regarding criminal records relief.
- Conducted 10 presentations providing legal information to community members.
In the next year, Kevin plans to:
- Conduct an expungement clinic in Lee and Whiteside Counties.
- Develop educational materials related to driver’s license reinstatement proceedings in Illinois.
- Continue to recruit pro bono attorneys to assist with criminal records relief efforts.
- Facilitate community presentations regarding criminal records relief to local social service agencies.
The dignity of work should not be denied to someone based on an old criminal record that has no bearing on their ability to do the job and do it well.
Kevin Hempy /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jennifer helped low-income immigrant and beginning family farmers in Minnesota navigate myriad legal issues and access government programs through direct representation, outreach and education, and administrative advocacy.
Need Addressed By Project
Many of Minnesota’s new farmers come from Hmong, Latino, and other immigrant communities who aspire to make a living by reclaiming their cultural traditions in farming. Often living in poverty, these farmers have achieved a fragile success, which is threatened every day by significant legal, administrative, and cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Farming is a heavily regulated industry that requires thorough understanding of zoning, food safety, environmental, and other applicable laws. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) agricultural loan, insurance, and risk management programs are critical financial lifelines, but require adherence to strict criteria and deadlines. Minnesota USDA officials often lack the cultural competence needed to effectively help immigrant farmers whose native language is not English. Also, USDA officials often are unfamiliar with the smaller, diversified operations managed by many beginning farmers. Immigrant and beginning farmers need legal assistance to ensure access to government benefits critical to small farm surviva
During her Fellowship, Jennifer:
• Provided full representation to nearly 100 immigrant and beginning farmers on such matters as lease negotiations and drafting, cooperative formation and governance, and accessing government farming programs
• Collaborated with partner organizations to hold 26 workshops and trainings that reached more than 500 immigrant and beginning farmers on a wide range of legal topics, including government cost-sharing programs for farmers, civics, loan programs, labor and employment law for small-scale vegetable farmers, farm internships, farm transitions and leasing, accepting food stamp vouchers, and licensing requirements for produce reselling
• Researched, written, and published the “Farmers’ Guide to the Farm Service Agency Microloan Program,” a comprehensive guide to help all potential borrowers—from immigrant farmers with no credit history to more seasoned borrowers—access the agency’s microloan program
• Created and distributed legal educational materials to nearly 1,000 farmers
Nick provided pro bono transactional legal services to individuals, nonprofit corporations, and for-profit businesses engaged in urban agriculture in Detroit.
Due to economic downturn in recent decades, Detroit has a large proportion of abandoned properties. While Detroit has incentivized private redevelopment in some areas of high abandonment, it has yet to provide a systemized or viable redevelopment solution for some of its most depressed neighborhoods. Urban agriculture is a great and cost-effective urban revitalization tool, but is sadly underutilized in Detroit’s neighborhoods. Not only could urban farms provide Detroiters with a degree of autonomy regarding how their neighborhoods are redeveloped, they could also provide them with a much needed source of fresh food. Nicholas’ project will provide vital and sustainable legal assistance to Detroiters promoting urban agriculture.
In the past two years, Nick Leonard has:
- Helped dozens of urban growers set-up and structure a nonprofit corporation, cooperative corporation, or limited liability company
- Counseled urban growers on a variety of legal topics, including tax law, employment law, and local property maintenance law
- Participated in several public education events focused on teaching urban growers about the laws that may impact their urban farm or garden
- Authored both the Detroit Good Food Entrepreneur Legal Handbook and the Community Land Trust Bylaws Drafting Guide
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Nick Leonard plans to:
- Continue to work for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center as a Staff Attorney
- Continue to manage the project dedicated to providing pro bono legal services to urban growers
Catrina will disrupt the impact of poverty on social determinants of health for low-income residents of Rockford, IL through creation of a medical-legal partnership that provides direct legal representation.
Over 25% of the population of Rockford, IL lived below the poverty line between 2009 and 2013, the highest rate of poverty in Illinois, and research has shown that socioeconomic status is strongly correlated to health outcomes, particularly for low-income individuals. Income, education, employment, housing, food security, and social inclusion all affect health, and as many as 50-85% of health center clients have health-harming civil-legal needs. A lack of access to resources that are intended to alleviate the harming effects of social determinants of health impacts an individual’s long-term health and well-being. A medical-legal partnership between Prairie State Legal Services and Crusader Community Health will work toward addressing the root causes of civil-legal needs present in the Rockford community.
In the past two years, Catrina has:
- Established a referral system for case managers and medical providers at Crusader Community Health to refer patients with legal issues to Prairie State Legal Services.
- Established an on-site presence with designated working space at Crusader Community Health.
- Received over 250 referrals for clients seeking legal advice or representation from healthcare providers and case managers.
- Provided representation and advice to clients in a variety of court and administrative proceedings. Issue areas addressed have included guardianships, family law cases, public benefits denials, housing denials and evictions, expungements, and sealings.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Catrina plans to:
- Continue to work as a civil-legal aid attorney with Prairie State Legal Services on the Winnebago County Medical-Legal Partnership.
- Maintain and expand her current caseload to continue serving the Rockford community.
- Continue to provide clients with relevant legal advice and representation to ensure every client is able to fairly access the civil legal system.
Shelby recruited, trained, and transported pro bono attorneys and law students from urban areas to provide legal services to individuals without access to those services in rural Illinois.
Out of 63,000 attorneys in Illinois, there are only about 400 legal aid attorneys. Outside of Cook County, in Illinois, eighty-four attorneys are responsible for providing legal aid services to nearly 400,000 low-income residents in 101 counties. For many who need legal services, this can mean traveling 50 to 75 miles for legal services, which is impossible for many. This project recruited legal volunteers from law firms, corporations, and law schools and transports them to rural areas to offer legal services for clients through one to two-day clinics.
During the Fellowship, Shelby executed four legal clinics across Illinois. These clinics focused on a range of issues including Wills and Powers of Attorney, Veterans’ Records Requests, and Special Education. Additionally, Shelby developed materials for a Family Law Clinic and a Sealing and Expungement Clinic.
Following the Fellowship, Shelby joined Chicago Public Schools as Assistant General Counsel. She works in the School Law Department on education issues.