Caroline Cohn

The Project

Caroline (she/her/hers) will use consumer protection laws to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals affected by the criminal legal system through direct representation, education, and policy reform.

Fines, fees, and criminal justice debt exacerbate the harms of involvement with the criminal legal system. Courts impose monetary sanctions for the vast majority of criminal convictions, which, even for minor offenses, can amount to thousands of dollars due to late fees and interest. Individuals and their families are also preyed upon by private actors who profit off of the criminal legal system, including bail agents, prison telecommunications providers, and criminal background screening companies, many of which perform background checks inaccurately or unlawfully. These harmful practices disproportionately impact people of color and impede individuals’ abilities to secure housing, obtain employment, and build wealth.

Caroline is motivated to join the National Consumer Law Center’s team as a Fellow so that she can harness consumer law as one means of addressing the deep and varied harms propagated by the criminal legal system.

Fellowship Plans

Caroline will use consumer law to advocate on behalf of low-income individuals harmed by the criminal legal system. She will represent individuals who have been injured by criminal background screening companies that unlawfully report their criminal records to prospective landlords and employers. She will also develop litigation materials to help legal services providers more effectively advocate on behalf of clients with these kinds of claims. Additionally, she will advocate for policy reform and produce a report on fines and fees associated with alternative forms of punishment, such as electronic monitoring.

Interning with the National Consumer Law Center exposed me to the ways predatory financial interests lengthen and compound criminal-system involvement for already-marginalized individuals and their loved ones.

Caroline Cohn /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Andy (he/him/his) will expand a community-based education advocacy program into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, providing special education and school discipline legal services to low-income families in the community.

Disparities in educational resources and the school-to-prison pipeline have long created barriers to a meaningful education for many children in Rogers Park, Chicago. But in the midst of a pandemic and with an eye toward its aftermath, these barriers have and will continue to become more widespread. And with only two legal aid agencies providing direct, comprehensive educational advocacy in Chicago, there is a significant need for community-based educational advocacy in Rogers Park. It is crucial that Rogers Park youth are returning to school, receiving the educational services they need to be successful in school, and learning in a restorative and trauma-informed environment.

Through advocating for students in school discipline hearings, Andy learned the transformative power of educational advocacy, and the tools a lawyer can use to keep kids in school and to ensure they are receiving the support and services they need to be successful and connected to their school community.

Fellowship Plans 

During his Fellowship, Andy will represent Rogers Park youth with special education needs as well as students confronting school exclusion. To expand the reach of his project, Andy will empower parents and caregivers to advocate for their children in school through Know Your Rights trainings. And through partnerships with community organizations, Andy will work collaboratively with the community to advocate for Rogers Park schools to transition from punitive disciplinary approaches towards more inclusive and restorative practices.

Media

An Evanston-based Legal and Social Work Nonprofit Now Offers Services in Rogers Park for Students and Parents

I believe comprehensive and community-based education advocacy provides one of the greatest tools a community has to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

Andy Froelich /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow