Corina’s (she/her/hers) project will provide post-conviction legal services and legislative advocacy on behalf of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence who are eligible for resentencing or a new trial in New York state.
In 2019, New York passed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), which recognizes domestic violence as a mitigating factor in certain criminal cases and allows eligible incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to apply for resentencing. Unfortunately, prohibitively high evidentiary standards have prevented survivors from obtaining the relief intended by the law. The legislation must be amended, but in the interim an alternate avenue of relief has emerged: reinvestigation of cases frequently reveals wrongful conviction issues, such as ineffective assistance of counsel.
Corina’s commitment to challenging gender-based violence and mass incarceration motivates her to secure tangible relief for system-involved survivors of domestic violence through both direct representation and policy advocacy.
During her Fellowship, Corina will bring ineffective assistance of counsel claims on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. She will also advocate for amendments to the DVSJA to eliminate the needless procedural barriers that bar clients from obtaining the relief the legislature intended to provide. Additionally, Corina will develop a comprehensive body of post-conviction advocacy materials to educate attorneys and judges on the evolving legal and legislative landscape.
Survivors of domestic violence deserve legal advocates who will infuse their humanity into a criminal justice system that often attempts to dehumanize them and decontextualize their cases.
Corina Scott /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jenna (she/her/hers) will work to combat family separation and surveillance through the child welfare system (“the new Jane Crow”) by improving parent representation through policy advocacy and community education.
The child welfare system has become for Black women what the criminal legal system is for Black men—an invasive institution that monitors and punishes them for socio-economic factors beyond their control. In New York, nearly 18,000 children live with strangers in foster care. Most were removed due to circumstances that have more to do with poverty than bad parenting—like insecure housing, poor nutrition, or lack of childcare.
Racial disparities in the foster system are stark: Black children make up less than 15% of New York’s population but comprise nearly 57% of its foster youth. Black and brown parents face uphill battles in child protective services (CPS) cases, confronting bias, fewer resources, and greater odds of having a past conviction. They are further disadvantaged by the state’s failure to require parent representation or information about their rights during the CPS investigation phase. However, new models of early and holistic parent representation have been proven to help keep families safely together. These best practices must be urgently institutionalized to support families throughout the state.
During her Fellowship, Jenna will advocate for statewide policy reforms to provide parents with early and holistic representation in child welfare cases. She will also conduct community outreach and education to support parents with information and resources to more effectively navigate potential CPS interactions. Additionally, Jenna will work with health care providers to reduce the volume of CPS cases that originate as a result of unnecessary drug testing and reporting.
Family separation through the child welfare system cuts to the heart of intersectional inequality; I believe combatting the system’s disproportionate harms is an integral part of the struggle for racial, gender, and economic justice.
Jenna Lauter /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Faith will drive reform of prosecutorial oversight in targeted jurisdictions nationwide, by holding prosecutors accountable for misconduct and adopting best practices to prevent wrongful convictions.
The cumulative effect of prosecutorial misconduct is difficult to quantify because prosecutorial oversight is drastically under-enforced and understudied. Prosecutors have the greatest role in charging decisions, and this project will help—and incentivize—them to develop more sound and scientifically robust guidelines for criminal justice reform. This project provides direct legal assistance to victims of prosecutorial misconduct and drives systemic prosecutorial reform through legislative advocacy and policy collaboration.
Through exposure to social justice advocacy in many different capacities over the course of her career, Faith has come to believe that the criminal legal system is the nexus of social inequality. Given the paramount role that prosecutors play within the criminal legal system, reshaping the work of prosecutors’ offices is one of the most effective means of criminal legal reform.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
So far during the Fellowship, Faith has:
- Connected with dozens of stakeholders for input into policy compendium
- Created 3 fact sheets and policy memoranda about essential aspects of prosecutorial reform
- Contributed to an amicus letter submitted in the Massachusetts lawsuit, Graham v. District Attorney for Hampden County, addressing the vital role of prosecutors in rectifying the consequences of police misconduct benefiting 25 individuals
- Delivered guest lectures in a college forensic anthropology class discussing the politicization of forensic science
In the next six months, Faith plans to:
- Initiate a strategically novel lawsuit addressing acts of prosecutorial misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction
- Complete the model policy compendium and disseminate it as an advocacy tool
- Draft additional amicus briefs in cases involving prosecutorial misconduct
- Produce media advocating for policy reforms, and shedding light on the consequences of absolute immunity
Reshaping the work of prosecutors’ offices is one of the most effective means of criminal legal reform.
Faith Barksdale /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Anna addressed the ongoing issue of exploitation in the workforce of Vietnamese immigrants in the Greater Boston area. These immigrants lack significant formal education, job skills and proficiency in English and they compete for a limited number of low-skilled jobs. In collaboration with Greater Boston Legal Services and Vietnamese organizations, Anna connected with community leaders to provide worker workshops and representation where necessary, and also with the Attorney General and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Brett represented unaccompanied immigrant youth in family and immigration court, and collaborated with health care professionals to create a comprehensive plan to address the diverse needs of youth survivors of torture, trafficking, and violence.
Need Addressed By Project
An unprecedented influx of unaccompanied immigrant youth—children under the age of 18 arriving in the U.S. without a parent or guardian—has surged across the southern border, fleeing gang and sexual violence, abuse, and poverty. The youth who arrive in New York City have pressing medical, mental health, and legal needs. They require housing support, educational advocacy, nutritional assistance, and stable relationships. Many are at risk of becoming homeless, have had interrupted formal education, and may be living with adults or parents they barely know. These youth are all consistently placed in deportation proceedings without the right to an attorney.
During his Fellowship, Brett:
• Co-founded Terra Firma, a medical-legal partnership designed to provide health care and legal services to unaccompanied immigrant youth
• Represented 50 clients in immigration and associated family court proceedings
• Led a coalition meeting among officials in the New York City departments of Health and Education and the American Academy of Pediatrics on the medical needs of unaccompanied immigrant youth
• Coordinated the first trauma study on the mental health needs of unaccompanied youth with Columbia University
Where are they now?
Brett serves as the legal director of Terra Firma, the medical-legal partnership that he co-founded with Catholic Charities Community Services, Children’s Health Fund, and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.
Bianca worked to eliminate the perverse financial incentives that permeate the private outsourcing of prison services.
As a nation, we spend more than $80 billion annually to incarcerate 2.2 million people in facilities whose deplorable conditions, subpar treatment services, and ineffective programs engender recidivism. We spend another $100 billion on the courts and police who fill their beds. But the social costs of our failing criminal legal system, such as the harm done to people, families, and communities, are far higher. And these costs are not distributed evenly—their burden is carried largely by those we already detrimentally marginalize: low-income communities of color. Adding insult to injury, over the past few decades, private, public, and illicit actors have found various ways to financially exploit our criminal legal system and those it touches, victims and prisoners alike. From bail to probation and construction to commissary, these actors have commercialized each segment of our punishment continuum and built an industry that depends on stripping people of their liberties. In doing so, they have converted the justice-involved and their communities into cash machines, capitalizing on crime to create a legal form of human trafficking that targets those our social structures have failed.
In the past two years, Bianca has:
- Launched the Corrections Accountability Project at the Urban Justice Center, which aims to eliminate the influence of commercial interests on the criminal legal system and those it touches;
- Released a game-changing report that exposed over 3,000 companies involved in the prison industrial complex, which was covered by The Nation, The Pacific Standard, Colorlines, and other media outlets; and
- Led a coalition that was able to successfully get the New York City Council to pass Introduction 741, making all calls out of the city’s jails free—a national first that will save directly impacted communities nearly $10 million per year.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Bianca plans to continue leading the Corrections Accountability Project at the Urban Justice Center and expand the organization’s work and impact.
Bobby implemented replicable state campaigns to reform court debt collection practices through strategic litigation and community partnerships, to ensure that nobody loses their liberty because they are poor.
Over 10 million people nationwide have debt from fines and fees imposed in court cases, owing over $50 billion. Most criminal defendants are indigent and cannot meet these obligations, which can lead to lower credit scores, suspended driver’s licenses, job loss, disenfranchisement, and jail. While the U.S. Constitution requires that courts assess ability to pay before incarcerating a person for nonpayment of court debt, many local courts regularly jail debtors without a hearing or notice of the right to counsel–ignoring their financial circumstances and constitutional rights. Debt from a single case can trigger a cycle of license suspension, job loss, debt, and jail, with far-reaching effects beyond the life of a criminal case.
During the two-year Fellowship period, Bobby:
- Supported litigation against debtors’ prisons practices in Lexington County, South Carolina at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and secured a victory that allows the case to proceed to discovery and gives the plaintiffs an opportunity to prove their allegations against defendant magistrate judges
- Led a team that helped host community outreach presentations in South Carolina, providing education to the general public and direct services providers on issues such as driver’s license suspension based on inability to pay traffic fines and fees
- Filed a lawsuit challenging the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ practice of automatically and indefinitely suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets without considering drivers’ ability to pay
- Helped advocate for medically vulnerable people facing a high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 due to conditions of detention—many of whom are detained pretrial solely because they cannot afford to pay bail
In the fall 2020, Bobby began a federal clerkship.