Ashley (she/her/hers) will work to protect the voting rights of Texans affected by the criminal justice system by expanding voting access to people incarcerated pretrial, people formerly incarcerated, and low-income communities.
Texas’ intentional disenfranchisement laws have left the state with the lowest rate of voter turnout in the country, and Texas has one of the highest rates of criminal convictions. Voting is even harder for those who encounter the criminal justice system—disproportionately Black, Latino, and low-income people.
Three-quarters of Harris County’s 9,000-person jail population are eligible voters; however, it is nearly impossible to vote in a Texas jail. People convicted of felonies are eligible to vote in Texas once they have completed their sentence, including parole or probation, but there is often tremendous confusion about eligibility. When people impacted by the criminal justice system do vote, they face obstacles. They often live and work in communities with fewer resources for voting.
Ashley’s project will use community outreach, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to address voter suppression. She will provide voting access for people incarcerated pretrial or for misdemeanors through outreach about voter eligibility, registering to vote, and instructions for voting. She will help inform people who have completed sentences for felonies about their restored voting rights and help clarify eligibility requirements. Ashley will also work to ensure equitable polling locations and voting resources are available in communities most impacted by the criminal justice system.
Voting is power. I want to help return power to communities that need it most.
Ashley Harris /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Brittany will provide legal advocacy to detained immigrants experiencing serious physical or mental health concerns through direct representation and litigation support.
As the rate and length of immigrant detention rise each day, tens of thousands of immigrants are subjected to harsh conditions of confinement while they pursue relief from deportation. Affected individuals, communities, and non-profit organizations have documented a systemic denial of adequate medical treatment in detention, yet individuals often have few avenues to seek release from detention. This project seeks to utilize creative litigation strategies to challenge the legality of detention under these conditions, providing direct representation while also developing materials for pro se individuals.
Brittany plans to convene with community members and legal services providers to identify current trends in the NYC area detention facilities and collect data on practices related to medical treatment in detention. And, Brittany plans to request information regarding ICE policies and procedures through FOIA, FOIL and OPRA requests. Also, Brittany will develop a referral system for organizations who regularly meet with detained individuals in order to identify potential clients, conducting follow-up meetings with detained individuals and their families. Finally, Brittany will research and draft briefing challenging the legality of detention in the absence of adequate medical care, in conversation with habeas and prison condition experts, as well as mental health and disability rights organizations.
I work from a deeply held belief that no person should be locked away and that all people are deserving of compassion and affirmation of their human dignity. I am deeply committed to immigrant rights.
Brittany Castle /
Equal Justice Works Fellows
Emily addressed the legal needs of sex trafficking victims in New York by providing representation in criminal, family and immigration cases. It also promotes the implementation of New York anti-trafficking laws through advocacy, coalition building and trainings.
Michaela worked to combat the growing tide of nuisance ordinances that threaten the safety and housing security of domestic violence victims through legal representation, policy advocacy, and outreach.
Despite a well-known connection between domestic violence and housing insecurity, local governments are increasingly enacting local nuisance ordinances that exacerbate the perilous position of domestic violence victims. Ordinances typically impose sanctions on property owners if police are called to a home more than a certain number of times and only remove sanctions if owners evict the tenants. These ordinances endanger domestic violence victims, who may not leave their abusers permanently until after several attempts, so they repeatedly experience crime in their homes. Every day these laws force victims to risk the long-term effects of housing insecurity by calling the police or risk their lives by not calling. Nuisance ordinances have also been found to be enforced disproportionately against minority communities and persons with mental disabilities.
During her Fellowship, Michaela:
- Represented a domestic violence survivor in Surprise, AZ who was threatened with eviction pursuant to a local nuisance ordinance because she called the police to report the abuse. After negotiating with the city and the landlord to halt the eviction, Michaela filed a complaint and preliminary injunction in federal court challenging the city’s nuisance policy. This lawsuit stands to benefit the millions of Arizonans subject to local laws that can similarly penalize tenants based on crime at a property, even if the tenant was the victim
- Worked to challenge a nuisance ordinance in Norristown, PA, contributing legal research and analysis in support of motion practice and settlement negotiations. The case settled with an award of $495,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, repeal of the ordinance, and training for city staff
- Supported advocates in PA and IL to achieve passage of state bills to affirmatively address nuisance ordinances
- Educated state legislators, their staff, and other local stakeholders on the need for a NY state law to protect crime victims’ right to seek and receive police aid without reprisal
- Authored a report issued by the ACLU, which analyzes nuisance ordinances’ disproportionate impact on victims of domestic violence survivors and harm to victims of other crimes through case studies of two cities in upstate New York
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Michaela is clerking for a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of New York.
Shaw researched and produced an advocacy report regarding the impact of current immigration policies on particularly vulnerable asylum seekers and increase representation of unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable asylum seekers.
Particularly vulnerable asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors, survivors of torture, and asylum seekers with family members in danger in their home countries, are currently suffering under dramatic delays in their asylum cases. These populations struggle in limbo while the immigration courts work through massive case backlogs. Immigrant advocates and pro-bono representatives are in need of impact-focused advocacy tools to continue their efforts to pressure policy makers for changes that will bring relief to this vulnerable population. This project will provide advocacy tools to address these needs and establish pro bono networks to provide representation for particularly vulnerable asylum seekers.
During Shaw’s Fellowship, Shaw:
- Identified strategic advocacy opportunities for immigration policy improvements
- Collected data and testimonies of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers
- Participated in pro bono representation of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers
Chris improved the lives of low-income elderly, disabled, and chronically ill tenants living in East Harlem public housing by fighting for their right to live in safe and habitable apartments.
The East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan is a thriving and diverse neighborhood. It also has the second-highest concentration of public housing in the country. For the tens-of-thousands of East Harlem public housing residents, leaks, mold, and flooding are widespread and persistent problems. But for tenants who are elderly, chronically ill, or who have disabilities, the conditions in their homes can often cause or exacerbate serious health conditions. Unfortunately, even as New York devotes more resources towards eviction defense, the overwhelming majority of East Harlem public housing tenants go without an attorney as they seek repairs to their homes.
Chris provided full representation to 148 tenants to prevent eviction and help them secure repairs to their homes. He also advised or assisted 224 additional NYCHA tenants in a wide range of issues. He founded the Attorney for the Day program at the East Harlem Community Justice Center, more than doubling the number of East Harlem public housing tenants who appear in that courthouse with an attorney and secured funding to allow that program to operate well into the future. He established a quarterly rent calculation clinic staffed by volunteer attorneys that has helped more than three-dozen tenants to their rents adjusted. He presented at 34 community events doing know-your-rights trainings for over 400 tenants.
Chris will continue the work of his fellowship at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House as a housing attorney until the end of 2019. Beginning in 2020, he will be clerking for the Honorable William F. Kuntz of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before hopefully returning to housing work.