Matthew (Matt) Halverson advocates on behalf of individuals facing the criminal justice system in San Diego County to ensure that their health needs are addressed through direct representation, education, and systems-level advocacy.
In 2018, about 200,000 Californians were incarcerated and 400,000 were under community supervision, with an estimated 36,000 Californians released from custody annually. Moreover, over a million Californians are admitted to and released from jails per year. When incarcerated, these individuals are either suspended or terminated from their Medicaid (“Medi-Cal”) benefits and are not automatically reinstated into their healthcare benefits. Furthermore, these individuals face many health issues while incarcerated. Individuals released from prison face multiple challenges to maintain healthcare and experience prevalent issues, including the coordination of health and behavioral services in the community, transitions between programs and services (probation/parole, county behavioral health and health services agencies, and others), gaps in eligibility when transitioning between programs, and administrative barriers to entering and/or reinstating healthcare benefits (application processing, eligibility, timeline requirements, and other administrative burdens).
To address these issues, Matt will provide direct representation for health access issues and collaborate with other organizations such as the Public Defender’s Office to set up referral processes, develop training and guidance, and create educational materials that address the specific healthcare access issues these individuals face. Matt will also educate the community by developing self-help materials and workshops.
Prior to law school, I worked in healthcare and social services witnessing the gross disparities in healthcare and social services and how that lack of access harmed members of my local community. Everyone deserves access to healthcare and mental health services.
Matt Halverson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Magdalena (she/her/hers) empowers immigrant children and youth survivors of human trafficking through direct representation, community outreach, and legal education.
There are 100 human trafficking cases on average in Colorado each year, with foreign national survivors demonstrably overrepresented. Labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, and landscaping are the most common among foreign nationals. Additionally, women survivors are more prevalent than men, with child survivors increasing since 2015.
Through legal advocacy, immigrant human trafficking survivors can seek humanitarian T Non-immigrant status (“T Visas”) and direct representation to pursue litigation against their traffickers. Litigation, in particular, is essential to deter future trafficking and stem human trafficking more broadly.
Through this Fellowship, Magdalena will provide relief to youth who are immigrant human trafficking survivors through direct representation. She will pursue litigation claims against human traffickers and build on outreach & legal education provided to survivors.
Only when we treat all humans as humans under law will we truly understand the meaning of being human.
Magdalena Landa-Posas /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alejandra (she/her/hers) will advocate for youth funneled into the juvenile justice system in a racially disparate manner by changing systemic responses from punitive to a public health, community-centered approach.
Each year, approximately 40,000 youth are arrested in California. The current punitive response has created alarming racial disparities and perpetuated cycles of incarceration, impacting the lives of our most vulnerable children and youth. In particular, youth living in the Central Valley and Inland Empire regions are excessively and disproportionately policed, criminalized, and punished. Groundbreaking juvenile justice laws recently enacted in California are not implemented effectively or with fidelity in local jurisdictions, resulting in children and youth being unlawfully cast into the juvenile justice system.
During her Fellowship, Alejandra will partner with youth, community-based leaders, and criminal justice stakeholders to shift systemic responses in line with the current transformative era in juvenile justice in California. She will provide legal training and technical assistance to local courts, system administrators, and service providers to support implementation of new laws. She will facilitate strategy development with youth and community-based organizations on policy implementation, coalition-building, resource-allocation, and bolstering the direct legal representation of youth. Her project will ensure that safeguards are put in place to protect the rights of youth and help them move toward a brighter future.
The young people I have worked alongside showed me they are intelligent, creative, and have the ability to grow into powerful leaders for social change. By protecting them, we will help them live their full potential, transform our communities, and create healing opportunities for all the future generations to come.
Alejandra Gutierrez /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Alyssa (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence by representing them in both the early stages of their child welfare cases—a form of preventative legal representation—and in their family law matters.
In Massachusetts, low-income survivors of domestic violence, many of whom are people of color, are not guaranteed representation in this early stage of a child welfare case, putting their rights to their children at risk. Alyssa’s project addresses this need by providing early, prophylactic representation to survivors of domestic violence embroiled in the child welfare system to protect their rights and to prevent further exacerbation of trauma and poverty.
Alyssa is inspired by the survivors that she has worked with and is driven by a firm belief in keeping families together to prevent further poverty and trauma.
During her Fellowship, Alyssa will provide individual representation to survivors of domestic violence in both the early stages of their child welfare cases and in their family law matters. She will also develop and deliver “know your rights” trainings for survivors of domestic violence who are involved with the child welfare system.
As her representation continues, she will identify the outcomes of these domestic violence cases within the child welfare system to identify system-wide policies or policy implementations that are harmful to survivors of domestic violence.
Throughout the Fellowship, Alyssa will also create new relationships between domestic violence advocates and the child welfare system to foster collaboration on efforts toward systemic reform.
The survivors of domestic violence that I work with are incredibly devoted to their families and their children. I try to match that passion in protecting survivors’ rights and keeping their families together.
Alyssa Rao /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Renee provides legal representation and advocates to address the needs of youth in Residential Treatment Centers and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Children’s Center and enforces the Family First Prevention Services Act.
In New York City, one in ten children in foster care is placed in congregate care: a non-familial, group setting. Rather than serving as a temporary emergency placement or a service-rich environment to meet the intensive needs of youth who cannot be placed in foster homes, these settings often isolate the most vulnerable youth. The Family First Prevention Services Act, which was enacted by Congress and will be implemented in New York in October 2021, was designed to curtail the inappropriate use of congregate care and to ensure that youth in Residential Treatment Centers receive evidence-based, trauma-informed services.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Renee has:
- Took on full representation of over 20 clients in neglect and abuse cases, voluntary cases, and custody and visitation cases
- Partnered with The Legal Aid Society and Latham & Watkins to develop a plan for comprehensive, long-lasting reform to major issues in congregate facilities
- Collaborated with ACS and other local organizations in anticipation of the implementation of Family First in New York by participating in meetings with stakeholders across the child welfare system
- Presented internal training session on the implementation of Family First and drafted accompanying educational resources
- Assisted LFC in planning for potential impact litigation to improve the conditions of RTCs
- Drafted a “Know Your Rights” pocket guide for youth in residential care
In the next six months, Renee plans to:
- Continue representing clients in foster care in all family court proceedings
- Collaborate with partner organizations to develop a plan for comprehensive reforms in congregate facilities
- Develop and maintain mechanisms to monitor ACS’s compliance with Family First mandates
- Provide consultation to staff and partner organizations regarding new mandates under Family First
Far too often, children in foster care are told what’s in their best interest, and they aren’t given a meaningful opportunity to share their input. I am passionate about ensuring that every child’s voice is heard because every child deserves a safe, supportive home.
Renee Schenkman /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Stephanie’s project advocates for the rights of students of color with disabilities who face pushout to inferior alternative education settings through direct services, community advocacy, and impact litigation.
Separate and unequal schooling is the reality for too many students of color with disabilities. These students are disproportionately pushed out of traditional schools and into inferior alternative education settings, including continuation high schools and community day schools. Such settings enable the modern-day segregation of American schools, perpetuating a system where high-needs students of color are less likely to graduate and more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system.
During her Fellowship, Stephanie will represent students with disabilities in special education proceedings to ensure equitable placement and service delivery. She will partner with community organizations to provide resource trainings to families and push for systemic reform, and will also seek to collaborate with school districts to strengthen supports for students with disabilities so that they do not face pushout to alternative schools. Furthermore, she will identify districts with a pattern or practice of either illegally pushing students with disabilities to alternative settings or providing deficient special education services within alternative settings, and will challenge these practices through strategic impact litigation.
In my eight years working as a special education teacher and administrator, one principle permeated every school setting: students with high needs were pushed out rather than supported. I decided to become a lawyer to fight to ensure that all children receive the just public education they deserve.
Stephanie Horwitz /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Hyun-mi’s Fellowship aimed to protect the civil and legal rights of indigenous children and women afforded under the California Indian Child Welfare Act (Cal-ICWA) and applicable provisions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through legal advocacy, community education, collaboration with tribal lawyers, and community organizations led by indigenous advocates and legal workshops with judicial personnel of county and state courts in the SF Bay Area.
The vast majority of juvenile dependency cases involving ICWA issues arise from a familial environment imperiled by domestic violence and/or substance abuse. Although ICWA does not apply to family law proceedings between parents, ICWA can be triggered in domestic violence cases when neither parent is deemed by the court to be fit to raise a child in a safe and healthy environment. My Fellowship played an essential and unique role in addressing the issue of violence against indigenous women. I provided assistance to obtain a restraining order and at the same time informed a victim/survivor of her, her child, and her tribe’s rights afforded under ICWA should an indigenous child be removed from his/her household due to domestic violence. My Fellowship project provided legal advocacy that recognized important intersectional issues between ICWA and violence against indigenous women.
Hyun-mi and her family immigrated to the US in 1995 and it was not until after she took courses in Native American history in college that she started to seriously consider the meaning of “indigeneity,” and the paradox that the land that was taken from indigenous people was the same land that immigrants, including her family, aspire to settle on, in search for a better life.
Some of Hyun-mi’s accomplishments during her two-year Fellowship include:
- On May 17, 2021, Hyun-mi was invited to join the panel commemorating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in San Francisco, CA. The attendees were comprised of city legislators, policy commissioners, lawyers, advocates, and activists.
- On November 10, 2021, Hyun-Mi conducted the 1.5 webinar about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Family Separation. This event was organized by the Judicial Council of California and sponsored by the Center for Families, Children & the Courts, and the California Department of Social Services. The event was attended by the city legislators, the staff of the Judicial Council, dependency attorneys, child welfare advocates, and law professors.
Hyun-mi will continue to provide legal advocacy to clients and community education to stakeholders on the issues pertinent to ICWA and violence against indigenous women. Additionally, Hyun-mi will be active in DV prevention work at API Legal Outreach.
Veena provided trauma-informed, post-disposition representation to youth involved with the District’s juvenile legal and foster care systems, advocating for youth to remain in the community rather than detention facilities.
Youth in the deepest end of the District’s juvenile legal system suffer significant discrimination and frequently experience a loss of liberty, often without the assistance of counsel. A youth “committed” to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) is subject to the agency’s placement and service decisions, with little to no court oversight. Crossover youth—or youth involved in both the juvenile legal and foster care systems—are significantly more likely to be placed in detention facilities than are other youth, and are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and bias.
During her two-year Fellowship, Veena:
- Provided legal representation to 15 young people in the juvenile and adult systems. Due to the relationships Veena developed with her clients, she was able to successfully advocate for reduced or no jail time in multiple cases
- In one case, Veena highlighted a youth’s success in education and employment, and advocated for a term of probation rather than commitment to the District’s juvenile agency
- In another case, Veena worked with a trial attorney in an adult matter to advocate for a probation sentence instead of a five-year jail term
- Ensured a recently-decided right to post-dispensation counsel for youth in DC’s juvenile system was implemented and realized
- Worked with partner organizations to support the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children, the only District office with a specific mandate to focus on crossover youth
After her fellowship concludes, Veena will be joining the Children’s Law Center as an Education Attorney in the Healthy Together and Guardian ad Litem projects. Healthy Together is a medical-legal partnership between community health centers in the District and attorneys at the Children’s Law Center. The Guardian ad Litem program provides legal representation to children involved with the foster care system.
Once I met these kids, I knew I had found the right career. Even in the toughest of circumstances, their smiles, jokes, and aspirations make it incredibly easy to love them and commit to this work.
Veena Subramanian /
Equal Justice Works Fellow