Maxwell Passas

The Project

Maxwell (she/her/hers) will free wrongfully convicted people incarcerated in Massachusetts through a multistakeholder collaboration that maximizes the use of conviction integrity programs.

Recognizing the systemic issues leading to wrongful convictions and unjust sentencing, prosecution offices nationwide have begun forming newly developed conviction integrity programs (CIPs) to review and investigate cases of injustice. Fortunately, CIPs provide a novel avenue for relief, especially for unrepresented people. In contrast to traditional routes, CIPs can waive procedural bars and act to correct a broader category of unjust convictions. Additionally, CIPs allow access to undisclosed evidence, such as work product and police records.

Maxwell was inspired by the mission of innocence organizations while working to free a client pursuing post-conviction relief and drafting legal and policy memorandum for developments in the arena of eyewitness identification law with the Boston College Innocence Program during her last two years of law school.

Fellowship Plans

Innocence organizations, such as the Boston College Innocence Program, have a unique opportunity to shape the development of CIP structures and processes to best help individuals in need, especially those who are unrepresented by counsel. Maxwell’s project has six strategic components, which include developing a process for law students to help pro se applicants seeking CIP relief, screening previously closed cases from Massachusetts’ innocence organizations to determine which clients may have a new avenue for relief through CIP review, and training CIP stakeholders.

Media

Post-conviction Defender Receives Fellowship as Staff Attorney for BC Law Program

I believe the innocence movement is a vehicle for change and even abolition within the criminal legal system. Working to uncover a broader category of injustice through the conviction integrity review process only furthers this mission.

Maxwell Passas /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Allison (she/her/hers) will advocate for human trafficking survivors in Southern California by clearing criminal records and building community partnerships to expand access to justice. 

Thousands of vulnerable Californians are exploited each year by traffickers, who control their lives through violence and psychological coercion. Unfortunately, encounters with law enforcement often lead to the trafficking victim being charged with a crime instead of accessing needed services. A criminal record makes the situation worse because it prevents those who have been trafficked from obtaining employment, housing, and education opportunities. This project helps survivors get a clean slate, using a special California statute to vacate their criminal records and connecting them with trusted community partners to meet holistic needs. 

Fellowship Plans

Allison will provide direct representation to individual human trafficking survivors in Los Angeles to vacate their criminal records. She will also build community partnerships in the Los Angeles area to support survivors holistically and will recruit, train, and advise a statewide pro bono attorney network to increase access to justice for survivors in severely underserved areas. 

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

The Project

Lucie (she/her/hers) will launch a first-of-its kind clemency and family support project focused on holistic advocacy and outreach to lower-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) in Boston through direct representation, a public awareness campaign, and collaboration with community organizations. 

In Massachusetts, clemency—whether in the form of pardon or commutation—is a critical tool that enables the Governor to retroactively combat the detrimental impacts of the criminal justice system, which include the disproportionate incarceration of BIPOC and QTPOC. Over the past few decades and in the wake of the “War on Drugs,” the number of clemency grants, particularly in the form of commutation, has dwindled: in 2020, there were more than 100 petitioners seeking commutation with only one successful petitioner. Clemency petitioners often cannot access legal representation at all because there is no right to counsel in the clemency process and there is a dearth of attorneys available to provide pro bono representation. 

Fellowship Plans

Lucie will start a clemency pro bono clinic housed in the CORI & Re-entry Project at Greater Boston Legal Services that will provide legal assistance and representation to people seeking clemency. Contact with families and support networks is often critical to future successful clemency petitions. Lucie will host community meetings and “Know Your Rights” events to help people stay connected to their loved ones who are incarcerated. To address systemic reform, Lucie will combat the unfavorable view of clemency among the Governor, Governor’s Council, and Parole Board in Massachusetts by engaging in a public education campaign that raises awareness about the potential to reimagine clemency as a tool for racial justice. 

Media

Celebrating the 2021 Fellows Upholding LGBTQ+ Rights

Movement work grounded in abolition and redistribution of power is what creates long-term and sustainable change, but community-based legal advocacy is an essential way to mitigate the immediate violence the criminal justice system enacts upon BIPOC and QTPOC.

Lucie Gulino /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Using a community lawyering model, Alex provides legal support to undocumented Asian immigrants and Asian American advocacy organizations in Greater Boston in partnership with grassroots groups.

Undocumented Asian immigrants comprise nearly 30% of Massachusetts’ undocumented population, totaling around 50,000 individuals. Due to a lack of language access, stigma, and misconceptions about both immigration and broader vulnerability (including the pervasive “model minority myth”), service providers often limit services directed toward undocumented Asian immigrants. By partnering with grassroots, community organizations – including groups led by undocumented individuals – lawyers like Alex can contribute to the growing movement for broad-based immigrant justice.

After spending four years teaching and studying in China and Taiwan, Alex spent his time in law school working in community lawyering practices on behalf of low-income tenants, workers, and immigrants. He believes that by partnering closely with organizers, lawyers can be part of the necessary struggle for broader social justice.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Alex has:

  • Provided full representation to over two dozen clients, covering a variety of immigration cases such as Adjustment of Status, U Visa, VAWA, Derivative Citizenship, and Removal Defense.
  • Streamlined system for screening undocumented immigrants for potential relief, connecting clients to community partners for related support, and providing ancillary services like emergency relief funding.
  • Coordinated campaign led by Malden public housing residents to fight for improved language access throughout the city, which has led to increased translation and in-language services.

Next Steps

In the next year, Alex plans to:

  • Organize a wide-reaching outreach campaign into exurbs like Quincy to share information about immigration relief, individual rights, and available benefits for undocumented communities.
  • Create a storytelling project to highlight the lived experiences of especially vulnerable undocumented immigrants, such as elders, immigrants with criminal convictions, and those without family in the U.S.
  • Continue working on dozens of individual immigration cases, while exploring both new types of cases to take on and potential pro bono partnerships.

Media

Public Charge Rule ends, more people should apply for public benefits

How US cities fixed violations to Asian Americans' voting rights in 2020

How a Boston suburb corrected voter rights violations against Asian Americans

Malden Making Strides with Chinese American Voters

The community lawyering model used by the Asian Outreach Unit, which emphasizes community-led decision-making and places lawyering as simply one of many tools in the fight for social justice, can truly produce lasting social change.

Alex Milvae /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow