Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Tag: Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (page 1 of 2)

Student Practice Organizations Panel 2019

Students attend 2019 SPO Panel

Student Practice Organizations often provide 1Ls with their first opportunity to gain practical legal experience at HLS. Each SPO is typically led by a student board consisting of 2L and 3L students and is supervised by a licensed attorney. Across the 11 SPOs currently active at HLS, a variety of focus areas including housing, immigration, and prison law are represented. Students participating in SPOs do not receive academic credit, however, their hours can count towards the 50-hour pro bono graduation requirement.

The SPO Panel, held earlier this week, provides an opportunity for students to hear directly from the students boards and members of SPOs. During the 2019 SPO Panel, representatives from all 11 SPOs spoke on focus areas, levels of commitment, attorney supervision and particularly emphasized the communities formed in each individual SPO through the work that they do.

“Community is one of our main priorities. It was a game changer for me. I met some of my closest friends, it reminded me why I decided to come to law school.” said Emma Broches, co-president of HLS Advocates for Human Rights, on her experience with SPOs.

President of Harvard Defenders Martina Tiku also noted how SPOs encourage members to interact with other students and individuals in the field who are committed to and passionate about the work that they do, reflecting the sentiments of several other panel participants.  “You get a chance to talk to people who are passionate about their work.” she said.

For students interested in joining an SPO, the organizations hold information sessions and open houses are coming up. All SPOs require some form of registration or sign-up, with several requiring separate applications. While all SPOs accept students in the fall, some  accept members during the spring term. Information session, open house, and registration/application deadline dates can be found on the  Opportunities for Student Practice Matrix.


SPO Skills Matrix

SPO Sign-Ups

SPO Student Reflections

PLAP Appeals MA Parole Board’s Decision to Deny Parole to an Inmate with Mental Health Needs

By: Jarrod Nelson, JD ’21

Source: Pixabay

*Calvin resides in a prison that for him is also a purgatory. For nine years, Calvin has found himself at the center of a legal controversy that involves two state agencies which, despite their considerable power over his life, have portrayed themselves as helpless to assist in his transition back to society.

In 2010, Calvin was granted parole by the Massachusetts Parole Board, on the condition that he be admitted to a Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) inpatient facility for continued treatment of his mental illness. For years, Calvin had handled his illness well, consistently working at a job in the prison and avoiding any disciplinary issues. “Calvin’s institutional adjustment has been excellent,” the Board said at the time.

However, this seemingly straightforward condition turned out to be anything but. Massachusetts is a state of over 6 million people but has just over 2,500 inpatient psychiatric beds for them. Thus, when DMH denied him services, Calvin found himself between the rock of knowing he had qualified for parole, and the hard place of not being able to claim it. DMH’s denial of services meant that Calvin had his conditional parole rescinded.

It was at that point that the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), jumped in on Calvin’s behalf. PLAP is a student practice organization in which HLS students volunteer to represent state prisoners in parole and prison disciplinary hearings. Since 2014, six student attorneys from PLAP have appeared before the Parole Board on Calvin’s behalf, and finding no adequate resolution there, have filed suit in the Superior Court. The case was being handled by Regina Powers ’19 and Justin Kenney ‘19, who were supervised by Joel Thompson, one of two attorney supervisors that work with PLAP. The parole process has been marked by the Board’s insistence that DMH be involved in any potential placement for Calvin, and DMH’s insistence that Calvin does not qualify. A Board-appointed forensic psychologist made his own determinations about Calvin’s treatment and potential release plan, noting that Calvin’s case represented “a classic example of bureaucratic rules overcoming common sense, and an unnecessary correctional system expense with no clear end-game to break the deadlock.”

Unfortunately, the psychologist’s report fell on deaf ears. When the Board last saw Calvin, in 2017, it flatly denied parole, postponing his next parole hearing for three years. Moreover, and seemingly without irony, the Board suggested that Calvin apply for DMH services while he awaited his next hearing.

PLAP appealed the Board’s decision to the Massachusetts Superior Court. This is not the first time that PLAP students have sought judicial review of an agency’s decision. It is the first time, however, that PLAP has pled in not one but two agencies: the Parole Board and DMH.

Along with a claim that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, the lawsuit alleges that the Board and DMH have each violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to develop a workable release plan, essentially keeping Calvin in prison because of his mental illness. The claim follows a recent PLAP victory in a case involving the ADA’s application to the parole process, Crowell v. Massachusetts Parole Board.  In that case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts confirmed that the mental disability of a parole candidate must be accommodated as part of the parole process.

Powers and Kenney successfully fended off a motion to dismiss from DMH. Oral argument was recently held on the question of whether the Board’s latest decision is arbitrary and capricious, with further development of the ADA issue to follow.

Calvin is 61 years old. He has been in prison for 22 years. For the last nine of those years, he has been advised that, with the right treatment plan in place, he could be released on parole. It is hoped that, with a favorable outcome in court, he will not have to wait any longer.

*Names changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

State rules would limit eligibility for medical parole for seriously ill prisoners in Massachusetts

Via MassLive

By: Shira Schoenberg

Door marked treatment room in hallway of old institution.

Source: iStock

Since Massachusetts created a medical parole program in April 2018, the state has approved only four requests to release terminally ill prisoners. Now, new rules being considered by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security could limit the pool of eligible prisoners even further.

Speaking at a public hearing on Monday, Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, called a proposed new standard for eligibility for medical parole “extremely high” and “so unreasonably restrictive” that most prisoners with serious, debilitating medical conditions would be barred from it.

Eight state senators, led by Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, wrote to Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco asking him to change the proposed regulations. “It is very disappointing that these regulations appear to make it very difficult if not almost impossible to fulfill the intent of the law,” the senators wrote.

The medical parole law was passed as part of last year’s comprehensive criminal justice reform bill and went into effect in April 2018. The Department of Correction issued an initial policy in August 2018. In May 2019, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security proposed new regulations to govern the program, and instituted them immediately as “emergency” regulations.

The law says prisoners can be eligible for medical parole “due to a terminal illness or permanent incapacitation.” In both cases, the illness or disability must be “so debilitating that the prisoner does not pose a public safety risk.”

The criteria proposed by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security say the condition must be so severe that the person is “permanently incapable of committing a crime,” and that the condition requires the prisoner to be placed “in a specialized medical setting for long term care.”

Matos, several professors and attorneys and Deborah DiMasi submitted testimony to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security opposing this definition. DiMasi is the wife of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who received medical release from federal prison.

They wrote that the standard is so high that it could, in theory, bar a quadriplegic from parole because if he has minimal use of his hands, a friend could give him a gun and he could pull the trigger.

The advocates also note that all four of the people approved for release so far on medical parole were to be released to hospice home care settings, not long-term care facilities. (One prisoner died before he was released.) It is also hard to place a prisoner in a nursing home.

“The practical effect of this requirement will be to virtually eliminate an entire category of prisoners from release on medical parole including those similarly situated to the only four individuals to have been released under the statute,” Matos and the advocates wrote.

Jehlen, who helped craft the medical parole law, and the other senators wrote that this definition “significantly warps the clear words of the statute and is a substantial threat to the public policy goals of releasing incapacitated and dying inmates into appropriate, less costly care settings.”

Felix Browne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said the purpose of the regulation “is to ensure the consistent administration of the medical parole statute through the application of uniform terms and processes,” and the final language of the regulation has not yet been determined.

“Monday’s hearing was part of the public process to consider comments on the proposed regulation, and all feedback to date will be considered as that work continues,” Browne said.

Both the senators and the prisoners’ rights advocates also object to additional bureaucratic hurdles placed on prisoners seeking medical parole.

For example, the rules require the Parole Board to approve any medical parole applications, rather than just the commissioner of the Department of Correction.

They place the burden on the prisoner to develop a medical parole plan, rather than on the Department of Correction.

“These are people who are incarcerated, debilitated or dying, often without access to the outside contacts who could help develop the plan,” Jehlen wrote in a second letter, which she submitted by herself in addition to the one signed by the other senators.

Tatum Pritchard, director of litigation for the Disability Law Center, says the regulations may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act in several ways. For example, they do not provide any way to help prisoners with disabilities apply for medical parole.

Several advocates noted at the hearing that prisoners with serious illnesses are the most expensive to care for and the least likely to reoffend.

Joel Thompson, supervising attorney at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, said for the elderly, the infirm, and those with dementia or serious illness, “Jails and prisons aren’t well designed for them. Not even close.”

Thompson said the proposed definition would exclude someone who is bedridden but could still commit a crime, like fraud. It would exclude someone with dementia who could still eat and go to the bathroom by themselves. “It’s so onerous, it’s hard to imagine who would qualify,” he said.

PLAP’s Shanell Lavery Honored with WLA Shatter the Ceiling Award

By: PLAP’s Executive Board

On Wednesday, April 17th, the Harvard Women’s Law Association (WLA) is holding their annual Shatter the Ceiling Awards ceremony. Each spring, the WLA recognizes the people who represent the gold standard for promoting inclusiveness and equality, both at Harvard Law School and beyond.

Shanell Lavery, program manager of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), is being awarded with WLA’s Shatter the Ceiling Award for Staff Excellence in Promoting Equity and Justice. Lavery is a tireless advocate and the work PLAP does would not be possible without her. We are so grateful for her leadership and hard work.

Shanell Lavery

Below are a few important reflections on Shanell Lavery’s work with PLAP:

“Shanell hit the ground running at PLAP.  She has a deft touch with students, striking that important balance of supporting students as they operate a student-led organization, while being hands-on enough to ensure that the office runs smoothly.  She fulfills an important role for us as the face of the office, interacting with students, interns, prisoners, other HLS offices and staff, prison officials, and parole officials. Across all of those interactions, she demonstrates real professionalism, which ensures that the office runs smoothly and also serves as a model for law students.  We’re lucky to have her.”

– Joel Thompson, PLAP Supervising Attorney

“Shanell goes above and beyond for PLAP. She keeps the office running so smoothly that we often don’t even realize just how much she does. She often gives up her own time to meet with people or help with the office after hours. She also knows virtually every member of PLAP (not an easy task in such a large organization), and has been a wonderful resource and friend. I have loved working with Shanell and I will miss working with her after I graduate.”

– Kaitlyn Gerber, 2018-19 PLAP Executive Director

“In addition to being amazing at her job, Shanell is an amazing mother, commuting all the way from Providence to spend her days with us, but always getting her kids to school before she comes here and supporting them every step of the way alongside her wife. In daily work, Shanell is on top of so many thankless tasks that student attorneys may never even think about because she’s there behind the scenes. Every year, she deals with the logistical nightmare of getting every single member of PLAP approved by DOC. Having the system set up through Shanell means that we don’t run into any issues when we show up at the door. Our work could not happen without her.”

– Rachel Kroll, 2018-19 Legal Resources Manager

This year’s Shatter the Ceiling Award honorees include:

  • Shanell Lavery, for Staff Excellence in Fostering Equity and Justice,
  • Da Lin, for Excellence in Fostering an Inclusive Classroom,
  • Judge Lauren Reeder, for Alumni Excellence and,
  •  All Professors who Signed the Kavanaugh Letter, for Excellence in Promoting Gender Equity (Judge Nancy Gertner will be accepting on behalf of this group)

Sarah Rutherford ’21, David Shea ’20, and William “Billy” Wright ’21: Candidates for Director of Student Organizations and Journals

Via The Harvard Law Record

By: Merve Ciplak and Kate Thoreson

Sarah Rutherford ’21

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

Sarah Rutherford: I never saw myself at HLS. Both my parents were immigrants who came to this country from Caribbean islands, and so I’m a first-generation college student. I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate from law school, so as soon as I got to Harvard, I said “I’m gonna be a part of everything that I can possibly be a part of. I’m so thankful that I’ve been in community in BLSA, I’m a student attorney for the Tenant Advocacy Project, and I’m also active in First Class, which supports first generation and low-income students. It’s been so nice to have group that are so focused on inclusion and diversity, and I really want to help to lift up the work that those organizations are doing. I’m so impressed at the student orgs’ ability to create community at this campus.

Record: You’ve just listed a number of other commitments. How would they affect your ability to do this job?

SR: Some [organizations] are not huge commitments. Some are just about creating spaces where people can go and feel comfortable. So I would say that my responsibilities for First Class or for BLSA are just being a great member of that community and being someone that younger students can reach out to if they need any help. But I don’t actually have leadership positions in those organizations; I would say I am part of coalitions and committees. I think the Tenant Advocacy Project is a significant commitment, but that’s what we came to law school for. So many people came to law school saying they wanted to do community service, and that’s the great part about SPOs.

Record: My understand is your campaign is tied in with Jake and Parisa’s campaign for co-presidency. What made you decide to ally yourself with them?

SR: I really believe in what they’re fighting for. I think a lot of our goals and values are aligned. So many organizations at HLS have been fighting to get Belinda Hall officially recognized. BLSA, La Alianza, so many organizations have been fighting for this. But what I really like about Jake and Parisa’s platform is that they are willing to work with those organizations and really want to help them get to the next frontier in the work that they’ve been doing. There’s a little gap between what these organizations are doing and just having more backing and support from the administration. Jake and Parisa will get it done; I just wish that more people would give them the chance or had the chance to meet them and hear their thoughts.

Record: If you were elected, what kinds of changes would you want to make in the next year?

SR: This position is so unique because you get to meet with the Dean of Students office every week, so what I would love to have is biweekly, invite leaders from different student organizations to come to those meetings for a listening session between them and the administration. I would also love to address some issues with funding and make it more equitable, because right now, there’s one big opportunity in the spring to make a request for funding. There would be a great opportunity for collaboration if, throughout the year, organizations could crowdsource funding within the organizations. I think a lot of organizations really appreciate the town hall the administration tried to have after the Kavanaugh hearings, and I think that we shouldn’t just wait until a contentious moment to hear from the school’s administration. It should be something that’s on a regular basis, so I’d like to institute a State of the Law School every semester where we’re able to hear from the Dean and students are able to participate in a town hall. There are also small things we could work on, like having a spring semester orgs fair. Even the training for student org leaders can be addressed. Student organizations are the heartbeat of this school, so it’s exciting to have this opportunity.

Record: Let’s circle back to your work with First Class. What kinds of things would you do as Director of Student Orgs to support first generation and low-income students?

SR: It’s about asking student organizations with hierarchical power if they would collaborate with a newer organization that supports an affinity group. It would solve a lot of problems. First Class did a dinner with Harvard Law Review during first semester. It was very informal. Just hearing about it ahead of time was really helpful. I think that there could be a greater emphasis on academic support and how you can have mentors between different organizations. There’s also an opportunity socially. A lot of clubs get funding to make sure students are able to participate in things that the rest of the school is going to. DOS should provide additional funding for organizations that want to sponsor their members to do things. First Class got 25% off to go to Parody, and BLSA got $5 tickets. Things like that are integral to what it means to be an HLS student. If you aren’t able to go on the HL Central Boat Cruise, or you can’t go to Parody, you might feel like you missed out.

Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?

SR: We need way more dogs. How come Remy has a prime spot and goes in and out of buildings? We need an equivalent dog that’s just prancing around the law school. People love corgis.

Record: I love corgis! Anything else?

SR: I’d like to add that Jake, Parisa and I love this law school, and when you love something, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be critical of it. The school can grow, it can be more inclusive, and it can come up with a better way to build community, and that’s what we want to work towards.

David Shea ’20

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

David Shea: I don’t want a campaign like this to come down to empty promises. I came as a transfer, so I was scared that HLS was gonna be a place that you could get lost in the woodwork. Harvard provided the newly formed Section 8 to help bring me on board, and I realized how incredible the school was at providing opportunities for transfers in the student body more generally. Seeing that, and seeing how much they gave me to make me feel comfortable with my classmates and the different student orgs on campus and how much outreach they did to make us feel at home made me realize I had to give back. First I was Transfer Rep, and then I got invited to be Events Chair, and I just had an amazing experience working with them and talking with a diverse set of student groups. It’s about giving back and trying to empower people to have the same opportunities that I did to get involved and to hear their voices.

Record: This is the second time I’ve personally interviewed a transfer student running for this particular job. Is there a reason that transfers are drawn to it?

DS: I think transfers come in as very high achievers, just because in their respective law schools they were not only top students, but usually highly involved. I think part of it is self-selection, but I also think there’s a natural opportunity to compare and contrast that gives a transfer an upper hand to look at things at HLS objectively. I had a very narrow aim coming in as transfer rep in changing the write-on process for law review for transfers because it was not geared towards transfers. You had to write on prior to being accepted to HLS on the hope that you would get into HLS, which for most people is not a realistic proposition. So we worked closely with the Law Review to change that process, which is a conversation that’s been ongoing for years, but I set out to actually change that process, and we have. They have now opened up a new summer write-on specifically for transfers to write on with 1Ls. That opened up my eyes to the fact that I could take experiences of being a transfer and help change the overall culture for everyone. I made a point of getting involved with the 1Ls’ effort to reform LRW here, because again, I had all these transfers saying “things are different at our other schools and we can tell there are things missing in [Harvard’s] 1L writing program.” So I was able to work with Micah and I compiled a cross-section of commentary from transfers on their experiences with LRW at their respective universities and gave it to Josh, who was leading the charge on LRW, and Josh gave it to Dean Manning, and it has led to the change that we’re now seeing today where they’re instituting a total overhaul of LRW next year. I’m not saying I was the lead by any means, it was a group effort, but I was involved.

Record: What could you do to increase inclusion for transfers in orgs across the law school?

DS: A lot of it is symbolic. Having me in the DSO position would show that you can have a place here, that you’re not an outsider. If you make an effort to make a place here at HLS, you can do that. This is the ultimate example that if we really want to show that HLS is a place that’s welcoming to transfers, I could be that figurehead that could help. But I don’t want to be typecast as a transfer, and that’s part of my hope in breaking out of the Transfer Rep role. You can build consensus broadly, and that’s what a DSO does. Your budget is always a fight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve out a space for everyone, and the more a DSO can be open and listen, the better. The outsider status does help in that, because it’s a visual sign that we are open to listening to other parties and bringing another perspective.

Record: What other commitments to student orgs do you have?

DS: The DoSO position would be an absolute priority for me, but I am an executive editor of online content for CRCL. They’re helping push for more professors of color. It’s great to have activism on the ground level, but if they don’t have support from Student Government, they’re dead in the water. So I want to empower things like that, but I also don’t want people to think that those are pet projects for me. I really want to have the door open for everyone. In terms of other things, I am invested in PLAP pretty heavily. I would love to get involved in [CJI] 3L, but at the moment, I’m in PLAP. I made an effort to pick up a disciplinary hearing. It’s been amazing to act as a student attorney. I wanted an opportunity to be on the ground helping people in need. I think that’s one of Daniel and PD’s mottos, leveling the playing field. And you have to level the playing field not just here at HLS, but in the world at large, and for me, PLAP is that opportunity to find the people in prison who are most in need of representation. I go to Talks. I love the Talks program. Daniel is instrumental in putting that out, and I think it’s amazing. That is the core of what I want to bring to Student Government, which is a space where people can be heard and listened to. There are so many times when people are shouting at each other and not listening, and I love the passion, but we have to create a space where people can talk about their experiences and share with each other. We have to change the campus culture in terms of how people communicate because whether you’re left, right, or otherwise, there’s no reason people should be shouted down. If we create a culture where people are really engaged and listening to each other, I think we can shift that tone.

Record: How would you help improve student organizations?

DS: I think input from the student body needs to be better. Student Government is very siloed. We do a lot of work behind the scenes, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it leads to a perception that we’re inactive. I think we need to make students understand that we are truly open to listening. I can promise you that not everyone on Student Government fully internalized what the Prison Divestment Campaign said, let alone what they believe. I personally signed the petition. I believe there was a core of something that needed to happen there, but I also think the job of student government is to take that passionate, activist message and put it in a way that’s politically soluble. So we’re working on drafting a proposal that could pass muster with Student Government, but also take the administration to task, and it’s that kind of consensus-building that Student Government has to be cognizant of. That’s a strength of mine.

Record: How do you think the DoSO could make it easier for student orgs to do things?

DS: That gets down to the equity and transparency debate. I stress democracy, but that doesn’t mean the majority always rules. There is a time where we have to recognize that there are marginalized and vulnerable groups on campus that may need a microphone because they don’t have the larger support. FedSoc is not the darling of the left, but they have every right to organize, have money, do their events, and further what they believe in. They’re ironically a minority here whereas in the larger sense, they may not represent minority views. You look at the opposite of that, a group like Lambda, who is representing the LGBTQ+ community. That’s a marginalized group that you have to recognize probably doesn’t consist in the majority either and also needs someone fighting for them, so when they reached out to me and said, “do you support more gender inclusive bathrooms [or] an increased budget for Lambda in light of JAG being on campus,” I would be hard pressed to say no realizing that [every] dollar that goes to Lambda may in effect be taken away from a student org. That’s a reality that if a candidate doesn’t admit to, [they’re] lying. It’s easy to say I can fund every initiative, but I can’t. I have to make some executive judgment to figure out, where are the voices that need empowering, and where are some that just have a large consensus behind them? It’s a question of balancing.

Record: Do you think there should be more dogs, fewer dogs, or about the same number of dogs on campus?

DS: I really can’t say that this is an issue I’ve thought greatly about. There’s a fine number of dogs on campus. I would love to know who these people are who have strong concerns about dogs and tell them to please come speak to me.

(Ed. note: it’s me.)

DS: I’m a huge dog lover, but I do love cats, which has drawn the ire of some dog owners. I think cats are greatly misunderstood animals. They’re very smart, but they play coy. There’s people on campus that are a little bit more like cats than dogs. They’re very smart, but they can be siloed in their interests. The DoSO’s goal is to make us a little more doglike and a little less catlike. We’re all very smart, but we’ve gotta remember that friendship and loyalty are important things, and people of all different stripes can be friends. Ginsburg and Scalia were friends, so it’s not a pipe dream.

William “Billy” Wright ’21

Record: Why are you running for DoSO?

William “Billy” Wright: When I got to HLS and started my 1L year, I found a home in the section very quickly. I felt a real sense of community right off the bat. I didn’t want to just be a part of the community and exist in it, but I wanted to help shape it and make it something that worked more for everyone.

People complain all the time about problems at HLS, going back to Scott Turow, and there are all the tropes about it. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you’re at a place, you’re part of the place and you’re responsible for it. You can’t just complain, you have to find solutions. So I was 1L Rep, and was very thrilled and honored to be the representative for the section, and really did get to address a couple of problems I had identified at a low level with HLS in general. I’d like to start doing that at a higher level, and I think that Director of Student Organizations and Journals is a really powerful way to do that because they’re at the center of so much of student life. Student organizations are a real strength, and once you leave 1L year you’re not really in a section. Your main student organization is your real home at HLS, and it does contribute to community, but it can also hurt community by keeping people siloed. I think we stay siloed from sections, and we don’t really talk to a lot of other sections, and we see, just as an example, FedSoc and ACS people who aren’t talking. It’s bad for the community and for discourse in general. It’s a bad state of affairs in the profession if you’ve got two major camps going forward and not engaging with each other.

Can you expand on the things you worked on as a 1L Representative in Student Government this year?

BW: Last semester, Veteran’s Day was coming up. It was the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which is the day most other countries call the end of the war. There were a few events across campus that recognized it, but they were mostly Harvard or organization events. It was usually veterans’ programs, and there really wasn’t anything at HLS about it. Being a veteran and being passionate about that part of history, I noticed this. It’s really not just a veterans’ thing, and it’s such a seminal event for human history that touches on law and shaped the world so much. I thought we should do something to recognize this in some way, and it should be a more sober event than a dinner or a happy hour. So I put together an Armistice Day Run the Friday before at sunrise. I wanted to make it a Student Government thing and not an Armed Forces Association thing, because it’s not just veterans. I wanted to open it up to the university at large, because it shouldn’t just be a law school event. I like doing things beyond HLS if at all possible. We got a handful of people out from the law school, which is a small miracle at sunrise in November. We got some people from the College, the Kennedy School, and the Business School. We were 30-40 people out there in total, and it was a really cool thing to see a diverse group of people come together around this event. Not many people who fought in it are alive to remind us that it’s important and of the pitfalls of a failure to have a respect of the downside of failing to keep international peace. I think it’s really important that we recognize that, and I was glad and excited that we did and to have been able to be driving something that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

After that wrapped up, I started digging into the Pete Davis public service report. It’s a huge report, and it’s got all sorts of components to it. I was struck by the discussion of how all these little, subtle cues around us sway us towards the corporate side of things. There’s nothing with the corporate side of things, it’s absolutely essential for the economy to work as it does, but people are going to go there regardless because the money’s always pulling people there, and it makes sense. So you need some sort of counterbalancing push to help people get excited about public service and attach prestige to it. You look around at other schools, and West Point, for example, has a lot recognizing the achievements of its graduates. The new building here has not really been used as well as it could be to honor graduates who have actually impacted society. If you go into the lobby, you look and there are two portraits: one is Wasserstein, and one is Caspersen. Both of them give a lot of money, but they’re not really going to inspire anyone in terms of public service. The Obamas, who I respect profoundly, and most people do as well now, aren’t recognized at all. We’re two years from the Presidency now, and it’s not politicized to honor them. So many activists who were instrumental in the civil rights movements aren’t honored. Say whatever you want for his recent political influence, but Ralph Nader, as the one-man wrecking ball that he was in his heyday and the young HLS grads that he got on board to really change the consumer rights scene, should be recognized. There are just so many people who were trailblazers in women’s rights, civil rights, consumer rights, people outside of the US who were political leaders and came through HLS…none of it is recognized, and it’s a real shame. I think the building doesn’t really do anything to inspire, and for 1Ls especially, we spend most of our time in this building and it’s a mission that the school should be taking seriously. So I’ve been looking at ways we can try to change the physical space in a way that honors those who have had worthy impacts on society. We’re starting to try to move forward with it, and funding’s a big issue right now, but we’ve got a couple things we’re going to try to do. A great example to give something concrete: in Langdell North, they have black-and-white prints of social activists at work, and they are very poignant scenes. It’s very aesthetic as well. But it’s hidden away. The most prominent space is just kind of blank. We should be able to commit to at least the people who change society; that’s not really that controversial.

Record: Is there anything you know you want to accomplish as a part of Student Government next year if you get elected?

BW: Like I said, things can get kind of siloed. Student organizations play a role in that. We can bring about a state of affairs where student organizations have more cross-talk, engage each other and aren’t afraid, where people don’t just leave the classroom and go their separate ways and not ever see anyone except the certain people similar to them. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. One good example is the trans ban. After that happened, LAMBDA and the Armed Forces Association hosted a joint discussion on litigating against the trans ban, and I thought that was great because that kind of event has the potential to create a lot of hostility towards veterans and it was the opposite, where we communicated that we were going to confront this together, and that we were going to figure this out as a cohesive and as a community. I thought that was way more powerful. Director of Student Organizations plays a role in allocating funding, and if there was a way of equitably providing certain incentives for organizations that do this more often, bearing in mind that some organizations can do it more readily than others, I think that could be an interesting incentive. Similarly, spreading it across the university-wide community through organizations.

Another area is pushing for a sleeker, more up-to-date digital presence by a lot of organizations online. We’ve got the WordPress suite that student organizations have to use. It’s okay; they all look serviceable, but not great. If you survey the Harvard student organizations, you’re going to get the same kind of thing and it’s fairly uniform. There is something for every organization, which is good. If you survey other schools’ organizations, they’re much more variable. Some are better, and some are far worse or don’t exist. That is a benefit of the uniform system, but WordPress is far more powerful than that, and I think a lot of student organizations would run with it if the system were looked at and changes were enabled. A stronger web presence helps prospective students find things they’re interested in and gets them excited about the school, and provides information about them. It provides more transparency to the rest of the school about what all these other organizations are doing, so that helps cut through the siloed nature as well. It’s good for the organization itself, it makes it more functional. A good counter-example is if you look at some of the big journals on campus, their websites are excellent: JOLT, ILJ, JLPP, and I’m sure a bunch of the other ones have incredibly well-done websites. At least one of them are run off WordPress platforms, so I’m sure there’s a way to fix that. That would be a big initiative of mine.

Another is creating a nimbler constellation of student organizations. There are two issues: it’s intimidating and hard to start the process to start an organization, and that goes into all the administrative requirements for it, getting people on board with it, developing the idea to the point where it’s ready to go and be presented, and then having an idea that’s not already addressed by some other organization. I think Director of Student Organizations, and Student Government or DoS largely, could provide a better pathway. This could maybe consist of a pitch event to have student organizations that are only ideas at this point, or things they want to address and they want to run by someone. We could tell them “hey, this is a good idea for a student organization and it’s not addressed already on campus, this is what you need to do to get it done”, or not by saying “this should be done through another organization”. Post-pitch event, a separate event could help people prepare for the actual pitch to DoS. I think that could be powerful to creating organizations that respond to things that are more current. You’ve got the Mississippi Delta Project, and that organization is very nimble. They address specific problems. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t have an “Opioid Crisis in Massachusetts” organization, or a “Wind Energy Project”. But it is very intimidating to try to go start something like that.

The other side of that is the dormant organizations policy. We’ve got organizations that aren’t started, and those that are hanging on and still getting funding but don’t do anything. There’s got to be a policy put in place that balances that where you phase out organizations that aren’t doing anything, which Student Government is trying to do right now. Some students have actually used organizations to get funding and then just used it to go out to dinner. But then you also have to not hurt organizations that actually do something. That’s directly a Director of Student Organizations role.

Record: Is there anything you think is beyond your, or Student Government’s, control that you would like to change?

BW: The clerkship hiring pilot is coming down the pipe, and it’s something that I believe in and is really important for us to do because it’s obviously a problem at Harvard. It leads to inequitable outcomes at large and it induces a lot of stress. If you hear about people trying to go out and do stuff for clerkships as a 1L in your first semester, that just makes you sweat a little bit more. You should have a bit of a buffer where you don’t have to think about these things yet. It’s an important thing at Harvard and in the legal profession at large, and if it’s not done at Harvard, I don’t see it getting done for a long time. We should be leading the way on this. Student organizations are a vehicle for this and for the letter that Radhe Patel put together. A lot of student organizations on campus signed on to the letter, and student organizations have also been a way that people have found information about clerkships and have gotten on the right path, if not outright help. I think that’s a powerful way to address it, but 90% of organizations isn’t good enough. If anyone’s circumventing it, then the whole thing falls apart. I don’t think you can impose this on people who don’t want it and fight them on it. It’s got to be a collective buy-in type process. There’s a faculty working group who’s looking at it, and it would take a whole-school approach and the right judges signing on as well. This is certainly happening, and I think Director of Student Organizations and Student Government play roles in generating buy-in and seeing what the issue is for those who oppose it and how to work with them on it so we can get the right people who are leading the clerkships on board with this. But it’s definitely a huge thing that goes way beyond Student Government. But just the fact that we’re working on it is a powerful signal to the legal community.

Record: Beyond Student Government, what other commitments do you have on campus that are important to you personally?

BW: I’m currently involved in the Armed Forces Association and HLEP, and I’m a strong participant in Section 6 and Student Government, of course. I’ll probably also be subciting for the National Security Journal and maybe try to take on a roll with them going forward as well.

Record: What do you think distinguishes you as a candidate?

BW: Immediately upon getting here 1L year, I got involved with Student Government and have been as active as any 1L representative. I’ve had one small project that was just initiated and completed. I’ve had another project that I’ve started that’s in the works. I think I’ve been a fairly active voice generally in the discussions. I don’t think you see a lot of people as involved from the get-go and as constantly committed to taking some sort of initiative. I think that distinguishes me. I’m trying to find things, I have been from the get-go and I’ll continue to do that. It’s hard to do that if you haven’t been involved in the process. It’s easy to say “I’ve got this issue I’ve identified and I’ve thought of a solution”. But then once you start talking to DoS and you’re in a couple of meetings with them, you realize they have constraints as well and there are a lot of big things going on at this school. Solutions are very hard to actually stitch together. If there’s a problem that hasn’t been solved it’s often because it’s a tough problem with competing interests. Having seen that and having navigated it a little bit is a powerful platform to actually go address things at a higher level.

The other part of it is that if I’m involved next year in this capacity, then the year after that would be two years of involvement in Student Government at a high level. One of the biggest problems with Student Government is that the turnover is so high that even if you’re involved for three years, three years is a blink of the eye. You’re gone, the administration is generally the same, the school sails on as it does, and the same problems keep rotating back. It does help to have people who are consistently involved all three years, even though even that’s not enough. That’s something that I would be able to offer: a consistent, long involvement.

My background also helps a lot. I was in the Army in Europe. For most of my time in the Army, I dealt with a lot of different interest groups: foreign militaries, a lot of varying components with the US military and US government. I think there’s something to be said for learning how to deal with all of these different stakeholders, and to take initiative and leadership in that kind of environment. There are things in the Army that don’t translate to being successful, but that’s definitely something that would not only benefit a leader anywhere, but particularly Director of Student Organizations. When you’ve got this very different constituency of people with different and sometimes competing interests, and you have to find a way to be representative of all of them and help them find the best possible and broad solution, I think that’s something I’ve been trained to see.

Record: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BW: Being involved in Student Government has been the best part of my 1L experience (except for Section 6!), and it’d be really cool to be able to continue to do that.

Humanizing Individuals in the Criminal Justice System

PLAP students representing a client in a parole hearing

By: Regina Powers, J.D. ’19

I joined the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) the fall of my 1L year at a time when I knew very little about the criminal justice system. I knew, however, that PLAP provided important services to prisoners in Massachusetts. These services include representing prisoners in disciplinary hearings and in their bids for parole before the Massachusetts Parole Board.

In January of my 1L year, I took my first case. When I visited my client, he was only able to speak to me behind a glass wall and in handcuffs. I learned he was in “segregation,” which is a term the Department of Corrections (DOC) uses to describe the Massachusetts system of solitary confinement. Those in solitary usually receive one hour of recreation a day, while spending the remaining 23 hours in a small cell. I could not witness a client handcuffed behind a glass wall while speaking with his student attorney without becoming enraged and devoting my time in law school to this work. Our criminal justice system is used as a tool of racial oppression and the horrors of solitary confinement and other terrible conditions in prisons are inflicted disproportionately on men and women of color.

I continued in PLAP throughout the rest of my 1L and 2L year, and I was fortunate enough to represent a client before the Massachusetts Parole Board. PLAP represents “lifers,” or clients with life sentences who are eligible for parole. Many of these men have been imprisoned for decades, and they often committed a crime as teenagers or young adults––a time before the brain is fully developed. My representation included developing a detailed memorandum asking for parole, gathering letters from friends and family members, extensively preparing my client for opening and closing statements, and preparing a closing statement myself. Through this, I developed skills in client interviewing, which can be a particularly difficult skill to gain during law school because of limited opportunities to interact with clients. Additionally, I developed the type of skills relevant to trial work, as I prepared arguments and presented them before a panel.

I describe this as a fortunate experience for me because of the opportunity to meet and spend time with my client, and the honor bestowed upon me in advocating for him. Although society marginalizes and demonizes prisoners, and especially prisoners serving life sentences, many of our students, including myself, view our clients as genuine, wonderful people. Most importantly, we view our clients as humans deserving of fundamental rights. It is horrifying and demoralizing that the rest of society does not view them as such. Students should join PLAP for the privilege it is to advocate for prisoners. You will learn not only about the criminal justice system, but also the wisdom of those who have spent countless years in prison.

My experience in PLAP has been the single most important experience during my time in law school. It has led me to fully realize the level of injustice present in our criminal justice system as a whole, as well as the inhumane conditions in our prison system. I plan to pursue criminal justice work and hopefully prisoners’ rights work more specifically. Many other PLAPers attribute their passion for this work to our organization, and I encourage students to consider joining. Several students staff each office hour under the direction of student mentors, who offer mentorship about the work and law school advice in general. PLAP also hosts happy hours, speaker series, and other bonding events, which fosters a unique community for those who want to work in criminal justice and more specifically on prisoners’ rights.


Students honored at 2018 Class Day ceremony

Via Harvard Law Today

Class Day 2018 3

Credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Tabitha Cohen (left) and Edith Sangueza, two of the many students recognized during the Class Day 2018 ceremony for various accomplishments during their time at Harvard Law School. Cohen and Sangueza (along with Annie Manhardt, not pictured) were awarded with the Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Award, given each year to students who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services in low-income communities.

A number of Harvard Law students from the Class of 2018 received special awards during the Class Day ceremony on May 23. They were recognized for outstanding leadership, citizenship, compassion and dedication to their studies and the profession.

Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award

This year’s Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award was presented to Tabitha Cohen, Annie Manhardt and Edith Sangueza. (Read more)

Edith Sangueza contributed nearly 2,000 pro bono hours by working with three student practice organizations – Harvard Immigration Project (HIP), Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, and Project No One Leaves – in addition to working as a student attorney for four semesters with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB). She spent her 2016 Spring Break volunteering with South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, in Harlingen, Texas, and her 2017 Spring Break volunteering with American Gateways, in San Antonio. Her commitment to social justice also extended throughout her summers – she worked with Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, in Mexico City, and with the Bronx Defenders, in New York.

Three students win Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Awards 1

Credit: Lorin Granger

Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt

At Harvard Law School, Tabitha Cohen and Annie Manhardt both participated in the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) and the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI). At PLAP, they spent hundreds of pro bono hours as co-executive directors, managing a multitude of daily internal governance and programming issues. Throughout their time, they demonstrated tireless effort and dedication to advocating for the needs of prisoners by conducting investigations, counseling and interviewing clients, and presenting compelling arguments at hearings.

In a precedent-setting case for an elderly disabled parole client Cohen argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court whose ruling extended the Americans with Disabilities Act to mentally and physically disabled prisoners seeking parole. As a result of the case, the state must now help parolees get support systems in place in the community.

While at HLS, Manhardt also worked with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and the Office of the Defender General in Vermont. Cohen worked with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program , the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Florida and La Fundacion para el Acceso a la Justicia de Puerto Rico in San Juan.

The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Service Program at HLS.  J.D. students in the graduating class who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to pro bono work receive the award and an honorarium.

HLS requires all students to perform 50 hours of pro bono services but most go far beyond. This year, 10 students exceeded 2,000 hours of service and 112 students volunteered more than 1,000 hours.

In total, the Harvard Law School Class of 2018 contributed 376,532 hours of pro bono legal work.

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A lunch talk on Ashker v. Governor of California

Via Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

Professor Jules Lobel speaks to HLS students

Professor Jules Lobel speaks to HLS students

On March 2 the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project hosted a lunch talk on solitary confinement by Jules Lobel, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Pittsburg School of Law and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Professor Lobel began his talk by giving a brief history of Ashker v. Governor of California, a federal class action lawsuit filed in May 2012, challenging the practice of solitary confinement based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment at California’s notorious “super max” Pelican Bay State Prison. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the prison’s Security Housing Unit for over a decade. The case was part of CCR’s efforts to challenge mass incarceration and abusive prison policies.

In 2013, the state agreed to settle the case and enter into a consent order, on terms that were acceptable to the prisoner plaintiffs. Lobel explained that the Pelican Bay State Prison has one of the largest solitary confinement units of its kind. Prisoners were locked 23 hours a day in an 8-by-10 feet cell, without access to sunlight. Studies have shown a consensus that such conditions of sensory deprivation contribute to mental illness and serious behavioral problems, even over a relatively short period of time.

Lobel focused on the challenges of obtaining and enforcing a positive settlement for his prisoner clients in 2013 and 2014. He described how he had to overcome objections from the state when he wanted to consult directly with the prisoners to ensure the proposed settlement terms were acceptable to them. He also discussed how much effort was required to monitor and reinforce the agreement, and the considerable work still to be done to eliminate abusive solitary confinement practices in the California state prison system as well as nationally.

Professor Lobel concluded by encouraging students to consider legal careers in helping marginalized populations such as prisoners, giving as an example two of his recent former students who started a prisoner rights advocacy center on a shoestring budget that has now won several important cases and grown to include a staff of additional lawyers. His enthusiastic message was that if they could succeed in living their dream of starting their own civil rights litigation practice, the students attending the law talk could too, offering his Pitt Law contact information to anyone who wanted to follow up with any questions.

PLAP court victory helps disabled parolees

Via Harvard Law Today

In May, Massachusetts’ highest court extended the American with Disabilities Act to mentally and physically disabled prisoners seeking parole, ruling that the state must help them get support systems in place in the community. The Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project filed the lawsuit, Crowell v. Massachusetts Parole Board, and Tabitha Cohen ’18 argued the appeal.

Tabitha Cohen

The suit was originally brought in state Superior Court but was dismissed on the motion of the defendant, the state Parole Board. PLAP’s Mike Horrell ’14 represented the plaintiff in the 2012 parole hearing that led to PLAP’s later lawsuit. Tucker DeVoe ’15 briefed and argued the case in the Superior Court. Erin DeGrand ’16 worked on PLAP’s appeal to the state Appeals Court, including coordinating the drafting of the appellate and reply briefs with Keke Wu ’18, Beini Chen ’18, and Ethan Stevenson ’17.

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Students honored at 2017 Class Day

Via Harvard Law Today

A number of Harvard Law students from the Class of 2017 received special awards during the 2017 Class Day ceremony on May 24. They were recognized for outstanding leadership, citizenship, compassion and dedication to their studies and the profession.

Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award

Credit: Heratch Photography Lisa K. Dicker ’17 and Nathan MacKenzie ’17

Credit: Heratch Photography

Lisa K. Dicker ’17 and Nathan MacKenzie ’17

This year’s Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award was presented to Lisa K. Dicker ’17 and Nathan MacKenzie ’17.

Dicker has devoted her time at Harvard Law to public service, starting her 1L year with HLS Negotiators, serving first as a member and later as its co-president. She spent her 1L spring break in Nashville, TN, working pro bono with Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization founded by two HLS alumni. During the trip, Dicker and fellow students helped challenge widespread practices that penalize the poor: jail time for failure to pay fines, cash and property seizure in the absence of criminal charges, and the failure to provide competent lawyers.

While at Harvard Law School, Dicker has not only performed more than 1,500 hours of pro bono work, but she also served as part of a corps of trained student facilitators who volunteer to facilitate discussions among members of the HLS community on challenging and politically fraught topics. She also twice served as a teaching assistant for the Negotiation Workshop.

At HLS, MacKenzie participated in Harvard Defenders, the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, and created his own independent clinical placement with the Migrants Rights Clinic at the Center of Law and Business, in Ramat Gan, Israel. 

 MacKenzie’s contributions to the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program have helped transform lives; his legal work was pivotal in obtaining asylum for a teenager fleeing gang violence and in preventing the imminent deportation of a woman who had been unlawfully denied a chance to present her asylum claim. He also worked long hours and late nights orchestrating the research needed for an amicus brief challenging the White House’s executive orders on immigration.

The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Service Award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Service Program at HLS. The J.D. student in the graduating class who performs the highest number of pro bono service hours receives the award and a $500 honorarium.

HLS requires all students to perform 50 hours of pro bono services but most go far beyond. This year, 10 students exceeded 2,000 hours of service and 100 students volunteered more than 1,000 hours.

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Erika Johnson ’17 wins David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Lorin Granger/HLS Staff Photographer Erika Johnson ’17

Credit: Lorin Granger/HLS Staff Photographer
Erika Johnson ’17

Erika Johnson is this year’s winner of the David A. Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award. The award is named in honor of the late Clinical Professor of Law David Grossman ’88, a public interest lawyer dedicated to providing high-quality legal services to low income communities. The award recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in representing individual clients and undertaking advocacy or policy reform projects.

Having contributed more than 2,000 hours of pro bono services to clients through the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB), the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), and Project No One Leaves, Johnson is the embodiment of Grossman’s tireless pro bono spirit. She was chosen for her compassion in legal practice and for her contributions to HLS’s clinical community.

Her clinical supervisors at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau recall one elderly client Johnson protected from homelessness. The client had been living in supportive housing for homeless elders for almost ten years, but after the facility went smoke-free he had trouble quitting and faced eviction. Over the next six months, Johnson attended more twelve court hearings, fighting tirelessly to stave off the eviction, but the client’s disabilities made it impossible for him to stop smoking. Realizing that her client had nowhere else to go, Johnson built a relationship with a social worker and found him an apartment with medical support services. Johnson even made sure to find him a bed and then physically moved it and most of the client’s other belongings into his new home on a cold winter’s day.

In another eviction case, Johnson followed her client’s lead in pursuing greater racial and economic justice. The client felt strongly that he had been wronged by his landlord, arguing the language used against him was racially biased. “Erika listened, at length,” said Clinical Professor Esme Caramello, who teaches in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Johnson convinced the HLAB Board to take the case and then fully devoted herself to researching and drafting legal documents, achieving not only the dismissal of the eviction but also moving to recover damages for her client.

“Erika’s approach [was] creative, but it [was] her persistence in following the client’s lead despite the ‘typical’ trajectory of such a case, and the steadiness of her hard work, that have impressed us the most,” her clinical supervisors said.

“I am grateful to the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau for its support and its embodiment of the values David Grossman modeled as a teacher and lawyer,” said Johnson. “Dave’s compassion, dedication, and commitment to community and to our clients are inspiring to every member of HLAB. I feel honored to have been part of this community, and I will rely on this experience and these values in all of my future work.”

On campus, Johnson has also collaborated with the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project, a student practice organization that hosted a competition in which students created technology solutions to access to justice problems in the local housing courts. She met with the student leaders of the project, taught them about the court system and the challenges unrepresented tenants face, trained them in basic eviction law and procedure, and then judged the final projects. Her clinical supervisors noted that she did this expertly and almost entirely on her own — all as a second-year law student with a full course load and a substantial docket of housing cases.

After graduation, Erika will pursue a career in public interest law, a choice that she says was shaped by her HLAB clients and colleagues.

Military and academic experts explain legal and cultural issues in counter terror operations

The second annual symposium on Legal and Cultural Issues in Counter Terror Operations was held on April 8 at Harvard Law School.  Organized by John Fitzpatrick ’87, a Senior Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, and a Major in the US Army Reserve, the symposium brought together over 30 military personnel and legal experts whose work focuses on the areas of Islamic and human rights law as well as on cultural and international security issues.

Members of the Army's Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps are pictured with Professor Doug Johnson of the Kennedy School, who spoke to the group on the strategic implications of torture.

Members of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps are pictured with Professor Doug Johnson of the Kennedy School, who spoke to the group on the strategic implications of torture.

This event featured presentations from scholars at HLS, the Kennedy School, the University of Massachusetts, and the US Naval War College. Salma Waheedi, a Clinical Advocacy Fellow at the International Human Rights Clinic and a Visiting Fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Program, addressed developments in Islamic law; and Professor Doug Johnson, Faculty Director of the Kennedy School of Government’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, spoke about the strategic implications of torture. In addition, a screening of Eye in the Sky was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Major Fitzpatrick with Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Ford, a Professor at the Naval War College specializing in the law of war for targeting; and Professor John Kaag of the University of Massachusetts, co-author of the recent book “Drone Warfare,” a comprehensive examination of legal, ethical and philosophical problems with the military use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

“It was a privilege to host these distinguished speakers, each of whom agreed to appear at HLS on short notice,” said Fitzpatrick. “This is a continuing effort to break down barriers between the civilian academic bubble and military academic bubble regarding legal  issues of modern warfare. There has been an unfortunate tendency for civilian and military academics to retreat to their own echo chambers, instead of dialoguing constructively with each other. Events like this are small in scale, but hopefully can have a cumulatively larger, positive impact in bridging the knowledge gaps between the civilian and military academic worlds.”

Testifying at the Department of Corrections

By Katherine Robinson, J.D. ’18

Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

On Thursday, October 6th, PLAP Board Members Dennis Dillon, Annie Manhardt, and I testified at a public hearing regarding proposed changes to the Massachusetts Department of Correction regulations. Executive directors Judy Flumenbaum and William Ahee also helped to draft our comments. As an organization, we submitted testimony regarding proposed changes to the regulations that govern disciplinary hearings, use of force, and grievance procedures. A few of the department’s proposed changes we support as long-overdue amendments to DOC policy, such as prohibiting the issuance of disciplinary reports for self-injurious behavior and providing that defendants in disciplinary hearings may seek accommodations for their disabilities. However, PLAP students reviewing the proposed changes identified a number of issues that concern us including the use of overly broad language that would give correction officers little guidance in assessing aggravated assaults and the reasonable use of force, vague and redundant offense definitions that could lead to further abuse of disciplinary ticketing, failures to clarify aspects of sanctions procedures that could lead to inconsistent and unfair outcomes, and new language that runs the risk of deterring the submission of valid grievances.

At the hearing, we voiced our concerns before DOC representatives, along with our supervisor Joel Thompson (who spoke on behalf of Prisoners Legal Services), families of incarcerated people, and representatives from the correction officers union. Though it remains to be seen whether the DOC will incorporate any of our comments into the amended regulations, I’m glad we had this opportunity to voice our clients’ concerns, share the experiences of student attorneys who navigate these regulations, and help shape the rules that dictate so much of our clients’ lives. In a system designed to silence incarcerated people and hide abuse within prisons from public view, PLAP is honored to speak on behalf of our clients and hold the DOC accountable for their policies that authorize the inhuman conditions in which prisoners are held.

Formerly Incarcerated Youth Share Their Powerful Stories

Via Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

In this photo, three students can be seen talking to Nick, one of the Free Minds Poet Ambassadors who traveled all the way from DC to meet with us and share his story.

In this photo, three students can be seen talking to Nick, one of the Free Minds Poet Ambassadors who traveled all the way from DC to meet with us and share his story.

[On March 2nd], members of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, came to Harvard Law School to speak to a group of students. Free Minds uses books, creative writing, and a peer support system to awaken incarcerated youth to their own potential. Their motto is “Books and Brotherhood.” Through creative expression, job readiness training, and violence prevention outreach, these young poets achieve their education and career goals, and become powerful voices for change in the community.

We heard from two amazing formerly incarcerated youth who are now Free Minds Poet Ambassadors. These young men bravely shared their stories and backgrounds, and discussed how working with Free Minds enabled them to recognize their skills and value. After learning about the organization, HLS students had the opportunity to read the work of incarcerated youth and provide encouraging feedback. It was a powerful event that demonstrated how books, creative writing and social support have the incredible power to teach, build community, and change lives.

PLAP student argues case before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Via Prison Legal Assistance Project

Recently, Tabitha Cohen JD ’18 argued the appeal of a lawsuit, Crowell v. Massachusetts Parole Board, filed by the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) in the Massachusetts State Supreme Court, formally known as the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). The suit was originally brought in the state Superior Court, but was dismissed on the motion of the defendant, the state Parole Board.

The plaintiff, PLAP client Richard Crowell, is a septuagenarian prisoner who, in 1987,  suffered a disabling traumatic brain injury. He was originally arrested in 1962 as a teenager for a convenience store robbery in East Boston. He was recruited by several older men to drive a getaway car. During the robbery, one of the older co-defendants shot and killed the storekeeper and as a result, Crowell and his co-defendants were charged with first degree murder under the felony murder theory of culpability. To avoid the death penalty, which Massachusetts had at that time, Crowell pled guilty to second degree murder and received a life sentence in prison. In 1974, his sentence was commuted from life to 36 years to life. He was then paroled and spent several years successfully living in the community, with the exception of some minor parole violations that were not serious enough to prevent re-parole. However, after he was attacked and suffered his brain injury in 1987, his behavior worsened. Since 1990 he has remained in prison, except for a few brief weeks while out on parole and then returned to custody, and has otherwise been repeatedly denied parole.

PLAP’s Mike Horrell, JD ’14 represented the plaintiff in his 2012 parole hearing that led to PLAP’s later lawsuit. During that hearing the Board strongly suggested it considered the plaintiff impossible to parole because of his disability, a decision which would effectively consign Crowell to prison for the remainder of his life. After the client was again denied parole, Horrell helped to draft a complaint filed in the Superior Court seeking to reverse the Board’s decision and obtain a new hearing for Crowell. The central claim in PLAP’s Complaint was that the Parole Board had discriminated against the plaintiff because of his disability. In addition, PLAP argued the plaintiff was entitled to annual parole reviews, rather than reviews every five years as contended by the Parole Board.

After Horrell’s graduation, another PLAP student attorney, Tucker DeVoe, JD ’15, briefed and argued the case in the Superior Court, but PLAP’s lawsuit was subsequently dismissed. After DeVoe’s graduation, Erin DeGrand, JD ’16 worked on PLAP’s appeal to the state Appeals Court, including coordinating the drafting of the appellate and reply briefs while working with Keke Wu, JD ’18, Beini Chen, JD ’18 and Ethan Stevenson, JD ’17. After the briefing was concluded in the Appeals Court but before the case was scheduled for oral argument, the SJC took the case for direct review and solicited amicus briefing on the disability rights issue raised by PLAP. In response, civil rights and advocacy rights groups including the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, Massachusetts Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Center for Public Representation and the National Disability Rights Network filed a consolidated amicus brief in support of PLAP.

After DeGrand’s graduation in June 2016, Tabitha Cohen, JD ’18 picked up the baton of PLAP representation and argued the case before the Supreme Judicial Court on January 6, 2017.

“Tabitha was superb.” said John Fitzpatrick, JD ’87, one of PLAP’s two supervising attorneys in attendance that day along with Joel Thompson, JD ’97. Fitzpatrick added that “Her poise and the content of her argument, along with her ability to comprehensively answer every of the many questions put to her by the SJC justices, was equal to or even better than many experienced appellate attorneys arguing before the court.”

Tabitha said that “It was a tremendous honor and privilege to represent Mr. Richard Crowell in his prisoners’ rights and disability rights appeal before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Thanks to the tireless work of my amazing supervising attorney, John Fitzpatrick, and all of my predecessors at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project who worked so diligently on Mr. Crowell’s case, Mr. Crowell was able to make his voice heard in the state’s highest court. Arguing before the justices as a 2L has unquestionably been the highlight of my law school experience, and I cannot thank PLAP and everyone who worked so hard on this case, especially John, enough for this opportunity, and for entrusting me with this profound responsibility.”

Fitzpatrick said the oral arguments “went very well. Though that never predicts the eventual outcome of an appellate case, it is certainly better than the alternative.” He added that the SJC could issue its decision in the case during the next several months.

A Warm Welcome to New Clinicians

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs extends a warm welcome to Toiya Taylor (Clinical Instructor) and Lisa Fitzgerald (Clinical Fellow) of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Rachel Krol (Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law) of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program, and Michelle Kweder (Administrative Director) of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project.

Rachel Krol
Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law

Before joining the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Program, Rachel taught negotiation at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and led interactive negotiation and leadership workshops designed specifically for young women through her company, Connect More Consulting.

Rachel has also served as a teaching team member for executive education seminars offered by the Harvard Negotiation Institute and courses at Penn Law School and Vienna University of Economics and Business. In addition, Rachel has worked on negotiation and conflict resolution projects with nonprofit, educational, and governmental institutions including Seeds of Peace, GenHERation, the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at SCH Academy, and the National Institutes of Health. She practiced law with the firms Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP and Ahmad Zaffarese LLC in Philadelphia, in the areas of finance, securities, and civil litigation.

Rachel received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her B.A. from Columbia University. Prior to attending law school, she taught at the International Montessori School of Prague in the Czech Republic. Rachel is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and a Clinical Instructor at HNMCP.

Toiya Taylor
Clinical Instructor

Toiya Taylor began her legal career as a Law Clerk for the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court in 2000, and opened her own law practice in 2002.  She practiced extensively in both the Massachusetts Juvenile and Probate and Family Courts as both an attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem.  She represented parents and/or children in care and protection, guardianship, child support, child custody, DYS revocation and delinquency matters. She also served as an ARC attorney in the Norfolk and Suffolk County Probate and Family Courts where she represented children pro bono in high conflict matters to assist with resolution.

Taylor was also a mentor for new panel members of the Children and Family Law Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services and a bar advocate with Suffolk Lawyers for Justice, Inc. in both the Dorchester Juvenile and West Roxbury District Courts.

She received her J.D. from Boston College Law School and is the 2014 recipient of the Mary Fitzpatrick Award for Outstanding and Zealous Advocacy to the Poor.

Lisa Fitzgerald
Clinical Fellow

Lisa Fitzgerald joins the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau after graduating from Harvard Law School this year. As a student, she participated in a number of Student Practice Organizations including the Harvard Mediation Program and the Harvard Immigration Project. She is also an alumna of HLAB, having been a student attorney in the clinic for 2 years.

Michelle Kweder
Administrative Director

Michelle joins the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) with recent experience as a Lecturer at Simmons College where she taught undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences and MBA students at the School of Management. She has a diverse background, having served in former Boston Mayor Menino’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, and as the executive director of a domestic violence agency, a consultant to mission-driven organizations, and a volunteer instructor teaching entrepreneurship at NECC-Concord prison. She recently completed her Ph.D. at UMass Boston in Business Administration – Organizations and Social Change. Michelle is replacing Sarah Morton who will return to PLAP next year.

At Harvard Law, Tim Kaine was driven by faith

Via Boston Globe

Tim Kaine and Anne Holton, his future wife, at Harvard Law School in 1983.

Tim Kaine and Anne Holton, his future wife, at Harvard Law School in 1983.

Motivated by Catholic teachings, he joined the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, which provides free legal representation to inmates.

“He was a little unusual in the group of law school students who were interested in social justice issues in that he was so clearly committed to his faith,” said John J. Butler, a classmate and friend. “I thought it was admirable — a little different — but admirable.”

But, privately, Kaine was disillusioned with Harvard.

“I remember thinking two things: Why am I rushing? Life is long. . . . And also, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, and everybody else seems so sure,” he told C-SPAN.

That is when he decided to head to Honduras with the Jesuits. But when he arrived in 1980, the missionaries had little use for his training in contracts and torts.

“They said, ‘OK, Harvard Law School? That has precisely zero relevance to anything we’re doing,’” Kaine said. “‘But didn’t your dad do something in the trades?’ And when I told them what he did, they said, ‘OK, you’re going to run our vocational school.’ ”

After nine months teaching Hondurans carpentry and welding, Kaine returned to Harvard, where a classmate named Anne Holton, the daughter of a former Virginia governor, asked him to rejoin the Prison Legal Assistance Project.

“She claims she was not only trying to convince me to come back, but pretty quickly was trying to convince me to pay attention to her,” Kaine said in the C-SPAN interview.

During a study group, she brought him homemade chocolate-chip cookies.

“Her side of the story is, from the day of those chocolate-chip cookies, I was a goner,” Kaine said. “I don’t remember the chocolate-chip cookies, but I remember her very well.”

The two became a nearly inseparable pair on campus.

Read the full story

Shining a light at PLAP

2015-09-26 16.38.24 2

Priscila Santos

By Priscila Santos, 2L
Suffolk University School of Law 

When I applied for an internship at Harvard Law School’s Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), I was a bit nervous. The internship is hands-on and you get the responsibilities of a lawyer with a student attorney title. At PLAP, students take either disciplinary or parole hearing cases and, with the assistance of the supervising attorney, they handle legal cases from beginning to end. Students handling disciplinary hearings visit clients in prison, conduct discovery, perform cross-examinations, argue motions to dismiss or consolidate, and make closing arguments. Students working on parole hearings prepare clients to be examined by the Parole Board. They also prepare written submissions and give opening and closing statements at the hearing. The internship has taken me out of my comfort zone and helped me improve my writing skills and ability to make better oral arguments.

My first case involved a parole revocation hearing. While going through my client’s paperwork, I was surprised to see a dark childhood experience of abuse. Yet, when I met my client for the first time, I found a loving, kind, and intelligent person who unfortunately had turned to drugs to cope with depression, leading to a prison sentence. I very much wanted to make a convincing argument so that this person could have a second chance in life. But this was my first hearing, and my client’s faith in me made me nervous. I prepared for the argument by thoroughly going through the case file and strategizing with my supervising attorney. We showed our client’s plans for treatment for substance abuse and ultimately convinced the Board to grant parole.

The biggest learning curve and the biggest challenge so far, has been speaking, writing, and acting like a lawyer. In most places, an aspiring 2L does not have a chance to work at a hands-on organization like PLAP. I feel humbled to have this opportunity and to work on prisoners’ rights. The trend of neglect, poverty, and drugs is saddening. Every time I meet a prisoner, I think about what went wrong and how can I help to change the status-quo.

I was once told that the meaning of life is to shine a light in dark places, and I feel that is what we do at PLAP. We provide services to people that have been neglected by society and sometimes even family. We forget that these men and women are human beings with real feelings. I believe that understanding their past, showing compassion, and defending their few outstanding rights, might just be the trigger that will help them lead a better life after prison.

My home at the law school

By Sam Feldman, J.D. ’16

I came to law school to work on the issues of mass incarceration and prisoners’ rights, inspired by advocates and activists I’d met who were challenging America’s own 21st-century gulag archipelago. I hadn’t actually done much research, though—something I’ve gotten better at over the course of law school—and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Harvard is one of the only law schools in the country whose students have the opportunity to go into prisons on a regular basis and represent prisoners at hearings. The Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), Harvard’s largest student practice organization, serves (a small fraction of) the Massachusetts state prisoners who desperately need representation and have nowhere else to turn.

PLAP’s bread and butter are disciplinary hearings, in which inmates accused of violating prison regulations have the opportunity to defend themselves before a hearing officer. Accused prisoners are allowed to retain counsel, but very few have the resources to do so. That’s where PLAP comes in: working in teams of one or two students supervised by an experienced attorney, we interview clients, submit discovery requests and motions, cross-examine corrections officers, and defend our clients against charges that can carry serious consequences, ranging from a loss of privileges to punitive solitary confinement.

I took my first disciplinary case in the fall of my 1L year and won a not guilty verdict for my client on a very serious charge, escape or attempted escape. Soon after I picked up a parole case together with a friend from my section, and the following year, while I served as PLAP’s Parole Hearing Coordinator, we represented our client before the Massachusetts Parole Board as he sought a chance to breathe free air after over 30 years in prison. This year I’ve served as one of PLAP’s two Executive Directors, and I’ve taken as many disciplinary cases as I can squeeze in between classes and other clinical work. My parole client was denied release last summer for reasons I believe are unlawful; before I graduate, I’ll have the opportunity to make that argument to the Suffolk Superior Court as part of our impact litigation practice.

Throughout my three years here, PLAP has been my home at the law school. I’ve appreciated our corner office on the 5th floor and the large community surrounding it, including about 200 students, two amazing supervising attorneys, and our dedicated administrative director. I’m also grateful for the chance to work in another type of space entirely: the state prisons in which thousands of people involuntarily reside, a few of whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. And I’ve been inspired anew by the motto hanging on the wall of our office: freedom for some, justice for all.


Working with PLAP: Opportunities to represent inmates in Massachusetts prisons

By Erin DeGrand J.D. ’16

Erin DeGrand J.D. '16

Erin DeGrand J.D. ’16

Joining PLAP as a 1L, I was most attracted to the fact that it seemed like the only place on campus that would let me get involved without submitting a resume first. In the face of all of the stress that accompanies 1L, PLAP was welcoming and required no application. Not to worry, this Hufflepuff mindset goes Gryffindor quickly, but it is a notable and important aspect of PLAP that we take everyone.

Two things made me continue with PLAP throughout law school: the David and Goliath nature of the work, and the opportunity for as much hands-on experience as I could take. PLAP primarily represents prisoners in two types of hearings: disciplinary and parole. At disciplinary hearings, we defend prisoners from charges that they have violated a prison’s rules; these charges range in seriousness from disobeying a guard’s order to assault. In these hearings, students cross-examine guards and witnesses, they often directly examine their clients, and they make closing arguments to the hearing officer. At parole hearings, we represent prisoners asking the Parole Board to let them out of prison. Here, students rigorously prepare their clients for the Board’s questions, prepare parole memos explaining why their clients have reformed and are ready to return to society, and make opening and closing statements to the Board at the hearing.

These hearings often inspire feelings similar to how the Red Sox must have felt against the Yankees in 2004. Prisoners are the ultimate underdogs: they have no guarantee of counsel in these hearings. In the disciplinary hearings, the standard of proof is low, the prison decides what evidence it will allow, and the judge is often a former corrections officer. In the parole hearings, the board has a lot to lose in granting parole and nothing to lose in denying it. But there is no better win than an underdog win, and getting a ticket dismissed or parole granted can be just as sweet as beating the Yankees.

PLAP Testifies to Judiciary Committee on Prison and Parole Reform Bills

Via the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

9e925e32-b49c-47f4-ba5f-bf5a97b7b42bOn October 14, three PLAPpers joined individuals and organizations from across the Commonwealth at the State House to testify before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, in support of bills aimed at improving criminal justice.  Despite little advance notice, a dozen PLAPpers volunteered to do research and draft written testimony for the Committee’s review, and three PLAPpers – Michael Mullan (LLM), Katherine Robinson (1L), and Eddie Nasser (1L) – appeared in person to present oral testimony on PLAP’s behalf.  Dozens of bills were on the Judiciary Committee’s agenda, but PLAP focused on three issues of considerable importance to its clients.

Solitary Confinement.  Michael Mullan expressed PLAP’s support for two bills:  one that would require the Massachusetts Department of Correction to collect data and report on the usage of solitary confinement in state prison, and another that would substantially limit the use and duration of solitary confinement.  Mr. Mullan highlighted PLAP’s unique familiarity with this issue, as PLAPpers represent state prisoners in dozens of disciplinary hearings each year, with solitary confinement always a potential sanction (and often a feature of the pre-hearing process).  For serious charges, the DOC permits sentences of up to ten years in solitary confinement, making Massachusetts an outlier nationally.

Mr. Mullan described the dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement, effects which are well known and acknowledged by experts in many different fields.  Being locked in a small, cramped cell, with solid doors and limited natural light, for 23 hours a day, day after day, takes a heavy toll on the inhabitant.  The harm done to prisoners in solitary is also visited on the community, as most prisoners are eventually released.  The transition to society, which is already difficult, is made even more so when a person has been deprived of normal stimuli or social interaction for extended periods of time.

Mr. Mullan submitted PLAP’s position that given these harms, the DOC should be reporting its usage of solitary confinement, so that it can be monitored and studied, and long-term solitary confinement should be eliminated.  Mr. Mullan reminded lawmakers that solitary confinement is imposed not only on the guilty but on those merely accused of violating prison rules, with indefinite confinement for weeks or sometimes months.

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A story of success: public service litigation and solitary confinement

By Irem Girmen, Northeastern University Co-Op Student at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

On September 4th, the Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs hosted a lunch talk by Jules Lobel, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburg School of Law and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

Professor Lobel gave a brief history of Ashker v. Governor of California, a federal class action lawsuit filed in May 2012, challenging the practice of solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at the prison’s Security Housing Unit for over a decade. The case was part of CCR’s effort to challenge mass incarceration and abusive prison policies.

Harvard Law School students who attended the talk were particularly curious about the conditions prisoners are subjected to. Lobel explained that the Pelican Bay State Prison has one of the largest solitary confinement units of its kind. Prisoners spend 23 hours a day in an 8-by-10 foot cell, without access to sunlight. The only way they can talk to other inmates is through a hole in the ground in the recreation area they can use for only one hour per day. Research has shown that, as a result, social deprivation and deteriorating health conditions characterize this particulate inmate population.

On September 1st, 2015, a landmark settlement was reached to end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. The victory will not only reduce the number of people in solitary confinement but also improve the situation for those who are in solitary confinement.

“Do not think something is impossible in litigation,” Lobel said. “You never know.”

Taking Prisoners’ Rights to Court

Tucker DeVoe

Tucker DeVoe, J.D. ’15

By Tucker DeVoe, J.D. ’15 

This March, I argued in front of the Honorable Raffi Nerses Yessayan of the Massachusetts Superior Court on behalf of my client.

He is an inmate in a Massachusetts state prison who had been denied parole. At his hearing, I argued that his denial of parole discriminated against him on account of his disabilities. The argument, along with my experience writing all the briefing for his case throughout the year, was a great opportunity to practice law outside of a classroom setting. At Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), we believe that, through cases like his, we can advance the cause of prisoners’ rights and hold the state accountable to its own laws and policies.

PLAP  has helped prisoners with their legal issues for over forty years. My case is part of impact litigation, a small part of the overall program. The majority of PLAP cases come from disciplinary tickets. In Massachusetts, prisoner discipline requires formal written charges within an internal disciplinary system. Through PLAP, Harvard student attorneys represent prisoners at hearings and dispute the charges, ensuring that the prison system actually has the evidence necessary to institute discipline. In recent years, students have also taken on a number of parole hearings, representing prisoners asking for freedom in front of the entire parole board. My client was represented at his parole hearing by another PLAP student.

Getting into the mindset of an advocate was the most challenging part of my work on this case. Typical law school classes successfully prepare you to analyze cases and apply the law to the facts of your particular case. However, in class, you usually debate the relative pros and cons of both sides. As you move to advocacy, you have to switch gears and take on, own, and believe in the arguments for your client. In my case, I got into the advocacy mindset by repeatedly mooting and discussing the argument with my instructor, John Fitzpatrick, and the Hon. Judge John C. Cratsley, who teaches the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic.

Through my experience in PLAP, I have developed skills in oral advocacy, client relationships, legal research and writing, and time management. I have also grown to better appreciate what it means  to help our nation’s prisoners, having visited six prisons (and counting!) throughout my time in the program.

Behind Bars, Law Students Find Their First Clients

HLSVia the Harvard Law Record 

I didn’t think my first cross examination would happen before my 1L Fall exams.

On a brisk December morning, I and my 3L supervisor drove the almost 40 miles to the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center to defend our client, an inmate, at his disciplinary hearing on behalf of Harvard’s Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP). We practiced for much of the car ride, going over the Department of Correction’s evidence and our possible lines of argument. We edited and tinkered with my closing argument so much that by the time we arrived, the paper it was written on was a maze of cross-outs, scribbles, and underlines.

And then, six weeks before I first stepped foot in Criminal Law class, I walked into prison.

There are few things as humbling as having your client sit in shackles beside you even as you argue his case. At Souza-Baranowski, prisoners have even their hands shackled, loosened just enough so that they can sign documents. In a small visiting room, I, my supervisor, our client, the prison’s disciplinary officer (who can function as a prosecutor), and the judge-like hearing officer sat closely together. The hearing officer, himself an employee and former guard with the Department of Correction, started his tape recorder and we were off.

A hearing is a very fast, somewhat intense procedure. The hearing officer ran down the list of charges and asked our client for a plea to each of them: not guilty was his to response to all charges. Then the disciplinary officer summoned in a guard as a witness, asked him a few basic questions and turned him over to me.

Continue reading the full story here.

PLAP Clinical Instructor Happy To Be Back

John Fitzpatrick, Senior Clinical Instructor, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

John Fitzpatrick, Senior Clinical Instructor, Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project

For John Fitzpatrick ’87, a Senior Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), being at HLS this September has a special meaning. “It’s my first September since my return from Afghanistan,” said Fitzpatrick, a reserve Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps who deployed there for an active duty tour last year. “I’m glad to be here in Cambridge instead of back in Kabul,” he said.

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, Clinical Instructor, Joel Thompson ’97 and Administrative Director, Sarah Morton, oversee students who work on a wide range of prisoners’ rights issues. In addition to representing prisoners in disciplinary hearings and different types of parole hearings, PLAP students also take calls five days a week on a phone bank, respond to written requests for help, and litigate for their clients in the Massachusetts Superior Court. “It’s a busy law office offering a variety of services, from trial advocacy-like representation in prison disciplinary and parole hearings, to administrative appeals, to court litigation. From their 1L year on, our students get a chance to experience the A to Z of practicing law while helping a marginalized and underrepresented group of clients,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick originally thought he was being sent to Afghanistan last year to provide legal assistance to other soldiers and handle claims from local Afghans for damage to their property by U.S. forces. “That would be the typical combat-deployed assignment for a reservist, to help out with tasks like legal assistance and claims that are seen in the Army as mundane and not exciting but are crucial to supporting our troops. I’m a reservist, so that’s what I was expecting. But I got a bit of a curve ball,” he said. On his arrival in the Kuwait staging area for deploying troops, Fitzpatrick was given some surprising news a couple of days before going forward to Afghanistan. “I was re-tasked with reporting to a headquarters element in a three star (general) command responsible for detainee operations. In other words, I was going from dealing with Massachusetts prisons at HLS to U.S. prisons in Afghanistan,” Fitzpatrick said. “At the start I guessed it would be interesting, and it was.”

Among his assignments were reviewing prison policies and procedures, evaluating whether there was a legal basis to detain newly captured Afghans and foreigners suspected of being insurgents, and training U.S. soldiers on the proper treatment of detainees.“It was fascinating and relevant work. Sometimes it would be the middle of the night and I would be on the phone with a higher ranking officer out in the field, arguing with him over detainee treatment, and when I was done, I would think for a moment that this was a pretty cool gig for a law school clinical instructor!”

Fitzpatrick was also taken aback by the many different roles he was expected to play. “My deployment as a JAG (uniformed Army lawyer) was different than the norm, mainly because of the way our task force functioned. We were highly mobile and at the center of the multi-national war effort that was being run from Kabul. I was arranging meetings with Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian officers. I was hanging out smoking pipes (a bad habit Fitzpatrick says he picked up during his tour) with the commanders of the French Army detachment, and smoked a hookah during a late-night sit down with one of the Jordanian commanders and a Canadian officer,“ he said. In addition to the unexpected amount of networking he had with so many different foreign officers, Fitzpatrick was also startled to find himself driving on convoy missions. “Being pressed into service as a driver was another curve ball. But I’m a Boston native and a Boston-trained driver. It quickly became clear that, aside from the constant threat of armed attack, driving around Kabul and Afghanistan would not be a particular challenge,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although he is glad to be back, he admits that in hindsight he was glad to have been ordered up for his tour of duty. “It was an amazing experience and an important mission” he said. “From what I saw, I came away convinced we are doing a lot more good than harm in Afghanistan. Admittedly, I also found some incompetence, especially with what seemed to be a rather bizarre lack of cultural awareness by a few in the more senior American leadership. But ,overwhelmingly, our service members are dedicated to the mission and are incredibly selfless for taking on the risks of such a combat deployment. I was humbled to serve with such dedicated and brave women and men.” “And,” Fitzpatrick pointed out, “I’m really, really happy to be safely home!”

Prison Legal Assistance Project: Student Wins Disciplinary Hearing Appeal

David Hanyok '16

David Hanyok ’16

By David Hanyok J.D. ’16

I took this case after doing intake on the client’s case. He was friendly and appreciative of every bit of help we could offer. The situation was hard to believe: after drugs were found in the client’s cell — which he shared with two other prisoners, and in which two more had recently been placed briefly — he was removed from a minimum security placement where he worked two jobs and was on the Boston University honor roll. He lost the two jobs, could no longer attend his classes, and his pending release on parole was suddenly put in jeopardy. All of this happened after he had taken a drug test that was negative for all substances.

The hearing itself was easy. The reporting officer was cooperative, and he didn’t dispute that the drugs were found in a common space. Further, the case was plagued with procedural problems — evidence that someone had thrown away, failures to follow procedures for drug cases, and more. In the end, the hearing officer recognized that he had no evidence suggesting that the drugs belonged to my client rather than any of the other four inmates with access to the cell.

Still, my client was found guilty on one extremely minor contraband charge. He admitted the contraband was his, though some of it was religious property and another piece was a lock he had received at another facility. With little to go on, legally speaking, we submitted an appeal stressing simply the unfairness of the situation. Our client, poised to get out of prison with two jobs and well on his way to earning a degree, had already lost that opportunity. Because of the guilty finding, he was at further risk of having his parole revoked because of property that many inmates have and that corrections officers almost always allow.

Incredibly, the appeal worked. The superintendent dismissed the final charge, and the feeling of helping a man with so much promise get out of prison and move on with his life was truly unforgettable. Also, having heard so many stories about the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) clients being found guilty despite blatantly inadequate evidence, it was heartening that a prison official would take seriously a claim based exclusively on fundamental fairness.

Two from HLS awarded 2014 Soros Fellowships for New Americans

Alexander Chen ’15

Alexander Chen ’15

Via HLS News

This year, two Harvard Law School students, Alexander Chen ’15 and Bianca Tylek ’16, were selected from a field of more than twelve hundred applicants to receive the Paul and Daisy Soros New American Fellowship. Thirty scholars, all of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants, will receive $90,000 grants each to pursue graduate studies at U.S. universities.

Chen, who was born in Colorado, is the son of Chinese immigrants. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Oxford University and an M.A. from Columbia University. He hopes to focus his legal career in civil rights advocacy, combining litigation, policy work, and academic research to advance civil rights for trans people.

Chen interned with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project cases during the summer of 2013, and he will be working at the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and at the National Center for Transgender Equality this summer. He has also written on trans issues for the Harvard Law Review.

Bianca Tylek ’16

Bianca Tylek ’16

The child of a Polish father and Ecuadorian mother, Tylek was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, raised by non-English speaking relatives. Despite struggles with academic and delinquency issues during high school, Tylek was accepted at Columbia University, and, after graduating, she pursued a career in investment banking. She later worked in growth strategy for Teach for America, and she developed College Pathways, an innovative program that prepares inmates at Rikers Island for college-level education.

At HLS, she is a member of Harvard Defenders, the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and the Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review. She hopes to pursue a career in the social sector, focused on using results-based management in the prison system to reduce recidivism.

The Soros Fellowships were established to help immigrants to continue to make a positive impact on the nation. The selection is based upon rigorous criteria that include academic performance and leadership skills.

Congratulations to HLS Student Shaina Wamsley on her Ethics Award!

Shaina Wamsley ’14

Congratulations to Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center student Shaina Wamsley J.D. ’14, who will receive the 2014 Law Student Ethics Award from the Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel! Daniel Nagin and Roger Bertling of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, and John Fitzpatrick and Sarah Morton of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project jointly nominated Shania for the award. Together they write:

“Shaina … has demonstrated the extraordinary ability required for the honor of this nomination. Shaina has chosen to spend hundreds of hours over the past 3 years providing direct legal assistance to the poorest, most marginalized and least able of the client populations served through the HLS clinical programs. … Clinical experience is not only about winning: it is about a thirst for learning and honing skills; it is about developing the capacity for self-reflection; it is about challenging perceived notions of how law should and does operate; and, ultimately, it is about taking on the personal challenge of growing into an effective, thoughtful and ethical member of the profession. … Her contributions compel this nomination; her firm adherence to the quiet, less heroic, everyday practice of ethical lawyering across dozens of intakes and cases, her attention to conflicts of interest, her careful explanation to clients of their and our rights and responsibilities, her consistent care with highly confidential medical, personal and legal information, her comprehensive assessments of the broad range of legal issues presented in each case, her thoughtful examination of the social and political contexts implicated, her deeply generous mentoring of several rounds of new clinical students and interns, her insightful and constructive critique of systems and practices, and the intelligent compassion she has shown to each and every individual she has encountered.”

According to The Chapter, the award was created “to recognize and encourage the ethical practice of law at the earliest stages of a young lawyer’s professional career, and at the same time to shine a spotlight on ethics more generally, demonstrating that the legal community values lawyers who are guided by ethical principles. The award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship, is given to twelve students, one from each of the participating local law schools, who have demonstrated an early commitment to ethics through work in clinical programs representing their first real clients.”

“It is truly an honor to have been nominated for this award. My clinical experience at HLS has been the most rewarding part of my time here” said Shaina.

The Northeast Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Ninth Annual Law Student Ethics Awards dinner will be held on April 15, 2014 at the Union Club in Boston. The keynote speech will be delivered by Wayne A. Budd, Senior Counsel at Goodwin Procter LL.P. and Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

Prison Week: Reducing Violence in & out of Prisons

Join the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project for a series of events on prison reform.

Transgender Issues in Prison
WED March 5th, 12 pm – 1 pm, WCC 1019
This panel will discuss the unique challenges faced by transgender inmates, who are disproportionately victims of violence, harassment, and sexual assault at the hands of other inmates as well as prison guards. The event will feature Gabriel Arkles of Northeastern University School of Law and formerly of the Prisoners’ Justice Initiative at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Alexia Norena of Black & Pink. Co-sponsored by HLS Lambda.

Rape in Prisons
WED March 5th, 6 pm – 8 pm, Austin West
This panel will explore the issues raised by prison rape in our criminal justice system and the steps being taken to help correct the problem. Dr. Josiah Rich, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights and a professor at Brown University Medical School, will provide a public health and human rights perspective. Dr. Allen Beck, the Senior Statistical Advisor at the Bureau of Justice Statistics and lead analyst responsible for data collection for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, will provide a statistical background, and Raymond Marchilli, Massachusetts Department of Corrections coordinator for the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, will discuss the successes and shortfalls of ongoing reform efforts.

Building Reform Coalitions Across Ideology
THUR March 6th, 12 pm – 1 pm, Hauser 104
This panel will discuss how to cement and broaden consensus on prison and criminal justice reform, focusing on why conservatives have started embracing reform and how to maintain their involvement. Marc Levin, Policy Director of Right on Crime and Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project, will discuss bipartisan reform efforts and the sustainability of the currently growing coalitions. (Get a taste of this topic, with commentary from Mr. Levin, at Co-sponsored by the Federalist Society & ACS.

Parole Reform: Fighting Crime by Reducing Incarceration
FRI March 7th, 12 pm – 1 pm, WCC 1019
Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA and national crime and drug policy expert, will d iscuss how to reform the parole and probation systems to achieve dramatic crime reductions. Currently these systems are inadequate and ineffective, but they will play an important role in implementing alternatives to incarceration. Prof . Kleiman will discuss how reforming the parole system can dramatically reduce both crime and drug use.

A Warm Welcome to Joel Thompson

PLAP Interim Supervising Attorney Joel Thompson

Joel Thompson is serving as the interim supervising attorney at Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) while John Fitzpatrick is on deployment. Joel splits his time between PLAP and Prisoner’s Legal Services (PLS) and is happy to be back at his alma mater. Here is a message from Joel introducing himself:

“I’m a former PLAPper, or I guess I’m now a once-and-always PLAPper – aren’t we all? Class of ’97. I spent most of my HLS years hanging out at the PLAP office, which, although it had character, lacked the sophistication and stunning view of today’s PLAP. After graduating, I began a tour of New England states – to Vermont for a clerkship, then to Maine for a downeast version of big-firm associate life, on to Connecticut to a small firm where I could tag along with some folks defending a federal death penalty case, and then back to Boston where I landed at Prisoners’ Legal Services. At PLS I co-chair the Health Care Project, and most of my litigation docket is centered around health care, though I advise and advocate for prisoners on all kinds of issues (as does everyone at PLS). I’m thrilled to have a chance to hang out at PLAP again and watch today’s PLAPpers provide incredible service to our clients.”

Note: This post was adapted from the PLAP newsletter.

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