Q: Tell us about your fellowship, including where you’re working, the problems that you’re responding to, and the goals of your project.
A; I work at the Southern Center for Human Rights, a law office in Atlanta, Georgia working for equality, dignity, and justice for people impacted by the criminal legal system in the Deep South.
I am a legal fellow in the Impact Litigation Unit where I have been working to challenge solitary confinement and inhumane conditions of confinement in Georgia prisons. I designed my fellowship project to challenge solitary confinement because despite the extensive body of research showing that solitary confinement causes serious psychological harm, prisons across Georgia – and the nation – continue to hold people in prolonged isolation.
During my fellowship, I have worked alongside my colleagues to investigate and challenge the conditions at Georgia State Prison and Lee Arrendale State Prison (Arrendale), a women’s prison. At Georgia State Prison, men with psychiatric disabilities are locked in vermin-infested cells for nearly 24-hours each day, worsening their psychiatric conditions. At Arrendale, new mothers have been shackled and held in solitary confinement, just days after giving birth.
Our advocacy to challenge conditions of confinement and solitary confinement takes many forms. For example, I recently co-wrote two advocacy letters highlighting the inhumane treatment of postpartum mothers and medically vulnerable people at Arrendale. Among many issues, I highlighted the prison’s violation of HB 345 (Georgia Dignity Act), which prohibits a prison from using “handcuffs, waist shackles, leg irons or restraints of any kind” on a woman up to six weeks after giving birth and prohibits prison administrators from placing women in solitary confinement in the six weeks after they give birth. Despite this law, women at Arrendale have been shackled and locked inside their cells for nearly 24 hours a day, just days after giving birth to, and being separated from, their newborns. Sometimes, these new mothers are wearing the same bloodied clothes they wore during childbirth. Our advocacy seeks immediate action to remedy the cruel and unconstitutional treatment.
Q: How did your experiences before and during law school lead you to this project or public interest generally?
A: I came to law school with the goal of working alongside directly impacted communities to challenge racial injustice, prisons, and carceral control. Prior to my legal studies, I worked as the National Training Manager at Community Connections for Youth (CCFY) in the Bronx where I gained a unique vantage point into the systemic failures of juvenile and criminal justice systems across the country. There, I organized teams of stakeholders from district attorney offices, family courts, the police, public defenders, school administrators, and organizers to divert youth to alternative-to-incarceration programs instead of the justice system. This work made visible the rampant injustices that limit the futures of youth and their families.
My desire to challenge such injustices is what led me to law school, where I advocated for youth and adults ensnared in the criminal legal system. As the co-director of the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) and as a certified legal intern with the Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Special Defense Division, I worked directly with teenagers criminally prosecuted as adults in Philadelphia. And during summer internships at public defender offices including Still She Rises and The Bronx Defenders, I witnessed the legal obstacles designed to police and control the lives of people of color with low incomes.
In addition to the direct client-facing work I did during law school, I engaged in impact litigation on racial justice issues, conditions of confinement, and the criminalization of people facing challenges because of poverty. As a student in the inaugural Appellate Advocacy Clinic, I worked on litigation to challenge money bail practices and fines and fees. As an extern at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, I learned about how to strategically bring equal protection challenges and challenge racial bias in courts. And as an intern at the Southern Center for Human Rights, I gained substantial knowledge about how to bring class-action lawsuits alongside coordinated campaigns to pressure public officials to take action against unconstitutional prison conditions.
Each of these experiences taught me the value of strategic litigation to challenge widespread practices that subjugate those most marginalized and made me eager to pursue a career using law as a tool for social justice.
Q: Thus far, what accomplishment during your fellowship are you most proud of?
In 1996, Spratt Howard was sentenced under Georgia’s recidivist statute to life without the possibility of parole. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to work alongside attorney Patrick Mulvaney and Howard to seek Howard’s resentencing. After 25 years in prison, Howard was resentenced to time served and released from prison. He is now reunited with his family. It is a privilege to work alongside clients, their families, and legal advocates to help people who have received extreme sentences be resentenced, released from prison, and reunited with their loved ones.