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Fighting Mass Incarceration

May 12, 2022

Catherine Kearney C’12, L’22 has been named a 2022 Law School Partnership Project Fellow with Gideon’s Promise.

Gideon’s Promise has named Catherine Kearney C’12, L’22 one of six new fellows through their Law School Partnership Project (LSPP). The Project provides law students with the opportunity to launch their career as a public defender and criminal justice reformer on the front lines of the effort to realize equal justice in America.

Fellows are placed in offices where mass incarceration plagues marginalized and under-resourced communities. Kearney, who is a native of Baltimore, will be joining the Orleans Public Defenders in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“When I spoke with members of the office, they were very candid about the difficulty of the work, but also the sense of community and dedication among their coworkers,” said Kearney. “The leadership confirmed this commitment to supporting staff and truly engaging with the community they served. I have always loved the city of New Orleans and I know I will receive excellent training and experience in my first few years as a public defender at OPD.”

She was inspired to join the LSPP program because, along with her experience studying intergenerational traumas prior to law school, she felt the need to be a part of the fight to keep people out of cages through her work in public defense.

“I listened to children and families tell stories about the worst experiences of their lives,” said Kearney. “I marveled at their resilience and love for one another in the face of unspeakable tragedies. But after countless stories about separation through incarceration and policing, I know that these tragedies were not isolated events, but rather the result of a system designed to oppress some, while lifting others.”

Kearney, who also holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychological Science from the University of Maryland, was selected from many applicants after a vigorous interview process.

“We are delighted that Catherine Kearney will be bringing her strong drive and passion to the Orleans Public Defender’s Office,” the organization said in a press release.

At the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Kearney has been involved in the Youth Advocacy Project, a pro bono project that assists the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project on cases of youth facing charges in the adult system. She has also participated in the Prison Abolition Reading Group, a discussion group with Penn, Temple, and Drexel law students and worked as an intern at North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services.

Gideon’s Promise is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities. Founded in 2007 by Jonathan Rapping and Ilham Askia, the organization has grown from a single training program for 16 attorneys in two public defender offices in Georgia and Louisiana to a national enterprise with over 1,500 participants in approximately 45 public defender offices annually across 27 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization’s initial three-year program for new public defenders has expanded into a comprehensive program model that supports public defenders at all levels of their careers.

The LSPP offers recent law school graduates opportunities to immediately make a difference in public defender offices across the country by placing fellows in locations with the most significant needs. Applications for the 2023 LSPP program are now available.

Learn more about public service opportunities at the Law School.