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Tag Archives: Equal Justice Works

Wouldn’t you want a second chance?

This National Reentry Week, Prop 47 and expungement clinics allow individuals to move past their offenses and rejoin our communities.

By Maureen Slack, OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Almost one in three Americans has a criminal record. In fact, roughly the same number of Americans have criminal records as do four-year college diplomas. Before I started working on criminal record clearance clinics with the Justice Bus Project and our amazing partners, I didn’t realize the depth of the damage.

IMAGE: OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

In many ways, a criminal record punishes someone long after she’s completed her sentence. And convictions from 20 or 30 years ago, minor offenses, or just arrests, carry criminal records and serious turmoil. The Proposition 47 and expungement clinics that the Justice Bus holds along with legal and community organizations provide at least some form of relief. However, as the law stands, there is no complete remedy for someone to move on.

Much of a record’s harm is economic. Most housing and employment sources require background checks and providers can make harsh snap judgments based on little information. This was our client from Napa’s experience: “I was in a volatile marriage and received a DUI in my own driveway as I got in my car for safety from my abusive husband. I lost my nursing license due to this.” And she’s not alone. Depending on the survey, up to 90% of prospective employers perform criminal background checks, as do 80% of landlords. Some research indicates that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by almost 50%. And this negative impact is more pronounced for African-American men than white men. Many clients come to clinics hoping for meaningful, full-time employment.

Beyond these economic barriers, a criminal record can also do serious emotional damage. A major part of this emotional strain comes from the economic and housing instability. Many clients also feel hurt by the stigma of being forever labeled as criminals. As one of our clients put it, “When I was young I made a mistake and got a felony conviction. That was about 15 years ago. I am now mature, a father, and hardworking… [by getting this expunged] I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” Even when someone feels they’ve moved forward from past mistakes, a record is a constant reminder of how society labels them.

While these economic and emotional barriers are severe and often unyielding, the law currently makes it really difficult to remove them. Criminal expungements and Proposition 47 offer at least some relief. Through expungement, someone can get their old conviction case re-opened and dismissed. It won’t completely erase their record, and the case will still show up on state background checks — but it won’t show up on private criminal background checks. The person can now accurately answer on most applications that they’ve never been convicted of a crime. Additionally, Prop 47 is a piece of legislation that reclassifies certain non-violent felonies as misdemeanors. Through Prop 47 relief, individuals may be able to restore their ability to get certain professional licenses and public benefits. It may also make DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) available to immigrants previously ineligible because of felony convictions.

IMAGE: Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

In 2015, the Justice Bus Project began working with veterans’ advocates in Fresno and Stockton, Public Defender’s offices, community organizations, and private criminal defense attorneys to emphasize serving veterans with criminal records in those regions. Last year it became clear to us that the need extended beyond the veteran community when non-veterans began attending these limited-scope criminal record expungement and Prop 47 clinics seeking assistance. In April 2015, the Justice Bus Project successfully piloted using the records clearance clinic model we had developed to serve veterans to help others in need of assistance.  The need was so great that over the last year we began to open up many of our records clearance clinics to both veterans and civilian residents of rural and isolated communities.

Over the last year, our volunteers staffed 15 criminal record clinics in San Joaquin, Napa, Fresno, Butte, and Shasta Counties. The clients we see are overwhelmingly relieved to confront their criminal pasts and move forward.  And the demand is so great that we often have a waiting list of clients whom we cannot serve at the clinics.  In response, we are in the planning stages for a new series of “Rural Second Chance” clinics to try to meet more of the need around the state.

While expungements and Prop 47 provide some relief, barriers still remain, and at this point, there’s no way for a client to have a truly clean slate. We need more research on the impact of expungements and Prop 47 on people’s lives, but, anecdotally, the people who come to our clinics are hopeful for a fresh start. With the right legislation, there is hope for stronger programs to help those individuals successfully start their lives again.  Until then, we will continue to bring life-changing help to those in need of  these serves in rural and isolated communities.

Maureen_Blog Post photoMaureen Slack is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow and a proud participant in Equal Justice Work’s national Veterans Legal Corps. At OneJustice, she is responsible for leading Justice Bus trips throughout Northern California, working to bring attorney and law student volunteers from urban areas to serve isolated communities.

Namaste, Justice Bus riders!

OneJustice welcomes Elinor Rushforth, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow and yoga teacher, to the team!

Before our Justice Bus Project ramps up to full speed this spring, we asked Elinor to tell us more about herself and the work that she will be doing at OneJustice’s Los Angeles office!

Please join us in welcoming Elinor!

Photo: Elinor Rushforth, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Elinor Rushforth, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Elinor, thank you so much for taking some time to chat with us! Tell us, what drew you to the work of OneJustice?

OneJustice provides a unique perspective in the nonprofit world and has been instrumental in bridging the justice gap between legal services providers and people in isolated, rural communities. It’s an organization that responds to its diverse partners with down-to-earth, yet innovative solutions to create an educated and empowered community of lawyers, law students, and community partners. I believe this holistic approach leads to more engaged service providers and helps build trust with our clients. I’m a passionate public servant, and it’s an incredible opportunity to be working with such inspiring people!

We couldn’t agree more! What is your focus at the organization, and what do you hope to achieve during your Fellowship?

While serving as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, my primary focus will be on the Justice Bus Project in Southern California. Through this project, I will be able to connect legal experts to clients with unmet legal needs in isolated, rural areas. By drawing on the breadth of institutional knowledge at OneJustice, my experience working with veterans and other underserved populations, and the commitment of SoCal’s pro bono attorneys and law students, I hope to grow our program by focusing on relationship and community building throughout the region.

We look forward to seeing the project grow! What did you do before coming to OneJustice?

I served as an advocate for veterans in veteran treatment courts which helped me narrow my focus in on providing services for low-income or otherwise isolated clients. I also have experience on the policy side working on voter outreach and women’s rights issues. As a native of the Southwest, immigration and trafficking issues intersected with almost every case I worked on and showed me how limited comprehensive legal assistance actually is. I am so excited to be a part of OneJustice and the Justice Bus team!

We’re excited to have you on the team! One more question: what is something quirky about you?

I am a yoga teacher and will probably annoy you about yoga within five minutes of meeting you. It changed my entire world after a serious injury, and I think everyone can benefit from a little time on the mat! Namast-yay!

Thank you so much, Elinor – and a very warm welcome to the OneJustice team!

2 new Fellows aboard the Justice Bus

OneJustice welcomes 2 new Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows to the team!

This National Pro Bono Week, we’re proud to celebrate all of our pro bono volunteers, who care deeply about bringing justice where it’s needed most. We also wanted to take this moment to introduce you all to two special people who also care about access to free legal assistance, Marian Lee and Maureen Slack.

Marian and Maureen are OneJustice’s new Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows for the Justice Bus Project, which mobilizes pro bono resources to bring free legal assistance to low-income Californians across the state. We’ve asked Maureen and Marian to share with you all a bit about themselves and the work they will be doing at OneJustice.

Please join us in welcoming these two new members!

Welcome Marian! Tell us, what drew you to the work of OneJustice?

Photo: Marian Lee is the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for the Justice Bus Project at OneJustice's Los Angeles office.

Marian Lee is the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for the Justice Bus Project at OneJustice’s Los Angeles office.

I was drawn to OneJustice because of our commitment to leveraging the underutilized talent and passion for public service that already exists in the legal community to help the most vulnerable Californians. Throughout my career, I’ve always committed extensive time to pro bono work, so I’m so excited to encourage and enable other attorneys to do the same through the Justice Bus program.

The Justice Bus Project offers such a logical solution to a complex problem in California – most attorneys live in urban areas, whereas so many low-income and underserved populations do not. OneJustice plays a unique role in helping to close this justice gap by collaborating with law schools, a variety of nonprofits, and attorneys in both public and private practice.

We’re excited to see where the Justice Bus is headed next! What will your role be in this project?

As an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, I’ll be responsible for the Justice Bus Project in Southern California. I’m charged with mobilizing pro bono attorneys and law students from urban areas to assist rural and isolated communities out of our Los Angeles office. I hope to expand the Justice Bus program by creating new partnerships with legal services providers and community based organizations in Southern California.

Sounds like great work! What did you do before coming to OneJustice? 

I started my legal career in private practice as a real estate and real estate finance attorney, where I represented developers and lenders. Most recently, I developed programs for 3Ls and international students as an Assistant Director at a law school in Northern California. It’s great to return to L.A. to start my public interest career and reconnect with local attorneys while continuing to work with law students!

Those are wonderful experiences! What is something quirky about you?

I have a healthy fear of heights but love skiing! I went from tumbling down the bunny slopes to doing blue runs in a couple of seasons. My goal is to one day finish an entire black diamond course in one piece!

Photo: Maureen Slack, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for the Justice Bus Project at OneJustice's San Francisco office.

Maureen Slack is the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow for the Justice Bus Project at OneJustice’s San Francisco office.

Thank you, Marian! Your turn, Maureen! What inspired you to join OneJustice?

OneJustice’s goal of tapping into rural and low-income communities in need provides a great opportunity to examine, and hopefully address, the ways that the legal system underserves certain geographic and socioeconomic populations. Also, connecting with local community and legal organizations to facilitate this goal is really inspiring and rewarding.

Tells us more about your role — what kind of things will you be doing?

I’ll be working on the Justice Bus Project in Northern California, as the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow. In addition to planning and executing one-day legal clinics throughout Northern California, I hope to successfully connect clients in rural communities to meaningful social and legal services assistance, both during the one-day clinics and beyond.

We can’t wait to hear about these clinics in the upcoming months! What were you up to before coming to OneJustice?

An East Coast native, I grew up in New Jersey and then went to NYU for undergrad. After graduation, I hung around New York for a year as a paralegal at a union-side labor law firm, before heading to Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, I prioritized exploring as many different public advocacy fields as possible, including civil rights, asylum, and eviction law. I’m excited that the Justice Bus Project will allow me to continue exploring different legal areas.

Sound like an exciting adventure aboard the Justice Bus! One last question: what’s something you really love?

I love exploring new cities. My new move to San Francisco means I get to fully indulge my love of comfortable sweaters and affordable avocados.

Thank you so much for joining us, Maureen and Marian! We look forward to hearing about the upcoming Justice Bus trips!

A BIG thank you to our wonderful and committed volunteers who make all the difference for veterans, seniors, families, and children! You are all truly inspiring! Happy National Pro Bono Week!

The Justice Bus Project takes teams of attorney and law student volunteers from urban areas to set up free legal clinics for low-income Californians living in rural and isolated communities.  These clinics provide life-changing legal assistance to low-income veterans, vulnerable seniors, children with disabilities, low-wage workers, immigrant youth, and families. Learn more about this project in the video below!

Departing Fellow reflects on social justice

OneJustice’s Megan Kent shares how human stories inspired a lifelong passion.

With her Fellowship coming to an end, we invited Megan Kent, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, to share with us her inspiration for becoming a public interest attorney.

We are so fortunate to have Megan as our Justice Bus Project coordinator in Southern California. Thanks to her leadership and coordination, 231 clients have received life-changing legal help!


Guest Blogger: Megan Kent, OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

[Photo: Megan Kent, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, at an IMPACT LA with volunteer attorneys.]

Megan Kent, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, at an IMPACT LA with volunteer attorneys.

What drove me to start my career as a public interest attorney? It’s simple – social justice.

Prior to law school, I served as a social worker and educator committed to social justice advocacy. The people I met – their stories – were humbling and inspiring. I witnessed firsthand the effects of generational poverty, mental illness, and social isolation on an abused six-month old.  I also saw the child’s mother successfully battle a meth addiction and thereafter pull herself and her child out of poverty. I watched as depressed and isolated mothers gathered together for our weekly support groups, battling the effects of mental illness while simultaneously strengthening their attachment with their newborns.

Later, I advocated on behalf of a 22-year-old survivor of human trafficking whose condition had become so severe that he had to use a walker. He suffered from a severe neurological disorder that developed from the modern-day slave-like conditions under which he was forced to work. After receiving a visa granted to victims of human trafficking, he was able to receive an experimental surgery he needed to overcome the effects of his illness.

These people – their stories – inspired me to start my career as a public interest attorney. By serving in this capacity, I continue advocating for social justice causes, and continue addressing challenges affecting marginalized individuals and their families. At the same time, I can more effectively address systemic issues (like anti-poverty policies, racial injustice, and immigration laws) that affect marginalized individuals’ ability to thrive and succeed in our county.

My inspiring colleagues at OneJustice and I are able to do just that. Through projects like the Justice Bus, we’ve implemented innovative strategies to address systemic issues that affect low-income and underserved populations. Marginalized veterans, immigrants, seniors, and families throughout California are able to access quality legal services to address problems they face – services they likely would not access without our programs.


[Photo: Megan Kent, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow.]Our guest author, Megan Kent, is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow and member of the national Equal Justice Works Veterans Legal Corps. At OneJustice, she runs the Justice Bus Project in Southern California, bringing life-changing legal assistance to low-income Californians in rural and isolated communities.

Hey AmeriCorps – happy birthday!

10 years ago we joined a very special family

We didn’t know it, but 10 years ago, we started what would become a decade-long collaboration with Equal Justice Works.  In the fall of 2004, we welcomed our very first Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow as part of the newly-created Pro Bono Legal Corps – engaging law students in giving back to their communities.

Now, just 10 years later, we have housed 36 Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellows!  Fellows working at OneJustice during this time founded the Justice Bus Project, worked to expand the Justice Bus into Southern California, and have forged innovative delivery systems like virtual pro bono clinics and more.  In recent years, we have also had the great honor of placing Fellows at other legal services organizations, where they have provided life-changing legal help to persons with disabilities, consumers facing scams and debt, and most recently to veterans facing pressing legal problems.  You can check out the timeline of 10 years of amazing Fellows below.

And now, we are thrilled to be part of the national celebration at AmeriCorps turns 20 years old!

So, on this special occasion, a most heartfelt “thank you!” to the 36 talented attorneys who launched their careers as Fellows and to the 10 legal services organizations who have housed and supported so many Fellows.  We are so grateful for 10 years of partnership with Equal Justice Works and their outstanding staff, and we are deeply honored to be part of the national AmeriCorps family as this vitally important national program turns 20.

Happy Birthday AmeriCorps!  And let’s raise a glass to many, many more years of getting things done!


AmeriCorps Infographic


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