Brief abstracts of conference sessions will be listed here once the final program has been confirmed.

Title: Building Bridges And Breaking Barriers: Facilitating Pro Bono Activities For Students

Lead Presenter: Treuhart, Mary Pat


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Session Abstract: BUILDING BRIDGES AND BREAKING BARRIERS: FACILITATING PRO BONO ACTIVITIES FOR STUDENTS Law faculty frequently serve on boards of directors—or work in volunteer capacities – for non-profit advocacy and law-related organizations. Faculty can connect these entities with students who seek pro bono opportunities. These pro bono projects could be also generated by students, or by an agency or NGO with the faculty member serving as the educator liaison. A student-generated project that surveyed community legal resources available to immigrants and a faculty-generated legal education workshop for refugees will be addressed briefly. The primary focus of the panel will be on an agency initiated pro bono project designed to gather detailed information about the problems encountered by persons with disabilities who are confined to jails or correction facilities in Washington State. The goal is to encourage session participants to explore opportunities to make something similar happen for their students. The faculty member who was the educator liaison for the jail project had been a 25+ year volunteer with the sponsoring organization, Disability Rights Washington (DRW). The director of advocacy and the project’s supervising attorney were former students of the faculty member in her Criminal Procedure course and her Mental Disability Law seminar. The faculty member’s role involved student recruitment and selection, followed by training, and then de-briefing students about the experience at the conclusion of their work. The students’ pro bono work was comprised initially of reviewing each jail’s written disability policies over winter break. Subsequently, the students visited all 38 local jails in the state over spring break, interviewed inmates along with staff and administrators; and assessed the physical facilities. The student efforts revealed that Washington needed to adopt uniform standards and more consistent oversight of conditions in the jails. Identified problems included: 1) physical inaccessibility of jail facilities, including lack of access to programs and recreation; 2) lack of access to mobility devices;, 3) inappropriate segregation of people for reasons related to their physical and sensory disabilities; and 4) lack of access to appropriate disability-related communication services. The data gathered by the students formed the basis for a series of reports issued by DRW that were publicly disseminated. Their work resulted in negotiation, litigation, and legislation approaches to resolving some of the issues that create barriers for persons with disabilities in confinement settings. During this project, the faculty member was able to build a bridge by linking the students to both the agency and its clientele and DRW was able to address the needs of its client community. The students were able to receive pro bono credit to satisfy the public service requirement for graduation. They also connected their criminal law doctrinal courses to the lived reality of the experiences of people with disabilities. Perhaps most important, some students confirmed that they had an interest in working in the criminal law area and then pursued relevant externships; others discovered their passion for disability rights advocacy. And one student secured a permanent staff attorney position with DRW, the sponsoring organization.

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