Monthly Archives: May 2018

Service Innovation Project Kicks Off with School-to-Prison Pipeline Issue Briefing

On May 17, the Boston Bar convened attorneys for the next step in the pilot phase of its Service Innovation Project, which will focus on engaging the legal community in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. At an issue briefing panel, a distinguished group of experts provided a comprehensive overview of the issue to attendees, and challenged them to think about actionable next steps to work toward solutions.

The panel, moderated by Northeastern University Law School’s Susan Maze-Rothstein, consisted of:

  • Jessica Berry – Deputy Director, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
  • Jay D. Blitzman – First Justice for the Middlesex Juvenile Court and Presiding Justice, Lowell
  • Matt Cregor – Education Project Director, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
  • Janelle Ridley – District Coordinator for System-Involved Youth, Boston Public Schools
  • Marlies Spanjaard – Director of Education Advocacy, the EdLaw Project

The goal of the panel was to give attendees a deeper understanding of the many complicated and intersecting issues that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, facilitating economically disadvantaged youth slipping into the justice system in Boston and all over the United States. From their unique professional vantage points, each panelist was able to share examples of glaring inequities which are, unfortunately, commonplace.

Jessica Berry (Children’s Law Center of MA), Hon. Jay Blitzman (Middlesex Juvenile Court, Lowell Juvenile Court), Matt Cregor (Lawyers’ Committee), Janelle Ridley (Boston Public Schools), and Marlies Spanjaard (The EdLaw Project)

In summing up the structure of the school-to-prison pipeline, panelists explained that communities with high poverty rates and larger-than-average incarcerated populations also tend to have the most overcrowded, underfunded schools. Though staying in school has proven to be a deterrent from getting involved in the justice system, the increase in policing on school campuses in the past 20 years has led to more arrests on school grounds than ever before. In addition, students who are suspended or expelled from school, often for minor non-violent infractions, are at higher risk to drop out of school and thus more likely to enter into the criminal justice system.

These factors disproportionately impact black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, and the panelists cited multiple sources of data on the devastating impact that disparity is having in majority-minority communities.

“There is no such thing as race-neutral, zero-tolerance (policies),” Judge Blitzman said, adding that well-intended legislation meant to bolster school safety has led to the “criminalization of adolescence” for at-risk youth.

Ridley said one of the most important parts of her job is simply to listen to students, something the students may not feel they are getting from other adults at school or at home.

“We have a lot of quantitative data, but what we’re missing is the qualitative data: the stories, the reasoning, and what got these kids to where they are,” she said.

 

Panel moderator Prof. Susan Maze-Rothstein (Northeastern Law) brainstorms with her breakout group.

Following the panel, attendees formed small breakout groups to discuss what they had learned and think about next steps. Throughout the room, attorneys thought about various ways to offer pro bono assistance directly to affected children and families. But other, multidisciplinary approaches were also a focus of the discussion – such as public information campaigns targeted to schools, parents and the general public. Many attendees expressed their enthusiasm for restorative-justice-style programs in schools, giving students the chance to express their feelings and hopefully avoid suspension or expulsion.

The Boston Bar would like to thank everyone who participated, and we look forward to working together with the Service Innovation Project Advisory Committee to take these ideas and incorporate them into our work going forward.

Attorneys and community leaders discuss the insights and information presented during the first half of the issue briefing.

Special thanks to the Boston Bar Foundation Burnes Innovation in Service Fund, made possible by a generous gift from Richard and Nonnie Burnes.  This fund provides critical support for the Service Innovation Project.  For more information on the Burnes Innovation in Service Fund or the Boston Bar Foundation, contact Megan Leppert at 617.778.1924 or [email protected]

Attorneys Trained to Provide Pro Bono Assistance in Veterans Discharge Upgrade Cases

On May 22, members of the private bar gathered to learn about representing veterans pro bono in military discharge upgrade applications. Dana Montalto, Betsy Gwin, and Evan Seamone of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School presented a comprehensive training for those who are interested in serving the veterans community. Their presentations offered a step-by-step approach to developing a persuasive petition, provided guidance about addressing common legal and practical challenges in discharge upgrade representation, and concluded with information about recent legal updates.

This presentation was the fourth annual pro bono training put on by the Veterans Legal Clinic, as part of its Veterans Justice Pro Bono Partnership. Through that Partnership, the Clinic connects local veterans seeking discharge upgrades with pro bono attorneys who want to give back to those who served in uniform and provides ongoing case support throughout the representation. Over the past three years, the Partnership has allowed dozens of veterans unjustly discharged from the military obtain pro bono assistance.

This pro bono assistance is critical because many of the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces are cut off from veterans’ services and benefits because they were given a less-than-honorable discharge. They may have served in combat or have suffered physical or mental wounds, but are nevertheless unable to access much-needed treatment and support from federal and state veterans agencies because of their discharge status. In many cases, the origin of their need for support—for example, service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury—also contributed to the conduct that led to their less-than-honorable discharges.

If you’d like access to a video recording of the training and its materials, please email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected].

Commissioner Giselle Sterling Highlights Boston’s Office of Veterans’ Services’ Accomplishments

On Tuesday, members of the Boston Bar heard from the City of Boston’s Commissioner of Veterans Services, Giselle Sterling, at a networking reception for members of the legal community who are current members of the military, veterans, and their families and friends. Commissioner Sterling is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose multiple deployments placed her in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Guam, Diego Garcia, and Japan. She was appointed as Commissioner in 2015 and since then has been working to connect more veterans to available resources.

With roughly 20,000 veterans living in Boston and over 200 organizations offering services to veterans and military families, Commissioner Sterling has spent the last three years helping to build the Greater Boston Veterans Collaborative. At the start of the Collaborative, Commissioner Sterling noted there were four organizations participating and that it has now grown to 202 non-profits, government organizations, corporations, and more. Her office is working with those organizations to create a resource network that will better connect veterans to everything that is available to them.

The City’s Operation Thank a Veteran volunteer program is another one of Commissioner Sterling’s initiatives that is bringing the veterans’ community together. Through face-to-face interactions, Commissioner Sterling, her staff, and numerous volunteers are able to thank veterans for their service and provide information about what the Office of Veterans’ Services offers.

Commissioner Sterling hopes to be able to expand the impact her office makes on the veterans community and she thanked the veterans in the room for their service and the attorneys who are working to assist veterans with their legal needs.

The reception was hosted at the Boston Bar Association by the Active Duty Military & Veterans Forum, which works to spotlight legal needs, serve as a network for current and former servicemembers in the legal profession and their families, and advise the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service on its Military & Veterans Legal Help Line. If you have questions about the Forum or would like to become involved, please email Cassandra Shavney at [email protected]

23 Offices Sign on to Provide Summer Employment for Boston High School Students

Summer is right around the corner and over 30 students will have the opportunity to learn more about the legal profession and gain critical office experience at legal offices around the city. The 23 below organizations have pledged to hire at least one student in 2018 and will provide teens a stepping stone for a future career.Boston Planning & Development Agency
Brown Rudnick
Burns & Levinson
Chu, Ring & Hazel
Conn Kavanaugh
DLA Piper
Foley Hoag
Hogan Lovells
Holland & Knight
Jackson Lewis
Locke Lord
LPL Financial
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
Mintz Levin
Nelson Mullins
Nixon Peabody
Nutter McClennen & Fish
Proskauer Rose
Ropes & Gray
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen
Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers
Verrill Dana
WilmerHale

We encourage you to contact us to find out how hiring a student can make a difference, for them and for your office! For more information on the program, please click here. If your office is interested in hiring a student over the summer, please contact Cassandra Shavney at [email protected] for additional information.

Law Day in the Schools Challenges Teens to Think Outside the Box

Allison Belanger and Jill Brenner Meixel (Krokidas & Bluestein) speak to William J. Ostiguy High School students.

When Krokidas & Bluestein attorneys Jill Brenner Meixel and Allison Belanger began to explain a mock city council exercise to a class of students at William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston, some students were skeptical. They were split into groups and asked to argue either in favor of or against a made-up ordinance that would require teenagers under the age of 17 to remain inside after a 9 p.m. curfew.

Some asked if this would ever really be considered by the Boston City Council. Some commented that since most students in the room were over 16, they wouldn’t be impacted, so they wouldn’t care. Yet all of the students tasked with arguing in favor of the fictitious proposal protested that they didn’t want to pretend to support an unfair rule.

“It’s an exercise, so just like lawyers, you might have to put your personal feelings aside and concentrate on presenting a compelling argument,” Belanger said.

But in fact, the day’s real lesson was to teach students how to empower themselves to express their personal opinions to effect change. The mock city council hearing was part of this year’s Law Day in the Schools Program, and the theme is “Liberty Under Law: Empowering Youth, Assuring Democracy.”

While brainstorming the points they would make in support of their given position, the students became increasingly engaged with the topic they originally were reluctant to address. Some students even observed that it was actually easier to craft arguments around the side they felt less passionately about, since they could easily imagine what problems adults might have with teenagers on the streets at night.

Articulating why they, as teenagers, deserved freedoms was harder. After speaking to Meixel and Belanger, one group struggling with the concept decided to frame their argument around the unfairness of restricting one population of people, but not others.

The idea of the exercise was to introduce the students to a forum where their ideas would be heard. Although the ordinance was not real, the format of the mock hearing was similar to real sessions at City Hall. Students assigned the role of mock city councilors had to weigh the arguments they heard and cast a vote.

The Law Day in the Schools program has a different focus every year, which lawyers go into classrooms to present to students. The lessons often involve a hands-on activity, and the program also provides an opportunity for students to interact with someone in the legal profession and ask them questions about what they do.

Meixel and Belanger teamed up for the second year in a row. In 2017, they were in an elementary school classroom, and both attorneys said it was fascinating to spend time with both groups of students and see the different ways they learn.

“These students are almost at an age where they will be able to vote in elections, which will allow their voices to have even more impact.  However, regardless of whether they are of voting age, they should feel empowered to speak up and speak out about issues for which they are passionate, because they can make a difference,”  Meixel added.

“If they take anything away, I hope it’s that there is somewhere they can go where someone will listen to them,” Belanger said. “I think we wanted to express to them that there is almost always an appropriate forum for them to voice their opinion and address changes they’d like to see, whether it’s the principal’s office, a local official, or someone in government at the state or national level.”

To see photos from our Law Day in the Schools sessions so far, please click here.