Public Interest Leadership Program Learns About Criminal Justice Reform by Hearing from Organizations that Work Closely with Defendants and Victims

At its first meeting on September 5th, the 2019-2020 PILP Class heard from two sets of speakers on the topic of criminal justice reform.

First, the class heard from Emily Fish on behalf of Roca, which is a Boston-based organization, founded in 1988 with a unique crime-intervention program that focuses on the riskiest of at-risk residents, the community’s most troubled young men ages 17-24 who won’t take part in other programs and are the most resistant to change. Roca’s Intervention Model serves approximately 850 young men annually out of five hubs statewide – Chelsea, Lynn, Boston, Holyoke, and Springfield. Emily is the director of the Roca site in Lynn.

Emily explained in vivid detail Roca’s program of relentless outreach to at-risk youth, and the transformational relationships that Roca’s youth workers form to encourage behavioral change. She described how Roca partners with other institutional actors – courts, probation departments, police, employers, and others – to support young people who might be resistant to change or subject to relapse. She showed detailed data demonstrating the history of trauma, substance use disorder, and behavioral health problems that many Roca clients have experienced, and explained how an investment in successful programs like Roca can avoid greater costs and crime down the road by disrupting the cycle of incarceration and poverty. Finally, she explained what reforms Roca would like to see to the criminal justice system, including: raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, reducing the number of probation conditions, creating specialized “young adult courts,” and requiring specialized trainings for police officers and prosecutors.

Second, Stephanie Friends Holt and Meagen Monahan presented on behalf of Victim Rights Law Center, which is a bi-coastal organization providing free, comprehensive legal services for sexual assault survivors in Massachusetts and Oregon.  Both Stephanie and Meagen serve as staff attorneys at VRLC, providing a wide spectrum of legal services throughout Massachusetts. 

Stephanie and Meagen emphasized the wide-ranging nature of the services needed by sexual assault survivors.  Many survivors require assistance in obtaining protection orders under M.G.L. c. 209A and c. 258E and on protecting personal privacy as part of the criminal process, but also assistance on a broad range of other matters.  Stephanie and Meagen explained that sexual assault frequently impacts survivors’ housing and employment, and requires survivors to walk a fine line between protecting their own privacy but also obtaining necessary accommodations. Survivors in various stages of the immigration process also face a wide range of ramifications that call for VRLC’s expert guidance.

For more information about Roca, visit: https://rocainc.org/.

For more information about the Victim Rights Law Center, visit: https://www.victimrights.org/.

Meeting recap provided by PILP Members David Rangaviz (Committee for Public Counsel Services) and Jeremy Meisinger (Foley Hoag).