This summer, I have been working a lot with the social worker for our office’s JD department (the higher crimes division) and I was recently asked to participate in a prison visit with him and an attorney. On Tuesday, we took a trip up to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, CT to meet with a client of theirs who is up for a parole hearing within the next few weeks. In case you are unfamiliar, parole is the practice of releasing sentenced prisoners from custody if it appears “that there is a reasonable probability that the inmate will live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that such release is not incompatible with the welfare of the community,” according to the Connecticut General Statutes.
The inmate that we went to visit has been incarcerated since he was sixteen years old and continues to maintain his innocence to this day. Now in his thirties, he is hoping to build a meaningful life for himself outside of prison, in a world that he has not lived in since the early 2000s. My role during this visit was to create and ask questions in a mock interview to prepare our client for his hearing. Meanwhile, the attorney and social worker took notes and wrote down critiques to advise him on how to best answer questions he will be asked.
Thanks to the United States Supreme Court cases Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, it is now deemed unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders, like our client was, to life sentences without the possibility of parole. While helping out with this case, I have been able to consider some of the classes I have taken while at Brandeis. One of the most relevant has been “Investigating Justice,” a class I took last fall with Professor Rosalind Kabrhel. During this class, we spent a unit focused on the juvenile justice system and had the incredible opportunity to learn alongside students from a juvenile detention facility. Every week for a month, three students from the facility came to Brandeis and attended class with us. We learned about the pitfalls of the system and new programs currently being implemented to help support and rehabilitate juvenile offenders in order to ensure their success upon reentrance to society.
Much of the time, kids like these do not have the same privileges or family supports that many of my classmates and I have been fortunate enough to grow up with. Many come from low-income communities where high rates of violent crime cause great stress for children and usually lead to ongoing mental health issues throughout life. During this unit, we learned the importance of providing resources for children and adults living in these communities, as well as for currently sentenced offenders to ensure they can go on to live productive lives upon their release. Thanks to this class and others I have taken, I am very cognizant of the many negative social consequences the criminal justice system can create. Now through my internship, I am learning what can be done in real time to help individuals on a case-by-case basis.
While these supports may not have been in place for our client at the time of his arrest, his lawyer, social worker, family, and many others have been working for years to help him get out and go on to live a meaningful life like everyone deserves.