Post 1: A System of Injustice

Partners for Justice is a nonprofit organization that operates within the Delaware Public Defender’s Office. The organization’s mission is to prevent or limit the harm of collateral consequences of justice system involvement. We serve clients of the Public Defender’s Office, who are indigent individuals with current or past criminal justice system involvement. Partners for Justice staff serve as advocates to help clients navigate bureaucracies to improve their access to housing, public benefits, employment, medical care and other civil legal needs.

I chose this particular internship because I have always been passionate about the intersection between civil and criminal law and how the access and quality of legal representation can alter someone’s life completely. This internship serves as the perfect opportunity to learn the benefits of pairing civil and criminal legal representation and advocacy in order to best serve our clients.

In the United States, 80% of the civil legal needs of poor people are going unmet— creating what experts refer to as the justice gap. Without legal representation and advocacy, people in poverty face a greater risk of unjustly losing their homes, their children, and their public benefits. Often, the most vulnerable individuals among those in poverty are those who have been involved in the criminal legal system. With a single arrest, charge, or conviction, people who are disenfranchised face further challenges with complicated bureaucracies that can drastically alter their lives. Partners for Justice places advocates to work directly with clients and community organizers to help them obtain quality legal representation and prevent collateral injustices with the criminal legal system.

As an intern for the Public Defender’s Office and the Partners for Justice organization, I conduct client interviews to meet directly with clients facing criminal prosecution in order to obtain their case information and scan for possible civil legal issues that could arise because of their arrest. I also work directly with clients who are in prison, on probation, or facing possible incarceration to help them navigate court-ordered programs, find housing, employment, or obtain public benefits. Most of my responsibilities involve working with the advocates to meet clients in prison or in court to assist them with civil legal issues or bureaucratic challenges.

In addition to this client-centered work, I conduct research on affordable housing, employment opportunities, expungement processes, property retrieval and other services that can help our clients who are at risk of facing repeated injustices.

My work this summer helps the Partners for Justice organization better serve their clients and help them obtain the correct legal documents and qualify for life-changing services such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medicaid, or public housing. My work at the Public Defender’s Office helps assist low-income clients who are seeking legal representation for criminal cases.

Organizations like Partners for Justice are crucial in the fight for justice because they are taking smaller steps to advocate individually for underserved populations by providing direct representation. However, they are also taking bigger steps to fight for systemic changes that will help create a more just society moving forward. Partners for Justice directly advocates for criminal justice reform in the legislature, as well as increased affordable housing and other public policy issues that would benefit our clients.

Smaller change or progress comes in the form of a client obtaining a job, keeping their children, staying in their apartment or receiving necessary medical care. However, larger change comes in the way of policy changes that limit the number of arrests made in low-income communities or the ways we choose to rehabilitate instead of punish.

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