(1) The Next Step in my Criminal Justice Journey

Today marks a full month at my current internship at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office! Before I get into my current activities as a summer intern, I owe it to the Legal Studies department to explain how I got here in the first place. As a Politics major on the Pre-Law track, I have fortunately been able to participate in multiple immersive learning opportunities in the past year – mostly thanks to the Legal Studies Department and Professor Rosalind Kabrhel, who graciously notified me of this internship opportunity at the beginning of the Spring semester. In the summer of 2021, my good friend and fellow Legal Studies buddy Maheeb Rabbani introduced me to the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Throughout the year and into the summer, the BEJI team conducts one of many incredible programs, the Partakers Empowerment Program (PEP). PEP is a virtual 13-week series of educational workshops for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, facilitated by Brandeis staff, graduate, and undergraduate students. Workshops include Civic Engagement, Financial Literacy, Technology, Health and Wellness, and Education. 

Alongside BEJI, which is co-founded by Professor Kabrhel, I have gained further enrichment through the Legal Studies program’s experiential learning courses: the Legal Studies Practicum (LGLS 145a) and Legal Studies Internship and Seminar (LGLS 98a). These courses have allowed me to deepen my understanding of the criminal justice system with hands-on experiences including assisting Professor Aaron Bray in facilitating his course on Pre-Trial litigation (Street Litigators Academy) within the Nashua St. jail facility, as well as working as a legislative advocacy and research intern at Citizens for Juvenile Justice for their Raise the Age campaign.

This is to say that I owe it to the Legal Studies program’s unorthodox yet crucially impactful courses for preparing me for my current internship. At the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, I work under Antonia Soares Thompson in the Racial Justice Initiatives Unit. This is a new department that was created in response to the racial reckoning in 2020 that urged every institution to investigate the racial responses both within and beyond its offices. The department’s novelty does not reflect the critical Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work that has long been—and continues to be—conducted by those in the legal field. 

My first day at the office with Director of Racial Justice Initiatives Antonia Soares Thompson

As an intern, there are a number of projects that I work on. One of the long-term projects I am currently working on includes going through the prosecution case management database and analyzing demographic data and diversionary outcomes for juvenile court cases. In Massachusetts, once you turn 18, you are automatically prosecuted as an adult. Those aged 12-18 are charged under the jurisdiction of juvenile court, which is critically divergent from adult court notably for defendants’ ability to be diverted and for criminal record confidentiality. With diversion being key to a young person’s development and accountability, as opposed to being processed in the justice system, it is crucial to investigate who is granted diversion—and why certain demographic groups may be left behind. 

My attempt to justify this mess of a workspace. It’s called multitasking!                                             Image Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Czu-TuTXAAAjXYr.jpg

Another project I am working on is revamping the Social Justice Roundtable curriculum that will pilot in the fall. The SJR is a traveling 4-6 week workshop for public schools around Massachusetts. The goal is to educate students on matters of social and racial justice; instilling self-confidence in their intersecting identities; and empowering young people to engage with emerging cultural and political discourse in an empathetic and nuanced manner. From the district court meetings that I have attended with superintendents, teachers, and police departments, it is clear that these young communities are disproportionately prone to bullying, discrimination, and violence that often lead to assaults or hate crimes—offenses that we have a vested interest in investigating as a prosecuting office. These meetings have allowed us to hear directly from the community and its stakeholders to gain a better understanding of school environments and the overall well-being of young people in Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has created a mental health crisis in young people and a less stable school environment for adolescents of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Hopefully, with the continuation of these workshops and my incorporation of social-emotional learning, we can foster empathy among these communities and kickstart a movement of healing and understanding on a local level. I am beyond delighted to be a part of such integral work that investigates crime and hate at their root causes, rather than prosecuting its symptoms. What we do not need is to contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and over-prosecute young people by thinking of hate and violence as issues easily resolved via incarceration. Young people have the capacity to learn and change, only if we lead by example and provide them with opportunities to learn and practice empathy. I am overjoyed to see and be a part of this restorative work at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and am excited to see what else is in store for me this summer.