In the spring semester of 2019, I took LGLS 142B: Law & Psychology with Professor Rosalind Kabrhel. I learned a great deal not only about the law, but also about the factors that shape public perception of the justice system, its legal actors, and the civilians who become involved with it. In Law & Psychology, we explored the intersection of the media and the law in depth, a topic that has always been of particular interest to me. I have also been long fascinated with “cold cases” — crimes that have remained unsolved for a long period of time with no new evidence, and have thus been considered low priority to the investigating agencies. These cases, however, are not considered low priority to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, which launched an entire unit dedicated to investigating them (see “Middlesex DA Marian Ryan creates cold case unit”). Under District Attorney Marian Ryan, the office has brought justice to the victims and families of a number of the county’s oldest unsolved cases, including:
Confidentiality is imperative in this job, and disclosing specifics can threaten the integrity of the investigations and the privacy of the individuals involved. One of my current projects concerns media coverage and unsolved homicides. After poring over decades worth of coverage, I have been reminded of what we discussed in Prof. Kabrhel’s course. The news media has often been referred to as the “fourth branch” of the U.S. government, and its impact on the workings of the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. While the media is an absolutely essential agent in maintaining our democracy, and it helps to hold our elected officials accountable to the people they serve, it can also create bias within the public. In jury trials for cases that the media has covered extensively, it is very difficult to satisfy a defendant’s 6th Amendment right to an impartial jury. News coverage also often includes evidence that will not be admissible in court, impeding jurors’ ability to rule based on only the evidence presented to them in the courtroom. A change of venue often helps in these cases, but when a case has received national attention, the challenge is greater.
One thing I have been thinking about a great deal, however, is the way the news media’s portrayal of the victims of homicide comes into play. In my research, I came across an article from the 1970s potentially linking the disappearances/murders of three girls in the area. While the point of the following description is to convey how serial killers select victims based on vulnerability, the article also paints a rather clear portrait of the victims:
“[Victim #1] was a chronic runaway, a drug addict, a hitchhiker, and a child. [Victim #2]... was a chronic runaway and a child. And [Victim #3]...was a child known to talk to strangers.”
The terms used convey value-based assessments about the victims. When a victim has a history of running away, both the investigators and the public can easily write it off. People fear less for their own safety when they feel the crime could not have affected them personally, but rather was the byproduct of the victim’s decisions and character. These portrayals detract from the sympathy felt toward the victim and their family, which unfortunately can matter immensely in how an investigation is prioritized. Public pressure to solve the case diminishes and justice is never served. This effect can be seen in a later submission by a member of the public concerning the wrongful death suit Victim #1’s parents filed. The commentator harshly criticizes the parents for taking legal action because their daughter had a history of running away (and thus they did not immediately report her as missing).
In my research, I also read an article about a victim whose family pleaded for anyone with information that might help solve the case to come forward, as the victim’s grandmother is terminally ill and her only wish is to find out what happened to her granddaughter. Homicide is more than just true crime podcasts and documentaries — it wreaks havoc on real peoples’ lives. The Cold Case unit plays a key role in furthering the MDAO’s mission to deliver justice to all those impacted by crime. Its successes not only mean that the person responsible is held accountable and no longer poses a threat to public safety, but also that a victim’s loved ones are provided answers that they have often waited decades for.
As a Cultural Anthropology major, I have come to understand the significance of experiential learning as a way to expand my education. In fact, the very nature of Anthropology requires fieldwork to fully understand how to analyze and internalize a culture. This became apparent to me this past semester as I had the unique opportunity to participate in an experiential learning fieldwork practicum called “Sages and Seekers.“
As an addition to an Anthropology course on aging, I conducted interviews with an elderly community in order to enrich my understanding of ageism and marginalized groups within society. What began as simply an opportunity to gain extra credit, transformed into an inspirational experience that forged new relationships and developed key interpersonal skills. Using my well-honed communication skills, I conducted in-depth research and interviews with community elders that required discussing sensitive subject matter. Each student was paired with their elder counterpart, allowing for unique relationships to form.
Throughout the semester, I became extremely close with my Sage Sandy. With each personal story he shared and research questions he answered, our relationship deepened. The process of researching and personally connecting with each interviewee sparked my interest in advocacy. I became passionate about telling each senior citizen’s story to fight against ageist discourse.
This ability to intuitively listen has become extremely vital to my role as an Intake Specialist. When filing discrimination complaints, I must develop a relationship with each individual I interview in order to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding. While the MCAD might not be able to help each individual who enters our doors, we provide them with the opportunity to share their story.
Additionally, the MCAD affords me the opportunity to advocate for individuals with claims of discrimination, specifically in categories I have studied in depth. In this way, my interdisciplinary background has fueled my specific interest in the MCAD. My Anthropology and WGS courses specifically study marginalized groups, providing me with a distinctive and valuable perspective.
For instance, recently, the MCAD has expanded its jurisdiction to include new protected categories including age, sexual orientation and disability. Specifically, a governmental recognition of sexual orientation as a protected category is a major win for the LGBTQ community. As the MCAD explains:
“In 1965, gender was added to the Commission’s list of protected classes, opening up a huge new front in the battle against discrimination. Protection for families with children and recipients of public assistance came in 1972 and 1973. In 1975, a law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation was added to the Commission’s jurisdiction in 1984 and 1989 respectively, while increased attention to the issue of sexual harassment generated a large number of complaints. Moreover, the Commission’s expanded jurisdiction to award emotional distress damages, back pay, and legal costs contributed to the dramatic increase in filings” (http://www.mass.gov/mcad/).
I am honored to work for an organization that is committed to advocating and fighting against social injustices. I believe that my past academic experiences, specifically, my interdisciplinary liberal arts education has deeply impacted my approach to this internship and my passion towards law and advocacy.
After almost exactly seven months, Thursday, August 13rd concluded my tenure as intake intern and case assistant at the New England Innocence Project. The end of my internship signified a new chapter in not only my life, but in the history of the New England Innocence Project, as the organization moved into its new home at Suffolk University Law School. While leaving NEIP was difficult to say the least, I left having knowing that my experience with the organization was nothing short of life changing. I started as an intern back in January hoping to gain a greater appreciation of the law, while achieving a better understanding of what life is like working for a non-profit. What I received from NEIP was extensive knowledge of the legal profession, invaluable experience communicating with attorneys and clients, and a new direction for my future endeavors.
Entering my summer with NEIP, my goals were three pronged: 1) gain a more robust understanding of the criminal justice system; 2) acquire some of the required skills of an attorney; and 3) positively impact those who have witnessed the pain of wrongful convictions. By and large, I can honestly say that I have achieved my goals.
In an academic sense, I have learned a significant deal about the criminal justice system on the local, and national level primarily through the reading of trial transcripts, and working with trial and appellate attorneys on the state and federal level.
In a professional sense, while my goal of learning the necessary skills to be an effective attorney was lofty, I do believe I made progress towards that goal. Through NEIP, I learned how to more effective communicator by discussing legal matters with clients, co-workers, and attorneys on a daily basis. Additionally, I was given the chance to engage in legal writing, working on “Post-CRC” Memos that concisely summarize an applicant’s case in order for the organization to determine whether NEIP should choose to represent them. While I would’ve liked to receive further experience in legal writing, the nature of the NEIP organizational structure primarily delegated that task to the legal interns. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that as an intake intern, I received a unique opportunity to learn and grow from a legal environment that few others get the chance to be immersed in at such an early stage in my professional career.
Lastly, in a personal sense, I have provided support and consolation to those who have witnessed immense pain at the hands of wrongful convictions. I have worked with inmates and their families to guide them through our case process and ensure them that as an organization we are there for them. The gratitude that I have received from inmates –many of whom have wrongfully spent decades behind bars—has brought me satisfaction that has been thus far unparalleled in my life, and in turn, I am incredibly proud of the work I have done at NEIP.
As I turn towards the future, NEIP has undoubtedly solidified my interest in the law. While I entered this summer certain of a passion for legal advocacy, and a potential career in public interest law, NEIP has directed me towards an interest in criminal law, in particular, defending individuals without the means to appoint sufficient legal representation. Witnessing the plight of low-income individuals that often culminates in legal troubles has instilled within me a passion for aiding those of less fortunate means. While I may be uncertain as to where I may turn with the legal profession, I am now convinced that law is the proper path for me.
For any student looking to understand the dynamics of the criminal justice system, NEIP would make a great internship for you. At NEIP, interns get the opportunity to form connections with inmates, attorneys, and police departments, working in conjunction to remediate the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. At NEIP, real progress is not an abstract goal, but a tangible thing that can be measured. For those passionate about assisting the least fortunate members of our society, while ensuring that every individual is treated fairly under the law, NEIP would be an incredible organization to work for.
I just finished up my sixth week interning at Lawyers For Children in NYC! Where has the time gone? I knew this internship would be incredibly eye opening and enriching, but I never expected it to be this much so this quickly. I have learned so much in so little time that I am left eager to acquire even more knowledge in the time I have left in New York City.
Here is a recent article from the Wall Street Journal touching on few of the many issues with New York’s Foster Care system today:
First off, living in New York City is an adventure in itself. There’s always so much going on and so much to see. Traveling by subway is an adventure in itself; I never get bored of the slam poetry performances, magic tricks and soul singers! My workplace is situated in the heart of Chinatown and I am also just a short walk from Broadway (which is full of shops and restaurants) and Little Italy! I am living in midtown Manhattan right near Penn Station, which is also a very bustling area. My apartment is very close to the Hudson River Parkway, which is where I complete most of my morning runs! I’ve been able to explore Central Park and West Manhattan while on longer runs over the weekend, which has been a nice break after the long workweek!
(a picture I took in central park during an evening run)
I’ve been incredibly busy at Lawyers For Children. Working everyday from 9:30-5 is quite an adjustment from the college where there are often long breaks throughout the day in between classes. Everyday is different as a forensic social work intern at LFC, which keeps things exciting. I have traveled to all five boroughs in New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island) visiting clients and participating in meetings. I’m so fortunate to have an internship that allows me to get to know the city I’m living in while at work!
As I mentioned, I’ve learned so much at Lawyers For Children already despite only having been there six weeks. Before beginning this internship, I knew that the foster care system does not always provide children with the love, support, and resources that they need and that as a result many children in foster care endure many more hardships than those living in loving families, but I never imagined the extent of those hardships could be as profound as what I’ve seen thus far. Through my work at Lawyers For Children, I’ve learned to view every situation with a fresh set of eyes because the context of these children’s histories can impact their lives in so many ways. It’s important not to make assumptions about a child based on their behavior or by who they are ‘on paper,’ (as they say) because there is always a reason they act and feel the way they do. Before assuming anything at all, it is important to listen.
This is also true in the classroom. When engaging in social, political, economic or any sort of debate, it is important to understand why the person feels a certain way instead of judging them for feeling differently on an issue than you. Sometimes understanding why can even change your point of view!
Above is LFC’s logo/slogan. Taken from lawyersforchildren.org
Here is a link to a few videos of LFC clients describing some of their experiences in foster care and how LFC has helped them.
This is also a very important skill to possess as a social worker or attorney. To develop a relationship with your client, you must understand where they are coming from and why they have certain goals instead of trying to impose your own ideas on them; otherwise it is nearly impossible to develop a constructive, successful relationship from which both parties can benefit! I’m hopeful that I will obtain many more skills as this internship progresses and I am eager to share those with you all at the end of the summer!
While I’ve held steady employment since I was 14 years old, working at the New England Innocence Project this summer has been the first time in my life I have genuinely looked forward to work each and every day. As much as I love being on campus, I could certainly get used to commuting to Boston everyday, walking across the downtown area, and spending time in an office overlooking the Common. However, as much as I enjoy the scenery of downtown Boston, I enjoy NEIP not simply because of the location, but because it’s a place where I am proud of the work I do, and confident in my ability to contribute.
This week marked the arrival of the next intake intern, Freda, who will serve in my position throughout the fall and winter months after I have left NEIP. The task has been given to me to the train Freda and in doing so I now recognize how much there is to learn about the intake position. I’ll be responsible for familiarizing Freda with many of the nearly 4000 applicants that NEIP has been working with since its inception, spreading extensive knowledge about our past and present cases. In addition, I’ll need to show her how the organization functions, by instilling in her an understanding of the online databases, the system of physical files, and the interactions between directors, attorneys, volunteers, and interns. To be effective, I’ll have to transfer to her many of the skills that I have learned from NEIP over the last month, in becoming a better communicator, a more patient individual, and a more organized worker.
By speaking with attorneys on a daily basis, I have learned to communicate more effectively, sounding at times more like a seasoned attorney than an intake intern – to the point where I’ve been called “Attorney Jacobson” more than once. Through experience and repetition, I have become more confident and more helpful when speaking to inmates and applicants as I am better able to answer their questions, predict their responses, and provide guidance throughout our screening process. In becoming a better communicator, I expect it to pay dividends whether I am engaging in discussion in the classroom, or working behind the counter at Einsteins.
In learning the essence of patience, I have become more accommodating and more responsive in my exchanges with the family members of inmates. While I’ve often avoided conflict throughout my life, I no longer fear potentially argumentative interaction with applicants, and instead I look forward to trying to achieve conciliation through patient dialogue. While this newfound patience will undoubtedly benefit my personal life, it should also improve my ability to work with others in an academic setting.
By serving in a position that requires many hats, I have become more organized in my work. One minute, I might be performing drafting a Case Review Committee Memo for an applicant such as Clarence Spivey, the next I might be brainstorming ideas for how to improve our screening process, and the next I might be gathering statistics for a grant, such as the Bloodsworth. Without effective time management, and physical and mental organization, I would struggle to keep up. This should hopefully make me a better studier, and a more productive employee.
It saddens me to recognize that I’ll soon be done at NEIP, but I intend to make the most out of my last month here.
As I approach the half way point of my internship at PFLAG National, I can’t believe how fast it has gone by. So much has happened since I began my internship in June: I’ve written 3 issues of our national policy newsletter Policy Matters; three other amazing interns have joined me in the office with all of us working together to accomplish some serious LGBT advocacy; I’ve attended more events than I can count at places like the White House, various federal agencies, and a range of NGO’s; Pride Month ended; and oh yeah of course, MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!!
Having the opportunity to witness the historic SCOTUS Obergefell v. Hodges decision in action was incredible and to be honest, almost unbelievable. During the decision days, the entire office waited on the edge of our seats anxiously watching SCOTUSblog. When the decision came down on Friday June 26th at 10 in the morning, everyone in the office cheered and many of us interns went over to the Supreme Court to join hundreds of others in celebration. But although the marriage decision was a success, at PFLAG we also wanted to make clear that the fight for LGBT rights was in no way over.
“While we celebrate today’s victory, we are dedicated to continuing and redoubling our advocacy work to secure legislation that explicitly protects people who are LGBTQ from discrimination in the workplace, in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. Now is the time to expand federal law–law which already protects people from discrimination based on race, sex, age, ethnicity, disability, and religion–to include explicit protection from discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” – PFLAG Marriage Equality statement
But in respect to things other than marriage equality, in this past month I have already surpassed all of my initial expectations and goals. By working on Policy Matters as well as various other policy-related PFLAG publications, I have not only learned so much about LGBT advocacy and policy, but also have become up to date on all LGBT current events. Similarly, by attending White House briefings, and working directly on LGBT federal legislation and advocacy, I have truly learned and received first-hand perspective on the political process and all of the research and preparatory work that goes into policy work behind-the-scenes. Finally, by attending countless events and having my supervisor Diego introduce me to more people than I can remember, I have had the opportunity to meet and form important connections with influential figures in the field of LGBTQ advocacy from across the country.
All of these skills, experiences, and connections will prove valuable in the future. I am doing all I can to take in and take advantage of every opportunity offered to me while here in DC and while working at PFLAG National. It has been such a beyond marvelous month so far, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for the month ahead.
On April 13, 2003, having served over 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Dennis Maher walked out of Bridgewater Treatment Center a free man. A victim of eyewitness misidentification, Maher was convicted of several accounts of sexual assault for a series of attacks on young women in Massachusetts during the Fall of 1983. However, having maintained his innocence for nearly two decades, Maher eventually caught the attention of the New England Innocence Project, who utilized newly discovered DNA evidence found in 2001 to bring about his exoneration several years later.
In the decade since his exoneration, Maher has proven to be one of the most inspirational individuals out there. Maher has not only accomplished his goals of finding a job, a wife, having kids, and buying a house within a decade of his release, but has regularly donated his own time and resources to aiding other exonerees in their transition back into society.
Meeting Maher one of my first days at the New England Innocence Project (NEIP) inspired a passion in me that has only grown since. In the short five months I have worked there, NEIP has become as much a part of me as anything else important in my life. NEIP is a non-profit organization that provides pro-bono legal assistance to individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of a crime in one of the six New England States. Since its founding in 2000, NEIP has exonerated a total of 51 wrongfully convicted individuals and counting. At NEIP we work with applicants every day to find the next individual who might’ve slipped through the cracks of the criminal justice system.
This summer at NEIP, I serve as the intake intern. I receive all non-administrative correspondence that enters the organization. On a daily basis, I receive and respond to letters from inmates, emails from their families, and phone calls from attorneys in order to advance applicants through the case review process into the eventual stages of litigation. In addition, I organize meetings for the staff to determine viable applicants, and work with the legal interns to gather all essential case documents. In effect, I serve as the voice of NEIP to guide inmates throughout the screening process, providing a liaison between the staff and the applicants.
Throughout my summer at NEIP, I have several goals which I would like to achieve. Firstly, I hope to gain hands on experience in the legal profession. With NEIP, I have the opportunity to not only learn from law students, staff, and paralegals, but through communication with attorneys, clients, and law enforcement. This is a unique opportunity to be immersed in the legal world at an young age. Secondly, through NEIP I hope to learn more about the criminal justice system through my interaction with the case review process. By reading trial transcripts, post-conviction opinions, and appellate briefs, I hope to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the criminal courts throughout New England. Lastly, through NEIP, I hope to improve the lives of those who have witnessed their lives torn apart by the pain of wrongful convictions. In my correspondence with inmates and their families, I want to leave the impression that whatever they have gone through, they are not alone in this process. All in all, I am honored to work with NEIP, and I look forward to getting more involved.
Monday morning was almost as frantic (if not more) than my first day at Brandeis. I am not an experienced subway-rider, so figuring out which direction the train I was told to take actually goes in was a challenge; let’s just say it’s a good thing I left 45 minutes early! Luckily I arrived early to Lawyers For Children, where I will be spending the majority of my time throughout the next nine weeks. I’d always dreamed of living in New York City, but to be able to live in New York City and do work that I’m passionate about, I couldn’t have asked for more! Before coming to college I knew I was interested in psychology and wanted to pursue a career in which I am able to help people, but I had no idea which direction that goal would take me. A mixture of psychology, sociology, and legal studies courses I’ve taken at Brandeis lead me to aspire to go into law, but with a desire to advocate for those whose voices may not be as strongly heard.
This is the corner of where my office is located. Photo belonging to kurokatta.org
Since I was little, I’ve loved solving mysteries; putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Law allows me to continue that passion. I have to gather my evidence, establish the rule, and present my case. Social work adds a both meaningful and challenging component to that hobby. I never envisioned myself in social work, until interning last summer at a nonprofit that helps low-income and impoverished adults obtain housing, jobs, resources for their family, whatever it may be based on a particular individual’s needs. Before that experience, I never realized how difficult of a challenge it was to navigate (internally) the various governmental institutions that are supposed to help those in need. Who knew it was actually extremely difficult to acquire the benefits that the government rightfully owes you? With this work came immense challenges, however the reward, when achieved, is immeasurable. That’s when I knew, law with an emphasis on public service was my true calling.
That discovery lead me to Lawyers For Children: a legal firm that provides free legal and social work services to children in foster care. Lawyers For Children is unique from other organizations in that an attorney as well as a social worker is assigned to every child, ensuring that each child get the best, most effective and integrative representation and advocacy possible. Attorneys and social workers are trained differently, and therefore have different insights and perspectives to offer on each case, and you know what they say, two heads are always better than one. LFC mostly handles cases of voluntary placement: instances where parents voluntarily place their children into the system, not where the child was removed from the home against their will. To get a better understanding of what that looks like, read this New York times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/01/nyregion/despondent-parents-see-foster-care-as-only-option.html
I am a social work intern at LFC and will shadow a social worker (as well as various LFC attorneys) to get a better understanding of how the two professions come together in the field of child advocacy. I will attend meetings between various agencies working with a specific child, make field visits to their respective placements, attend those children’s cases in court, assist in writing up the result of those meetings, field visits, and court cases, and assist with generating plans-of-action and connecting children with further resources to best help them achieve their goals. Lawyers For Children prides itself on its focus on really listening to the child, thereby providing them with a space where they feel safe and respected. LFC also aims to advocate and educate the public about the many difficulties several groups, such as LGBTQ youth in foster care face. This article by the Wall Street Journal highlights the added difficulties experienced by LGBTQ youth, specially in foster care: http://www.wsj.com/articles/counting-new-yorks-gay-and-transgender-youths-in-foster-care-1433550187
New York County Family Court. Photo by Mark Fader
This summer, I hope to learn more about the interaction between law and social work and what sort of balance between the two produces the best results when working with underprivileged populations and to gain experience in a legal/social work setting that advocates for human rights and social justice. Finally, I hope to gain a better understanding of how the social issues that several minority groups face, like the foster-care population, effect youth in large cities like New York City.
The Truth about “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.”
People have always been fascinated by individuals with mental illness. Legal movies have especially glamorized mentally ill criminals who plead not guilty by reason of insanity. They are portrayed to do the crime and not do the time. But in real life, it appears that NGI clients are doing anything but “getting away with it.”
The truth is, NGI clients have it bad. But before I get into the details, here’s a brief summary of how it works. When someone is brought to criminal court, they have the option to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This means that if the court finds them not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI), it opens a mental health case. Subsequently, NGI clients are committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. This commitment is indefinite.
Let me clarify what “indefinite” means; the patient stays in the hospital for an undefined amount of time, meaning that for the foreseeable future they are given a sentence without an expiration date. The point of this type of commitment is the treatment for the defendant’s illness, as opposed to punishment for a crime.
The minute this happens, the legal rights of the mentally ill shrink to a mere opportunity to petition the court for release every 6 months. In reality, this petition rarely works for the advantage of the NGI patient. One of my mentors informed me that in the Public Defender Service for the past 30 years there have been 2-3 NGI patients that won through petitioning. So the chances of an NGI patient being released because of one of these hearings are minute.
The “Other” Death Row
Committing people who are not dangerous for a week or a month seems unjust. So then what do you call it when people are committed for what is practically a life sentence without even knowing it? During my training at the Public Defender Service , my supervisor Carolyn Slenska, Investigations coordinator at the Mental Health Division, informed me that the average stay for an NGI client is 30 years. Throughout my internship, I have read about and even met NGI clients who have been committed for 30 years and counting.
Last week, there was a film showing on NGI patients in the D.C. Superior Court. In the documentary, “Voices from Within,” Joy Haynes follows the commitments of four NGI patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She and her crew gave cameras to patients at St. E’s who volunteered to participate in a video diary project. They trained them and asked them to record their stories. The documentary presented the real lives of 4 mental health patients who collectively spent 160 years in commitment after being found NGI.
When you sit down and watch the documentary, you forget that you’re following the lives of patients who are supposed to be dangers to themselves or others. You see four high functioning, coherent, cooperative, funny, and relatable human beings. You see men that don’t belong in the hospital. So why are they there? And until when do they have to stay?
Lew, one of the NGI patients, said, “I’m sitting on death row, I just don’t know it.” Tragically, after 47 years of commitment, Lew passed away at 71 years of age. In fact, three of the four men featured in the 2010 documentary have since passed while still in commitment.
Lew also shared a disturbing conversation he had with one of the staff members at the hospital. He states that a staff member told him, “You just stay crazy, you’re putting my kid through school.” All four men featured in the film wanted their freedom. The commitment in the psychiatric hospital is supposed to be about treatment. But after these men get better, after they no longer pose a danger to themselves or other, why are they still there?
Which Side Are You On?
The other day I noticed there is a quotation framed on the walls of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW). It reads: “Take my will and my life. Guide me in my recovery. Show me how to live.” (Note: Coincidentally, I recently visited PIW and after certain renovations, the plaque is off their walls!)
Then I read the quotation in the back of our business cards: “The mission of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia is to provide and promote quality legal representation to indigent adults and children facing a loss of liberty…and thereby protect society’s interest in the fair administration of justice.”
It then became so clear that the mental health system has not escaped the grasp of the adversarial system. There is a clear application of the adversarial process in mental health cases – as in any type of case. On one side, we have the Public Defender Service who tries to get its clients out of the hospital, and on the other side, we have the hospitals that detain and commit people as psychiatric patients. One fights against the loss of individuals’ liberties and the other fights because they know what’s good for the patient. It’s the ultimate battle of lawyers vs. doctors.
An Impossible Burden — Michael Jones v. United States (1983)
Attorneys around the office often bring up this monumental court case, Michael Jones v. US According to this Jones v. US, a patient “has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous.” (Source: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/463/354). The significance of this case, however, lies in the decision that the length of the commitment to a psychiatric hospital is not related to the length of time that the defendant would have spent if he were convicted.
Here’s an example: John Doe steals bubblegum from a candy store and the court finds him not guilty be reason of insanity. He gets an indefinite sentence at a psychiatric ward. In an alternate reality, Mr. Doe would have been found guilty for the misdemeanor. Let’s say Mr. Doe is a repeat offender and gets jail time for 2 years. Regardless of the fact that his criminal conviction would have yielded a 2 year sentence, the psychiatric commitment can “until such time as he has regained his sanity or is no longer a danger to himself or society.” (Jones v. US, 1983). This decision makes sense — the whole process sounds fair enough on paper. Well, in reality the burden that is placed on the patients is immense and nearly impossible to meet.
I see the process as having 3 stages. First, an NGI patient has to be examined by his or her treatment team. If the treatment team recommends the patient’s release, we move onto the second stage. On the second stage, the clinical board reviews the patient’s case and makes a determination. If the clinical review is for the release, we move to the last stage. On the third stage, the clinical review board submits the petition to the court asking for the patient’s release.
Here’s where things get complicated: NGI patients have committed crimes. This means that the government is involved in their case. On the third stage, the government can agree or disagree with the hospital’s recommendation to release the NGI patient. If they agree, then it’s up to the court to decide whether the patient can be released or not. If they disagree, it’s still up to the court, but it’s practically impossible to win release. In other words, the government’s agreement is integral for a real chance at NGI patients’ release.
A Necessary Battle
It would be easy to see the situation as a black and white, good vs. bad, where what we do at PDS is good and what the doctors do is bad. But that’s simply not the case. In the real life of mental health cases, lawyers vs. doctors is a necessary “battle.” PDS has developed strong relationships with the majority of psychiatric and medical doctors in D.C. mental health hospitals and psychiatric wards. The adversarial process is set so that each side fights for the client’s best interest. The attorneys at PDS are assigned to represent the clients. Many patients want to be free, many of them want to get out no matter what. So the attorneys do the best they can to advocate for the clients’ decisions. On the other side of the system, if the patients are in risk or hurting themselves or others, someone has to fight to keep them in the hospital until they get better. So medical staff members do the best they can for the clients’ well being.
In conclusion, when an individual with a mental illness is in court, the judge or jury should be deciding between the two best alternatives for the client – that’s what the adversarial system is supposed to accomplish anyway. Sometimes the court deems it necessary to detain a patient until their mental illness is not a danger. Other times, there is no danger and the court honors the patients’ choices and freedom.
Even so, it seems that NGI patients are giving up their entire lives just waiting to “get better.” There also seems to be no standard for what “better” looks like — it’s a very subjective evaluation with very little accountability attached to the evaluators. In NGI cases, the necessity of a vigorous advocate is evident. After a month at the Mental Health Division of PDS, I have come to appreciate the attorneys’ ability to advocate for exactly what a client asks for, without the insertion of their personal beliefs, the doctors’ recommendations, or a subjective bias. In order for the system to work, I guess each player must do what he or she does best – lawyers fight to get clients out, and doctors fight to keep them in – in the hope that the adversarial process is saving more lives than it condemns.
Wow, I cannot believe that half of my time at Lawyers for Children has flown by already! It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was so nervous to begin a new journey at my internship. I am proud to say that I am now in a place where I have gained more knowledge than I ever could have imagined, and feel as if I have been working with LFC for ages! It feels wonderful to be doing work where I feel like I can make a difference for others.
Before the summer began, I originally stated that my major goal for this process was to use this opportunity to gain insight into my future and really grow as an individual. I believe that this internship is so valuable to me in both academic and career aspects because I am able to learn about what it takes to be a social worker, as well as the more specific topic of how to work within the foster care system. At Brandeis, I am a psychology major hoping to continue on to graduate school after my senior year. However, this can seem daunting because there are so many different options and careers that can come from studying psychology. Do I want to work in human resources? Get a Masters’ degree in social work? Further my education even more for an advanced degree in psychology? Oftentimes it is difficult for those of us studying psychology to get a hands-on experience in the field. I am so fortunate that I am able to get an inside look at the life of a social worker this summer, and I can honestly say it is something I am really considering for my future. Before this summer, I did not have a great understanding of what a social worker actually did. But through working with my supervisor at LFC, I am learning the daily routines of a social worker and am able to picture myself in this position. I am even able to “pick her brain” and find out where she went to school or what courses she recommends in order to further pursue this career.
On an individual level, I am so grateful for and humbled by this experience because I truly feel that every day brings about new challenges for me. The New York City Foster Care System is extremely tough to learn about and work with…and working with these youths each day is something that I have never experienced before. It is so difficult to see kids, who are about my age, struggling to make ends meet or keep their spirits high. But each day I know that I am learning something new and gaining exposure to situations that I could only dream of seeing first hand. More than that, I know I am forming relationships with my clients and can be there for them as a much needed support system. It feels absolutely amazing when I find out that one client has finally passed her GED exam and we are the first call that she makes to celebrate; or when another client has been granted access to her own apartment and wants us to stop by so she can “show it off”. Each time that I speak with a client, not only does it feel great to actually know the specifics of what they are talking about (housing applications, insurance policies, etc.) and see that I am learning factually, but also to know I am making a difference in their lives and helping to improve their situations. I will forever use these skills, especially as I hope to progress into a social work career. I have learned what it takes to create interpersonal relationships and be a professional in this field, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me.
This summer, I am so fortunate to be working as a social work intern with the non-profit advocacy organization Lawyers for Children. Lawyers for Children, or LFC as everyone likes to call it, consists of attorneys and social workers that provide free representation and services to children of New York City who have been either voluntarily placed in foster care, or are involved in cases of abuse, neglect, adoption, or high conflict custody cases.
As an intern, I work under the supervision of my assigned social worker, and I am able to be involved in her cases first hand. This includes reading the cases and writing up case notes, visiting the youth’s foster home or group placement, sitting in on client interviews, and attending court for our youths when necessary. Along with about 20 other legal and social work interns, I also am able to participate in training throughout the summer. This allows the interns to not only learn more about what LFC as an organization seeks to accomplish for the youths, but also take a deeper look into the New York City child welfare system itself and the exact situations that we are fighting for for our clients.
Though I’m sure most people feel this way on their first day, I was incredibly nervous as I was making my way to the offices. However, I was calmed as I walked through the doors and saw crafts and paintings all over the walls created by the LFC clients. Not only that, but the working environment itself was so friendly and all of the employees were beyond welcoming. All of the interns sit together in our own conference room/office space, so we have really been able to get to know each other. There are even a few Brandeis alums in the office which helped to make for an easy transition. It was incredible to me how comfortable I felt at this internship so quickly. Within the first week I, along with the other interns, were really able to hit the ground running and be completely immersed in the organization. I sat in on and observed 4 court cases in Manhattan’s Family Court for a few of our clients. During this time, I sat with my assigned social worker as she interviewed our clients to find out more about their wishes and goals moving forward in their foster care placement cases, and we then relayed this information to the lawyers representing each case. I also was able to visit a mother-child foster care placement home, where all of the residents are aged 16-21 women in the system who have children of their own.
This summer, I’m hoping to learn more about the inner-workings of the New York City foster care system. I am so looking forward to assisting this organization and advocating for our clients to the best of my abilities. Because this is such a hands-on experience, I am excited to learn what it really takes to be a social worker and hopefully determine what path I may follow in the future.
My summer internship presented me with several important goals: to get familiarized with the work of a non-profit organization, and to get involved with community organizing while developing better communication and decision-making skills. During my internship, I worked on various projects with each full-time staff member at the office. My assigned duties included sending out fundraising mailings, updating resources, supervising the housing clinic, participating in staff meetings, organizing and leading a tenant action meeting, and providing English tutoring to the Spanish speaking community. These projects allowed me to gain a wider perspective on the overall workings of the organization. One of the more successful projects this summer was the Tenant Action Group meeting, which had a great turnover of participants. During this meeting, we were able to interact with the community here in Waltham on a much more personal level and gain a deeper understanding of their personal struggles and concerns with regards to housing. It is important to remember that the organization was created for the community, and as such, should continuously strive to understand the exact needs of the community.
As a continuation of my summer experience, I am taking an internship class that will allow me to reflect on my summer internship and understand what types of things interest and engage me, and what kind of working environment could best fit me. This fall, I am also continuing volunteer work as the Housing Clinic’s supervisor. Finally, I will be working at WATCH on various projects such as their 25th anniversary gala, WATCH publicity and marketing, “Barnraisings,” and English tutoring.
Seeing a more personal side of the community and working at a small non-profit gave me a unique insight on poverty, immigration, and discrimination as viewed through the lens of housing law and tenant’s rights. In the future, I am interested in getting a different perspective on these issues – perhaps from the point of view of the legal profession or politics regarding the policy-making side of the issue. After meeting with numerous people affected by the housing law and making use of available government programs (such as Food Stamps, Section 8 Vouchers, SSDI, and RAFT) I can now understand the Waltham community’s perspective on policy making and law enactment.
To students who are interested in this type of work, I would suggest the following: first, familiarize yourself with the resources and laws around the niche of your non-profit. Additionally, work with the full-time staff to enhance your knowledge. Learning an ample amount of completely new material might be hard and takes a long time to achieve, so patience is crucial at the start of the internship. Also, in a lot of instances, I had to work independently on my own projects, setting my own goals and schedule. Being open minded and able to work independently is therefore important. Lastly, advocates that assist people should develop great communication skills and patience when dealing with real-life cases. Eventually, our entire work depends on a better-informed, organized, and assisted community, so the advocates’ job is crucial in conferring the information and aiding in difficult situations.
As an intern at WATCH, my social justice views were challenged daily. At each case, I had to recognize and evaluate whether the person who I am trying to help actually has a bad landlord (or actually suffers from poverty). In a number of instances, I noticed that people were not one hundred percent genuine; nevertheless, it is key to try to help everyone without judging them. On the other hand, I have seen very difficult cases of social injustice, discrimination, unsanitary housing conditions, harassment, and/or structural violence. I believe that the social justice value and perspective are correct and should be implemented widely – I have seen firsthand how people that manage to get help are able to improve their situation and live a better life; however, non-profit workers, advocates, lawyers, and politicians should bear in mind that every story has two sides, and keep a critical mind while trying to determine their response and course of action. Keeping the right perspective is what it takes to be an effective “change agent.”
I want to thank all the staff at WATCH, and especially Daria, WATCH executive director, for a fun and fulfilling summer!
Approaching the midpoint of my internship at WATCH, I can look back and appreciate the progress that I have made since it started almost two months ago. Although I had been familiar with the setting and the work at WATCH from my semester involvement with the Housing Clinic, I had made it a goal to understand and experience firsthand the work of a non-profit organization. WATCH proved to be a great place to get the right perspective about the public sector. The amount of responsibility that I am given at WATCH, as well as the degree to which I am involved with the inner workings of the organization, would have been unheard of had I been employed at a government office, big organization, or larger company. As an intern at WATCH, I have been given the opportunity to work closely with the full-time team, which is comprised of only four people: an Executive Director, Development Director, Office Manager, and Program Manager. In a big organization, I would have worked in a small department, which would have had its own niche objective, and I would not have been able to see the big picture. At WATCH, our staff meetings involve only the full-time staff and me. I am able to learn about every role in great detail, and this experience gives me a great perspective on the management and inner workings of a non-profit organization. *maybe add an example about viewing the annual budget and having a real-life example to what I learn in my economics classes.
My other main goal was to learn more about community organizing and successfully engaging with community leaders to seek action to better the housing situation in Waltham. We decided to schedule a Tenant Action Group meeting (TAG) at the end of this month. In this meeting, community members will get educated about their rights as tenants, and we will try to address a specific housing problem that the people are facing, such as unsanitary and unsafe housing conditions. We are hoping to empower the TAG participants to actively seek change and action from their local representatives – for instance, sending personal letters to them describing the issues they face. The first step we took to schedule this meeting was to compose and send out a mailing to recent Housing Clinic clients inviting them to attend. Next week we are going to call approximately one hundred people to notify them about the meeting. I am very excited about it and cannot wait to get my first taste of community organizing. To learn more about community empowerment and organizing, please visit WATCH Community Organizing page.
I am using several methods to keep track of my personal progress and growth. I have a Google document in which I write down everything I do; projects, activities, people helped, etc. I track clinic progress under four categories: Walk-Ins, Emails, Phone Calls, and Letters that we empower tenants to write to their ward councilors, which are the representatives of each ward in Waltham in the local government. In the first period, we had 26 Walk-Ins, 9 emails, and 32 phone calls. We did not write letters to ward councilors because we are still working on implementing letter writing to the intake process.
At the beginning of my internship, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work, follow-ups, and resources I was told to update. At this point, however, I feel that I am finally on top of my work and I am now much more experienced than when I started. I spent a great deal of time learning about the Massachusetts housing law, and about different resources that I can offer as an advocate. I feel proud that I can assist the clients that come into the Housing Clinic and actually be able to help them with their struggles. Since I started, we have had a couple of success stories, such as a family who got their security deposit back from their landlord after two years of court disputes with the support of WATCH. Also, we helped a number of households communicate with their landlords and demand repairs to their apartments in order to improve their living conditions. Besides increasing my knowledge of the law and assisting people, I feel that through personal contact with real people and real situations, I become a better communicator and problem solver. Working at the Housing Clinic entails rationalizing, thinking critically, and assessing the problems I encounter. It is gaining skills like these that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I believe that they will prove invaluable as my career path develops.
It is so crazy to think that I have finally completed my internship with Massachusetts Survivors Outreach. This will have to go down as one of the hardest summers of my life because of the high expectations and short turn around time to get all the work done. I met so many incredible people this summer who I will continue to connect with even though we are all leaving back to school. Within the span of three months, M.A.S.O has taken huge strides. We have become a non profit organization, fundraised over $5,000, and even secured an office space in Quincy. M.A.S.O has gone from a small organization into a huge Non-Profit organization that is recognized by other organizations such as Dove.
This experience will help me throughout my Brandeis career because M.A.S.O has showed me first hand how hard work can trump over all other factors. Brandeis has taught me to question all things, even how straight forward the concept and this has made my experience with M.A.S.O much more fulfilling. Combining these two life long lessons, I feel, is an ideal that people strive to learn but never get the chance to learn first hand but I have.
After completing this internship however, there is so much more I want to look into and learn. I want to become more familiar with the court proceeding process in all kinds of courts. Since I spent all my time in family court and working with victims of domestic violence, my experience with with diverse kinds of victims and proceedings is limited. I want to know how criminal and juvenile court proceeding work as well. I also want to try and complete my research that I started with M.A.S.O on the Economic Strain Within the Family Court System and maybe even write a thesis. All of the knowledge that I have soaked-up through out the summer makes me want to write it all down. I guess all of these Brandeis courses have drilled that kind of process in my head so where I actually want to write a long paper. HA HA!
The best advice that I would give a perspective intern is to be open to new ideas and get as many jobs you can handle during your internship. It will make the experience so much more fulfilling at the end of it all. I was hired as the pre-health intern but I did not only do research. I worked with the Business and Law students and helped them out as much as I could and from that experience, I was able to utilize not only my pre-health knowledge but also work on other areas that I could be interested in.
One of the main things that I have learned this summer is that action, even for a good cause, starts with one person. Just because you do not have the big following or the recognition that you expected, you must keep moving forward. I did not understand the concept of good organizations that help fight for great causes failing before it gets started. No matter how good your cause, you must keep fighting for it even when you think everything is going to be okay.
I just finished my first full week as an intern at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) in Boston, MA, which is a national non-profit organization composed of a network of legal professionals who provide legal assistance and support to immigrant communities and their legal practitioners and advocates. The NIPNLG seeks to promote justice and equality by both defending and advancing the rights of immigrants. We focus on assisting five major categories of immigrant communities: those facing criminal charges with consequences of deportation, survivors of crimes and domestic violence, those facing raids or immigration enforcement action, non-citizens who want complete freedom of political expression, and non-citizens living with HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to provide immigrants and their attorneys the support and guidance they need in defending their rights. The legal process can be very confusing and daunting for non-citizens who cannot afford attorneys’ fees. The organization’s success depends on the dedication of its staff and members who provide crucial technical assistance. Our role is to provide useful information and set up connections between attorneys and immigrants.
My responsibilities will include assisting both the Director of Development and Communications and the Staff Attorneys on various administrative, legal, and development projects throughout the summer. My first project is creating a program book for an upcoming reception at an American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conference which honors one of our members who has done outstanding work to defend immigrants’ rights within the past year. Click here for the story of one of the immigrants whom he represented and successfully defended. Another component of my experience at the NIPNLG will be communicating with immigrants who are currently detained in prisons all over the country who are looking for a pro bono attorney or legal advice. As we receive these letters, the staff splits them up, and everyone is responsible for responding to detainees with the resources they have requested. Through this ongoing project, I hope to better understand both the legal aspects of immigration and the areas in which our legal system does not support immigrants’ needs and rights.
I found and secured this internship with the tremendous help of a Brandeis professor and colleague of an NIPNLG member. Through this connection, I contacted the Director of Legal Advocacy and set up an interview before I went abroad for the spring semester. Though they usually only take law student interns, they created a unique position for me that both fit their needs and my summer learning goals. I feel very welcomed and needed in the office, and I am very excited to continue to learn about how a small non-profit functions and how it contributes to the greater picture of advancing immigrant rights. I also hope to explore options for graduate school and/or a possible future legal or non-profit career having to do with social justice.
Here is a picture of my desk: I already feel like a contributing member to the important work that the staff does. They really try to include me in the office culture. I look forward to contributing to the NIPNLG’s goals.
Hello! My name is Harold Salinas. I’m an intern at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). MCAD is the state agency charged with enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws in the areas of employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations, mortgage, and lending. State law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, genetics, military status, and retaliation. In addition to these bases, the Massachusetts fair housing law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of children, public assistance, veteran status, and marital status.
The MCAD has offices in Boston, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester. I’m currently working in the Boston site. Although I do receive training on housing, employment and public accommodation laws, my responsibilities focus mainly on MCAD’s community outreach program. The Commission’s “Spreading Education to End Discrimination” project (“S.E.E.D.”) aims to provide information about civil rights in the workplace, housing, public accommodations and other areas to members of populations that are likely to experience discrimination.
As a S.E.E.D. intern, I have participated in five days – during my first week – of intensive training on discrimination law, the MCAD complaint process, and presentation skills. Following this training, I have started contacting numerous community organizations that serve disenfranchised populations to introduce them to the outreach program and, wherever possible, work with them to plan outreach programs on site. As I succeed in scheduling programs, I will travel to the sites to deliver informational presentations. At each presentation, I will offer participants the opportunity to initiate the complaint process by meeting with him/her one-on-one to complete an intake form following the program.
My first week here has been fantastic and while eight hours of training for a whole week may seem intense, I have learned so much already and I’m excited for the experience I will gain this summer. My impressions overall are very positive. The work environment is friendly but at the same time very serious. The other three interns I work with are well qualified and we all seem to be on the same boat in terms of our obligations here at MCAD. I have begun to establish a good relationship between my supervisor and I. She is a very smart, humble and respected woman, and I’m looking forward to learning so much from her this summer.
I grew up in Boston, and I’m bilingual in Spanish. I’m a passionate advocate for Latinos, African-Americans, and low wage workers. As a Legal Studies minor, my goal is to use this internship opportunity to expand my skills as a public speaker, and learn more about the law and legal proceedings. This position will offer an ideal setting for me to reach my goals.
Walking through the door on my first day at Family Violence Law Center, I felt a rush of excitement. After months of searching, emailing and seemingly endless games of phone tag, I had finally arrived!
Family Violence Law Center strives to end domestic violence and provides a great deal of services to survivors, such as a crisis hotline, legal assistance and emergency aid. My internship here will consist of a little bit of all three; in addition to working on the crisis hotline answering calls, I will be doing client intakes (essentially vetting clients to determine if they are eligible for our legal assistance). Through the combination of these two tasks, I end up serving as a temporary case manager, helping clients navigate the murky waters of trauma’s aftermath. We have a large comprehensive list of other agencies in the area that provide services that an individual might need- from shelters to the district attorney’s office to self-help family law facilitating centers- so that if we cannot help someone, we can find them someone who can. Pictured below is what we affectionately call our “Bible”:
Since I had already complete 40 hours of official domestic violence training in Massachusetts, FVLC is allowing me to skip certain aspects of training that new staff members generally have to go through. However, I didn’t realize the extent to which they were going to extend this liberty until the first day. I had just been given my first tour of the office by one of the crisis line advocates when she was told she and my supervisor had a webinar (a seminar via webcam), which would leave the hotlines unattended. She turned to me, an hour into my first day, and said, “Alright, are you ready to answer some calls?”
That beautiful (albeit terrifying) and immediate acknowledgement of trust has proved to be fairly standard procedure. On my second day I was already working on legal intakes with new clients- a task normally preceded by at least 16 hours of training. The office atmosphere is similarly exciting and fast-paced; each client has a different story, a new challenge, a completely unique puzzle that needs to be solved instantly. We are lucky enough to be located in a building that houses the District Attorney’s office, a childcare center, and other organizations whose interests often overlap with ours in a complementary manner (i.e. MISSEY is located downstairs, a non-profit for youth who have been sexually exploited). Everyone seems genuinely pleased to be working together, which adds to the lovely work environment here!
I’m definitely looking forward to what this summer will bring!