Over the last year, students in the UDC Law Youth Justice Clinic, directed by Prof. Mae C. Quinn, have worked on cases and projects that affect young people, from providing education and support to individuals in secure detention facilities to filing briefs with the Supreme Court to advancing the right to vote from behind bars and advocating at juvenile court hearings.

Pushing Back Against Qualified Immunity

This fall, the Youth Justice Clinic joined with the Appellate Clinic at Washington University in St. Louis to ask the United States Supreme Court to set aside a finding of qualified immunity in Goffin v. Ashcraft, a police brutality case. UDC’s amicus brief – filed on behalf of several D.C.-area criminal justice reform groups led by women of color – addressed this country’s history of race-based policing and its harmful impact on communities of color, including Black youth. 

From left: Niara Houston, Prof. Mae Quinn, Tatiana Hilaire, Cynthia Rollins, Asha Burwell

Juris Libertas

The Youth Justice Clinic also launched Juris Libertas over the summer, a project in which law students deliver instruction to incarcerated loved ones – youth as well as adults incarcerated during their youth. The goal of the project is to empower system-involved young people with legal information, develop their public speaking and self-advocacy skills and provide support during their proceedings and beyond. For instance, clinic students have appeared at juvenile court hearings for resident students, delivered written and oral testimony in court and provided reentry assistance including voting rights and career path information.

According to one resident student who participated in the program this spring, “The class was awesome! I loved it – it was very informative & helpful for me on a public [and] personal level … it was good hearing from different students with different information [and] facts. Loved it!”

Through Juris Libertas’s community of learning, law students come away with new insights too. “Working directly with [young] people in the system who have been through law-related experiences themselves is definitely helpful” in learning the law, said clinic student Ashley Taylor, who worked with Juris Libertas over the summer.

 “They know practically what’s going on and where the gaps are and things that get overlooked. In law school, we learn how the law is supposed to work, but in reality, that’s not always happening.” Thus, the insights of Juris Libertas resident students, as well as other YJC community partners, have helped to shape the clinic’s further research and advocacy efforts.

Juris Libertas began at the D.C. jail and has expanded to the NOVA Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria, which houses individuals from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. who are between the ages of 14 and 19.

“Free to Vote” in Virginia

The Clinic is also involved in efforts to advance voting rights for incarcerated individuals, including eligible youth. At the intersection of youth, the criminal system and voting rights, students worked with the Criminal (In)justice Reform Network to share Free to Vote: Virginia Defender Resource Packet, a document with “information about the changing landscape of voting rights of incarcerated voters in Virginia.” The packet was distributed to public defenders in Virginia.

In October, clinic student Tatyana Hopkins, who helped develop the resource guide, spoke at De-Facto Disenfranchisement: Ensuring the Freedom to Vote in Jail, held by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). Part of a lineup of experts and advocates, Hopkins discussed the impediments to voting faced by individuals held in secure facilities, emphasizing the disproportionate impact on youth of color. The full event is available at the NACDL site, and Hopkins begins sharing her thoughts at the 58-minute mark.

Arresting Disenfranchisement Project

The Clinic is involved in other accountability efforts to ensure those involved in the justice system retain their rights. In Georgia, the clinic has been working in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center and filed 40 FOIA requests to gather information related to the voting practices in the state’s jails. Based on the responses to date suggesting most Georgia jails have no policies in place to support jail-based voting, the Clinic is working on an issue brief to educate stakeholders and call for improved practices.

Transparency in bail hearings

In Prince George’s County (MD), students have worked with Life After Release and Harriet’s Wildest Dreams to remotely monitor bail review hearings during the pandemic, leading to several related advocacy projects. For instance, clinic students have called for continued remote access to bail review hearings after courts reopened, including in an op-ed written by clinic student Asha Burwell and Prof. Quinn.

The court observation project has also led to investigation and advocacy around initial bail hearings that generally take place behind closed doors at the Prince George’s County jail, with no family present, even for children facing criminal charges. Clinic students, including Taylor, demanded access to the initial bail hearings at the jail and were denied, leading the clinic to file FOIA requests for information pertaining to the closed-door hearings to shed light on the practice and hold the system accountable for its actions. As a result, the clinic has learned that in 2021 alone, over 6,000 persons were shuttled through the jail-based hearing system and will soon release a report sharing its findings and calling for an end to clandestine court practices.

Child Humanitarian Refugee Assistance Project

In Fall 2021, students joined Professor Kristina Campbell in a section of the Youth Justice Clinic focused on working with individuals who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied immigrant children. Professor Campbell’s Child Humanitarian Refugee Assistance Project partnered with Catholic Charities in D.C., and students have engaged in humanitarian immigration applications for children, often survivors of trauma and abuse.

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