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Reentry in California - Overcoming Legal Barriers to Community Reintegration Following Incarceration 2014

Speaker(s): Deep Kaur Jodhka, Donté Blue, Eliza Hersh, Jesse Stout, Manuel La Fontaine, Meredith Desautels, Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, Nisha S. Ajmani, Rachel Johnson-Farias
Recorded on: Aug. 15, 2014
PLI Program #: 50023

Equal Justice Works Fellow, Starting Over Strong, Sponsored by the Morrison Foerster Foundation, Clean Slate Practice

Rachel Johnson-Farias first came to East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) as a law student intern in 2011, and stayed until her graduation from Boalt in 2012.  As a law student, Rachel received the Francine Diaz Memorial Award for her commitment to social justice.  That commitment inspired Rachel to create a project that extends EBCLC’s adult reentry services to young people.  The result is Starting Over Strong (SOS); a project which provides holistic reentry legal services to young people in Alameda County hoping to seal their juvenile records.  The work of the SOS project has inspired California state legislation that seeks to ease access to the record sealing remedy.  As an Equal Justice Works Fellow serving Bay Area youth, Rachel embodies the mission of the East Bay Community Law Center: to promote justice and build a community that is more healthy, secure, productive and hopeful.

Manuel La Fontaine is an Organizer for All of Us or None – a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.  He helps build the voices, visibility, and leadership of people and communities most impacted by incarceration.  Manuel has extensive community organizing, relationship building, and facilitation experience.  As a former captive and survivor of California’s Dept. of Corrections, better known as the Punishment System by its survivors, he strives to help transform the narrative on how current and formerly-incarcerated people are framed by dominant society to one that promotes a culture of healing through restorative & transformative practices.  Prior to joining All of Us or None in 2008, Manuel was the outreach coordinator for Project Rebound, a unique program helping formerly-incarcerated people obtain educational objectives at San Francisco State University.  He was also formerly with the Second Chance Program in E.O.P.S at City College of San Francisco.

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez
Senior Staff Attorney, National Employment Law Project (NELP)

Michelle works with state and local advocates across the country in their efforts to reduce barriers to employment for people with arrest and conviction records, with a focus on California.  She is also leading NELP’s efforts to promote fair chance hiring campaigns nationally and co-authored 65 Million “Need Not Apply”: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment (2011).  Before joining NELP, Michelle was a Senior Staff Attorney at Public Advocates, a non-profit law firm and advocacy organization in San Francisco.  She serves on the board of Common Counsel Foundation.

Jesse Stout joined Legal Services for Prisoners with Children as Policy Director in May of 2013, and is passionate about reducing the harms of incarceration. Jesse is a criminal defense attorney and longtime criminal justice activist. He also enjoys concerts, Scrabble, and science fiction. Jesse first entered community organizing through the drug policy reform movement, and is a former board member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. He is a graduate of Brown University and UC Hastings College of the Law. During law school, he was an intern with the California Assembly Public Safety Committee, analyzing legislation and making vote recommendations to the chairman, Assm. Tom Ammiano. Before attending law school, Jesse served as the executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. In this role, he organized the medical marijuana patient community and helped draft legislation; the RI Medical Marijuana Act ultimately overcame three gubernatorial vetoes, protecting thousands from arrest.

Meredith Desautels is an attorney and fellow with the Youth Justice unit at Bay Area Legal Aid. Funded through the Rosenberg Foundation's Leading Edge Fellowship, Meredith's work focuses on strategies for reducing youth incarceration in juvenile halls and camps. Prior to joining Bay Area Legal Aid, Meredith spent several months of her fellowship representing youth in delinquency proceedings through the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. Meredith was previously a staff attorney at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, where she used litigation and legislative strategies to advance civil rights and racial justice in the criminal justice system. She also directed the Lawyers' Committee's Second Chance Legal Clinic, which provides free legal services to people facing barriers due to a past criminal record. Meredith clerked for Judge Noonan on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law.

A Bay Area native, Donté Blue worked on reentry and reintegration issues across the state of California for the past six years. For three years, in partnership with A New Way of Life, Donté was a Co-Chair of the Reentry Legal Clinic, the largest of its kind in southern California. After graduating from UCLA Law School, he began his legal career with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area where he assisted clients from the organization's Second Chance Legal Clinic with criminal record remedies, and in their pursuit of occupational licenses. Currently as a Staff Attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, he has continued his commitment to helping individuals remove barriers to their full reintegration back into their communities. In this role, he has been able to help individual with a wide range of civil legal issues including the protection of housing rights, family reunification, and overcoming driver's license suspensions.

Deep Kaur Jodhka is a Supervising Attorney in Bay Area Legal Aid's Economic Justice unit in Oakland, California where she provides Social Security and SSI advocacy for low-income clients with disabilities, with a specific focus on assisting individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated in county jail. Prior to working in the Economic Justice unit, Deep worked as a reentry attorney, providing wrap-around civil legal services to formerly incarcerated individuals and veterans in areas such as housing and public benefits. In her free time, Deep serves on the working board of Sikh Family Center, an organization devoted to providing meaningful access to resources for immigrant families in the United States. She is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley School of Law and received B.A. degrees in Chemistry and Communication from University of California, Davis.

Eliza is a 2016 Soros Justice Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Berkeley Law School's Center for the Study of Law & Society. From 2006 to 2016, Eliza was a clinical instructor and directed the Clean Slate Reentry Legal Services Practice at the East Bay Community Law Center, which is a teaching clinic of Berkeley Law School. The Clean Slate Practice developed innovative strategies in criminal, consumer rights, and administrative law, as well as policy advocacy and impact litigation that empowered people to overcome barriers to employment, education, housing, and civic engagement following contact with law enforcement.

Nisha Ajmani is a staff attorney at HERA. She focuses her work on tenant advocacy, including helping tenants resolve issues related to credit reporting, debt collection, housing discrimination, habitability, and landlord disputes.

Prior to joining HERA, Nisha was a Housing Staff Attorney at Family Violence Law Center, in Oakland, where she advocated on behalf of domestic violence survivors who were dealing with housing legal issues. Her work there included in-court representation of survivors in obtaining restraining and move-out orders and defending against evictions. Nisha has also spent a substantial portion of her legal career advocating on behalf of system-involved youth.

Nisha was a summer legal intern at HERA in 2011 and a post-graduate attorney fellow at HERA in 2013. Nisha earned her J.D. in 2012 from the University of Oregon School of Law.