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Reentry in California – Overcoming Legal Barriers to Community Reintegration 2016


Speaker(s): Adam Poe, Craig Davis, Darris Young, Eliza Hersh, Ellen McDonnell, Janice Bellucci, Kristina Harootun, Sarah Crowley, Theresa Zhen
Recorded on: Aug. 12, 2016
PLI Program #: 150608

Theresa joined EBCLC’s Clean Slate Practice in 2016. Prior to joining EBCLC, Theresa was a Skadden Fellow at A New Way of Life Reentry Project in South Central Los Angeles, where she directed a Fines and Fees Project focused on traffic court debt and driver’s license suspensions. Theresa is a graduate of UCLA Law School’s David J. Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program and the Critical Race Studies Program. While in law school, she interned for the Federal Defenders of the Central District of California, the Bronx Defenders, and the Southern Center for Human Rights. Prior to law school, she worked at a civil rights law firm representing individuals who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes that they did not commit. She is committed to pursuing economic justice for people leaving prisons and jails and creating opportunities for people who are rebuilding their lives after involvement with the criminal justice system.


Ellen McDonnell has been a Deputy Public Defender with the Contra Costa County Public Defender's Office for the last 16 years and currently serves as the Department’s first AB109 Reentry Coordinator.  During her time at the Public Defender’s Office, she has represented clients in cases ranging from misdemeanors to homicides and has worked in a broad range of assignments, including felonies, juvenile delinquency, mental health and specialty courts.  During her time in felonies, she focused on mental health issues and handled numerous serious felony cases involving mental health and NGI defenses. 

As a Deputy Public Defender, she has worked to practice “holistic” criminal defense and has participated in collaborative courts including Adult and Juvenile Drug Court, Proposition 36 Court, Felony Alternative Drug Sentencing Court (FADS), Behavioral Health Court and Domestic Violence Court.  She served as the Public Defender representative to Behavioral Health Court and other specialty courts for several years and during this time refined her ability to work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders from different departments, including the District Attorney, the Sheriff, Probation, and Mental Health, while always providing zealous advocacy for her clients. 

Since the passage of Proposition 47 in November of 2014, she has been tasked with her department’s Prop 47 implementation, coordination, and outreach. This includes overseeing an expansion of the department’s Clean Slate and Prop 47 programs.  In this capacity, she has increased community outreach and obtained grants from various foundations to support this important work.  As the Reentry Coordinator, she supervises the department’s reentry programs and develops innovative and collaborative programs that reduce recidivism.  She is active in a statewide Criminal Court Fines & Fees work group and is a founding member of the Contra Costa County Traffic Court Reform work group.  

Ms. McDonnell is currently a member of the Judicial Council’s “Ability to Pay” work group and Californian’s for Safety and Justice’s Second Chances Advisory Committee.  Recently, she has served as a member of the LEAD Executive Steering Committee at the Board of State and Community Corrections where she helped to develop programs that will divert those arrested for certain offenses to community-based mental health, drug treatment and other social services. 

She is also a member of the California Public Defender’s Association, the National Association of Pretrial Services, the California Association of Pretrial Services, the Bay Area Proposition 47 Implementation Group and the Contra Costa Pretrial Services work group.   

She has presented to various groups statewide about the barriers to reentry, the impact of fines and fees, the Clean Slate Program, and Proposition 47.  These groups include the Center for Court Innovation, the California Public Defender’s Association, the Legal Aid Association of California, the Pro Bono Training Institute, The Practising Law Institute, The California Revenue Officer’s Association, the California Law Academy Support Council, the Reentry Solutions Group, the Safe Return Project, CCISCO, and various other governmental, reentry, faith-based, and community groups.  She speaks fluent Spanish and has worked closely with the Latino community throughout her years as an attorney.   


I was born in Oakland, California, and raised in Berkeley until the age of twelve. My family then moved seven miles to the city of El Cerrito.

Growing up in the city of Berkeley in the mid 60’s and early 70’s, a time when the city was characterized as being radical and liberal, I witnessed with great interest but lack of understanding the riots that took place in Berkeley in 1967 and 1971. It was also during that time period where I witnessed on the streets of Berkeley and North Oakland, members of the Black Panther Party for SelfDefense dressed in their signature black berets and black leather jackets, holding rallies decrying the police brutality that was being practiced on African Americans, and white students alike who were protesting the
Vietnam war, by police departments across the country . It was those scenes that I locked away in my mind as a child growing up in Berkeley that would eventually shape my life towards one of service and activism.

I graduated from El Cerrito High School in 1979 where I played 3 years of varsity football. I was a starter on the 78 team, my senior year, that won the first league title in school history. After graduating from High School. I went on to Diablo Valley Community College for two years (7981) where I earned an AA degree in Social Science, while I continued to pursue my aspirations of playing division one college football.

After graduating from Diablo Valley College I transferred to Washington State University in the fall of 1981, where I pursued a major in Criminal Justice. However my stay at WSU was short lived. I left the school after only one year (19811982) due to my not being able to fulfill my football aspirations. In looking back on my life It was that decision that had a great future impact on the path that my life would eventually travel.

In January of 1985, at the age of 23, I was hired by the Richmond Police Department. Upon my being hired by the Richmond PD I was sent to the police academy at Los Medanos Community College in Pittsburg, California, where I was voted in as the class vice president.

It had become a lifelong dream of mine to become a police officer. That aspiration was born in me out of my witnessing as a young boy the scenes on the nightly news coming out of the South of police beating and sicking their dogs on both black and white Civil Rights protesters. It became my thinking that as an African American police officer I could impact communities of color for the better.

However, my fulfilled dream of becoming a police officer was short lived. Upon graduating from the police academy in May of 1985, I was terminated from the Richmond Police Department after only six weeks into a fifteen week field training period for unsubstantiated allegations brought against me.

My being fired from the Richmond police Department at 23 years of age greatly impacted the course of my life for the worst. For shortly after my termination I became caught up in the Crack Cocaine craze of the mid 80’s. And not to long afterward, my use of Crack saw me having gotten caught up in the criminal justice system so much so that by the time that the state passed it’s 3 Strikes law in March of 1994, I had already amassed three qualifying serious felony convictions.

In July of 1995, while already on parole for what was my second robbery conviction I committed my third robbery. That crime saw me tried and convicted under the 3 Strikes law by Alameda County DA Matthew Gold. In February of 1998, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carl Morris sentenced me to 36 years to life.

In June of 1998, 120 days after I had been given a sentence of 36 years to life, Judge Carl Morris with the blessing of DA Matthew Gold recalled that sentence. In exchange Judge Morris handed down to me a determinate sentence of 20 years. I served 17 years on that sentence, paroling in July of 2012. Moreover, I paroled from prison with 18 years of sobriety. As of today I have been clean and serene for 18 years and 8 months.

While serving my 20 year sentence I earned in 2007 my entry level Substance Abuse Counselor 1 certification from the “Association of Christian Alcohol and Drug Counselors Institute” (ACADC) of Yucaipa, California. And in 2009, I earned through that same institute their Associates degree of Drug, Alcohol and Addictions Counseling.

Since paroling from prison, in March of 2013 I became certified as a Domestic Violence Counselor through Building Futures with Woman and Children of San Leandro. In June of 2013, I became certified as a Youth Violence Prevention/Intervention Street Outreach Worker through Dr. Joseph Marshall’s Omega Boys Club institutes “Alive & Free Prescription For Violence” training.

I am currently pursuing the completion of my full substance abuse counselor certification through the ACADC Institutes Dual Bachelors of Ministry degree program in Addiction Studies. In the fall I will be enrolling in a four year accredited degree completion program still to be determined.

I have interned as a Substance Abuse Counselor in 2012, and 2013, at Oaklands Teen Challenge, and also at Oaklands CityTeam Ministries drug program. I also worked as a student Intern for CityTeam as a Field Outreach Missionary in violence prevention, participating in the Oakland Community Organizations (OCO’S) Life Line to Healing Friday night violence prevention walks in East Oakland. Lastly, In 2013, I interned as a Domestic Violence Counselor/Facilitator at Allen Temple Baptist Churches Domestic
Violence Court program.


Craig Davis is a consumer protection attorney based in San Francisco, CA. He has worked on several cases involving claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and California's Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA), including a pending Ninth Circuit appeal defending the constitutionality of ICRAA. Before starting his own practice, Craig was an associate at Latham & Watkins LLP and regularly volunteered with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a graduate of NYU School of Law.


Janice M. Bellucci has been an attorney for more than 30 years.  She founded California Reform Sex Offender Laws, a statewide non-profit dedicated to protecting the Constitution by restoring the civil rights of sex offenders and currently serves as President of that organization.  In that capacity, Janice is challenging residency restrictions adopted by cities and counties which virtually banish sex offenders.  In the recent past, Janice filed a series of 30 lawsuits in federal court that led to the eradication of proximity restrictions for sex offenders.     

Janice also successfully challenged laws passed by the City of Simi Valley, the City of Orange and the CA Department of Corrections that required sex offenders to post a sign on the front door of their home stating they were sex offenders on Halloween.  The judge in the Simi Valley lawsuit granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) which prevented that city from enforcing that requirement.

Janice led the nation’s first sex offender protest in the City of Carson on March 7, 2015, the 50-year anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to highlight a city law that prohibits sex offenders from visiting both public and private places.  Janice obtained the first stay of enforcement from Jessica’s Law in the County of Santa Barbara for a sex offender suffering from terminal liver cancer who would otherwise be homeless.

Janice has helped to reunite families by negotiating revised parole conditions that allow registered citizens to live with their spouses and/or children.  Janice also represented California RSOL at the August 2015 National Conference of State Legislators and has made presentations to the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and California Sex Offender Management Board.

Previously, Janice served as an attorney for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Air Force at Los Angeles Air Force Base and in the Pentagon and NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.


Kristina Harootun is a Ford Foundation Post-Graduate Fellow after previously working at the Lawyers’ Committee as a summer Ford Fellow. Kristina’s focus is on advancing racial justice through reentry legal services and criminal law reform. Kristina is a graduate of New York University School of Law. During law school, she interned with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Office and the Legal Aid Society. She was also a judicial extern to the Honorable Goodwin Liu of the California Supreme Court.


Sarah Crowley directs the Clean Slate Practice at East Bay Community Law Center, where she leads the group's efforts to challenge systemic barriers to employment and licensing for people with criminal records through impact litigation.  She previously litigated civil rights cases on behalf of plaintiffs challenging police and prosecutorial misconduct, in addition to other complex civil litigation, as an associate at the San Francisco firm Gross Belsky Alonso and the New York City civil rights firm Neufeld Scheck & Brustin.  Sarah served as a law clerk for United States District Judge Lawrence M. McKenna, in the Southern District of New York, and is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School.


Adam joined Bay Area Legal Aid in 2008 as a housing attorney in the Contra Costa Office and has been managing attorney in that office since May 2018. Adam became the first dedicated reentry attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in 2012 and took on the role of regional project coordinator for the growing reentry unit shortly thereafter.

In his housing practice Adam has represented hundreds of low-income and disabled clients in Unlawful Detainers and administrative hearings in Contra Costa. He maintains a case load of housing and reentry cases and is involved in efforts to support individuals with criminal records achieve stability through housing and employment advocacy.

Adam serves on several regional task forces and steering committees, including the Reentry Community Advisory Board (CAB), the Reentry Success Center, the Youth Justice Initiative and the Alliance to End Abuse. He has trained hundreds of attorneys, advocates and service providers on Fair Housing issues and the housing rights of individuals with criminal records.

Education: DePaul College of Law (2006); Michigan State University, B.S. Pol. Sci (1999)

Practice Area: Housing, Reentry

Bar Admission: California, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California


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.