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Reentry in California – Overcoming Legal Barriers to Community Reintegration 2017


Speaker(s): Ali Saidi, Avni Desai, Brandon L. Greene, CT Turney-Lewis, Danielle Mahones, Ellen McDonnell, Emily Harris, Eva J. DeLair, Jay Jordan, John Jones III, Joseph Calderon, Jude Pond, Kara J. Portnow, Maureen Slack, Meredith Desautels, Sarah Crowley, Taina Vargas-Edmond, Theresa Zhen, Vinuta Naik
Recorded on: Aug. 11, 2017
PLI Program #: 180313

Taina Vargas-Edmond is the Lead Fellow with the Essie Justice Group, an Oakland-based organization that provides healing and advocacy support to women with incarcerated loved ones. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Initiate Justice, which engages people directly impacted by incarceration in the California ballot proposition process. As a woman with an incarcerated loved one, her work focuses on policy reforms that aim to chip away at mass incarceration.

Prior to joining Essie and founding Initiate Justice, Taina worked as a State Campaigner for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and as a Field Representative for the California State Assembly. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from California State University, Northridge, and a Master’s degree in Diplomacy and International Relations from Seton Hall University.


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.


CT Turney-Lewis is the senior staff attorney at A New Way of Life Reentry Project, focusing on adult clean slate remedies, occupational licensing, and other means of reducing and overcoming barriers to employment for people with conviction histories.  From 2011 to 2015, CT headed the Reentry Legal Clinic at ANWOL, the largest clean slate clinic in Southern California, representing clients in nearly 1,000 clean slate petitions each year, and resulting in a published decision to clarify eligibility requirements for dismissal under P.C. 1203.4 (People v. Parker, 217 Cal.App.4th 498 (2013)).  CT’s work at ANWOL has also included litigation to enforce access to courts for people pursuing clean slate remedies, and assisting efforts to develop local Ban the Box policies in Los Angeles County.

CT earned their J.D. from UCLA School of Law, with specializations in Public Interest Law and Policy, and Critical Race Studies.  Prior to coming to Los Angeles, CT earned a B.A. in Communication from Rutgers University, and worked for eight years as a software technical writer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  They still bleed black and gold.


Danielle Mahones has been leading racial and economic justice work for over 2 decades.

She served as the executive director of the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO), a national racial justice organizing and training institution. While there she co-founded the Black Organizing Project (BOP) in Oakland as well Black Organizing for Leadership Development (BOLD) a national Leadership Training Program aimed at strengthening Black leaders in the social justice movement.   Prior she spent 10 years building the labor movement by successfully organizing campaigns for service workers (janitors, hotel workers, campus workers and hospital workers) to win union representation and improve working conditions through strong collective bargaining agreements.

She has worked as an independent consultant to labor, community and philanthropic organizations. Most recently she has been working with the UC Berkeley Labor Center and providing program and capacity building support to build the Bay Area Black Worker Center. She coordinates the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County and its campaign to win the Alameda County Re-Entry Hiring Initiative. She is the board chair of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.  She lives in Oakland with her young son, octogenarian parents and loves jazz.


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.   


Jude Pond began a two-year tenure as LCCR’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Fellow in September 2016. Awarded to an attorney who has practiced for a minimum of two years and has demonstrated a commitment to civil rights, the fellowship is designed to enhance the fellow’s understanding of civil rights law and prepare the fellow for a career promoting social justice.

With a focus on LCCR’s core commitment to advancing racial justice, Jude engages in litigation and advocates for policies that address the systemic inequalities that affect communities of color. Jude also represents clients through LCCR’s Second Chance Legal Clinic. These clients are eligible to reduce or dismiss previous criminal convictions, which can present obstacles to employment, education, housing, public benefits, and other opportunities that enable clients to contribute to the economic and civil lives of their communities.

A 2014 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Jude brings to the fellowship a solid background in and passion for promoting justice. As an attorney advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review, Jude updated the judges at the San Francisco Immigration Court on current case law and prepared in-depth written materials for monthly training sessions on complex areas of immigration law. Jude also helped to draft decisions on a number of issues, including eligibility for relief from removal and the effects of state criminal convictions in immigration proceedings—a highly technical, yet unsettled, area of law.

During law school, Jude worked at the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section assessing complaints about conditions of confinement and researching the Department’s ability to use Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to address the unconstitutionality of racially disparate arrest and probation practices in Meridian, Mississippi. Additionally, while interning at the Southern Center for Human Rights, Jude interviewed detainees about jail conditions, advocated for an inmate before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, researched the existence and effects of debtors’ prisons, and drafted model legislation regarding treatment of prisoners with intellectual disabilities.

Jude is currently applying these advanced analytical skills to documenting California municipal traffic courts’ ability to pay policies and adverse outcomes for people who cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees. Separately, Jude is collaborating with partner organizations to investigate racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing practices in the Bay Area.

Prior to law school, Jude worked with several nonprofit organizations that defend incarcerated people’s rights to libraries and educational materials, nutritious meals, and safe living conditions. In addition, as an undergraduate student at Stanford University, Jude tutored individuals in jail through the Stanford Beyond Bars program.


Ali Saidi is an attorney with the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office where he serves as the county’s first Deputy Public Defender Immigration Attorney and as the Director of Stand Together Contra Costa, the county’s new rapid response and immigration due process program.  Mr. Saidi specializes in the intersection between immigration law and criminal law.  He provides continuing legal education trainings as well as expert technical assistance for public defender offices, clinics and bar associations throughout the Bay Area regarding representation of immigrants in criminal proceedings.

Mr. Saidi received his B.A. from the University of California, at Berkeley and his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.  He began his legal career at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s office as a criminal defense attorney for several years and then went into private practice for over a decade, practicing both criminal defense and deportation defense.  Mr. Saidi has represented hundreds of individuals charged with serious crimes in California state courts and has represented immigrants in deportation and removal proceedings in immigration court, before the Board of Immigration Appeals, and before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Mr. Saidi formerly taught Criminal Pretrial Advocacy at UC Berkeley School of Law.  Mr. Saidi returned to the public sector in 2015 to establish the immigration unit at the Office of the Public Defender for Contra Costa County.


Avni is a Public Policy Manager for Community Housing Partnership in San Francisco. She currently works on policy advocacy for the City and County of San Francisco, building support and developing policies that impact homeless and low-income San Franciscans.

Avni earned her Bachelors in Science in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Master’s in Public Health from Loma Linda University. Upon graduating with her master’s, she began working as a prevention specialist for CommPre, a previous program of Horizon Services, for two years.

Avni is passionate about health equity and community development and excited to be able to serve on the Board of Horizon Services to support these efforts. She also serves on the Board of a youth-based gardening program called CommunityGrows in San Francisco and volunteers with the San Francisco SPCA. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and rescue dog.


In her role as State Field Director, Emily oversees state and local campaigns, develops a statewide membership structure, and builds and coordinates relationships with other state organizations, community leaders, allies, and key local and state officials.

Emily has served as the Statewide Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition of 65 anti-prison organizations (including theElla Baker Center), for four years. Her prior work experience includes working with women in prison through roles at Free Battered Women, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and the Prison Creative Arts Project.

She serves on the National Advisory Board for the Prison Creative Arts Project and is the mentor for the Criminal Justice Cohort of the Women’s Policy Institute, a program of the Women’s Foundation of California.

Her policy interests and experience include working to reduce prison and jail populations, stopping prison expansion, reproductive justice for people inside, and redirecting resources out of the corrections budget.


Brandon L. Greene is an attorney and clinical instructor at the East Bay Community Law Center where he focuses on decriminalization of poverty. He is also a graduate of Boston University Law School where he was a Public Interest Scholar and Martin Luther King Social Justice Fellow. In addition to his work at the East Bay Community Law Center, Brandon is an Abundant Leadership Fellow with the Justice Collective and a Movement Lawyering Fellow with Law for Black Lives.


John Jones III serves as the Director of Community and Political Engagement for the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone and is on staff with the Dellums Institute. Born, raised, and living in East Oakland, a father of three, and formerly incarcerated, John serves and gives back to his Community as a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform, housing, employment, public safety, and the human rights of all.

John serves as the Vice Chair of the Selection Panel for the Oakland Police Commission, as a member of the Board of State and Community Corrections Prop 47 Executive Steering Committee, as well as a board member for Planting Justice and Together We Stand. In his rare free time, John can be found screaming and cheering for the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors, and the Oakland A's.


Jay Jordan has worked at the intersection of social justice and politics throughout his career. During his tenure at LA Voice PICO, Jay was instrumental in recruiting and training churches in the South Los Angeles area. He served as one of the lead organizers for the Campaign to Ban the Box for the city of Los Angeles and co-founded Faith in Action, a group of crime survivors in the Westmont area of Los Angeles working to transform their community by employing an asset based community development strategy.  

As Special Projects Manager for the California Applications Research Group in Stockton, California, Jay spearheaded the launch of the widely successful anti- graffiti mobile app, Clean Up Stockton.  He also established a first class call center that was instrumental in victories on several political and social campaigns across the west coast.

Jay was compelled to create his own non-profit that focused on teen diversion and civic engagement because of his experience as a troubled youth who served time in prison. With the help of Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs, law enforcement, and several other allies, Jay launched the innovative youth organizing program, The First50 which in its first year saw both 100% high school graduation and college enrollment.  He has been recognized over 20 times for his organizing talents including the American Red Cross’ 2014 Hero of the Year, the Literacy Foundations’ Innovative Library Concept Award, and a Special Congressional Recognition for Outstanding Youth Program.   

In addition, Jay served as co-chair of San Joaquin County’s Boys and Men of Color Alliance Juvenile Justice Committee and was a Board member for the African-American Chamber of Commerce of San Joaquin. He made history by becoming the first and only formerly incarcerated Field Director for Congressman Jerry McNerney's successful reelection campaign.


Joe Calderon is a native of San Francisco. At the age of 23 he started serving a life sentence. After nearly 20 years incarcerated, he began to explore ways to give back to society upon his release. In 2013, Joe was appointed to the San Francisco Reentry Council by the Board of Supervisors, and has continued in this role ever since. He also served on the Equity Advisory Committee with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, with the mission of seeking equity for all people. He enrolled and graduated from City College’s Post-Prison Health Worker Certificate program, and works as a community health worker with Transitions Clinic in the Bayview. He has a passion for working with diverse and disenfranchised populations, leveraging his personal experience with incarceration to advocate the ideals of social justice and community investment. Joe is currently working on a degree in Public Health.


Kara Portnow received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and law degree from the New York University School of Law.  She spent two years working at the Alaska Public Defender's Office in Anchorage before relocating to the Bay Area. She has been with the Alameda County Public Defender's Office for the past 17 years. In 2015, she became the Proposition 47 coordinator for the public defender's office. Her current assignments include Proposition 64, Early Intervention Court (felony pre plea diversion), Parole Reentry court, Homeless Court, and Veteran's Court.


Maureen Slack joined OneJustice in 2015 as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow. As part of the Justice Bus Project, she coordinates limited-scope legal clinics in rural and isolated communities in California. The Justice Bus partners with legal services organizations, community-based organizations, law firms, and law schools to provide criminal record change legal clinics, in addition to immigration and estate planning clinics.


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.


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.


Eva received her J.D. in 2014 from Drexel University, Kline School of Law.

While at law school, Eva worked at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project where she assisted in prisoner rights litigation; interned at the Philadelphia Defender Association where she represented low income clients in pretrial felony arraignments and misdemeanor trials. She also volunteered with the ACLU reviewing police stops for violations of people’s Fourth Amendment Rights; Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity assisting individuals in understanding their conviction histories and applying to seal them; and as a collective member of Books through Bars in Philadelphia which sends free books and educational materials to incarcerated people.

During Eva’s second summer of law school, she interned in San Francisco at Legal Services for Prisoner with Children (LSPC). Following law school, she continued that work as a fellow at LSPC and then as a staff attorney until July of 2018. With LSPC, Eva advocated for legislative and regulatory policy changes to increase the rights of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families. Areas of work include increasing access to visits and family connections, increasing and protecting employment rights, accessing expungement and other post conviction sealing remedies, challenging the use of solitary confinement, advocating for trans and gender nonconforming prisoners, among others. She worked from start to end on many of these projects, from legislative advocacy, following and advocating for proper regulatory implementation, and working with communities to ensure that they knew their rights and how to access them, and with service providers to develop tools to implement the changes.

In Eva’s spare time, she volunteers with the Prisoner Advocacy Network (PAN). PAN is a project of the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco and works with activists inside California prisons to support them in their advocacy and challenge retaliation and other bad treatment they receive because of their work.

Eva received her BA in political science and religious studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.


Vinuta joined EBCLC as a Fellow in 2015. Previously, Vinuta interned at The Homeless Advocacy Project, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Public Defender offices in the counties of San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara. She previously worked at the Marin County Public Defender and at the law offices of an immigration attorney. Vinuta joined the Clean Slate practice with the goal of helping individuals overcome the stigma and barriers created by criminal convictions, find stable housing, and obtain steady employment.