CAMDEN — Each year thousands of adult and juvenile offenders are released from correctional facilities and return to communities throughout New Jersey. Many of them face significant hurdles while trying to reintegrate into society.
Students at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden are helping these ex-offenders resolve their civil legal problems so their re-entry is successful.
“What we can do is help resolve a client’s legal issues like acquiring a driver’s license, paying child support, or securing appropriate housing,” says Bill McLaughlin, the managing attorney for Rutgers–Camden’s Federal Prisoner Reentry Pro Bono Project.
The project aims to reduce recidivism and allow clients to resolve outstanding warrants to avoid being re-incarcerated.
Under McLaughlin’s supervision, trained Rutgers–Camden law students advise clients and identify their legal issues in order to achieve an appropriate legal resolution.
“Unfortunately, many prisoners lack the resources required to appropriately address the barriers they face upon release,” says Naveed Karbassyoon, a second-year Rutgers–Camden law student living in Mount Laurel. “The Federal Prisoner Reentry Pro Bono Project provides its clients the necessary resources.”
Rutgers–Camden students aren’t only helping those who have just been released from prison. This year, the program has expanded to aid offenders who are still in prison.
“If a client has an outstanding warrant, for example, he or she may not be permitted to go to a halfway house,” McLaughlin says. “We work to resolve those warrants so they can be transferred to halfway houses or how-level security facilities when eligible.”
Approximately 40 students are working on the project this semester and meet with their clients as needed, or until the client’s case is resolved.
“The Reentry Project has afforded me the opportunity to meet with actual inmates and counsel them as well as interact with local court personnel,” says Adam Klein, a second-year Rutgers–Camden law student from Cherry Hill. “The skills I learn from this project can’t be learned in a classroom and the experience has helped me bridge the gap between law school and real law practice.”
In 2013, the Rutgers School of Law–Camden plans to expand its reentry services by introducing a new Reentry Clinic, in which third-year law students could represent ex-offenders in court under faculty supervision.
“Not only is helping ex-offenders with re-entry the right thing to do when someone has paid his or her price to society, but it’s also the economically wise thing to do,” says Eve Biskind Klothen, assistant dean for pro bono and public interest programs at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden. “It’s less costly to assist someone coming out of incarceration than it is to re-incarcerate that person. Furthermore, it not only benefits the ex-offenders, it benefits their families and their communities, too.”
Juvenile offenders have re-entry issues that must also be resolved. Through its Children’s Justice Clinic, Rutgers–Camden law students are easing the transition for juveniles who are being released from residential treatment programs or correctional facilities.
“When children are released from these facilities, it is often very difficult for them to enroll in school,” says Sandra Simkins, chair of clinical programs at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden and director of the Children’s Justice Clinic.
“Some schools create barriers that prevent these youths from enrolling,” Simkins explains. “Without an education, it is very difficult for youth to succeed. That’s why re-entry for children is so critical.”
Eight students are enrolled in the clinic per semester and help juveniles with issues like enrolling in school and finding a place to live.
“In some cases, the youth have nowhere to live once they leave a correctional facility,” Simkins says. “We need to find housing for him. Otherwise, he’ll be homeless. If the child doesn’t have a stable place to live, it will lead to more bad outcomes.”
One of four Rutgers–Camden law clinics, the Children’s Justice Clinic provides legal representation in juvenile court hearings and allows students to work with their clients to address the causes of delinquency problems in their home environment.
Established in 2010, the Federal Prisoner Reentry Project is one of 14 pro bono projects at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.
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