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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.


Deep Jodhka is an attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid and works in the reentry practice area. She previously clerked at the National Employment Law Project in the Second Chance Labor Project and the East Bay Community Law Center's Second Chance Clinic. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law.


Eliza Hersh is a graduate of Boalt Hall. While in law school Eliza interned at EBCLC, in the Boalt Death Penalty Clinic, and in the offices of the Alameda County and Contra Costa County Public Defenders. She joined EBCLC’s staff following a clerkship with Chief Judge Martha Vázquez, United States District Court, District of New Mexico. Prior to law school Eliza worked as a capital case investigator at the California Appellate Project and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center. She has also worked as a victim liaison in the field of Defense-Initiated Victim Outreach (DIVO), which offers a platform for survivors of capital murder to get their needs met by the criminal process while maintaining the integrity of the defense.


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 a staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. With a focus on advancing racial justice and civil rights in the criminal justice system, Meredith directs Lawyers’ Committee’s Second Chance Legal Clinic, which provides free legal services to people with past arrests and convictions to help them overcome the barriers to successful community reintegration. Meredith also engages in community outreach and education, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to promote reentry and criminal justice reform. Before joining Lawyers' Committee, Meredith clerked for Judge Noonan on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and worked as a supervising attorney in the Clean Slate Practice at the East Bay Community Law Center. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall.


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.


As an attorney with a background in criminal justice policy, Nisha Ajmani has devoted much of her career to utilizing the legal and policy arenas to advocate for criminal justice reform. She has been an active volunteer attorney with the Second Chance Legal Clinic at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (“Lawyers’ Committee”), where she assists clients with past arrests or convictions understand their legal rights and overcome challenges associated with having a record. Additionally, Nisha has coordinated a project at Lawyers’ Committee, which engages Alameda County businesses on reentry issues. Nisha has also served as a case manager at the Marin County Youth Court and as an attorney fellow at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates in Oakland, California, where she worked on behalf of clients who had been defrauded and discriminated against in housing. Nisha is a graduate of University of Oregon School of Law and Bowdoin College.