Mass Incarceration Clinic
Mass Incarceration is a clinic that focuses on litigation in federal court and resolution of claims related to prisoners’ conditions of confinement.
Students visit clients in state and federal prisons, where they interview, counsel, and develop strategies. In collaboration with nonprofit organizations and small civil rights law firms and subject to the law student intern rules, clinic students litigate issues identified by the clients.
Students work with clients to develop materials clients can use to prepare internal prison administrative remedies and to file administrative claims, including claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. These materials are prepared for distribution and provide the basis for “know your rights” PowerPoint presentations. Although the identification of cases is done collaboratively with the clients, projects may include a federal habeas action on behalf of a state prisoner raising an actual innocence claim and a religious freedom claim on behalf of a federal prisoner. Claims related to medical care and mental health are also part of the clinic’s docket. An initiative to examine and supplement resources available to immigration detainees held in the New York area may also be part of the clinic’s work.
To prepare for this work, students will read and discuss writings about punishment theory, the history of American prisons, and the substantive law governing prisoners’ rights. To develop the skills they will need to work with clients, students will participate in intensive simulated interview exercises.
Other legal skills, including counseling, negotiation, oral argument, preparation of pleadings, briefs, and other litigation-related writing is taught and acquired in the context of client representation. Students are encouraged to raise, reflect on, and discuss relevant issues of professional responsibility that arise in work with confined, indigent clients.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Brett Dignam
Brett Dignam joined the Columbia Law School faculty in 2010. She came to Columbia from Yale Law School, where she led the Prison Legal Services, Complex Federal Litigation, and Supreme Court Advocacy clinics.
To read Dignam’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.