Prisoners and Families Clinic
The Prisoners and Families Clinic operates at the intersection of the criminal justice and family court/child welfare systems and engages in both education and advocacy.
The clinic informs people in prison about their parental rights and responsibilities and the ways in which they can advocate effectively for themselves. The clinic also provides advocacy to people who have been released from prison, as well as their family members, to help them achieve reunification.
In the educational component, the clinic works collaboratively with the Parenting Center of Bedford Hills, a women's prison. Students first observe a family-law class taught as a semester-long course by an inside facilitator to other incarcerated women. The students then work in groups to design, prepare, and teach one of the classes later in the semester. The classes typically involve role-play simulations in which the students and women participate together. These classes are designed to provide preventive lawyering in order to help the women take the steps necessary to improve their chances of success in family court proceedings or to avoid legal problems altogether. Students may also have an opportunity to teach a similar class at a men's pre-release prison.
In the Spring 2010 semester, the clinic collaborated with the Family Initiative of the Center for Appellate Litigation, a PILF grantee. Students assisted in expanding resource lists for families and developing the curriculum for workshops that were provided to people who had recently been released from prison and their families. Students also conducted these workshops jointly with the staff of the Family Initiative.
For the advocacy component, the students provided legal assistance to people who had been released from prison and/or their family members. In the Spring 2010 semester, cases were referred by the Family Initiative. The students also provided research and counseling to staff at Bedford Hills who are assisting women with problems relating to their children.
To prepare for this work, students were educated through a process of classroom and experiential learning. In the early part of the semester, students were exposed to some of the rich literature about prisons and prison life and were provided with a background in the relevant substantive law. To develop the lawyering skills necessary to work with clients, students participated in intensive simulation exercises. Students also examined relevant issues of professional responsibility that arise in work with indigent clients who are involved in the criminal justice and family court/child welfare systems.
“In the course of tracking down documentation, we met with one of the client's parents and saw pictures of her as a young person. This is a very important part of legal work and one that I hadn't imagined, but it helped to establish credibility with our clients and helped me understand the importance of the work we were doing.”
Darin Dalmat ’06, Associate, James & Hoffman P.C.
In Action: Students' Work In The Prisoners And Families Clinic
Darin Dalmat and Kim Mosolf, both third-year law students, researched state statutes to find material to support their argument that parole law gives too much discretion to the parole board and little heed for the statutes that are intended to constrain it. Their main goal was to show that the current implementation of the parole laws—or parole lottery—strays far from the more rational system conceived under the administration of New York State Governor Hugh Carey in the 1970s.
Read about their work and the Prisoners And Families Clinic In Action.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Philip Genty
Philip Genty is the Everett B. Birch Innovative Teaching Clinical Professor in Professional Responsibility. He has worked as an attorney at Prisoners' Legal Services of New York; the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development; and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services Corporation.
To read Genty’s full biography and to find his contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.