The Prisoners and Families Clinic operates at the intersection of the family court/child welfare, and criminal systems and engages in both advocacy and education. The clinic provides advocacy to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, as well as their family members, to help preserve parental rights, secure freedom, and achieve family reunification. The clinic also informs people in prison about the ways in which they can advocate effectively for themselves. For the advocacy component, the students provide legal assistance and representation on issues relating to family law and the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. Students generally have extensive client contact and are given primary responsibility for a client’s case, including developing a case
theory and handling all aspects of court hearings.
In the educational component, the Clinic works collaboratively with the parenting center at a women’s prison. Students first observe a family law class taught by an inside facilitator to incarcerated mothers. The students then work in groups to design, prepare, and teach one or two of the classes later in the semester. The classes are designed to teach lay-advocacy skills and typically involve role-play simulations in which the students and incarcerated mothers participate together. These classes provide preventive lawyering to help the women take the steps necessary to improve their chances of success in court proceedings concerning their children or to avoid
legal problems altogether.
To prepare for this advocacy and education, students engage in a process of classroom and experiential learning. In the early part of the semester, students are exposed to some of the rich literature about prisons and prison life and are provided with a background in the relevant substantive law. To develop the lawyering skills they will need to work with clients, students participate in intensive simulation exercises. Students also examine relevant issues of professional responsibility that arise in work with indigent clients.