chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
From the Chair

From the Chair

Lucian E. Dervan

As we reflect on 2018 and begin to consider what 2019 might hold for the Criminal Justice Section, I want to use this column to discuss three matters from 2018 and early 2019 that serve as examples of the rich and diverse work of the American Bar Association, the Criminal Justice Section, and our membership.

First, as I noted in my previous column, the Criminal Justice Section launched the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force at the November 2018 Fall Institute in Washington, D.C. The Task Force is charged with considering the unique challenges faced by women in the criminal justice community. Under the leadership of co-chairs Tina Luongo and Carla Laroche, the group embraced this large and challenging task and went to work immediately, holding the Task Force’s inaugural meeting and listening session at the Fall Institute. The Task Force is now planning a day-long Women in Criminal Justice symposium for April 4, 2019, in Nashville, Tennessee. This event will be an excellent complement to our Spring CLE, which will occur in Nashville the next day and will focus on examining criminal justice reforms from various perspectives. I hope you will be joining us for both of these incredible events. The Women in Criminal Justice Task Force has just begun its important work, and we look forward to all that will result from this endeavor in the coming years. To ensure our members and the larger legal community are aware of the issues being examined by this group, we have created a Women in Criminal Justice column. The column will appear in the Criminal Justice magazine and be a forum for discussions and conversations moving forward. The inaugural column appears in this issue of the magazine, and I hope you will take a few minutes to read its contents. The piece includes information about the founding members of the Task Force and about the group’s advisory board, led by Kim Parker, incoming chair of the Criminal Justice Section. I commend the members of the Task Force for their commitment to this important initiative.

Second, I wanted to mention the passage of the First Step Act in late 2018. The bipartisan bill lowers some federal sentences, expands the use of safety valve provisions for some mandatory minimum sentences, and creates incentives for participation in programs aimed at reducing recidivism. The First Step Act represents an important piece of federal sentencing legislation in a year that saw renewed focus on the pressing need for change in the way we address criminal justice, and many of the reforms addressed in the bill respond to issues that have been central to the work of the Criminal Justice Section for years. While there has been and will continue to be much debate about the specifics of the First Step Act, I applaud the bipartisan effort to move from conversation to action. I hope that 2019 brings a continued focus on criminal justice reform efforts and that more opportunities present themselves for bipartisan collaborations regarding legislation that makes our communities safer, advances balanced sentencing schemes, creates opportunities for recidivism-reducing activities in prison, and implements programs for successful re-entry when the previously incarcerated return to their communities.

The concept of providing meaningful opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals returning to the community is the final item I wanted to discuss in this column. In January, I had the honor of joining Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, ABA President-Elect Judy Perry Martinez, leaders from the Criminal Justice Section, and many others in celebrating the first graduating class from the Washington, DC, Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs Paralegal Fellowship. The fellowship program is designed to give previously incarcerated individuals the opportunity to gain skills and begin a lasting career in the legal field. Participants are selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants and enrolled in the Georgetown University paralegal studies program. Upon completing their studies, the graduates are placed in one-year paralegal fellowships at major Washington, DC, law firms with full pay and full benefits. Various partners came together to make this program a success, including Macy’s and Uber. For its part, the Criminal Justice Section supported the program and worked diligently last year to recruit Washington, DC, law firms to participate in the initiative and accept fellows upon their graduation. Of the fellows program, Mayor Bowser said, “Our hope is that this program is just the beginning—that it will not only create new opportunities, but prove what is possible and serve as a model for future programs for our talented and hard-working community of returning citizens.” The Criminal Justice Section should be proud of its work with the fellowship program. I believe this initiative is one that will help facilitate successful re-entry after incarceration, and we know that successful re-entry is a key factor in preventing recidivism. That makes this type of program an incredible benefit both to those who participate and to the community as a whole.

One of the moments from the Paralegal Fellowship graduation ceremony that resonated most with me occurred as the participants walked across the front of the room to receive their diplomas. As each took those steps towards their new lives, people in the audience shouted out in support and to show how proud they were of these achievements. “That’s my son,” one woman yelled. Another said, “That’s my dad.” As I listened to family members call out to their loved ones, I was reminded that those who find themselves returning to our communities from incarceration answer to the name mom, dad, daughter, son, sister, and brother. One of the graduates, Kareem McCraney, said during the ceremony, “everyone makes mistakes, but we should deem people worthy of second chances.” He added, “in giving second chances, we not only see the best in others, we demonstrate our best selves.” Bringing real hope for a new start to our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers should be a top priority for all of us. These types of innovative programs are certainly a priority for the Criminal Justice Section, and I hope we see more programs like this adopted throughout the nation in the coming year.

Each of these memories from 2018 and the beginning of 2019 started as someone’s idea. Eventually, after much work, that idea became a reality that held the potential to change lives for the better. I hope that as we begin to drift more deeply into 2019, you will consider what projects, initiatives, and topics we need to address in this New Year. What areas need our energies? What issues require our attention and the focus of the larger criminal justice community? The work of the section starts with its members, and I encourage you to begin 2019 by considering where we might go together next.

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Lucian E. Dervan is chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section. He is an associate professor of law and director of Criminal Justice Studies at Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tennessee. He can be reached via Twitter @LucianDervan.