November 10, 2012

Desperately Seeking Legal Advice

Ann Farmer

When lawyer Ellen Rosenberg has appointments with clients, she often gets up at 5am to catch the subway, followed by a commuter train that transports her to a car service, which deposits her at the entrance to the barbed-wire enclosed Taconic Correctional Facility—a medium-security women’s prison located one hour north of New York City. Before she enters the building, her briefcase and anything else she’s carrying are inspected. She passes through a metal detector. She lifts her arms for a wand scanning. Her hand gets stamped with invisible ink. She’s then buzzed through several metal gates and doors before finally meeting her clients in an unembellished room under the watchful gaze of prison guards.

All that hassle, though, is well worth it, says Rosenberg, who is among a small contingent of dedicated women lawyers who provide legal services to some of the more than 200,000 women in U.S. prisons and jails (according to the Women’s Prison Association), incarcerated primarily for nonviolent, drug, or property-related offenses.

“This is an area where the population is so underserved,” says Rosenberg, who is both the director of the Law Project of the Women’s Prison Association in New York and a consultant for the Incarcerated Mothers Law Project of the Volunteers of Legal Service, also in New York. She was a social worker helping families remain intact before she became a lawyer counseling incarcerated women and mothers, whose biggest concern is often maintaining custody and contact with their children.

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