Why the Legal Clinic Is Needed
From our decades of experience at Project Rebound, we have identified significant gaps in resources and services that impede the smooth transition of formerly incarcerated students back into campus and community life, and that make recidivism harder to avoid. One of those ongoing gaps is the lack of support to deal with the varied legal issues they face.
These gaps have persisted in part because the California State University system doesn’t have a law school or a program that provides in-house legal assistance to formerly incarcerated students. The Legal Clinic will provide direct and comprehensive legal assistance to Rebound Institute participants to help them bridge the legal-system gaps that make successful reentry so difficult.
Because employment is essential to a sustainable reentry strategy, the Legal Clinic can play an important role by eliminating legal barriers to getting and keeping a job. The legal analysis and recommendations we offer participants will help demystify existing policies and overcome barriers to secure occupational licenses or record expungements. In California, this step can be crucial where 30% of jobs require licenses, certification or clearance.
The Legal Clinic can play an important role by eliminating legal barriers to getting and keeping a job.
How the Clinic Can Help
Through strategies based upon the individual situation each participant is navigating, the Legal Clinic will provide direct representation and support to help remove a variety of the barriers against obtaining licenses and employment:
- Expunge or Correct Inaccurate Criminal Records: Sometimes employers, agencies, landlords and educational institutions simply don’t consider anybody with a criminal record, even where laws prevent blanket exclusions based on criminal records and where there is little or no connection between the conviction and the person’s ability to perform the job.
The Legal Clinic will help participants expunge or seal their criminal records so that they have a better chance to find work and get housing. We will also advocate for policy changes that streamline the ability of newly released individuals to correct inaccurate criminal records.
- Modify Court Orders, Fees and Fines: In California, many jurisdictions impose fines at sentencing and fees for court costs, as well as subsequent penalties for failure to pay those fines and fees. Once released, many people also face substantial child support, victim-restitution payments and/or civil fines unrelated to the criminal charges – all of which may have multiplied during their incarceration. The Legal Clinic will assist individuals navigating conflicting civil and criminal obligations.
Without the Legal Clinic, participants would have to figure out on their own how to eliminate reentry barriers. Child-support arrears, for example, can often leave newly released individuals with unrealistic payment obligations. Past-due arrears can also result in legal liabilities such as tax intercept, liens and license suspensions.
- Secure Driver’s Licenses: Incarcerated individuals frequently have their driver’s licenses revoked or suspended, even if the conviction was not for a driving-related offense. The lack of a driver’s license can signal unreliability and unemployability, and may also prevent access to a variety of public benefits and services.
The Legal Clinic will help participants navigate a relicensing hearing, making it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to secure and maintain jobs.
- Obtain Certificates of Rehabilitation: Certificates of Rehabilitation can demonstrate to potential employers, landlords and occupational-licensing boards that the person is truly committed to rehabilitation.
- Access Cannabis-Equity Opportunities: Incarcerated individuals who have cannabis convictions are eligible for benefits under the California Cannabis Equity Act. The Legal Clinic will get Institute participants up to speed and ready to take advantage of available cannabis-equity employment and business opportunities. It will help them seek Certificates of Rehabilitation and learn about how to obtain cannabis-equity benefits under the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulatory and Safety Act. In turn, we provide qualified applicants for cannabis licenses and related cannabis-equity programs. Read more
- Obtain Stable Housing: Once participants leave the Rebound Institute, we will continue to help participants obtain stable housing with appropriate supportive services. The Legal Clinic will help participants gain access to affordable housing and assist others with fighting improper evictions, for example.
Participants will often come to the Rebound Institute with legal trouble. They might need a driver’s license, help getting criminal records expunged, or assistance in securing a professional license for a particular occupation. While existing legal-aid programs can help with expunging records or reducing fines, the Rebound Institute’s reentry strategy is more comprehensive and tailored to each participant – based on their housing needs, employment options and unique legal challenges.
We will partner with justice advocates and law schools to strengthen the Legal Clinic’s capacity to assist participants in obtaining certificates of rehabilitation, judicial clearance and expungement. Emphasis also will be given to helping them pursue professional licenses for a variety of careers.
With an eye toward potential job and business opportunities, we will offer introductions to the legal profession and cannabis decriminalization and state/local cannabis-equity programs. Read more about the clinic and cannabis equity
The clinic will also promote innovative strategies to guide lawmakers as part of broader efforts to dismantle and reform unjust policies (such as the War on Drugs).
Our physical space will consist of the Legal Clinic, private meeting rooms for the legal team and clients, a large conference room and a library/reading room. Read more about the clinic’s space needs
Through partnerships with Bay Area law schools, attorneys and organizations for criminal-justice reform, the Legal Clinic will provide opportunities for law students, legal professionals and advocates to advance reforms by working on research projects and reports, briefs and legislative initiatives covering a variety of legal issues.
Under the leadership of an on-site licensed attorney, they will develop client-counseling skills by interviewing participants and drafting legal analysis based upon client circumstances; and write motions, briefs and applications for record expungement and other forms of legal redress.
We also hope to add fellows and research assistants to reinforce our legal and policy efforts. Those clinic activities could include attending legal and legislative hearings, and engaging in strategy sessions with attorneys, judges, elected officials and community leaders.
For law resources, the Legal Clinic will use LexisNexis, Westlaw and other legal-research assistance tools. SF State students would have access to courses on prison law and reform. Bay Area law students would work with the clinic’s staff attorney on individual cases.