Workshops Help Families of Prisoners Navigate the Legal System

Press contact:
James O’Neill 212-854-1584 Cell: 646-596-2935
October 18, 2007 (NEW YORK) – Families and friends of current and former prisoners will attend a series of workshops at Columbia Law School on October 20 designed to teach them about New York State’s incarceration policies and how to advocate for changes.
``Family Empowerment Day 3/NYC’’ is a unique collaboration of Prison Action Network and Columbia Law School. The day-long event includes workshops on how to prepare for a parole hearing and how to write an appeal, the emotional issues involved for a couple when a prisoner returns home, voting laws and how they relate to prisoners, and using public pressure and the courts to change the incarceration process. It is the first of three such events throughout New York State. The others will be in Buffalo and Albany.
WHAT: Family Empowerment Day 3/NYC
WHEN: Saturday, October 20, 2007 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST
WHERE:Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall, 435 W 116 Street, between Amsterdam Ave. and Morningside Drive, New York City. Via subway: #1 train to 116 Street (Broadway)/Columbia University.
Columbia Law School students have volunteered to help with registration and assist with workshops. One student and a recent graduate are each leading workshops. Their participation continues the Law School’s long tradition of public service and public interest law. Since 1996, for instance, Columbia has been one of a select group of law schools nationwide that require all students to undertake pro bono work during law school.
``Prison Action Network’s Family Empowerment Project sees this as a great opportunity to reach future lawyers at the beginning of their careers, when they are fresh and idealistic and interested in helping us with our legal battles against the injustices that are part of our daily lives,’’ said Judith Brink, co-director of Prison Action Network.
Columbia Law School student Elizabeth Howell, executive editor of the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, will lead one workshop that will explain how to use the manual and the legal tools it provides. The JLM is produced by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review to assist prisoners and others navigate U.S. legal system. It includes information on legal rights and procedures, religious freedom in prison, issues of female prisoners, immigration law and legal research. ``The students who work on the JLM are excited about this unique outreach opportunity to help families with loved ones in prison learn about our publication,’’ Howell said.
Columbia Law School graduate Maggie Williams ’05, who runs the Voter Enfranchisement Project at The Bronx Defenders, a public defender office, will lead a workshop explaining New York voting law for people going through the criminal justice system. She said there is often confusion about whether someone has the right to vote because laws vary from state to state. For instance, people with felony convictions can vote from prison in Vermont and Maine using absentee ballots. In New York, people with felony convictions lose the right to vote when  incarcerated and on parole, but retain the right to vote when on probation.
The event begins at 9 a.m. with an hour for registration and networking. Sessions run concurrently all day. For the schedule, click here. For details on workshops, click here.
Prison Action Network, based in Albany with a very large constituency in New York City, works to connect the people who are most directly affected by New York State's incarceration policies. Prison Action Network publishes Building Bridges, a monthly newsletter which covers news and reports from people on both sides of the prison walls who are at the forefront of changing the climate of the criminal justice and prison systems. They also produce ``Voices from the Prison Action Network,’’ an occasional web-based radio interview series.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.