Every year hundreds of federal inmates are released from prison and return to their communities. Of those released numerous face significant barriers to successful reintegration back into society. Many of these barriers are legal in nature, such as outstanding child support payments, difficulty in receiving benefits, lack of identification, driver’s license suspensions, and many more civil legal issues. Comprehensive studies have shown that when the barriers to successful reintegration are removed at the earliest possible point, the goal of reducing recidivism and helping former prisoners return to their communities to live successful lives has the greatest chance of success.
To that end, The Rutgers School of Law-Camden, in conjunction with United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, has established the Federal Prisoner Reentry Project. The goal of the Project is to work closely with the United States Office of Probation to identify potential clients with civil legal issues that prevent successful re-integration into society.
This Project is directed by a Managing Attorney. The Project is staffed by second and third-year law students who after attending two mandatory training sessions in the beginning of each semester are closely supervised by the Managing Attorney. Each student makes an initial commitment to the project from the beginning of the semester until exam preparation time. Students are asked to represent one client each semester, and may represent more than one client if they choose. During that time, students meet with each client that they represent to conduct an initial intake interview. Students continue to meet with each client throughout the semester as necessary, or until the resolution of the client’s case. Students will meet with the each client at the Federal Courthouse, which is located within a short walking distance from the law school. Students provide the legal research and support needed to achieve an appropriate legal resolution. In certain cases, third-year law students may represent the client in court if the case is resolved in that particular setting. Many, but not all of the cases, will be completed within the semester time frame. This means that most students will handle the case from initial client contact through the legal resolution of the matter.
By working closely with the Managing Attorney to provide high quality legal services to each client the law student is provided a unique and special opportunity for experiential learning. Additionally, the civil legal issues that so often plague those seeking a successful return to our communities are also resolved. The Federal Prisoner Reentry Project furthers the real world legal education of the student participants, and in the process furthers the highest ideals of the legal profession by providing access to legal services to those most in need.
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