PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 23, 2016

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Report documents criminalization of homelessness;
  • State courts get grant to expand access to justice;
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law opens new legal clinic;
  • British Columbia’s indigenous child welfare system gets overhaul;
  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma partners with Cherokee Nation;
  • Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law offers legal technology course unique in Canada;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 17, 2016 – “The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School has released a new report titled ‘Forced into Breaking the Law’: The Criminalization of Homelessness in Connecticut. The report examines how Connecticut’s homeless residents face the threat of criminal sanctions for simply existing. The report also documents how Connecticut city ordinances, such as those prohibiting loitering, panhandling, and sleeping in public, punish people for performing necessary, life-sustaining functions, which effectively criminalizes homelessness itself. It further outlines how the criminalization of homelessness violates state, federal, and international law. The release of the report coincides with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and the launch of the national ‘Housing Not Handcuffs’ campaign, organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which aims to end the criminalization of homelessness.” (Yale Law School Today)

November 18, 2016 – “The New York state court system has received a $100,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts and the Public Welfare Foundation to develop plans to improve the access to the courts for unrepresented or under-represented New Yorkers. Under the ‘Justice for All’ grant, the state Office of Court Administration said Thursday it will work with judges, the business community, private firms, bar associations, civil legal services groups and others to devise a strategy for better access to justice. OCA officials said Wednesday the plan will be developed by the state Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, which is chaired by Helaine Barnett, the former president of the Legal Services Corporation, and will use a day-long convocation and other events to gather input from stakeholders.” “The Public Welfare Foundation said $100,000 grants also went to Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

November 18, 2016 – “A new free legal clinic sponsored by the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in partnership with LDS Charities will provide legal services to underserved communities. The new Community Legal Clinic: Sugarhouse is part of the law school’s pro bono initiative program, a noncredit volunteer program that allows students to build real world problem-solving skills to serve their community. The program has a three-part mission: to provide skill building legal opportunities under the direct supervision of attorneys; to develop placements where alumni can volunteer, network and serve as mentors to law students; and to demonstrate the professional responsibility of those in the legal profession to provide pro bono legal services to the underserved in the community who otherwise would not have access to the justice system.” (The University of Utah News)

November 21, 2016 – “The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is making 85 recommendations to change BC’s indigenous child welfare system. It’ll now focus on improving family life by bettering family support services, legal help, early intervention services, and funding. Grand Chief Edward John has been a special adviser with Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux on indigenous children in care, permanency and early years since September 2015. He says one of the report’s main priorities is returning child welfare responsibilities to indigenous communities. ‘To me, a major part of the solution is right there. The children are never the problem. It’s everything else that’s around them and how do we do that and how do we bring them home? The essence of the report is to do that.’ Other central focuses from the report include reducing the need for indigenous children and youth going into care, bettering support services, legal aid, equitable funding formulas between the provincial and the federal government, and easier access to early intervention services. There will also be more Ministry of Children and Family Development staff with First Nations communities. 40 recommendations are already in the works or are being included in future plans. These include a commitment to regular regional meetings with Metis and First Nations leaders, a stronger indigenous voice within the Youth Advisory Council, more indigenous social workers within MCFD, and more education on services. Putting the remaining recommendations into effect will take a little bit more work. The ministry says addressing the remaining ones will require a ‘significant injection of funding – often in co-ordination with the federal government. Alterations will also need to be made to existing legislation.'” (MYPRINCEGEORGENOW)

November 21, 2016 – “Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) received a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program as part of the President Barack Obama administration’s investment in tribally-sponsored AmeriCorps programming. Through this project, LASO AmeriCorps members will deliver civil legal assistance to improve health, according to a media release. ‘A person’s health can be significantly impacted by social problems like domestic violence, denial of public benefits, or unsafe or substandard housing, just to name a few; these are issues that may have a civil legal solution,’ said Michael Figgins, executive director of LASO. ‘By partnering with the Cherokee Nation, LASO attorneys can identify issues impacting health that might have a civil legal solution. Working together, caregivers and attorneys can holistically address problems and help ensure better overall health outcomes for patients.’ The three-year grant will fund four attorneys who will work with Cherokee Nation to identify and treat Social Security Disability and aging-related problems.” (Muskogee Phoenix)

November 21, 2016 – “A Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law professor passionate about innovation and access to justice is blazing a trail on the Canadian legal education landscape. Assistant Professor Katie Sykes has developed a new and unique law course—one of the first of its kind offered in Canada—that teaches students to use technology to automate the application of legal knowledge by developing apps that can be easily used by anyone. The course is called Designing Legal Expert Systems: Apps for Access to Justice. ‘It’s about taking legal knowledge and rules as a series of decision-making trees and translating that onto a tech platform that creates an app,’ explained Sykes. Using a software the law school has licensed from US-based legal technology firm Neota Logic, the students will work with non-profit ‘client’ organizations to develop the type of app, problem it will solve, and types of users. ‘Students will make a tangible, meaningful impact by developing a platform that allows quick and convenient access to legal information in language that is easy to understand,’ said Sykes.” (

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Everyone has a favorite Thanksgiving tradition.  But where do our traditions come from?  Here is an interesting history of Thanksgiving with all the trimmings.

Music Bonus!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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